Relax and unwind around temples and by the riverside in this small but bustling capital of the country of Laos. Charming, rustic and very laidback, one can expect to find a little bit of everything in Vientiane – cafes, temples, colourful markets, and even a southeast Asian-inspired version of Paris’s famous Arc de Triomphe.
Formerly an important city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (million elephants) since 1545, Vientiane fell into disrepair after the Siamese completely razed it to the ground in 1828. It regained its honour after passing to French rule, and in 1899 became the capital of the French protectorate of Laos, with restoration of its temples occurring in tandem with reconstruction works. It continued to act as capital even after the 1975 communist takeover, and is now a growing economic centre for the country.
Theravada Buddhism is the majority religion in Laos, and it has become part of daily life to the extent that many adult males spend a few weeks of each year’s rainy season at a Wat (Buddhist temple). A 3rd century gold-coated Buddhist stupa, Pha That Luang, is a primary spiritual attraction for visitors to this city.
For a meaningful sample of Lao culture in Vientiane, you may visit Talat Sao (the morning market) to look through a wide variety of handicrafts, from silken textiles, to wood carvings, mulberry paper and basketry made from artisan local materials such as rattan and bamboo.
- Believes in concept of face
- Women should wear modest clothing
- Avoid public displays of affection
The city lies on a bend of the Mekong River, just at the border of Thailand. It features a tropical wet and dry climate, with a dry season lasting from November through to March, and a monsoon season that starts in April and lasts around 7 months. Average temperatures range around 22 to 30 degrees Celsius, throughout the year.
Within Vientiane province, where the eponymous city lies, around two-thirds of the landscape is mountainous while the rest lies on a plain. A good suggestion for a day trip would be to visit the beautiful Ang Nam Ngum reservoir, where boats take visitors around the picturesque waters.
Those interested in nature, particularly horticulture, will love the beautiful flowers of Vientiane, especially the orchids that can be viewed at Vientiane Orchidées. Also of interest within the city is a new zoo and wildlife sanctuary.
Before you go
- Language: Lao and French
- Currency: Laotian kip (LAK)
- Time Zone: Indochina Time Zone, GMT+7
- Voltage 230
- Electric Socket: Type C
Local sim cards are readily available, and gsm or Triband mobile phones can be used with these cards.
Equip yourself with a card at a wide range of shops and markets, also in remote regions
Sim card cost ranges 20,000-30,000 kip with credit included.
Atms accepting Visa, MasterCard, and UnionPay can be found.
Almost all atms dispense money only in Laotian kip.
Thai baht and U.S. dollars are still accepted across many tourist areas as a form of payment, but for the best prices it is best to exchange to kip.
Money can be changed at banks and at moneychangers, which are plentiful, and offer better rates than credit card advances, which are pricey.
Outside of international hotels and top-end restaurants, credit/debit card payment is not possible.
Larb: Your choice of meat is first finely minced before being mixed with chili, mint, and an assortment of vegetables. Khao khua (toasted rice) is then ground over the preparation
Khao poon: Popular breakfast dish. It consists of rice vermicelli in a coconut milk base soup that’s been simmered in a typically Laotian seasoning including ingredients such as fish sauce, lime, garlic, chillies and galangal.
Sai gork: Laotian sausage. Its main components are chopped fatty pork seasoned with several spices, while another variant has Lao sticky rice thrown into the mix and left to sour within the sausage.
There is no tipping culture in Laos, but you are welcome to show your appreciation for good service through small tips:
- Taxis: A good practice is to simply let the driver keep the change after rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar. However it is likely you will negotiate a fare before getting into the cab, in this case no tip is required.
- Restaurants: Rounding up meal bills would be a good way to show you enjoyed your meal and your service. In higher end restaurants at 10% service charge is often added to the bill, and there is no need to tip above and beyond this amount.
- Hotels: Try to give the bellman about $2-3 for helping you with your bags, and leave a dollar, daily, for the maid who helps clean up your room.
Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A, typhoid, polio
Avoid untreated water or ice made from it, and only eat meat and fish that has been well-done. Vegetables should also be cooked, while fruits should be peeled.
Local hospitals can provide nothing but the most basic services, so those in need of medical treatment are advised to go to either of the international private hospitals mentioned below, or to cross the Mekong River into Thailand.
Safety: Crime is not a big problem in Laos, although drugs are an issue and should thus be avoided at all costs.
- Emergency Line: 191.
- French Embassy Medical Centre (private): Address Boulevard Kouvieng, Ban Simuang, Vientiane; Tel (+856) 21 214 150
- The Alliance International Medical Centre; Address Honda Complex, Souphanuvong Road, Ban Wattayyaithong,, Sikhottabong district, Vientiane; Tel: (+856) 21 513 095
- Tourism Board: Laos National Tourism Administration; Address: Lan Xang Avenue, Vientiane, Laos; Tel: (+856) 21 212 251
- Hello (in general): Sa-bye dee
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Koh-toht
- Thank you: Kawp-jai
- You’re welcome: Baw pen nyah-ng
- Good morning / Good evening: Sa-bye dee ton sao/ Sa-bye dee ton-aelng
- Goodbye: Lah-gon
- How much is this?: Anh nee thow dai?
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Tam chohk
- Bon appetit!: Soen saep
- Where’s the toilet?: Hong nahm yuu sai?
- Help!: Suay dae
- I understand: Koy kao jai
- I don’t understand: Koy baw kao jai
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Wattay Airport serves Vientiane, but has limited capacity for supporting international flights. The airport is located around 6km away from the city centre, and you should pay around $7 (57,000 kip) to get a taxi to the city. A good option is to prepay your taxi at a counter before leaving the airport.
Besides by air, several tourists enter Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. Note that it is possible to get a visa on arrival at the Bridge right before crossing the border from Thailand. You should expect to pay $35 (or 1,500 baht) for this.
There a few taxis around, formerly Bangkok cabs, that can be found around Friendship Bridge, in front of notable hotels or at the airport. Meters are not widely used, so expect to haggle- around 50¢ per kilometre is reasonable, while it should cost about $20-40 to hire a car for the whole day.
These flexible vehicles are considered a form of public transport in Vientiane, so if you take up the whole tuk-tuk you may be charged quite a high rate. Around 10,000 kip per person is a reasonable rate for a traveller going alone – make sure to agree on a price in advance and ignore the ‘fixed price’ cards the drivers try to show you if you don’t want to overpay.
There are quite new buses around Vientiane, however note that route numbers may not always be displayed on the front of the bus. Ask the locals, or your hotel, for advice if you’d like to try taking a bus around town.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.