Vientiane City Guide For First Time Travellers

Pha That Luang, Vientiane

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Your complete travel guide to the city of Vientiane!

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and has a population of around 760,000 people. The city is situated along the Mekong River and close to the border of Thailand. The word “Vientiane” is said to mean “city of the moon”, however some Lao people actually believe the word means “city of Sandalwood”.

Streets of Vientiane

Vientiane has been the capital of Laos since 1563.
It was also the home of the French governing bodies during the French occupation of Indochina. The French influence is still seen throughout the city in terms of building designs and other various infrastructure.

Reclining Buddha, Vientiane

To be honest, Vientiane is quite a bleak and boring city compared to some of its Asian counterparts. The place has little going on and it’s not a place you need to spend a lot of time. Although, we did spend a couple of days there, and did find that we had enough to do during that time. Vientiane is quite young in “city years” and it’s still shaping its identity.

Wat Haw Phra Kaew, Vientiane

It is important to realise that Laos is similar to other countries such Myanmar where buddhism and a more simple way of life is strong.
If you want lady boys and pin pong shows, you are better off crossing the Mekong River into Thailand, or maybe venturing south to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Culture and religion will dominate your plans in Vientiane. Some things worth checking out include Pha That Luang, Patuxai and Buddha Park. Also make sure you head down to the market on the river at night time for a really great atmosphere.

Buddha Temple, Vientiane

Overall it’s best to only stay in Vientiane for about 2 nights.
You can see what you need to see in that time and then head to other places such as Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng for the rest of your trip. We really reckon in about 10 years Vientiane will be almost unrecognisable due to the growth and investment taking place, however for now, if short on time in Laos, this is a city that can be left for another time.

Top Tips

  • Visit between November and February to avoid stinking hot sun or the flooding rains.
  • Make sure you stay in downtown along the river front for the best atmosphere.
  • Check out the market at night down on the river for something really fun.
  • Climb to the top of Patuxai for great views of the city.
  • Walking or using a Tuk Tuk is the easiest and cheapest way of getting around the city.
  • Try a Laos beer with dinner from one of the many guest houses along the river front.  These are the best places to eat!
  • Most places will only take cash, so make sure you have plenty of Lao Kip on you.
  • The best buddhist sites to check out are Pha That Luang and Wat Si Muang.

Where To Stay In Vientiane

When in Asia, guesthouses are usually the cheapest and best places to stay. They are often run by local families who also have a small restaurant attached to the building. This means you end up with a great place to stay and also a great place to eat. We are always keen on authentic experiences, and using guesthouses when in Asia helps to produce this. When staying in a guest house you can expect to pay less than $10 per night.

If you walk around the first three streets situated downtown and located parallel to the river in Vientiane, you are sure to find something you like. Be sure to look for the massive outdoor night market on the riverfront, and you will know you are in the right area.

There are also plenty of hotels scattered all throughout Vientiane for those who want to keep their creature comforts.

Getting Around Vientiane

Walking is the best way to get around Vientiane, especially if staying in the downtown area along the Mekong River. However to get to some of the main sights, it’s best to take a Tuk Tuk, as some attractions are a long way from the city centre. Tuk Tuk drivers are literally everywhere. You won’t have any problems finding one, as the drivers constantly hassle you asking if you need a ride.

Vientiane is also easy to navigate. Just download a city map to your smart phone and away you go!

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