The Laotian Capital
An eclectic mix of European and Asian cultures, Vientiane offers both mesmerising man-made architecture and natural splendour. Whereas most of the major cities in the region have undergone rapid gentrification, the Laotian capital has kept its classic charm with tree-lined avenues and an unhurried, mellow atmosphere.
The majority of the city's must-visits are conveniently located within relatively close proximity of each other, due to the fact that an urban sprawl has yet to emerge within the city. Brightly painted buildings are set against the magnificent views of rugged mountains and the fertile low lands of the Mekong. The French-influenced older buildings are worthwhile in terms of their historical and cultural significance. Coexisting harmoniously with the Western-style dwellings are exquisite Buddhist temples, which dominate the scene of central Vientiane and impart a unique character of timelessness.
Vientiane is also a bike-friendly city, with scenic cycling routes circling this delightful capital. Bike rental shops are found left, right and centre, even at guesthouses. If you’re not up for that, there’s always a tuk-tuk for hire to get around.
Not-to-be-missed Sights and Activities
Highlight of the city
The Great Sacred Stupa (Pha That Luang) is the recommended first stop in Vientiane. Built by a Laotian King in the 16th century, the Great Sacred Stupa is the definite highlight of Vientiane and the country’s proud national symbol of both Buddhism and sovereignty. Here, visitors can get a glimpse of this magnificent golden sacred stupa rising above the monument in the distance. The stupa has a lot of neighbouring temples worth visiting, especially the enormous 120-metre-long Reclining Buddha. If visitors travel here on the full moon of the twelfth month of the calendar year, they can join in the celebrations of its annual national event.
Other famed religious sites include Buddha Park, locally known as Xieng Khua, a sculpture park featuring hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu statues, built in the 1960s. For some cultural immersion, visit Wat Si Muang, where plenty of local worshippers come to pray. The Black Stupa (That Dam), built in the 19th century, is believed to be inhabited by a protective seven-headed nāga to keep invaders away from the capital. Sisaket Temple & Museum, another interesting destination, is Vientiane's oldest surviving temple and one of the city's most important Buddhist sites, featuring Buddha images from the 15th-19th centuries. Opposite to the temple is Haw PhraKaew which formerly housed the Emerald Buddha.
France colonised Laos in 1907, and the French legacy in Laos is still evident today, particularly in its colonial-style architecture, such as the Victory Gate (Patuxai) – an equivalent of Champs-Élysées in Paris. This massive concrete war memorial, built in the late 1950s, is located on a roundabout at the end of Lane Xang Avenue. Another outstanding building is the Beaux Art-style Presidential Palace, originally built to house the French colonial governor.
A trip to a local museum can reveal a lot about a city, and the same can be said for COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise), a small museum which depicts the history of Laos and the aftermath of the war. Here is a good place to learn about the effects of the horrific bombings in the 1960s, understand the plight of the injured, and donate what you can to help the affected.
Just because materialism has not invaded the city does not mean you can’t enjoy some shopping. There are quite a few markets around Vientiane selling various items, from fresh produce to crafts and ornaments. The city’s main shopping streets are Samsenthai and Setthathirat, near where the Morning Market (Talat Sao) is located. This market offers great deals on local silks, woodwork and textiles. Night Market near Chao Anouvong Park is also a nice place to explore and hop on a culinary adventure at the small local eateries, set up only in the evening.
Restaurants, cafes and bars in Vientiane come in all types and sizes, from cheap street food stalls to upscale places. While the majority focuses on local gastronomic delights, many offer а wide selection of international cuisines from Chinese to Tex-Mex, mostly at affordable prices. Be aware that most of them are closed on Sundays.
Lao traditional food is dry and spicy, but due to the Western influence, its coffee is also one of the highlights. Lao coffee is intense in terms of both caffeine content and flavour, best enjoyed with a side of pastry.
Larb (chopped marinated meat with chilli, onion and herbs) is a dish that is particular to Laos, and is often served on special occasions such as weddings. The spicy dish usually comes with a serving of steamed sticky rice and raw vegetables. This unofficial national dish of Laos is so good that most people use sticky rice to mop up all the sauce, polishing the plate clean.
When in Vientiane, be sure to check out any of the abundant noodle shops to try the signature noodle soup dish of Laos. A must-try is tom khao piak (rolled rice noodle soup) in flavourful soup accompanied by meat, crispy fried onion flakes, garlic and vegetables.
And what better way to finish off a meal than a glass or two of cold Beer Lao? An iconic part of the Lao people’s everyday lives, Beer Lao is a premium authentic rice beer, brewed from a unique blend of the finest European and Laotian ingredients. If you’re in the mood for other kinds of after-dinner beverages, there are an ever-increasing number of bars in the city centre, where you can sip your drink and people-watch all night long, as most often stay open beyond closing time.
Continuing your journey
There is much more to see and experience in Laos outside the capital. What about flying with us to other untouched parts of the country? Bangkok Airways offers three more routes worth a holiday experience. From Bangkok, you can fly direct into Luang Prabang, the UNESCO listed World Heritage town in northern Laos.
|Route||One Way||Round Trip|
|Bangkok - Vientiane||1,690 THB||2,790 THB|
|Route||One way||Round Trip|
|Vientiane - Bangkok||40 USD||63 USD|
|Currency : USD|
|Currency : USD|
CurrencyThai Baht (THB)
Electricity/Socket Adaptor220V 50Hz
Time zoneUTC +7
Tel code+66 2
JUN - NOVRainy season - wet and humid
30°C - 35°C
Prepare for rainy days
DEC - FEBCool season - breezy evenings and comfortable weather
26°C - 30°C
Great time for sightseeing
MAR - MAYHot season - sunny and blazing hot
30°C - 40°C
Bring plenty of water when out and about