The Laos capital, Vientiane (pronounce Viangchan in Lao), is a small, relaxed city and has more of a small town feel than that of a capital.
It is stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the river bank inland, the three main roads run parallel to the river, while the largest and widest boulevard, Lane Xang Ave, runs from the Presidential Palace to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.
Sunset at Mekong River, Vientiane
Most of the restaurants, cafes, guesthouses and hotels are in the main “downtown” area and getting around is easy on foot, by bicycle or by tuk tuk. There are several mini markets selling western food and other necessities.
There is a big variety of cuisine, from the local street food to good quality Lao and international restaurants including European, Indian, Japanese and vegetarian eating places.
There are many temples in the town itself, so it is easy to stroll around and visit most of them, but remember the dress rules – women should wear modest clothes (covered arms and at least knee-length shorts and skirt, and men in T-shirts and shorts at a minimum) and shoes should be removed before entering a temple. Once a month, local monks gather at the Sangha College (Wat Ongteu) for Monk Chat with tourists. Monk Chat can also be found on Facebook.
One of the best ways to travel is by bike and they can be hired from many places around town from between 10,000 and 20,000 kip per day. All the roads in Laos capital are now paved and there is good street lighting.
Lane Xang avenue, Patuxai view
That Luang is a little further out and quite a long walk, so a bike or tuk tuk is a good idea, especially in the hot season. Check Map of Vientiane for direction.
Some temples (Wat Si Saket, That Luang and Haw Pha Kaew) charge a small entry fee for Lao nationals and foreigners.
Vientiane has several markets, both for day to day needs and for souvenirs; the biggest of these is the Morning Market, about 10-15 minutes walk from the centre of town. There is also a vast range of shops selling traditional silk weavings and other handicrafts. There is also a small night market along the riverfront selling ethnic goods.
There are also many, many places to get a relaxing foot or body massage, either in traditional Lao style or a more gentle oil one.
Lao handicrafts sold at night market
Banks and exchange offices are located throughout the city centre and ATMs can now be found all round town. Click here for more info on money matters.
At night it is possible to enjoy bars and music venues of many types. Some of the most popular venues for a sunset beer are the small outside local “cafes” which spring up along the river front every night, only to be packed up again at the end of business.
The recent riverfront redevelopment added more public space and green areas to the city. King Anouvong Park locating on the river bank behind the Presidential Palace is a part of the project. This is the best place to watch sunset in Vientiane.
In the park there are gym equipments for the public to use for free. There is also children play ground a bit further up, thanks to the Korean government for installation of these.
Apart from exploring the city itself there are several nice places to see around the Laos capital, Vientiane, where you can go kayaking, wild-water rafting, trekking through nature parks, such as Nam Ngum Lake, the Nam Lik eco-adventure area, Tha Ngon floating fish restaurant, Buddha Park and the Phou Khao Khouay national park.