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Vientiane

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Travel Guide Asia Laos Vientiane Province Vientiane

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Introduction

Vientiane

Vientiane

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Vientiane, the Laotian national capital is a quiet city by Asian standards, despite being the busiest city in the country. Situated on the Mekong river, the city is a blend of French colonial architecture and gilded temples. The city first became a capital in 1560, when it was the capital of the kingdom of Lan Xang. In 1828 it was ransacked by the Siamese, who controlled the city for over a hundred years. When the French eventually took control of the city in the late 19th century, it became the capital of the French protectorate of Laos, a position it retained after independence.

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Neighbourhoods

  • Central Vientiane
  • Muang Sikhottabong
  • Muang Chanthabuli
  • Muang Saisettha
  • Muang Sisattanak

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Sights and Activities

Vientiane

Vientiane

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  • Buddha Park - Open: 8:00am-4:30pm daily. Entry: US$0.50 admission and US$0.50 for a camera. Also known as Xieng Khuan about 24 kilometres southeast of the city centre, has a large collection of Buddhas and Hindu deities.
  • Haw Phra Kaew - Location: Th Setthathirat. Open: 8:00am-Noon and 1:00pm-4:00pm daily. Entry: US$0.50 admission. It is a former temple, now museum and small shops.
  • Lao National Museum - Location: Thanon Samsenthai. Open: 8:00am-4:00pm daily. Entry: 5,000K.
  • Patuxai - Location: Th Lan Xang. Open: 8:00am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday and 8:00am-5:00pm Saturday and Sunday. Entry: 3,000 Kip admission. The local take on Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Climb the stairs to the top for views of the city.
  • Pha That Luang - Open: 8:00am-noon and 1:00pm-4:00pm Tuesday-Sunday. Entry: US$0.30 admission. A Golden Buddhist stupa - the most important national monument in Laos.
  • COPE Visitor Center - Museum dedicated about the problems cluster bombing during the Vietnam war has brought to Laos, and the effects on daily life. Address: Khou Vieng Road, Vientiane, Laos, Hours: everyday from 9:00am to 6:00pm
  • Night market - Every evening there is a night market at the Riverside Park, next to the Mekong. The stalls are full of tourist crap, but it is a nice place to see the sun set over the Mekong.
Vientiane

Vientiane

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  • Talat Sao Morning Market now partly is the Talat Sao Shopping Mall. Although the AC is a blessing on those hot days, the market stalls out side are where the bargains are.
  • That Dam is a large stupa
  • Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan
  • Wat Si Muang - On the same road as Wat Si Saket just around 1km further down the road (Th Setthathirat leading to Tha Deu road). Wat Si Muang is one of the most important and well known temples in Vientiane and Laos. It is the home of the city’s founding pillar and the start of many significant processions, including the Wax Castle procession during That Luang festival.
  • Wat Si Saket - Location: Corner of Th Lan Xang and Th Setthathirat. Open: 8:00am-noon and 1:00pm-4:00pm. Entry: US$0.60 admission. It is a buddhist wat originally built between 1819 and 1824.
  • Wat Sok Pa Luang is a buddhist temple.

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Events and Festivals

Vientiane

Vientiane

© All Rights Reserved TdM Sud

  • Bun Nam River Festival (Held in October at the end of Buddhist Lent) - Boat races are held on the river and stalls and games line the streets around the river banks. Fireworks and lanterns are a common sight as are lotus leaves abnd flowers floating down the river.
  • New Year - International New Year is held on 31st December, Vietnamese Tet-Chinese New Year is held in February and Pii Mai (Lao New Year) is held in mid-April. During each celebration the riverbank is where the action is at.
  • Tat Luang Festival - Considered to be one of the biggest festivals in Vientiane, the Tat Luang Festival attracts Lao people from all over the country to the main temple in the capital. This three-day event takes place in November during the full moon. Market stalls, food vendors and amusement rides are set-up all around Tat Luang in celebration.
  • Handicraft Festival - The best venue to see a wide range of handicrafts, this annual event is held at the ITECC convention center in Vientiane in November. It’s a great place to see a range of goods and gifts all in one place to do your souvenir shopping.

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Weather

Vientiane has a hot and humid tropical climate. There are two seasons. The rainy season lasts from May to October while the much more pleasant dry season lasts from November to April. During the rainy season there is about 200 to 300 mm of rain a month and the high temperatures, averaging around 33 °C during the day and around 24 °C at night, makes this time the worst for a visit. Winter is much more pleasant with days still close to 30 °C and nights a nice 15 to 18 °C. March to May can be very hot, with temperatures close to 40 °C sometimes.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max28.4 °C30.3 °C33 °C34.3 °C33 °C31.9 °C31.3 °C30.8 °C30.9 °C30.8 °C29.8 °C28.1 °C
Avg Min16.4 °C18.5 °C21.5 °C23.8 °C24.6 °C24.9 °C24.7 °C24.6 °C24.1 °C22.9 °C19.3 °C16.7 °C
Rainfall7.5 mm13 mm33.7 mm84.9 mm245.8 mm279.8 mm272.3 mm334.6 mm297.3 mm78 mm11.1 mm2.5 mm
Rain Days12481518202117921

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Getting There

Vientiane

Vientiane

© All Rights Reserved TdM Sud

By Plane

Wattay International Airport (VTE) is located 3 kilometres outside of the city. There are only a limited number of airlines servicing the airport.

Lao Airlines is based at the airport and has connections to Siem Reap, Kunming (also with China Eastern Airlines), Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hanoi, as well as a number of domestic destinations including Luang Prabang, Houei Sai, Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Pakse, Xieng Khuang and Savannakhet.

Lao Air (other airline!) serves Samneua, Phongsaly and Xayabouly.

There are only a limited number of International airlines servicing the airport, including :

By Train

Since 2009, there are four shuttle services a day from Nong Khai in Thailand, to Tha Naleng, about 10 kilometres from Vientiane and reachable by shuttle bus from the morning market. The shuttle trains are timed to connect with overnight trains to and from Bangkok, with around 90 minutes buffer time at the Thai side of the border for buying tickets and immigration.

By Bus

  • The Northern Bus Station serves all points north of Vang Vieng, including China and also has a few buses to Vietnam
  • The Southern Bus Station has buses to Vietnam which normally stop here. Serves all points south of the capital within Laos.
  • The Talat Sao Bus Station serves as the local bus system to the surrounding villages and neighbourhoods as well as Vang Vieng. The Thai-Lao International Bus also arrives and departs from here.

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Getting Around

Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signs are rather lacking, although in the centre more and more signs are appearing. Where there are signs displaying street names they are bilingual in Lao and French. The Lao word "thanon" on these signs is translated by "road", "rue", "avenue" or "boulevard", in many cases without any apparent logic.

By Car

Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around USD0.50 per km or USD20-40 to hire one for the day, depending on car type and distance.

Taxi Vientiane Capital Lao Group Co. Ltd. (+856 21 454168, +856 21 454088, 90 Nongbone Rd) advertises 20,000 kip for the first kilometre, then 2,000 kip every 300 metres thereafter.

By Public Transport

Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins, jumbos, are ubiquitous in Vientiane. If chartering a tuk-tuk/jumbo, make sure of the fare in advance. Short hops within the city should not cost more than 10,000 kip per person. In most cases, foreigners will find it difficult to get bargain prices. All the tuk-tuk drivers carry a fare card for popular destinations but these fares are ridiculously inflated. Do not pay these bogus, published fares. Walking away can make the fare drop quickly. Shared jumbos running on set routes, e.g., Lan Xang Rd to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 10,000 kip. Tuk-tuks lined up at Mekong riverside restaurants or other busy areas will try to charge you 30,000-50,000 kip even for short trips. It's not worth trying to bargain as they won't go anywhere for a normal (10,000 kip) fare. Walk a few blocks and you get a much lower price.

Old blue-and-white buses and newer white minibuses connect the centre to the suburban districts, but they are not equipped with air-con and have no signage in English, although route numbers are usually (not always) posted on the front. The only bus likely to be of use to the casual visitor is the bus to/from the Friendship Bridge, which continues on to Buddha Park for a fixed fare of 5,000 kip. The bus to Wattay International Airport goes near the airport, but not quite into it.

By Foot

Getting around on foot is the ideal way to explore Vientiane. The city is not that big, and most sights are within a walking distance. Remember that it can get hot, and take enough water and a hat.

By Bike

Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guesthouses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around 10,000 kip per day. (The cheapest is apparently Douang Deuane Hotel, 8,000 kip, though their bikes are not the best.) Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify. You can usually choose to leave your passport, your driver's licence, about 1,000 baht, or a comparable amount of kip or dollars as a deposit. Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow. But take extra care when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced (even in the city centre), and they can be muddy and slippery. Innocent-looking puddles sometimes conceal deep potholes.

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Eat

Along the river there are dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens (those upstream from the main beach promenade are generally cheaper). All are pleasant places for a beer and a snack or a complete meal while the sun goes down over the river. One of these is one-time famous John's Restaurant, but since the owner married an Australian and left town there is nothing to distinguish it from the other places left and right. All serve inexpensive (but not really cheap for Laos) Lao, Thai, and some Western food. Among the best is the grilled fish, served by many of them. Take care when you're in for boiled eggs: what you get here are incubated duck eggs. When you open them you're in for a surprise (but at least the little bird does not chirp). The Lao love them and they are hugely popular. In 2005 one of the restaurants along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan "tables" (kantoke). Diners sit cross-legged on the mat around the table. These became so popular that they can now be found at many of these establishments. They are much nicer than the rickety metal tables and plastic chairs that are the standard of all but the better restaurants in Laos. The riverside open-air restaurants have been known to use two menus, a cheaper one for locals and an expensive one for foreigners.

Ban Anou Night Market has some of the best cheap meals in the city despite being only about 1 block long. Starts setting up at sundown. There's a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with hand pulled noodles, little lettuce-wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice, local beverages made from coconut, chai tea, cornm grass jelly and more. Particularly worth trying are the small rice pancakes, two hemispheres of rice-based batter fried in a tin, filled with minced pork and beansprouts and put together. About the size of a flattened tennis ball, absolutely delicious.

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Drink

Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, but there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline has long been the epicentre of low-key nightlife, although a massive construction project to build a flood management levee system and a riverside park has seen most of the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens here disappear.

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Sleep

Budget

There are numerous guesthouses in Vientiane. These are a few of the popular ones.

  • RD Guest House provides dorm rooms. (Location: 037/1 Rd, Nokeokoummane)
  • Sabaidy Guesthouse (Location: 203, Setthathilath Road, Mixay 12)
  • Vayakorn Guest House (Location: 91 Thanon Nokeo Kumman)
PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Inter City Hotel, Mekong River View24-25 Fa Ngum Road, Unit 5, Ban Wat Chan Chanthabury DistrictHotel-
Rivertime Ecolodge ResortThadokkham VillageHostel75
Phoungchampa Hotel88 Chao Anou rd Ban Wat Chanh Chanthabuly, VietianeHOTEL-
Parkview Executive SuitesLuangprabang road Sikottabong District VientianeHotel-
Sinnakhone HotelFrancois Ngin,Ban MixayHotel-
Naphavong Backpackers HostelChao Anou Road Ban Haisok, Cahnthaboury DistrictHOSTEL-
Xaysomboun HotelKhounbulum Road, Sisaket Village Chanthabuly Distric, Vientiane, Lao P.D.R.Hotel-
Naphavong PlaceChao Anou Road Ban Haisok Chanthaboury District, VientianeGuesthouse-
iHouse Residence72/6 Pangkham Road, Water fountain/Mekong River Vientiane City CenterHOSTEL40
Funky Monkey HostelFrancois Ngin Rod,Ban MixayHOSTEL70
Vientiane Backpackers HostelNo. 13 Norkeokoummarn Road Ban MixayHOSTEL71
Vientiane GuestHouse044/19 Chao Anou Road Ban hai SokGUESTHOUSE-
Sihome Backpackers Hostel026/04 Sihome Road Sihome Village VientianeHOSTEL-

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Keep Connected

Internet

Most provincial capitals have internet access, particularly those that a more popular with tourists. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane rates are usually very reasonable at about US$0.50 to US$1.50 per hour. In more remote towns where competition is low, rates are a fair bit higher at around US$3 to US$6 per hour. If you're looking to save a bit of money, it's best to save your emailing until you reach the larger towns and cities.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country code for Laos is 856. To dial out of the country, the international access code is 00. There are plenty of public phone booths in Laos but these are pretty useless as phonecards are no longer sold and the technology is rather archaic. For long distance calls it's much better to use a post office or internet cafe. The best place however is the local Telecom Office.

Mobile phone users can use their own GSM mobile phone in Laos. Roaming tends to be expensive, so if you're planning on using your phone a fair bit it may well be worth buying a local SIM card and purchasing prepaid minutes. SIMs are normally around US$5 and both Lao Telecom and ETL have good network coverage.

Post

For the best postal services, send your mail from Vientiane as the post in the provinces is less reliable. In general it takes anywhere from 1 to over 2 weeks to send post to/from Laos. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm, with some having shorter hours on weekend days as well. If you are going to Thailand, post from there as it's more reliable and faster. If you are worried about sending home valuable items there is a Federal Express office inside the main post office in Vientiane. You might also check possibilities with companies like DHL, TNT or UPS.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 17.9689
  • Longitude: 102.6137

Accommodation in Vientiane

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Vientiane searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Vientiane and areas nearby.

Contributors

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Vientiane Travel Helpers

  • Vientianer

    I'm a Lao native living in Vientiane Capital. I might not possibly know all the answers to every question, but I think I know my home land to the extend that I can provide answers to some of the questions asked here.

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