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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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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.
|Avg Max||28.4 °C||30.3 °C||33 °C||34.3 °C||33 °C||31.9 °C||31.3 °C||30.8 °C||30.9 °C||30.8 °C||29.8 °C||28.1 °C|
|Avg Min||16.4 °C||18.5 °C||21.5 °C||23.8 °C||24.6 °C||24.9 °C||24.7 °C||24.6 °C||24.1 °C||22.9 °C||19.3 °C||16.7 °C|
|Rainfall||7.5 mm||13 mm||33.7 mm||84.9 mm||245.8 mm||279.8 mm||272.3 mm||334.6 mm||297.3 mm||78 mm||11.1 mm||2.5 mm|
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are numerous guesthouses in Vientiane. These are a few of the popular ones.
|Inter City Hotel, Mekong River View||24-25 Fa Ngum Road, Unit 5, Ban Wat Chan Chanthabury District||Hotel||-|
|Rivertime Ecolodge Resort||Thadokkham Village||Hostel||75|
|Phoungchampa Hotel||88 Chao Anou rd Ban Wat Chanh Chanthabuly, Vietiane||HOTEL||-|
|Parkview Executive Suites||Luangprabang road Sikottabong District Vientiane||Hotel||-|
|Sinnakhone Hotel||Francois Ngin,Ban Mixay||Hotel||-|
|Naphavong Backpackers Hostel||Chao Anou Road Ban Haisok, Cahnthaboury District||HOSTEL||-|
|Xaysomboun Hotel||Khounbulum Road, Sisaket Village Chanthabuly Distric, Vientiane, Lao P.D.R.||Hotel||-|
|Naphavong Place||Chao Anou Road Ban Haisok Chanthaboury District, Vientiane||Guesthouse||-|
|iHouse Residence||72/6 Pangkham Road, Water fountain/Mekong River Vientiane City Center||HOSTEL||40|
|Funky Monkey Hostel||Francois Ngin Rod,Ban Mixay||HOSTEL||70|
|Vientiane Backpackers Hostel||No. 13 Norkeokoummarn Road Ban Mixay||HOSTEL||71|
|Vientiane GuestHouse||044/19 Chao Anou Road Ban hai Sok||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Sihome Backpackers Hostel||026/04 Sihome Road Sihome Village Vientiane||HOSTEL||-|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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