Laos may not be on the immediate radar of the average traveller, but arrive in Vientiane and you’re bound to be surprised by the well-manicured neighborhoods and gentrified streets. Pop into one of the many airconditioned cafes boasting fresh baguettes and free wifi, or rent bikes and wander around the quaint, tiny Laotian capital. Admire the fusion of French and Laotian architecture. In the evening, stroll around the night market, or enjoy a birds-eye view over beers at Bor Pen Yang on Rue Fa Ngum.
It’s no secret that Laos has been on the backpacker trail for many years, but we were still surprised to see the throngs of tourists roaming the streets in the downtown area. Old or young, posh or poor, it is evident that Laos attracts travellers of all kinds these days. While we were hoping for a more rugged introduction, there’s no doubting Vientiane’s charm, and with all its modern amenities, it certainly serves as a welcome stop for the weary traveller.
A few travel tips for Vientiane:
- If crossing in from Nong Khai in Thailand, we found this blog post very detailed and useful on how the process works. Only difference is the green bus from the border to Vientiane cost us 30baht (not 20).
- In the high season, guest houses tend to fill up quickly. Don’t panic if every place has a “Full” sign – keep walking towards the river and you’re bound to find a room. If you’d like to be safe, it may be a good idea to book in advance, or arrive early in Vientiane
- Bicycles are a great way to explore the city and its monuments. Daily rentals cost 10,000kip
- Most places have wifi and there are a handful of internet cafes too, so staying connected is pretty easy
- Don’t leave Vientiane without visiting the incredibly powerful COPE visitor center – COPE is dedicated to helping victims of UXO and locals with disabilities by manufacturing artificial limbs and mobility aids, and helping rehabilitate those who need these devices. Their tastefully-done visitor center sheds light on the Secret War and the ongoing work being done to rid Laos of the millions of unexploded bombs scattered around its mostly rural countryside. A bunker-style screening room has a list of award-winning documentaries – just ask the attendant to play the one you want to see. More inspirational and artistic than depressing, this center is an absolute must-see – we can`t recommend it enough!
- Important! Be sure to count the change you receive whenever paying for anything. Whether at money exchangers or cafes, hotels or bus stations, we noticed that quite often, sellers don’t give you the right change. The notes look quite similar and it’s easy to mix them up, so be careful!
- Transport out: Unlike most cities around the world, there isn’t much public transportation connecting Laos. From our experience, it’s usually worked out cheaper to take the private airconditioned minivans that pick you up from your guesthouse and drive on towards other destinations. We spent quite some time looking for alternatives to the private transport system, but even on the roads, we noticed no public buses or songthaews travelling greater distances. Shop around for the best deal at the many guest houses and travel agencies in Vientiane. Best price we found from Vientiane to Vang Vieng was 40,000kip.