How long should I spend in Vientiane? This was the one question I kept asking over and over when researching what I should do in the capital city of Laos. Advice ranged from 1-2 days and I can confidently say a day and a half is all you need. There aren’t many people bustling about (except on big holidays) so you can travel peacefully and get all the awesome Instagram shots like I did!
Things You Should Know About Vientiane:
- It is the capital and largest city with a population of about 760,000.
- The cops are strict. If you don’t have an IDP, don’t drive a scooter at all. If the police catch you, they will demand bribe money ($50 each time). Then they will phone their friends and tell them where you’re headed so they can profit off you too.
- The best way to get around Vientiane is on foot or tuk tuk.
- Never take the first price the tuk tuk driver gives you and barter for a lower price if they are to give you a tour.
In my experience, we walked around on foot. I highly recommend it because it’s great exercise and you never know what you might stumble upon. A good pair of sneakers and comfy cotton shorts to avoid chub rub is all you need.
Haw Phra Kaew
This temple has an interesting history as it was built on the grounds of the palace and no monks lived there. The king at the time used this as a personal place of worship after he moved the capital from Luang Prabang. An emerald Buddha was housed there for 200 years before it was seized by a Siamese general and destroyed. It’s now a museum with some vendors outside.
Wat Si Saket
This is a very beautiful temple built in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture with beautiful paintings on the inside. Unfortunately, the humidity and salt deposits are causing it to deteriorate. A restoration project is underway with painters being trained on how to properly restore the art. This is worth the visit because you can admire the five tiered roof and terrace with Buddhas adorning the outskirts.
The name of this gate overlooking the park has traditional Lao styles with mythical Lao creatures. Patuxay or Victory Park is a warm monument in the center of the city dedicated to all those who fought to gain their independence from France in 1949. The park itself has historical value and is a great place to sit on a bench with an ice cream and relax.
Pha That Luang
All that glitters is indeed gold and this is definitely a temple that stands out from anywhere including a rainy and ugly back drop. It has a long history of being rebuilt, destroyed, and plundered throughout the ages.
Related: Ten Things to do in Vang Vieng
Wat That Luang Neua
This gorgeous temple is located right next to and north of Pha That Luang and has been one of my favorite couple photos with Aaron thus far. It’s guarded by two large Buddha statues who guard the facility.
After asking around for the best massage parlors, we came around one in the basement of the Sengtawan Riverside Hotel. You’ll be taken into a room with comfy clothes to change into. The traditional Lao massage costs about 60,000 kip which is about $7.30 US. Tips can be from 50,000 to 100,000 kip depending on how good you think your massage is. Typical massages are meant to be hard and hurt. They work on your legs and the pressure points in your feet and back. The best part was when they stretched and cracked my back. At the end, you’ll receive some relaxing tea.
Beer Lao by the Mekong
During the day when the heat is smoldering most locals hide out and wait for the cooler hours of the night to socialize and go about their business. It’s super relaxing to find a riverside bar and eatery and watch the sunset over the Thailand side.
This is a sculpture park located in a meadow. It’s a bit far from the city center so be sure to get a tuk tuk there. These statues are built with unique and bizarre designs. Some sculptures even tell the story of heaven and hell.
Where to stay
I’m totally not getting anything from recommending this to you, but you should seriously consider staying at Smile Dee in front of the Mekong River. The rooms are spacious and a huge prince size bed awaits you. The interior is made of traditional Lao architecture and if you can imagine Victorian style keys as your room card, then this place is pretty darn cool.
What & Where to Eat
- Benoni Cafe – Aaron and I loved this cafe so much we went back to eat multiple times. The service is spectacular, the food comes quick and hot and the apple crumble pie is to die for.
- Rattana’s Smile Dee – If you do stay at Rattana’s accommodation, just know the restaurant has a delicious array of Asian, Lao and French food. If you’re feeling lazy, this is always a wonderful find.
- Papaya Salad – One of the tricks I quickly learned about this delectable delight is that there is such a thing as too spicy. When you tell the locals to make it spicy tell them a little bit so it comes out to a medium spice level.
- Pad Thai – Since Thailand is literally a boat ride away, the capital city takes many of its dishes from the neighboring countries. This dish literally tastes like it came out of a Thai kitchen.
- Pho – Another fantastic dish taken from its neighbor the Pho is made with lots of coriander, a delicious broth, and a juicy lime to add flavor.
- Fried Rice – This is the most common and cheap dish I’ve seen. Not all fried rice are created equal. I’ve seen some so greasy I felt like I was eating that instead of the fried rice. Go to a reputable restaurant to avoid food poisoning.
- Western food – Korea, move out of the way when it comes to foreign food because Laos has some of the most on point food I’ve ever eaten. It tasted like the less greasy version of whatever you get in America.
Laos’ capital is what you make of it. Go in with an open mind and no expectations and your stay there will be pleasant and lovely. Although Vientiane is the capital city, there’s plenty of room and people aren’t on top of each other like in Seoul. You can get all the perfect shots and the life in Laos is so laid back, you don’t have to feel like you’re in a rush. Good luck and have fun in Laos!