Hugging a curve of the mighty Mekong River, the former sleepy Vientiane has blossomed into a bustling capital with a laid-back attitude.
Vientiane is slowly but surely waking up from its long slumber as tourists discover its gems and like what they have found. A pleasant break from the usual hustle and bustle of Southeast Asian capital cities, Vientiane’s easy-going disposition makes it an ideal decompression zone.
A walk in the city is never boring with glistening temples beckoning and intricate naga statues piquing your interest, or simply relax by the riverside in one of the many cafés and restaurants over a refreshing cold beer while you are immersed in the fiery glow of sunset. Vientiane is a very affordable destination ideal for backpackers and solo travelers while romantic couples will surely appreciate its charming character too.
Although the Vientiane Wattay Airport’s international service from outside of Southeast Asia is somewhat limited, it is getting better. Located just 4 kilometres outside of the city, the airport makes a convenient gateway to Vientiane city. Alternatively, the city is very well connected by buses. You can find buses that cross the border and go directly to Vientiane from Bangkok, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh.
You can easily find ATMs all across the city of Vientiane, however, they can sometimes be out of cash or break down and take your card, so you should only use ATMs at bank branches. Credit cards are only accepted at high-end establishments so most transactions are done in cash. The Laotian Kip (LAK), US dollars (USD), and Thai Baht (THB) are widely accepted and you can exchange money at banks or money changers, usually at a better rate than banks, which are plentiful.
With a warm tropical climate, Vientiane is a great destination 365 days of the year. The most pleasant months from November to February see sunny days with relatively lower temperature while it starts to get hotter from March to May. June through October marks the wet season with high temperature and heavy rainfalls.
Vientiane is very much a walkable city, especially during the cooler season. Biking is also a great option to explore the city. Tuk-tuks in this city work more like a public transport rather than a private vehicle wherein even after negotiating a price, the driver would pick up other passengers en route. To get to the suburban districts, you can also catch a bus at the city centre. Since traffic at Vientiane is more orderly than its counterparts in Thailand and Vietnam, you may consider renting a car too.
Food choices at Vientiane are plentiful, offering a wide selection of cuisines. Local Lao noodle shops are everywhere in the city at an amazingly affordable price. Feeling like something more exotic? Head to the west side of the morning food market for some fried crickets or other bug delicacies. Hip cafes and beer gardens serving the national beer and perhaps the best Southeast Asian beer, Beer Lao, can be found at the riverside. Restaurants serving Western food and other Asian cuisines are everywhere at the heart of the city including some local fast food joints.
In many ways, Vientiane still feels like a small town despite being the capital city of the country. When in Vientiane, do as the locals do and slow down your pace to open up a world of tranquillity, history, and friendly people.