Vientiane General Information

General Information on Vientiane

Vientiane is located in the Mekong Valley and is the largest capital city of Laos with an estimate population of 750,000 people (2011) and here is some general information about Vientiane. Currently, this laid-back city is one of the interesting places to visit at the moment as they are one of the newest players in the tourism industry for Indochina and Southeast Asia.

An interesting sign at the airport

Vientiane town is also currently being developed at a fast pace so as you enter Laos via flight, you will land at the Wattay International Airport which is very modern and you would be quite quite impressed. But a quick walk to the domestic terminal will take you back in time. The other popular way of getting to Vientiane would be via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge via road and in future, train. Right now, the train from Bangkok stops at the border town of Nong Kai and you need to take a tuk tuk across to the Laos checkpoint.

Vientiane Stupas in LaosVientiane Stupas in town area

Vientiane was also featured in the New York Times in 2008 as the top place to visit for that year. I had already booked my Vientiane tickets via AirAsia on promotion before the announcement came out and back then, I paid only about RM600 (US$170) both ways for two persons. If you want a very good deal, visit the AirAsia website for tickets and packages. Also check out AirasiaGo to Vientiane as they have some really sweet deals.

Vientiane Presidential Palace in LaosVientiane Presidential Palace

Walking around Vientiane can be pretty easy and relaxing as there are a number of temples and interesting sites within the town area. However, you should be prepared for some extreme walking too if you are the type that loves to wander. I spent a good two days on foot exploring the city while the other days were on a rented motorbike to visit the other places of interest. It is actually cheap and easy to rent a motorbike in Vientiane for foreigners which I described in my other story.

Me, posing at the police and fire department of Vientiane

Art Paintings in VientianeLao paintings sold near the Mekong river

If you explore around town center, you are sure to come across roadside vendors selling paintings. They are all unframed paintings done by locals and are sold pretty cheap. I mean, when I bought some of them in 2008, they cost only about US$3-$5 for the small and medium sized ones while the larger ones went for around $10 to $15.

Lao Paintings in VientianeVientiane - Street art being sold by locals

Some of the vendors set up shop late in the morning and looking closely, you would be amazed at some of the work being sold. The paintings are mostly of Buddha and Monks. Some paintings are of local scenery and I would recommend you buy them. A weaved painting holder is also sold for about $2-$3 to hold your rolled paintings so you can easily take them back home.

nightlife in VientianeVientiane nightlife where restaurants line the streets at the fountain

Vientiane Monks doing construction work at a temple

Video of the Mekong River in Vientiane

Vientiane river restaurantsVientiane riverside local restaurants

The mighty Mekong river which borders Thailand seems to be the center of attraction in Vientiane where most of the restaurants, guesthouses and hotels are situated. I would say that this is one of the must visit places while in Vientiane. Experience the local lifestyle of the Lao people by sitting at one of the local coffee shops or riverside restaurants enjoying a nice Lao Coffee or a cold Lao Beer.

Mekong River in vientianeVientiane Mekong River floating bar restaurant

Sadly when I visited Vientiane in February, the Mekong River was all dried up. It was so dry that people from way across the river in Thailand would walk across to Vientiane. The super wide Mekong river in Vientiane is actually a border with Thailand. I looked like a full kilometer across the river from my view.

Dried up Mekong River in VientianeVientiane - Dried up Mekong River. Thailand is just across.

So, there I stood watching these people going about their daily life. Motorcycles were seen riding across the river bed to the border while hoards of people were casually walking into Vientiane. There were no police or immigration people around when this happened. Very interesting indeed.

Restaurant along Mekong River in VientianeVientiane Mekong riverside restaurant

Laos lady Local Lao lady selling items in town

Vientiane Joma BakeryLatte at Joma Bakery in Vientiane

Eating in Vientiane can be a wonderful experience as the local Lao Food there is absolutely tasty and fresh. For me, it was a blast as I totally love the Indochina style of food. If you don't have the stomach to try the local Lao food, then there are many other options like European-style bakeries and cafes there too.

Not forgetting the amazing selection of French, Swedish and European cuisines available in town. Prices are pretty reasonable and quality of the food there is top notch. And if it gets too tricky, you can simply opt for the hotel food.

Vientiane French bakeryFrench bakery in Vientiane

Bakeries seem to be very popular here and walking around Vientiane town, you are sure to come across various bakeries like French, Italian and even Swiss Bakeries so you are never away from home as they say.

But keep in mind that there are no international fast food chains in Laos. No McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Doughnuts or Taco Bell at all. The coffee served around town is usually the famous Lao coffee which is a must-try, if you love coffee.

money changer in vientianeVientiane money changer or currency exchange

Foreign currency exchange in Vientiane are easily found throughout the main town area. While most of these money exchange outlets would exchange most popular currencies, some of them do not accept Malaysian Ringgit (this goes to the Malaysians traveling to Vientiane). I would suggest for you to change your local currency to US Dollars before going to Vientiane. However, US Dollars, Thai Bath and Lao KIP are accepted throughout Laos. Give them US dollars and Bath and they give you change in KIP.

Foreign Currency Exchange Rates in Vientiane Vientiane Foreign Currency Exchange Rates

While I was in Vientiane, I found only one outlet that accepted Malaysian Ringgit and with that, I changed all my remaining Ringgit to KIP as I was headed to Luang Prabang for the rest of my trip and was informed that they do not accept the Ringgit in Luang Prabang. ATM Machines are available at various locations so you can do a cash advance in emergencies.

Bus tickets in Vientiane GuesthouseVientiane guesthouse bus ticket prices

Many of the guesthouses offer bus tickets to almost the entire of Laos and also to Thailand. Shop around for the best price if you are planning on seeing other places in Laos. In many cases, most foreigners would arrive in Vientiane, meet other travelers, discuss and then book tickets to other places. This usually is the case for backpackers. These ticket counters also provide taxi services to nearby places of interest and also to the airport.

Traditional Lao Show Yensabai Yensabai Traditional Lao Show in Vientiane

Finally, if you have the time, go see the local Lao Traditional Show locally called Yensabai Show. This is in the Quai Fa Ngum Road area. Shows starts daily at 5:30pm (closed on Sundays) and tickets are US$7 (Child 2-12 yrs - US $4) and are sold at the theater entrance from 4:30 pm. The Lao Cultural Show is located on Manthathurath Road in Vientiane.

Other than that, Vientiane is pretty much simple with hardly any crime and easy to move around town. Most of the popular tourist sites are Stupas or temples. If you want to fully experience Laos, you need to visit other places like Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vang Vieng.

If you have plans to travel to other parts of Laos and do not have time, flying is the best option with Laos Airlines. I personally recommending this as it saves a huge amount of time.

Watch out for: Local tuk tuk drivers trying to sell you 'grass' (Marijuana). Just politely decline them and they will not hassle you. Also, do not get caught with drugs as it is a very harsh punishment there.

I'm surprised that: There are hardly any beggars in the town area. Apparently the government and police are very strict with beggars and if caught, they would be hauled up and sent out of town to a detention center.

Take some time to: Try to local Lao or Khmer Massage in town. Cheap and surprisingly good. There are a number of these places around the main town area so shop around. Also, check out the roadside ''Banana Pancake' vendors at night who push their stalls around town.

Be amazed at: How the Lao ladies dress in the traditional skirt all over Laos and even in Vientiane town. The men however are normal dressed. It is a culture where Lao women still practice the tradition till this very day.

Be careful: When buying Lao Antiques as the government has a very strict ruling on taking out local antiques from the country. Only antiques with permits are allowed out. If you are caught, without one, the fine could be quite high so best to avoid.

Best time to visit Vientiane: Would be from November to February when the weather is cooling.

Is Vientiane Safe? 100% Safe from my personal experience. Well, just don't get drunk and think you own the bar like what some travelers do in Bangkok or Pattaya.

Off The Beaten Part in Vientiane: For the ladies, try attending a Lao Cooking Class. There are a few which have classes for 3-4 hours around town area. One of them is located at the Thong Bay Guesthouse.

My other Vientiane articles for reference;

For anyone planning to visit this amazing place, make sure that you get all your arrangements done proper as you would not want to have things half way. Vientiane is also the main gateway to other parts of Laos and this country is the last country to ope up to tourism apart from Myanmar. I hope that you found my Vientiane general information useful or helpful in any way. 

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