It’s incredibly hard to describe Vientiane – it oozes with character but yet it reminded me so much of so many other countries. Of course, there is French architecture courtesy of 60 years of French rule, and the French also left behind their baguettes, which can be seen in many pop up shops all around town.
At the local craft market, one could be forgiven for thinking for a split second that she were in the famous Chatuchak Market in Bangkok. Or mistaking oneself to be in the heart of Hanoi when served a steaming bowl of pho. On a random street lined with shophouses with faded paint, we strangely felt transported almost 2,000 km away to Jalan Besar Road in Singapore.
There are some cities that are built around tourism. Vientiane is not one of them. Which isn’t a bad thing; it simply means that every experience is authentic and as local as can be. But if you’re the sort that needs a water park or a huge shopping mall, perhaps Vientiane might not be the place for you.
Many fly into Vientiane, only to fly out to other part of Lao, like Vang Vieng for adventure, or to take things slow at Luang Prabang like we did. But since you’re in Vientiane anyway, why not stay for a while, even if it is a short while. What to do in Vientiane in 24 hours?
Read about our Luang Prabang trip here.
24 hours in Vientiane
Morning: First things first – EAT!
Arrive at the airport – do not grab a cab, do not pass go. Go straight to the domestic terminal (beside the international terminal), go upstairs and grab a bite for a proper welcome to Vientiane. Most times, airport food is disappointing and expensive. Not here. Hello, Vientiane!
PHA THAT LUANG
Hire a cab and head to Pha That Luang (pronounced tut with a silent h, not that as in this and that). The beautiful golden stupa in the centre of Vientiane is regarded as an important national monument. Take time to explore the grounds as well – there is a wat next door, and a gorgeous golden sleeping Buddha.
Entrance fee: 50,000 kip or USD6
Afternoon: EAT (AGAIN? WHY NOT!)
At this point, you would have done a fair bit of walking. So a good lunch is in order. There are small cafes within walking distance – many are Western cafes with tarts and cakes but we found one with Lao pho and were not disappointed. For 20,000 kip, this hit the spot and warmed us up on a rainy afternoon. Similar to Vietnamese pho, this dish is served with a variety of condiments and diners are free to add whatever they like. We loved our broth with mint and basil leaves and a squirt of lime. The meats must definitely be dipped in the chilli – it’s oh so good!
The Patuxai Victory Monument stands proudly in the centre of Vientiane. While it looks so much like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, complete with a boulevard leading to it, looking strikingly similar to the famous Champs-Elysées, the irony is that it was built to honour the people of Lao who were killed defending Lao against the French.
For 3,000 kip (about USD 38 cents), you can climb five stories up to the top for a panoramic view of Vientiane. Official opening hours for this are 8am to 4.30pm on weekdays, and till 5pm on weekends, but when we arrived just after lunch, there seemed to be an unofficial siesta going on – all the staircases were closed and nobody could give us an indication of when they would reopen.
Late afternoon: COPE CENTRE
Lao is the most heavily bombed country in the world, with 80 million unexploded bombs scattered around from World War II. There’s a free exhibit that you can visit to learn more about the work that COPE does to help help victims, many of whom are children who chanced upon these bombs and mistook them for toys.
Early evening: STROLL ALONG THE MEKONG RIVER
There is no better way to clear your mind than to have a stroll along the Mekong. You’ll share it with dating couples, families and seniors alike. There are free exercise sessions every evening so feel free to join in if you’ve got your gear on.
There’s also a night market where you can grab a bite or buy your souvenirs.
Dinner: Eat at any of the restaurants at Nam Phou Fountain
A short walk from the Mekong is Nam Phou Fountain, and area where many eateries have sprouted up. It’s as touristy as you get, and slightly more expensive, but still, it’s an area that locals frequent as well. Our local friends brought us to Khop Chai Deu which was delicious beyond belief, quite possibly our best meal in Lao.
And finally, a Beerlao
I’m not much of a beer drinker but there’s something about Beerlao that’s changed me. Get one at a supermarket, and enjoy it while winding down after a perfect day in charming Vientiane.
Have more time in Vientiane?
Image taken from Visit Laos
Villa Manoly is a slightly out of the way, but it’s a lovely villa with only 30+rooms. There’s a beautiful garden but watch out for mosquitoes. This is situated in a residential area so not all tuk-tuk drivers are familiar with it. Make sure to take a hotel card with you. Breakfast is simple and small, but the overall feel is extremely charming and laid-back. While wandering around the place, you might just get a flashback of visiting your grandma’s house as a child. We paid USD35 a night for a room with an attached shower breakfast included (not in shower). Email the owner directly if you have questions.
Vientiane Garden Hotel is just a short walk away from the Nam Phou Fountain area, where all the action is. You could walk to the Mekong River from here, and there is a convenience store just in front. We paid USD 36 a night for a room with attached shower. Price includes breakfast.
So here we go. 24 hours in Vientiane! If you’ve visited Vientiane before, tell us what your favourite thing was!