Imagine a peaceful capital, devoid of the hustle and bustle and ostentatious luxury of the big cities. This is Vientiane – the capital of Laos, where time seems to pass peacefully, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the cultural richness of a nation. Here, you’ll discover majestic Buddhist temples that bear witness to the deep spirituality of the Laotian people. What’s more, this city is also the guardian of the values of the French colonial period, where the influence of European architecture blends harmoniously with the local culture.
In this article, we invite you to explore the many facets of Vientiane for a complete immersion and to make the most of your stay in this captivating city.
Capital of Laos – historical development
Vientiane is located in the northern region of the country, along the left bank of the Mekong River. The capital has a complex and eventful history. Founded in the 9th century, it has been dominated by various empires, including the Khmer, Vietnamese, Burmese and Siamese. In 1560, Vientiane became the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom under King Setthathirat, marking a period of greatness. However, it has also suffered destruction, looting and occupation over the centuries.
In the 19th century, the city came under French influence during the colonisation of Indochina.
It was not until the 2000s that Vientiane underwent a major transformation. Events such as the ASEAN Summit in 2004, the South East Asian Games in 2009 and the 450th anniversary celebrations in 2010 have stimulated its growth. Since then, it has undergone rapid expansion with construction projects, road upgrades and increased traffic.
Today, the city is a thriving capital, skilfully reconciling its turbulent past with a growing modernity.
Vientiane travel guide: what to see and do?
The charming capital is packed with cultural and enriching activities that will leave you breathless! Whether you’re visiting alone, as a couple, with family or friends, you’re sure to find something to make your trip unique and memorable. If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Vientiane, you can start by thinking about the activities you don’t want to miss. We’ve shared our top recommendations below.
1. Patuxai Triumphal Arch
The Patuxai Arch is a must-see destination in the Laotian capital. Built in the 1960s, it pays tribute to the Laotians who fought for independence from France. Reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it is nicknamed the “Arc de Triomphe du Laos” and is also known as the “Porte de la Victoire”. In fact, the entire street at the end of which the Patuxai Arch stands bears many similarities to Champs-Elysées in Paris.
It is decorated with religious symbols and offers magnificent views from its dome. Visitors can climb to the top via stairs, for a fee of 3,000 kips per person.
2. That Luang stupa
- Map: That Luang, Xaysettha 10009, Vientiane
- Open: 08 am–12 pm/ 1 pm – 5 pm
That Luang is the most sacred and majestic monument in Laos. Its official name is actually Pha Chedi Lokajulamani, which could be translated as “The World’s Precious Sacred Stupa”. Built in 1566 after the capital was transferred to Vientiane, the pagoda was covered in gold leaf and is said to contain a hair of Buddha himself. Damaged by past invasions, it was restored by the French in 1930.
We recommend visiting the That Luang temple in November during the festival of the same name, which attracts thousands of Laotian and foreign devotees every year, creating an exceptional cultural and spiritual atmosphere.
Today, Pha That Luang occupies a place of great importance in the national symbolism of Laos, being depicted on the country’s coat of arms as well as on banknotes in circulation.
3. Buddha Park Xieng Khuan
- Map: Deua, Thanon Tha, Vientiane
- Open: 8 am – 5 pm
If you’re interested in Buddhism and Hinduism, don’t miss Buddha Park. Located around 25 kilometres south-east of the city centre, along the Mekong River, this magnificent park is home to hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu statues of all sizes. The locals call it Xieng Khuan – “the city of the soul”.
Created in 1958 by a shaman-priest-yogi, this curious public park was born of its founder’s desire to merge Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, mythologies and iconography in one place. Buddha Park is famous for its collection of some 200 large religious statues, cultivating a mysterious and fascinating aspect. The centrepiece of the collection is a 120-metre-long reclining Buddha.
4. Nam Ngum Lake
If you want to venture out into the countryside surrounding this capital, then Lake Ang Nam Ngum comes highly recommended. This reserve of water, bordered by islets and fishing villages, is still a relatively untouristy destination, ideal for cutting yourself off from the world and enjoying the moment while letting the sun warm your skin with an impromptu picnic on one of the lake’s two beaches.
Enjoy a digestive stroll on a pirogue tour, or a mini-cruise around the surrounding islands, before leaving again with a taste of the region’s delicious seafood! In addition to the destination, the road leading to Ang Nam Ngum lake is also very interesting, and will plunge you into the heart of the Laotian countryside, between waterfalls, villages of the Hmong ethnic group and cliffs sculpted with representations of Buddha. It’s a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
5. Laos National Museum
- Map: 328 13, Vientiane
- Open: 08 am –12 pm / 1 pm – 4 pm
Laos National Museum is housed in a former French building dating from 1925. It exhibits historical documents covering the colonial period, the revolution and the struggle for national identity. Ancient artefacts are displayed on the first floor, while the second floor showcases documents relating to the 1975 war.
For those who want to know more about the country’s history, this museum is a great place to visit. It covers a good deal of history, including the period of colonisation, the revolution and the country’s struggle to assert its own identity. The museum has recently been relocated, however, and is therefore quite far from the city centre.
6. Vientiane night market
- Map: along the Mekong Riverfront
- Open: 6 pm to 10 pm
The night market in the capital of Laos is a lively place to buy souvenirs. It starts at 6pm and offers a variety of products at reasonable prices. Don’t hesitate to negotiate prices! Don’t miss the morning market, Talat Sao, which offers a similar experience but with more options. It opens at 7am.
Although Vientiane is a quiet city, you’ll find plenty of activities and entertainment to amaze and delight you. Its markets (day and night) are one of the most popular attractions for travellers.
7. Discover Laotian cuisine
The cuisine is not to be missed when discovering a town or a country. The dishes not to be missed in Laos are: Lap ou Laap (Laotian tartar), Mok pa (Laotian-style fish papillotes), Tam mak houng (green papaya salad), Or lam (beef stew),… Find out more about : Laotian dishes: 12 typical specialities to savour!
If you love to cook, this is a real opportunity to learn more about the culture of Laos. Indeed, Vientiane is an ideal place to discover the importance of food to the local people, as well as the way in which each dish is eaten. And what could be better than to attend a cooking class given by the locals themselves? The vast majority of cooking classes follow the same formula: preparation of three to five dishes, recipes to take away and, of course, a big meal at the end. Some even include a visit to a local market in search of fresh ingredients.
8. Local celebrations
Local celebrations are rare and wonderful opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture. We suggest some of the most popular festivals in the capital of Laos:
Lao New Year – Pi Mai
The Lao New Year celebrations, also known as Pimai, Pii mai or Pee may, take place from 13 to 16 April each year. This festival is of great importance and is linked to Theravāda Buddhism. People put on their best silk clothes, make offerings to the temple and visit their relatives and elders.
During the Lao New Year, people gather in the streets to pour water over each other. This practice of throwing water is seen as a way of washing away the worries of the past year and starting the New Year feeling fresh and pure.
That Luang Festival – Boun That Luang
The That Luang festival in Laos is a religious and cultural event that takes place every year in Vientiane, the country’s capital. It takes place in November and lasts several days. The celebration attracts thousands of Laotian and foreign devotees, offering religious ceremonies, processions, traditional dances, musical performances and food stalls serving Laotian dishes. It’s a unique opportunity to discover Laotian culture in an authentic and spiritual atmosphere.
Best time to visit Vientiane
The best months are from October to March of the following year. The climate and temperatures will be favourable to very favourable, with less risk of rainfall.
In April and September, the climate is fairly good, but we would advise against travelling between May and August, because of the high temperatures combined with the many rainy days – rainfall can reach 447mm per month during this period!
December and January seem to be the ideal months for a visit to the capital, with temperatures approaching 30°C maximum, warm enough to enjoy a holiday in the sun, but not so scorching as to be able to leisurely explore the length and breadth of the capital.
How do get to Laotian capital?
There are several options for getting to capital of Laos:
Plane: Vientiane’s Wattay international airport offers international and domestic flights.
Bus: Buses run between Vientiane and other towns in Laos, as well as to neighbouring countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.).
Train: There is no direct train service to Vientiane, but you can take a train to the border town of Nong Khai, in Thailand, then cross the bridge to Vientiane.
For travellers from Europe, there are no direct flights to Laos, so you’ll have to travel via neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand or Singapore,…
Hotels in Vientiane
Here are a few famous, quality hotels that are often highly rated in hotel booking applications:
Salana Boutique Hotel
Crowne Plaza Vientiane, an IHG Hotel
Barn Laos Hostel
New Champa Boutique Hotel
Settha Palace Hotel
Dhavara Boutique Hotel
Green Park Boutique Hotel
Vientiane Boutique Villa
Lao Poet Hotel.
Vientiane during a Vietnam-Laos combination
It can be very interesting to extend your holiday a little so that you can discover the treasures of not one but two countries, all in the same trip. Vietnam and Laos have so much to offer on a combined holiday!
Discover incredible cultural treasures, mythical landscapes, delicious food and friendly people. Enjoy a unique and authentic experience that will remain engraved in your memory forever. From Halong Bay to Pha That Luang, via the Mekong Delta, the countries of South-East Asia are waiting to welcome you.
We wish you an excellent trip and hope that this detailed practical information will help you make the most of your stay in the peaceful capital of the land of a million elephants.