Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is situated on the great Mekong River, which flows through Tibet, China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The city itself is just over the border from Thailand making it a popular entry point into the country for those backpacking around Southeast Asia. Due to this there are a number of interesting attractions and things to do for those spending time Vientiane. Here is our list of the top attractions in Vientiane:
Hire Bikes and Explore the City
Embrace the anything goes attitude of Southeast Asia by hiring a powerful motorbike and taking to the roads of a foreign country with little experience of either riding a big bike, or dealing with the unconventional driving styles.
You can hire a range of bikes in Vientiane ranging from pedal powered push bikes to scooters and off-road trials bikes, all for reasonable daily rates or on a longer term basis. Your guest house should be able to sort you out a bicycle for a small daily fee and considering the comparatively relaxed amount of road traffic in this city, exploring the sights and back streets by bicycle is a viable option; just watch out for potholes.
A weekend or longer spent in Vientiane is a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable experience. However, for the people of Laos, life hasn’t always been so good. Thanks to Laos’s claim to fame of being the most heavily bombed country in the world, so far, with a third of the bombs yet to explode, the legacy of that has left an indelible mark on the country and its people.
To find out more about what went on during the 60s and 70s and the effect those actions are still having to this day, we recommend you visit the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, visitor centre in the city. Here you can explore the free exhibits and learn about the problems faced with the huge number of unexploded ordinance.
You can top up your karma by shopping at the onsite gift shop or patronising the café serving fresh food and drink, where all money raised goes to funding COPE projects and services. The centre is located on Boulevard Khouvieng but even if you can’t make it, you can still help out by buying a leg or two.
Check out the Local Coffee Scene
Thanks to the efforts of French colonists back in 1915, when the first few coffee plants were introduced to Laos, the country and its capital have a thriving local coffee scene. With its perfect altitude of around 800 to 1350 metres and cool climate, not to mention the fertile and mineral rich soil, southern Laos and in particular, the Bolaven Plateau, produces some high quality Robusta and Arabica beans.
While coffee is the country’s fifth largest export earner, accounting for around a quarter of the coffee production in the world coffee market, thankfully enough of it remains in the country, helping to develop a burgeoning coffee culture.
If you are a digital nomad, living the lifestyle design dream, then the selection of good coffee shops in Vientiane can make getting some work done on the road more of a pleasure than a chore. Here are a few to get help you get into immersed into the city’s coffee shop culture:
- Café Nomad: open seven days a week, from at least 9am to 6pm, this is the place to come for breakfast, lunch and all day coffee. There is free Wi-Fi here so it’s a great place to pull up a pew and do a spot of work. More info.
- Joma Bakery: slowly developing into something of a chain, with three branches in the country at the last time of counting, and two in Vietnam, Joma Bakery is a great place to get Laos coffee in a range of varieties including the organic roasts. They give 2% of every sale to local charities and offer free Wi-Fi to customers. The Ponthan branch even has a kid’s play area which is perfect for keeping your little ones entertained while in Laos, allowing you to enjoy a freshly brewed Americano. More info.
- Naked Espresso: serving up freshly roasted beans from Southern Laos and Northern Thailand, this is a safe bet for a decent espresso in the city. While the seats aren’t as comfy as some might like, the food menu is worth paying a visit for, and the friendly atmosphere will keep you coming back for more. More info.
If drinking coffee in pleasant surroundings isn’t enough for you, it is possible to take a trip to the Bolaven Plateau where most of the coffee from Laos is cultivated.
Rock and Bowl at the Lao Bowling Centre
While the Lao Bowling Centre in Vientiane is opening during the day, it’s best going in the evenings for a more entertaining and fun time. Don’t expect the high-tech lanes of neighbouring Thailand: this is bowling Laos style, with pins and balls that have seen better days, and a less than strict adherence to the rules of the sport.
But if you come here more for the atmosphere and party sprit than actually getting in a round of tenpin, you will have a much more enjoying time. With loud music and flowing beer, this is one of the more unlikely party spots of this small city. Once the other bars have closed for the evening, this place really hots up and is a recommended place to round off your night out.
Find locals and visitors alike enjoying bowling, pool, drinking and partying at the Lao Bowling Centre just off Boulevard Khun Bu Lom.
Volunteering in Vientiane
If you want to put some of your tech skills to a good use, you could see if you are eligible to do some volunteering in Laos while staying in Vientiane. The Digital Divide Data centre in Vientiane is part of a larger worldwide network of offices which aim to help empower local people using digital technologies. To find out more visit their website. You can also find out more at this Volunteering in Vientiane blog.
Other Notable Sights and Things to Do in Vientiane
- Lao National Museum: while you are in town, you might as well spend some time learning about the country and its rich and varied past, involving the Siamese, the French and the Americans, who all had a hand in shaping Laos into what it is today.
- Patuxai Victory Gate: this ‘concrete monster’ is a Lao interpretation of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, incorporating a strong Buddhist influence. It is surrounded by parkland which can be enjoyed when the sun is low and you can get a good view of the city from the top of the gate.
- Green Discovery Laos: this agency can book you a place on a range of adventure tours and eco-tourism around the local area. Tours include a city tour, trips out of town to see wild elephants, kayaking trips to Vang Vien and cave explorations.
- Nam Ngum Lake: dine on fresh fish from the lake at the many floating restaurants moored along the shores of Nam Ngum lake. You can also book tours of the islands that are dotted about the lake, making for a relaxing morning or afternoon on the water.
While Vientiane might not be as action packed as the other capitals or major cities in Southeast Asia, it does have a certain charm that makes it stand out from its neighbours. You might not find enough to do to stay here for too long, but for a short trip, this city makes the perfect stop-off point for those travelling into Laos or who just want a bit more of a laid back break during their time in the region.