Seeking more of the languid, authentic Asia, I flew from Chiang Mai to Vientiane, a city on the banks of the Mekong River.
Despite being the capital city of Laos and the hub of commerce, Vientiane is still extremely laidback and the perfect place for a relaxing riverside break. There’s a range of accommodation here, from budget backpacker hostels like the new Vientiane Backpackers Hostel to some beautiful boutique hotels like the Salana Boutique Hotel on Chao Anou Road.
French cuisine in Asia (& carbs)
I had to explore this (less-hyped-up than Luang Prabang) Laos destination while I was so nearby and I’ll be honest, I wanted dirt cheap French food while I was at it. This is something Vientiane excels at, thanks to the lingering refinements of the French Indochina rule.
With a number of top French restaurants here, this could actually be one of the cheapest places in Asia to indulge in French food, cooked by reputable Parisian chefs to boot. Not into French food (say wha?) then you’ll find a range of international restaurants, even more than in Luang Prabang, so this is an all-round good place for foodies.
If you’ve ever spent more than a few weeks in Asia, you’ll understand my pining for bread, more bread and other bready stuff and the freshly baked baguettes and croissants here are alone, worth a trip to Vientiane for.
So what did I find in Vientiane?
A great cafe culture! With fast wifi and ice-cold air-con pumping in some pretty cool cafes that also serve super strong coffee and I’m not sure I’ve mentioned the pastries yet ;). There’s an equal mix of modern coffee shops and old fashioned bakeries in Vientiane so take your pick of where you want to hang out and people watch when it’s too hot to be outdoors.
FYI: The best bakeries here are Le Banneton (get there early before the croissants run out) Joma Bakery Cafe and the most famous… Scandinavian Bakery (think brownies, bagels, cheesecake, doughnuts & general carb overload heaven).
Monks, markets and so much more…
I really liked how walkable Vientiane was and I did a lot of wandering around while I was here. Down tree-lined boulevards in the historic old quarter, past crumbling French-Colonial architecture, through laid back street markets selling handicrafts and fresh produce, around temples and right into a very affordable spa or two.
Breath in deep and you’ll likely get a waft of the Frangipani and Tamarind which grows in abundance all around. I saw monks everywhere I went in Vientiane, brightening up the streets with their bright orange robes…
10 Cool Things To Do In Vientiane
1) Shrines and temples
Along the boulevards and tree-lined streets you’ll find lots of shrines including Wat Si Saket, featuring thousands of Buddha images and Wat Si Muang. Haw Phra Kaew is a former Buddhist temple, built in 1565 for the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok), today it’s a museum & shop.
The historic golden stupa, 16th century Pha That Luang is a 44 meter high national symbol. Then there’s the unmissable Patuxai a 1960’s war memorial featuring a European-style arch & traditional Laotian carvings.
That Dam is an ancient, bell-shaped stupa believed to have once been protected by a 7-headed water serpent. It sits in a roundabout and well, I’ll be honest, if you stumble across this like I did, take a photo, but it’s probably not really worth a trip to.
2) Play Frisbee on Mondays
Check out the Vientiane Ultimate Frisbee facebook page for more information about this.
3) Lao Textile Museum
Set in a traditional building with silk samples & weaving demonstrations, plus there’s a shop for handcrafted goods. The weaving and dying techniques are explained well and the Lao textiles are incredibly beautiful.
Sick of bars? Swig Beerlao as you bowl into the evening. The Lao Bowling Center is a great place to head to after dinner and it’s open until midnight.
Trending Tours In Vientiane
5) Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre
This can be found on Thadeua Road in the Hadsayfong District. Enjoy a tour here to see where many of the handicrafts and other beautiful tourist souvenirs are made. A great place, with great women who create great things.
Do some one-on-one or group Hatha yoga with Shelley at Lemongrass Yoga which is close to the Vieng Vang tower.
7) Bike tours
Give your feet a break and do Vientiane by Cycle to see the real Vientiane. Ride along the river front, through the richest and poorest areas and past schools and temples.
Wat Sok Pa Luang is where you can do a sitting and walking meditation led by Monks on Saturdays. Foreigners are welcome and a translator will be there for any questions after the meditation.
9) Lao Cooking Class
Go to the one-and-only best spa in Vientiane named ‘The Spa’ on Th That Khao for an oil massage or herbal steam and sauna. You won’t regret it!
Bonus top thing to do in Vientiane…
Last but not least, drink BeerLao while watching the sunset over the Mekong River.TIP: The key to 100 infectious smiles a day from the Laos people… Learn these; “Sabaidii,” pronounced sa bye dee and means ‘hello, welcome’. “Khawp jai lai lai,” pronounced kop chai lye lye, meaning ‘thank you very much’.
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Check out the Jetset Bunny Guide To Laos including the basics, things to do, eat, stay and plan: Laos Travel Tips