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The Mekong River winds its way from the far north of Laos to the very south, forming both the spine and lifeblood of this land-locked country. Halfway along its journey, it passes by Vientiane, the capital city.

Often overlooked by visitors on a tight timeline, Vientiane is a riverside city in which to enjoy a brief stop to experience a different side of life in Laos. A contrast to the spirituality of Luang Prabang and the natural beauty of the far south, taking a little time to learn the wider history of Laos and sample the capital’s cosmopolitan life is a worthwhile addition to your voyage through Laos.

Buddha head in Wat Sisaket, VientianeSitting close to the border with Thailand, Vientiane reflects the history and culture of Laos in a typically laid-back, Laotian way. The smallest of the Southeast Asian capitals, it’s said to have originally been established by the Khmer people, only to have been taken over by Laotian settlers as they spread south from China in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Over the proceeding centuries it waxed and waned in importance until the French arrived in the late 1800s. Subsequent invasion by the Japanese during World War II, reclamation by the French, then years of civil war meant that stability was always just out of reach. Once the civil war was over, and the Pathet Lao party victorious, things began to settle down.

Though it has just a handful of sights to tick off a visitor’s must-see list, Vientiane is best appreciated for its laidback atmosphere, French colonial architecture and smattering of revered Buddhist temples. At the heart of the city is the Patuxai memorial, a version of the Parisian Arc de Triomphe, best viewed at night when dramatically illuminated.

What to do in Vientiane

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, LaosStart the day with an early-morning stroll through Talat Sao Market, before continuing on through the French Colonial district. The revered (and glimmering) Wat Pha That Luang is a must-see for temple enthusiasts, and the nearby Buddha Park is an unusual collection of over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues set in manicured gardens.

Laos was greatly affected by the Indochina wars and we recommend a visit to COPE, a charity that gives an unsettling insight into the legacy of being caught in the cross-hairs. It aims to educate people about the realities of unexploded ordinance in Laos, and there are a number of interactive displays and a purpose-built cinema.

The burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, driven by the expat community, now provides a great selection of places to try traditional and modern Laotian cuisine, often fused with French and other international fare. Spend the evening at a riverside café watching the sun set over the Mekong.

Best time to visit Vientiane

The best weather is from November to March when the weather is comfortably warm and dry. The hot weather tends to peak in April and into May, when it can be very warm and humid. If you’re willing to put up with the occasional shower, June through to August is good value and the surrounding countryside is particularly lush.

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Suggested itineraries featuring Vientiane

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Vientiane, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Vientiane

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Vientiane

    Our expert guides to exploring Vientiane

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Vientiane, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Vientiane at its best.

    • What to do in Laos: our highlights guide
      Mekong River

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      Still very much untouched by mass tourism, Laos offers the visitor much to see and do, from watching monks perform daily rituals or taking a night safari in a national park, to learning to cook Laotian food or taking a relaxing cruise down the Mekong River.

      7 min read

      Read this guide

    Accommodation choices for Vientiane

    We've selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Vientiane. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Vientiane

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Vientiane, and which use the best local guides.

    • Culinary delights tour of Vientiane
      Chillis and Kaffir Lime Leaves; Phonsavan Market, Laos

      Culinary delights tour of Vientiane

      Culinary delights tour of Vientiane

      Visit Lam Pai-Bay Tong, a rustic restaurant/cooking school close to the Mekong River where you will learn how to create three local dishes using traditional ingredients and techniques.

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    • Vientiane City Tour
      Pha That Luang, Vientiane

      Vientiane City Tour

      Vientiane City Tour

      The first stop of the tour is the National Museum, where you can follow the history of Laos from prehistory to the present day.

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