Visit Vientiane, Laos
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.
Sitting 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 the Second World War, 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
Start 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.
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
- Vang Vieng 67 miles away
- The Plain of Jars 111 miles away
- Hin Boun 130 miles away
- Luang Prabang 136 miles away
- Thakek 150 miles away
- Pakbeng 166 miles away
- Khammuan & Savannakhet 172 miles away
- Nong Khiaw 184 miles away
- Nam Et-Phou Louey 185 miles away
- Sam Neau 194 miles away
- Vieng Xai 200 miles away
- Muang La 204 miles away
- Luang Nam Tha 223 miles away
- Pakse 290 miles away
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.