Tuk tuk at a temple in Vientiane Laos

12 Amazing Things to Do in Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane is the laid-back, underrated riverside capital city of Laos. Though it has often been treated as a “passthrough” Southeast Asian destination in the past, I recently spent just under a week in Vientiane attending the annual ASEAN Tourism Forum and was surprised by my time in the capital.

Pha Tat Luang stupa in Vientiane Laos
Woman sitting at viewing platform at Buddha Park near Vientiane in Laos with text overlay Tuk tuk parked in front of Buddhist temple in Vientiane in Laos with text overlay Woman walking in courtyard of Wat Sisaket Buddhist temple in Vientiane in Laos with text overlay

The European influence is evident as you walk through the city and pass by the many French colonial buildings (remnants of when it was designated a “French protectorate”), yet traditional Lao architecture and design equally shine through with dozens of stunning Buddhist temples and stupas scattered across town.

High speed train in Laos

Vientiane has transformed significantly over the centuries with its history of invasion and foreign occupation. These days, it continues in its evolution with growing Chinese investment and tourism as a result of increased accessibility with the new Laos-China Railway.

Offerings at Pha Tat Luang in Vientiane Laos

You could probably see all of the main attractions in Vientiane in 2 or 3 days as the city is fairly compact and it is easy to get around by car or tuk tuk, but the charm of Vientiane lies in the slower pace of life with local temples filled with vibrant marigold flower offerings and the lingering smell of incense, lovely cafes (complete with killer flat whites) and hidden cocktail bars.

Tuk tuks in central Vientiane Laos

If you have a few days to spare when planning your Laos itinerary, I urge you to give Vientiane a chance – you might be surprised by what you find. Read on for some essential Laos travel tips, the best places to visit in Vientiane and where to stay!

Things to know before you visit Vientiane

Flying over Laos with Laos Airlines

✈️ Wattay International Airport (airport code VTE) is the international airport in Vientiane. There are international flights into VTE airport from Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Da Nang, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Kunming. You can also take domestic flights from Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Oudomxay and Pakse.

🛂 You can either apply for a visa on arrival (US$40 + a passport photo), or apply for your Laos e-Visa ahead of time here. ASEAN passport holders do not require a visa due to the visa-free policy among member nations.

High speed train in Laos second class

🚆 With the new Laos high speed rail, if your first port of call is Luang Prabang then you can hop aboard the Laos-China Railway to travel between the two destinations in just under 2 hours. There are also trains between Vientiane and Bangkok or sleeping buses between Vientiane and Cambodia/Vietnam/Thailand.

📱 You can get a local Laos SIM card from Lao Telecome at the airport for cheap, and internet connectivity is very stable with the exception of some dead spots when you are traveling by high speed rail through tunnels and small villages.

Lao Kip currency

💱  The currency is the Lao Kip, and the exchange rate varies from approximately 20,000 LAK: 1 USD as of early 2024. Cash is still king in Laos, and many places will not accept credit card payments. There are a number of places to exchange money upon arrival in Vientiane at the airport, or you can also visit a bank for currency exchange. There are a number of banks along this strip next to the Vientiane Life Center where you can exchange money (bring your passport).

🗺️ Central Vientiane is fairly compact and it’s easy to get around on foot or take a tuk tuk (make sure you agree on a price before hopping in). Google Maps was very accurate but I’m also a fan of using Hobomaps when traveling around Laos – here is the Vientiane Central map. Hobomaps often include smaller guesthouses, shops and temples that might not show up on Google Maps.

🏖️ The best time to visit Vientiane is from around October to March during the dry season. I visited during a major international conference in January which is the peak travel season, but Vientiane still felt very uncrowded.

📅 How many days to spend in Vientiane in Laos: Could you get away with only spending 1 day in Vientiane? Sure – but I recommend setting aside at least 2 days in Vientiane to make the most of the chilled out capital.

🛺 How to get around Vientiane in Laos: The best way to get around Vientiane is either on foot or by Loca app which works exacty like Uber and Grab. To set it up you’ll need a local SIM card, but you can set up credit card payments so that you don’t have to carry wads of cash around. The vehicles were always clean and most were brand new, and drivers were fairly punctual and very polite.

Riding in a tuk tuk in Vientiane Laos

You can also take tuk tuks but I probably wouldn’t use one for short distances – I booked a 1-hour “city tour” with a few stops for 300,000 Kip – approximately US$15 for a fun way to see Vientiane.

Where to stay in Vientiane

Street view of Vientiane in Laos

Unfortunately I didn’t particular love the hotel I was booked in at for the conference so I can’t recommend it. However, there are a number of excellent boutique hotels in Vientiane that you may want to consider for your trip, or you can click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

Green Park Boutique Hotel: This small Vientiane boutique hotel is a little oasis in the city with a stunning pool. The rooms are spacious and feature traditional Lao design and decor, the hotel is a 10-minute ride or 30-minute walk from the night market, or a short walk away from COPE Visitor Center and the Morning Market. Reviewers love the beautiful grounds and setting, and rave about the on-site restaurant. Click here to check rates and availability at Green Park Boutique Hotel.

La Seine Hotel: La Seine is a modern and sophisticated hotel on the riverside of Vientiane, just a 5-minute walk from the Night Market area. The rooms are tastefully decorated and the hotel even boasts its own rooftop bar. There is no pool or gym on-site, but reviewers love the friendly and helpful staff, and say the location can’t be beat. Click here to check rates and availability at La Seine Hotel.

Lao Poet Hotel: This funky boutique hotel is right in the heart of town – you can’t get more central than this. The Lao Poet features a rooftop pool which guests love, and the room designs are bold and colourful. Previous guests say the hospitality and service is top notch, and rave about the breakfast and food served at the property. Click here to check rates and availability at Lao Poet Hotel.

The best things to do in Vientiane in Laos

Tuk tuk in central Vientiane Laos

Putting together your Vientiane itinerary? Here are some of the main Vientiane attractions to add to your list of places to visit.

1. Visit the reclining Buddha at Wat That Khao

Reclining Buddha statue at Wat That Khao in Vientiane Laos

The majority of the population in Laos are Buddhist, and there are a countless number of temples across the city. Wat That Khao is a smaller, more quiet temple complex just outside of central Vientiane. The distinguishing feature at Wat That Khao is a beautiful golden reclining Buddha statue.

Reclining Buddha statue at Wat That Khao in Vientiane Laos

If you’re looking for an uncrowded temple in Vientiane away from other tourists, I recommend stopping by Wat That Khao – I was the only one wandering around the grounds in the afternoon.

There is also a small pack of resident dogs and chickens at the temple grounds, some reviewers mentioned being uncomfortable with the dogs but I personally did not encounter any issues with them.

2. See the shining gold stupa at Pha Tat Luang

Pha Tat Luang in Vientiane Laos

Pha Tat Luang, or the That Luang Stupa, is a 45-meter tall shimmering stupa that is the national monument and symbol for Laos. Dating back to the 3rd Century BC, Pha Tat Luang was erected by the Indian King Ashoka and said to contain a relic of the Buddha – some say his hair, some say his breastbone.

Destroyed by a number of invasions and rebuilt over the ages, the most recent restoration was in 2016 when it was repainted with gold paint and gold leaf was applied to the top portion.

Reclining Buddha statue at Wat That Luang Tai in Vientiane Laos

To the right of the stupa itself is Wat That Luang Tai, a Buddhist temple complex with a golden reclining Buddha statue. Don’t miss the intricate roof paintings within the temple area. To the left is Wat That Luang Neua, another Buddhist temple with an ancient Bodhi tree.

Statues at Pha Tat Luang in Vientiane Laos

As of January 2024 the monument is closed on Mondays and admission costs 30,000 Kip per person. As it is a Buddhist monument and temple you will need to ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered.

3. Count the Buddha images at Wat Sisaket

Buddha statues at Wat Sisaket in Vientiane Laos

Perhaps the most famous temple in Vientiane, Wat Sisaket is the oldest surviving temple in the city, built in the early 19th Century by King Anouvong. It is said that there are over 10,136 images of the Lord Buddha in the temple and inner sanctuary.

Walking through Wat Sisaket in Vientiane Laos

It is one of the top places to visit in Vientiane, so it is not uncommon to see rows of tour buses parked outside – get there early to avoid the crowds. Entry costs 30,000 Kip, and no photos are allowed inside the sanctuary.

Wat Sisaket temple in Vientiane Laos

It is worth noting that visitors are also requested not to take photos of the sanctuary from the outside looking in.

Ready to book a trip to Vientiane? You can consider Green Park Boutique Hotel, La Seine Hotel or Lao Poet Hotel – all of which are within walking distance or a short tuk tuk ride to the central riverside area and the night market. Alternatively, you can click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

4. Walk through Ho Phra Keo museum

Ho Phra Keo museum in Vientiane Laos

Ho Phra Keo was built in 1565 by the King who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – it is located across the street from Wat Sisaket so you can visit the two monuments easily. The structure was built to house a statue of the Buddha, and was destroyed in the invasion by the Kingdom of Siam.

Gilded doors at Ho Phra Keo in Vientiane Laos

It was later rebuilt by the French and converted into a Buddhist Museum, housing Buddhist artifacts and sculptures, as well as stunning gilded preserved doors.

Pay close attention to the different poses of the Buddha statues – it is said that there are 45 positions, all with different legends and stories. For example, there are certain statues of Buddha where he is holding both hands up, palms facing forward. It is said that the Buddha is telling two farmers to stop fighting over water diversion to their rice fields.

Entry costs 30,000 Kip, and though Ho Phra Keo is not a temple with no monks in residence, you are still required to cover your shoulders and knees when entering. Like Wat Sisaket you are not permitted to photograph the inner sanctuary.

5. Observe the prayers at Wat Si Muang

Temple at Wat Si Muang in Vientiane in Laos

Wat Si Muang is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Vientiane, dating back to 1563. According to legend, the temple’s central pillar was built on top of a pregnant woman named Si Muang, who sacrificed herself to appease angry spirits.

Offerings at Wat Si Muang in Vientiane Laos

There is no entry ticket, and one of the best places to quietly observe temple offerings and prayers by worshippers. The courtyard surrounding the temple is peaceful, with a number of statues of Buddha placed within the complex.

6. Stop at Patuxay Monument

Patuxay Monument in Vientiane Laos

Patuxay or Patuxai is a monument built as a symbol of victory in war of independence against France. The gate features four arches facing north, east, south and west, and the roof is decorated with vibrant paintings and reliefs depicting gods, goddesses, nagas and elephants from Lao culture as well as Buddhist symbols.

Roof of Patuxay Monument in Vientiane Laos

One of Vientiane’s most iconic landmarks, you can pay 30,000 Kip to climb up to the top of the monument for a view of the city from above.

Ready to book your Vientiane stay? You can consider Green Park Boutique Hotel, La Seine Hotel or Lao Poet Hotel – all of which are within walking distance or a short tuk tuk ride to the central riverside area and the night market. Alternatively, you can click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

7. Enjoy a sunset drink at a rooftop bar

Skyline of Vientiane in Laos

The skyline in Vientiane is not particularly photogenic, consisting mostly of low-rise buildings and houses, but the sunset view across the river and border with Nong Khai in Thailand is pretty unique.

Cocktail at Tipsy Elephant in Vientiane Laos

I enjoyed the cocktails at Tipsy Elephant, one of the best rooftop bars in Vientiane. It is located in the Best Western hotel which is bam smack in central Vientiane.

Tipsy Elephant rooftop bar in Vientiane Laos

Reservations are recommended as it can get very busy – I was lucky to snag the last table as a couple just happened to be leaving! Cash payments only for any spending under 300,000 Kip.

8. Window shop at the night market

Night market in Vientiane in Laos

I say “window shop”, because this night market is not particularly unique, nor can you find handcrafted souvenirs or street food. I would say that it is mainly filled with your usual low-end knickknacks, electronics, accessories and cheap apparel that you can find almost anywhere.

Night market in Vientiane in Laos

What it does offer, is a bustling atmosphere as the sun goes down. Though it is on most itineraries for Vientiane, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to buy anything here but it is a fun, quick stop to people watch and go for a wander.

9. Experience Vientiane’s cocktail scene

Artisan cocktail bar in Vientiane Laos

There are a number of innovative cocktail bars in Vientiane, serving up creative concoctions like the Chrysanthemum G&T at the cozy Artizan Vientiane.

Artisan cocktail bar in Vientiane Laos

If you’re feeling adventurous, try their “Wild Honey and Pandan” cocktail, featuring pandan-infused rum. Some other popular Vientiane cocktail bars include Cocoon Bar and The Spirit House.

Looking for the best hotels in Vientiane? Check out Green Park Boutique Hotel (urban oasis with a pool), La Seine Hotel (modern design city hotel with a rooftop bar) or Lao Poet Hotel (centrally-located boutique hotel with bold decor and rooftop pool) – all of which are within walking distance or a short tuk tuk ride to the central riverside area and the night market area. Alternatively, you can click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

10. Grab a flat white at a cool cafe

Coffee at The Cabana in Vientiane in Laos

You don’t have to struggle to get your flat white fix in Vientiane. Head to The Cabana, one of the best cafes in Vientiane, for a gorgeous setting and delicious food. Their flat white was spot on.

Coffee at The Cabana coffee shop in Vientiane in Laos

I also enjoyed my morning at B. Coffee etc which was located at the entrance of Green Park Boutique Hotel. Other excellent Vientiane coffee shops include Le Trio, Common Grounds and Naked Espresso.

11. Learn the history and impact of UXO at COPE Visitor Center

COPE Visitor Centre in the city of Vientiane in Laos
Photo credit: urf via Depositphotos.com

The COPE Center in Vientiane is also worth a visit to learn the history of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and learn how the remnants of the Vietnam War has affected life in Laos. COPE supports people in Laos who require prosthetic and orthotic devices and related rehabilitation services, and approximately a third of those who receive a prosthetic device are UXO survivors.

Entry is free but donations are appreciated and accepted. It is located within the grounds of the Centre for Medical Rehabilitation (CMR).

12. Go on a day trip to Buddha Park

View of Buddha Park from above in Vientiane Laos

When I was putting together my Laos itinerary, most people recommended planning a Buddha Park day trip, despite it not actually being a Buddhist temple.

Buddha statue in Buddha Park near Vientiane in Laos

Buddha Park, or Xieng Khuan, is a weird and wonderful sculpture park built in the 1950s by a monk who studied Buddhism and Hinduism.

Hell mouth at Buddha Park near Vientiane in Laos

Located about 30 minutes from Vientiane city by car, the park features about 200 Buddha statues, including a massive reclining Buddha and “hell mouth” where you can walk into the depths of hell and up towards heaven for a sweeping view of the park from above.

Hell at Buddha Park in Vientiane Laos

To get there, get a Loca car (about US$15 – I paid 280,000 Kip even though the app quoted 410,000 Kip) or hop in a local bus (#14 from the bus depot next to the morning market, costs under a dollar – 18,000 Kip as of January 2024).

Bus 14 to Buddha Park in Vientiane Laos

To take the bus back to the city from the park, cross the road at the entrance and wait for the bus there – once you have boarded someone will come around at some point during the 1-hour bus ride (the bus stops at the border with Thailand for about 15-20 minutes) to collect the fare.

Heaven viewing platform at Buddha Park near Vientiane in Laos

Entry into the park itself costs 40,000 Kip or $2 for foreigners. As it’s not huge, I only spent about 45 minutes here, but it was a fairly easy day trip from Vientiane city!

Planning your Vientiane trip and not sure where to stay? Green Park Boutique Hotel, La Seine Hotel and Lao Poet Hotel are all highly-rated boutique hotels in the city. They are all centrally-located, are highly-reviewed for the staff hospitality and offer stunning rooms and facilities. You can also click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

Is Vientiane worth visiting?

Ticket at Wat Sisaket in Vientiane Laos

Despite it being an intense work trip with a packed itinerary, I really enjoyed the slower pace of city life in Vientiane and can’t believe it took me three trips to Laos to finally explore Vientiane.

Tuk tuk at Patuxay Monument in Vientiane Laos

It is compact enough to get around on foot and get your step count up, and the landmarks are accessible so you can cover a lot of ground in just a few days’ time. The streets are very clean and I personally felt very safe there as a solo female traveler.

If you have 2 or 3 days to spare in your Laos itinerary it is definitely worth a stop before you move onto your next Laos or Southeast Asia destination.

Where to go after Vientiane

Nam Pien Yorla Pa: Located about 2 hours by car from Vientiane city, Nam Pien Yorla Pa is a boutique eco-resort nestled in a protected forest reserve. With just two dozen rooms, this is where to go if you want to be immersed in nature. I highly recommend the rainforest cabins which have floor-to-ceiling glass windows! You travel between your cabin and the main restaurant and reception area via suspended canopy walks and elevated walkways, and there are a number of activities on offer including waterfall treks, luge, ATV rides, zip lines and more. Check rates and availability at Nam Pien Yorla Pa here.

Vang Vieng: Vang Vieng is a small town mid-way between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Once notoriously an alcohol-fueled backpackers’ haven, it has since turned its focus toward promoting the natural beauty and incredible caves, waterfalls and blue lagoons in the area. Vang Vieng is a 1-hour high speed train away from Vientiane, or there is also a new expressway if you prefer to travel by car. I had a great experience booking my Laos train tickets via Discover Laos Today, or you can also purchase your Laos train tickets online via 12go.asia.

Luang Prabang: Luang Prabang is a magical little town in northern Laos that has been designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site for its unique fusion of European and Lao cultural traditions and architecture. Its charming town centre is the perfect place to explore on foot, drink delicious coffee and feast on Lao cuisine. It is also home to two stunning waterfalls – Kuang Si Falls which is usually visited between the dry season between November and April, and Tad Sae Waterfall which typically has the strongest water flow during the wet season between May to October.

Buddha statues in Wat Sisaket in Vientiane Laos

I hope you’ve found this Vientiane travel guide helpful – pin it for later or share it with your friends and family who are planning a trip to Laos. Ready to book your trip to Vientiane? Check rates and availability at Green Park Boutique Hotel, La Seine Hotel and Lao Poet Hotel, all of which are centrally-located boutique hotels in the city. You can also click here to see other highly rated hotels in Vientiane!

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I was hosted by Tourism Laos and ASEAN to participate in the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Vientiane, and I was also a media guest at Nam Pien Yorla Pa. However, no compensation was received for this article, and as always, the opinions on Yogawinetravel.com are (and always will be) my own!

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to book using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links.

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