Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was once a French trading post, and much of the city’s historical center has kept its colorful original colonial architecture intact.
Nowadays, the capital is a hub for café culture, cheap spas, golden temples, and diverse riverside markets. There’s a busy nightlife scene and some good day trips beyond the city limits, including Buddha Park with its more than 200 giant Buddha statues.
If you’re backpacking, Vientiane is a likely stop between Vietnam and Thailand. Stroll the wide boulevards, take in the crumbling mansions, and chill out in Chao Anouvong Park. The surprising number of French bakeries is reminiscent of a bygone era when French colonists rebuilt the city after the Thai army destroyed it in the 1820s.
Overall, Vientiane is worth a day or two.
This Vientiane travel guide will give you the best places to visit, tell you how to save money, how to get around, give you costs, and help you plan the best trip to this city!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Vientiane
1. Visit the Lao National Museum
2. Trek through Phou Khao Khouay
3. See the Great Stupa
4. Chat with a monk
5. Check out the Victory Gate (Patuxai)
Other Things to See and Do in Vientiane
1. Take a bike tour
There are some excellent guided bicycle tours in Vientiane. You will get a chance to leave the city behind and cycle to rural villages, temples, and schoolyards along the Mekong River while taking in the picturesque landscape as you go. Be sure to stop at Tad Moon Waterfall too. Their intro tour lasts 4-5 hours and costs around 400,000 LAK ($46 USD).
2. Visit the COPE Visitor Centre
During the Vietnam War, the American military dropped more than two million tons of explosives on Laos. Even today, many rural citizens still lose their limbs or lives by coming across unexploded bombs. COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) was formed to aid with the recovery for these victims by providing prosthetics and other services. The COPE Visitor Centre is a jarring experience where visitors can learn more about this ongoing tragedy and the organization.
3. Hang out in Chao Anouvong Park
The Chao Anouvong Park is right in the heart of Vientiane. There’s lots of green space, and the locals come here to walk, hang out, and play sports. In the evening, there’s a night market doling out food and selling crafts and clothes.
4. Take a cooking class
Take a Lao cooking class to learn how to make traditional dishes like laap (salad with minced meat and spices), orh (spicy stew), and mok (steamed fish in banana leaf). Most tours begin with a market tour where you will select the best ingredients for your experience! I recommend a class with Madam Phasouk. All classes are 150,000 LAK ($17 USD).
5. See the Presidential Palace
You can’t go inside the Presidential Palace, as it’s currently used for the president and other government officials, but you can certainly admire the building from outside. It’s a stately piece of French Beaux-Arts architecture with iron gates decorated with gold, large balconies, and several Roman-like colonnades along its exterior.
6. Attend the Lao Boat Racing Festival
If you end up being in Vientiane during September and October, you’ll be able to check out the Lao Boat Racing Festival (which takes place for those entire two months). A lot of Vientiane’s neighboring villages also participate in the festivities, and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement. Teams of men and women race throughout the festival in dragon boats, while spectators line the riverbanks singing and playing music, and the streets are overtaken with food stalls and tombola games.
Vientiane Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Beds in a large hostel dorm (think 12-20 people) start from 43,262 LAK ($5 USD) per night. For a hostel dorm with 6-8 beds, you will spend around 86,795 LAK ($10 USD) per night.
A private room in a hostel will cost between 147,550-173,590 LAK ($17-20 USD) per night. Most hostels have free wifi and free breakfast, but you won’t find many with kitchen facilities here.
Budget hotel prices – Most two-star budget hotels start at 173,590 LAK ($20 USD) per night. These usually include free wi-fi, air-conditioning, and breakfast. If you want a place with a pool, expect to pay around 302,837 LAK ($35 USD) per night.
There are lots of Airbnb options in the city. Shared rooms (like dorms) start from 86,575 LAK ($10 USD) per night. You can find private rooms in apartments or guesthouses starting from 130,190 LAK ($15 USD), but the average is about 216,312 LAK ($25 USD). Entire homes or apartments are about 347,175 LAK ($40 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Street food in Vientiane will cost under 20,000 LAK ($2.30 USD) per dish for grilled meats and bowls of noodle soup. Lane Xang – the city’s main boulevard running from the Presidential Palace towards Pha That Luang — is the best place in the city to find tons of street food.
Meals at restaurants will cost between 25,957- 43,262 LAK ($3-5 USD) for dishes like sticky rice, grilled catfish, and salads. Go to Katenoy for traditional dishes (like laap) for under 26,040 LAK ($3 USD).
Western food will cost around 35,000 LAK ($4 USD) for a burger or pizza. If you are looking for a meal at a nice western style restaurant, expect to pay around 100,000 LAK ($11.50 USD).
A large bottle of Beer Lao will cost you about 12,000 LAK ($1.40 USD) at a restaurant, while a bottle of water should be less than 3,000 LAK ($0.35 USD).
If you plan on cooking your own meals, a week’s worth of groceries should cost between 150,000-250,000 LAK ($17.30-29 USD) but, keep in mind most hostels do not have kitchens and, with food prices being so cheap, it’s better to simply just eat street food and enjoy the food the country has to offer!
Backpacking Vientiane Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Vientiane, I’d budget about 260,380 LAK ($30 USD) per day. That will cover staying in a hostel dorm, eating street food, a few beers, public transportation, and a few paid activities.
On a mid-range budget of about 520,765 LAK ($60 USD) per day, you’ll get a private two-star hotel room, any budget restaurant meal you want, taxis or tuk-tuks, and all the paid activities you want.
If you want to go luxury, plan to spend around 1,649,090 LAK ($190 USD) per day, which will get you anything you want in the city. You’ll stay in a comfortable four-star hotel, eat fancy meals, drink imported alcohol, take tours, and hire private drivers to get around. Money goes a long way here and, if you’re spending that kind of money here, the sky is the limit.
Use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might pay less every day). We want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Vientiane Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Vientiane isn’t going to break your bank. Laos and its capital are fairly cheap and you’ll be hard pressed to spend a ton of money here. If you’re looking to lower your costs though, here are some ways to save money in Vientiane:
- Stick to local transportation – Stick to public transportation if you need to get around. If you do need to take a tuk-tuk or taxi, ask your hotel/hostel staff what you should expect to pay. This will make sure you don’t get ripped off!
- Avoid western food – Western food is always more expensive than local dishes, and that difference adds up. Save your budget and eat what the locals eat!
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Vientiane
Vientiane has a large selection of accommodations. My suggested places to stay when you visit are:
How to Get Around Vientiane
Bus – Vientiane has a public city bus system, but it mostly services the outer suburbs rather than the city center. The number 14 bus goes to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and the Buddha Park every day from Talat Sao Bus Station and costs 6,000 LAK ($0.70 USD). Buses number 30 and 49 go back and forth to the airport regularly for 4,000 LAK ($0.45 USD) as well.
Bicycle – A bicycle rental is an excellent way to get around Vientiane. Rentals cost from 10,000-30,000 LAK ($1.15-3.45 USD) per day. If your guesthouse or hostel doesn’t rent bicycles, there are plenty of shops around town. Two shops worth checking out include:
- Mixay Bike
- Lao Bike
Tuk-Tuks and Jumbos – Tuk-tuks are an easy and affordable way to get around town, with a 3-kilometer tuk-tuk ride costing about 30,000 LAK ($3.45 USD). Jumbos are like large shared tuk-tuks for larger groups that run regular routes around town, and they’re usually no more than 10,000 LAK ($1.15 USD) per trip.
Taxi – If you come across an unmetered taxi, make sure you negotiate before getting in. Try to aim for 5,000 LAK ($0.68 USD) per kilometer. You can hire a private taxi for a full day (within the town) for about 433,970 LAK ($50 USD) per day.
When to Go to Vientiane
Vientiane has a tropical climate, with average daily temperatures ranging between 75-98°F (24-37°C). Between November to March is the best time to visit Vientiane. This is when the area’s weather is consistently warm and dry, and if you’re planning on doing lots of sightseeing, you’ll want this kind of weather.
March to May tends to be the hottest months, with temperatures as high as 104°F (40°C). Humidity is high as well. The rainy season starts from May or June and lasts until the end of October. Although there’s a lot of rain, it usually comes in short bursts, leaving the rest of the day warm and sunny. Coming here during this time means you won’t have to deal with a lot of other travelers.
How to Stay Safe in Vientiane
Vientiane is a very safe place to backpack and travel. Vientiane has very little crime. Petty theft is the main concern here. Keep your valuables locked up at your accommodations, and keep a close eye on your wallet or purse at all times.
As with elsewhere in Southeast Asia, it’s not uncommon for people to try to rip you off because they assume you have lots of money.
You can read about these travel scams and make sure you don’t fall for any!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
When people get into trouble here, it’s mostly because they’re tangled up with drugs or the sex industry. Laos is strict about punishment when it comes to these offenses — especially with drugs — so avoid at all costs!
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Vientiane. Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of safety advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Vientiane Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Vientiane. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- 12go.asia – 12go.asia is the best website for booking transportation around Southeast Asia. You will be able to research your journey ahead of time and figure out the best schedule and prices.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Asia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Vientiane Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Vientiane Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, by Brett Dakin
This is Brett Dakin’s insightful book about living in Laos as a foreigner. Most of it focuses on the characters that Brett meets along the way, like his boss, an intimidating and wealthy general who scares everyone he meets. Then there’s an elderly prince who longs for the time of French colonialism, and the American pilot who left home to fight and then never went back. You’ll learn about the new generation of Laos people who have more money than they can handle, and a communist way of life that is quickly fading. It’s an excellent read.
The Coroner’s Lunch, by Colin Cotterill
This is not something I’d typically read, but the Dr. Siri mystery series is legendary. This first book is set in Laos in 1978, when 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun has been made the national coroner of the new socialist Laos. His lab is anything but boring, and when the wife of an important politican comes through his morgue, Siri suspects she has been murdered. Siri and his team fight their way through obstacles like corrupt government officials, spies, and even shamans to find the truth. This makes good reading for a long bus ride!
The Ravens: The True Story Of A Secret War In Laos, by Christopher Robbins
The Vietnam War in Laos did not officially exist…or at least both Vietnam and the USA denied they had troops there. But in reality, thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers invaded the country during this time — and the Americans fought against them from the air. The Ravens were the names given to top-secret volunteer Laotian pilots who flew through heavy groundfire to identify targets, working alongside the hill tribesmen above the Plain of Jars to protect their land. This is a riveting collection of survivor stories, based on extensive interviews.
Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos, by Natacha Du Pont De Bie
Laos isn’t typically considered a food destination when compared with other destinations in Southeast Asia, but Natacha Du Pont De Bie’s foodie book is here to convince you otherwise. The author will trek for hours (or even days) to search for a good meal, and this light-hearted book is the result of her adventures and the people she has met along the way. You’ll read stories about everything from drinking raw turkey blood with herbs in a tribal village to chowing down on heaps of fried crickets. It might even convince you to get adventurous!
Vientiane Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Laos travel and continue planning your trip: