Vientiane

Vientiane delivers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong. Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back.

The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. There are plenty of things to do after dark and bars cater to all tastes from backpacker beer haunts to elegant cocktail lounges. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or by hiring a song-teow. The countryside is never far away, with rice paddies providing a backdrop to most streets. Culture buffs should make the Laos National Museum their first stop.

When in Laos, do as the Laos do and the slow the pace right down. A common joke is that acronym PDF (Peoples Democratic Republic) actually stands for ‘Please Slow Down’. A word of warning to the anally punctual, the country is decidedly laid back and some visitors may mistake this for a lack of ambition or impolitesse but regardless, it's best not to expect things to run like clockwork.

With a population of just over half a million, Vientiane is the centre of Laos culture, commerce and administration and is considered as being mad busy in comparison with the other Laotian urban conglomerations. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane, like many Southeast Asian cities, is a place of contrast.

Rice and vegetable fields are well hidden behind tree-lined pathways, where French-style buildings stand next to Buddhist monasteries and monuments, each telling a story of the country's rich, cultural and somewhat troubled past. Less than 5% of the soil is farmable yet 80% of the population works in agriculture and this pretty much sums up the employment-and-class balance within the country. Rebuilt by the French after the Siamese army left it in virtual ruins in 1828, the city does not feature French-style architecture as prominently as say Saigon or Phnom Penh. But the local penchant for producing stomach-filling baguettes and fragrant coffee clearly shows that the influence of the French still lingers on.

The central boulevard is reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, another telling sign of the city's French heritage. Vientiane is relatively small so moving around can de done with ease. Accessing sights such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang and Buddha Park, can be done by hiring a song-teow, a pushbike or even going on foot. As for dining out; fringing the Mekong River there are an abundance of inexpensive food choices with everything from Indian, Thai, French, and Mediterranean readily available.

Vientiane delivers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong. Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back.

The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. There are plenty of things to do after dark and bars cater to all tastes from backpacker beer haunts to elegant cocktail lounges. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or by hiring a song-teow. The countryside is never far away, with rice paddies providing a backdrop to most streets. Culture buffs should make the Laos National Museum their first stop.

When in Laos, do as the Laos do and the slow the pace right down. A common joke is that acronym PDF (Peoples Democratic Republic) actually stands for ‘Please Slow Down’. A word of warning to the anally punctual, the country is decidedly laid back and some visitors may mistake this for a lack of ambition or impolitesse but regardless, it's best not to expect things to run like clockwork.

OVERVIEW

With a population of just over half a million, Vientiane is the centre of Laos culture, commerce and administration and is considered as being mad busy in comparison with the other Laotian urban conglomerations. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane, like many Southeast Asian cities, is a place of contrast.

Rice and vegetable fields are well hidden behind tree-lined pathways, where French-style buildings stand next to Buddhist monasteries and monuments, each telling a story of the country's rich, cultural and somewhat troubled past. Less than 5% of the soil is farmable yet 80% of the population works in agriculture and this pretty much sums up the employment-and-class balance within the country. Rebuilt by the French after the Siamese army left it in virtual ruins in 1828, the city does not feature French-style architecture as prominently as say Saigon or Phnom Penh. But the local penchant for producing stomach-filling baguettes and fragrant coffee clearly shows that the influence of the French still lingers on.

The central boulevard is reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, another telling sign of the city's French heritage. Vientiane is relatively small so moving around can de done with ease. Accessing sights such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang and Buddha Park, can be done by hiring a song-teow, a pushbike or even going on foot. As for dining out; fringing the Mekong River there are an abundance of inexpensive food choices with everything from Indian, Thai, French, and Mediterranean readily available.

 ATTRACTIONS

For many, Laos is the highlight of their Southeast Asia trip as it has been saved from the mass tourist trail that has led to her neighbours –Thailand and Vietnam. This relatively undeveloped nation is located between rugged mountains and the fertile low lands of the Mekong, and is touched by both European and Asian cultures. The city’s man-made structures are as distinctive as the areas of natural splendor.

Modernity has yet to infiltrate this sleepy capital, where temples and religious affiliations blend with the rural foundations of the city. The majority of the city's sights are situated within relatively close proximity of each another due to the fact that an urban sprawl has yet to materialize within the city.  

Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)
Buddha Park (aka Xieng Khuan) is a famous sculpture park with more than 200 religious statues including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha image.
The best spot for photography here is on top of the giant pumpkin structure standing about three stories high. The entrance is crafted to look like a demon’s mouth (about three metres high) with a stone ladder inside leading to a bird's eye view of the entire Xieng Kuan Park.

Buddha Park Highlights
It was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism. This explains why his park is full not only of Buddha images but also of Hindu gods as well as demons and animals from both beliefs.
The most outstanding ones include Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant (aka Erawan and Airavata), a four-armed deity sitting on a horse and an artistic deity with 12 faces and many hands, each holding interesting objects. They are all equally impressive not only because of their enormous size but because they are full of interesting details and interesting motifs.
There is a local eatery and café offering food and drinks to tourists at one end of the park right next to the Mekong River that makes a great spot to chill after all the walking and climbing. Among the popular snacks are papaya salad, fried bananas and cold Lao beer. It also has a souvenir shop and restrooms. There is a small fee for entering the park as well as for photography.
Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00 – 18:00
Location: About 25 kilometres southeast of Vientiane, along the Mekong River
How to get there: The Buddha Park can be reached by public bus or tuk tuk

Lao National Museum in Vientiane
A visit to the Lao National Museum, also known as the Lao National History Museum, is an excellent way to learn about the history, culture and people of Laos while spending a couple of hours out of the sun. Many of the exhibits are a bit faded and the old French colonial building is falling apart, but the museum covers a lot of ground, from prehistoric times to the modern day.
Although the range of artifacts and photographs is not as comprehensive or as well organised as you might expect in a national museum, there are nonetheless some fascinating exhibits here. The ground floor houses a mixture of ancient items such as dinosaur bones, pottery shards and Khmer sculptures that trace the early history of the region.
Upstairs, you will find more detail in the exhibits, which depict the turbulent modern history of Laos from the Siamese invasions and the French colonial period to the American military presence during the Vietnam War, and through to the present day. There is a heavy emphasis on the struggle for independence and the introduction of communism in 1975, which explains why the museum was originally named the Lao Revolutionary Museum.
 
Lao National Museum Highlights

  • The Lao National Museum is housed in the old French Governor’s mansion, which was built in 1925. 
  • Formerly known as the Lao Revolutionary Museum, it was renamed in 2000 and is sometimes also referred to as the Lao National History Museum. 
  • The exhibits of ancient Lao history and culture on the ground floor include a particularly interesting display from the Plain of Jars (Savannakhet), which features an intact jar from the site. 
  • Of the modern-day exhibits, many visitors find the one about unexploded ordinances from the American War the most fascinating and thought-provoking. From 1964 to 1973, Laos was heavily bombed, and many unexploded shells remain scattered around the countryside. 
  • Be prepared for many of the displays and their labels to show an anti-Western bias, describing the Americans in particular as ‘imperialists’. 
  • Stop and sign the guestbook at the entrance, and read some of the amusing exchanges on communism. 
  • The entrance fee is minimal. 
  • No bags or cameras are allowed in the museum. You will need to hand in your belongings for storage in the lockers at the entrance (free).

Opening Hours: From 08:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00, seven days a week. Closed on public holidays.
Location: The Lao National Museum is located in the centre of town on Thanon Samsenthai, one block from the Lao Plaza Hotel and in front of the Tennis Club and the National Stadium.
How to get there: You can easily walk, ride a rented bicycle, or take a tuk-tuk or jumbo to the National Museum from anywhere in central Vientiane. Thanon Samsenthai is one of the main boulevards in the city, and runs parallel with the river.

Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane
With its crenellated upper level topped with five ornate towers in the traditional Laos style, the Patuxai Victory Monument cuts a distinctive figure on the Vientiane skyline. It forms the centrepiece of Patuxai Park, and is dedicated to the Laos who were killed in the fight to gain independence from France, as well as from the nation’s earlier occupiers, Siam and Japan.
Situated at the end of one of the capital’s grand avenues, the large, square arch is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, as a monument to Laos’ resilience and eventual independence, Patuxai was designed to pay homage to its national culture and traditions. Its exterior embellishments feature both Buddhist religious symbols such as lotus leaves and the stupa-shaped towers, and statues of animist kinnari (half-female and half-bird figures) and nagas (dragons).
The interior of the monument is also richly decorated with painted walls and ceilings depicting gods, goddesses and elephants. For a small fee, you can climb to the top to enjoy the panoramic view of the charming, old-fashioned city of Vientiane with its many trees, low-rise buildings and temples, and all the way across the Mekong River to Thailand.
 
Patuxai Highlights

  • Patuxai was built between 1957 and 1968 using funds from the U.S. government. 
  • It is sometimes nicknamed the ‘vertical runway’ as the cement used was intended for the construction of a new airport. 
  • The name comes from the Sanskrit words for door or gate (patu) and victory (jaya). 
  • Patuxai features four arches, facing North, South, East and West. 
  • The four corner towers and fifth central tower that crown the arch symbolise the five Buddhist principles of thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honour and prosperity. 
  • The seven floors of the monument contain administrative offices as well as a gift shop, a museum and the upper viewing galleries. 
  • Patuxai Park is a popular place to stroll around in the afternoons among the palm trees and lotus ponds. There is also a musical fountain that was donated by China. 
  • The peace gong at the northern end of the park was presented to Laos by Indonesia in recognition of Laos being named the world’s most peaceful country. 
  • For an entrance fee of 3,000 Kip (38 US cents) you can take the stairs or the new lifts to the top floor viewing area.

Opening Hours: From 08:00 to 16:30 on Mondays to Fridays, and 08:00 to 17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Location: Patuxai is situated at the far end of Thanon Lane Xang in the government and diplomatic district. The monument sits on the large ‘island’ formed where the avenue splits into two, opposite the Ministry of Justice to the south and the Prime Minister’s office to the north.
How to get there: Vientiane is such a small city that it is easy to get around on foot, by bicycle, or by tuk-tuk. To get to Patuxai, head north-east from the Presidential Palace near the river and follow Thanon Lane Xang for five blocks until you see the imposing sight of the Patuxai arch.

That Luang - Vientiane Great Stupa
That Luang, or the Great Stupa, in Vientiane is a national symbol (its image is on Laos’ official seal) and also the most sacred monument in the country. From the outside That Luang looks more like a fortress surrounded by high walls and it features two temples with the main stupa, the top of which is covered with gold leaf, standing 148 feet tall.
The beautiful architecture is in Lao style, influenced by Buddhist beliefs – these include finely-gilded, red-lacquer doors, pointed lesser stupas, many Buddha images and beautiful flower and animal images.
Locals say that it was originally built as early as the third century to house a breastbone of the Lord Buddha brought to Laos by an Indian missionary. However, the current structure was built by King Setthathirat in 1566 on the site of a 13th century Khmer ruin. He named Vientiane the capital after Luang Prabang in the mid-sixteenth century. An elegantly crafted statue of him stands in front of the main entrance to That Luang.
That Luang was greatly damaged by the Burmese, Chinese and Siamese during invasions in the 18th and 19th centuries then was basically left alone until French colonial times. Restoration work was completed in 1900 by the French and for a second time in 1930, again with the help of the French.
Every November when the Boun That Luang Festival is held in Vientiane, a large crowd of followers and tourists come to town from all over Laos and neighbouring countries. The festival is considered the most important Buddhist celebration in Laos with many activities going on for three days and three nights. The main event is always held at That Luang and thousands of people come to pay respect to the stupa and to enjoy the colourful event that includes parades, live music and religious ceremonies.
Opening Hours: All year round
Location: The impressively gilded structure is situated about four kilometres northeast of Vientiane

The Presidential Palace in Vientiane
The building of the elegant Presidential Palace on Lane Xang Street was first started in 1973 by the then Royal Lao government on the grounds that used to house the royal residence. It was designed by local architect Khamphoung Phonekeo, but due to political change brought about by the takeover of the communist Pathet Lao in 1975, the building was not completed until much later.
The Presidential Palace finally opened its doors in 1986 and even then only as a venue for government functions and ceremonies. The building is closed to the public.
The Presidential Palace is a well-known landmark for its imposing yet elegant beau arts-style architecture complete with tall colonnades and shaded balconies. The building is surrounded by well-manicured lawns and gardens and fenced off by tall walls and a wrought iron gate.
The Presidential Palace is not to be confused with the official home of the Lao president, which is located in the Vientiane suburb of Ban Phonthan. This magnificent building is lit up in the evening and offers a great opportunity for night photography although a long lens may be needed.
Location: Junction of Lane Xang Avenue and Settathirath Road, Vientiane

Wat Ho Phra Keo 
Vientiane boasts several beautiful temples or wats, but one of the most impressive and interesting of them is Wat Ho Phra Keo. It was originally constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel, and as a home for the Emerald Buddha after it was snatched from northern Siam (Thailand). This sacred jade statue was reclaimed by the Siamese in 1778 and now sits in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.

Even without the Emerald Buddha, however, Ho Phra Keo is well worth a visit. The only part of the old royal palace that has survived, the temple is no longer used for religious purposes and is now a museum. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it is often known in English, is richly adorned with carved wooden features, a magnificent 16th century lacquered door with Hindu carvings, numerous Khmer stone carvings and a variety of Buddha statues.

The stone balustrade of each of the temple stairs features a dragon with its head facing the grounds, guarding the sacred building. The shady, well-kept garden is an oasis of calm that offers a welcome respite from the sun and a quiet place to meditate or simply rest.

  • The name Ho Phra Keo means ‘Altar of the Emerald Buddha’, in reference to the fact that only the altar remained when the statue was removed 
  • It is also sometimes spelled Haw Phra Keow, Ho Prakeo or Ho Phra Kaew. English-language guidebooks often refer to it as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. 
  • The temple was first built on the grounds of the royal palace in 1565, but was destroyed in the Siamese invasion of 1828-29. 
  • Prince Souvanna Phouma, an engineer and future prime minister of Laos, directed the reconstruction of Wat Ho Phra Keo between 1936 and 1942. 
  • Although it is relatively new, the Bangkok-rococo style structure has a distinctly traditional look. 
  • On its veranda you will see some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture in Laos. 
  • The interior of the temple is now a museum that houses many Lao treasures such as a gilded throne, Khmer Buddhist stone tablets, wooden carvings, bronze frog drums and palm-leaf manuscripts. 
  • The entrance fee is less than a dollar. 
  • The neatly tended garden contains colourful flowers, lush green lawns and charming statues set among the shady trees.

Opening Hours: The temple is open from 08:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00 every day.
Location: Wat Ho Phra Keo is situated on the corner of Thanon Setthathilath and Thanon Mahosot. It is next to the Presidential Palace and across the road from Wat Si Saket. Mahosot Hospital is on the opposite side of Thanon Mahosot.
How to get there: As is the case with Vientiane’s other attractions, Ho Phra Keo is just a short stroll, bicycle ride or tuk-tuk trip from other parts of the city centre. From the main entertainment and business district, head east along Thanon Setthathilath or Thanon Fa Ngum, which runs along the river, and you will find the majestic Wat Ho Phra Keo in a tree-filled compound just after the Presidential Palace.

Wat Mixai
Wat Mixai, or the Temple of Victory, was built during the reign of King Sai Setthathirat (1550-1571) to celebrate the victory over the Burmese troops during the 16th century Lao-Burma war. It was renovated in the early 1900s and adopted a Central Thai style of religious architecture.

As with many Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, the name may have association with the victory of the Buddha over the distracting demon Mara who was sent to test his fortitude on the eve of his enlightenment.

With its convenient location right in the city centre of Vientiane, Wat Mixai serves the Buddhist community who congregate here four times a month, during the Buddhist days of reverence. There is a public school within the compound and it is a lively and working temple where visitors can observe monastic life led by the numerous monks, novices, worshippers, and schoolchildren.

There is a large presiding Buddha in the main, high-ceilinged hall and the imposing columns are decorated in red and gold while the mural on the ceiling depicts the lives of the Buddha. In the temple grounds there are small stupas and sculptures of mythical animals and demons.

In all, the temple seems an exact replica of the form and style of Thai temples just across the Mekhong River. No relics are buried here, nor is it steeped in history and folklore, as are other grander Vientiane temples. Nevertheless, as part of the temple tours and for observing Buddhist daily life, it is well worth a visit.

Wat Si Muang
Wat Si Muang is one of Vientiane’s most popular sites of worship, and offers a fascinating insight into how old animist beliefs have blended seamlessly with Theravada Buddhism.

According to local legend, when the temple was being built in 1563 a young pregnant woman named Si Muang volunteered to sacrifice herself to appease the angry spirits. She threw herself into a hole in the ground where the building’s central pillar was to be placed, and was crushed when the massive pillar was lowered into position. This central pillar also formed the centre of the town that was springing up around Wat Si Muang, which to this day is revered as the ‘mother temple’ of Vientiane.

During the That Luang Festival every October or November, this temple is one of the focal points of the celebrations, and Si Muang is fêted as a guardian of the city. On a daily basis, Wat Si Muang attracts crowds of local Buddhists who want to benefit from its ‘good luck’ powers. It is commonly thought that if you pray for something here and simultaneously make a promise, your wish will be granted, providing you return and fulfil your promise.

  • The first Wat Si Muang was constructed in 1563, but was destroyed by Siamese invaders in 1828. It was subsequently rebuilt a number of times, and the present wat dates from 1915. 
  • The temple is named after Si Muang, who sacrificed herself in the pit that holds the central pillar of the structure. There is a small statue of Si Muang behind the building, along with a heap of old bricks that are said to date back to her time. 
  • The building itself is fairly unremarkable, although it does, unusually, contain two rooms rather than one. In the front chamber, you will find a monk offering blessings, while the back room contains an ornate altar where worshippers give their offerings. 
  • The interior of the temple is lavishly adorned in the usual manner with carved gold pillars, brightly coloured ceiling friezes and painted scenes from the life of the Buddha. 
  • There is no entrance charge, but you do have to pay to park your bicycle or motorcycle on the temple grounds. 
  • King Sisavang Vong's monument is located next door, and is reachable through a gate from the Wat Si Muang grounds.

Opening Hours: The temple is open from 06:00 to 19:00 every day
Location: Wat Si Muang is located at the eastern end of Thanon Setthathirath, in the triangular area formed just before the street merges with Thanon Samsenthai and turns into Thanon Thadeua.
How to get there: Follow either Thanon Setthathirath or Thanon Samsenthai in an easterly direction towards the Friendship Bridge. If you are on Thanon Setthathirath, go past La Leela Hotel, and you will see the yellow Wat Si Muang on the other side of the street, surrounded by parked bicycles and motorbikes, as well as stalls selling flowers and other offerings.

Wat Sisaket 
Wat Si Saket located in Vientiane is famous for its cloister wall housing thousands of tiny Buddha images and rows with hundreds of seated Buddhas. These images mainly date from the 16th and 19th centuries and come in all sizes and are made from wood, stone and bronze – more than 6,800 Buddhas in total.

If visiting the temple early in the morning, visitors will come across the many locals that go to pray and make merit as well as to offer food to the monks. It is a charming daily ceremony to witness. The temple is quite shady as it is surrounded by tropical fruit trees.
Wat Si Saket is not only famous for the interior walls of the cloister but it also has beautiful architecture and layout with history dated back to 1818. Among the many interesting features there are its lovely surrounding verandas, an ornate five-tiered roof, a drum tower, a small library building with a Burmese-style roof and the flowered ceiling of the ordination hall.

Located opposite the Presidential Palace, the temple was built by Chao Anuvong, the last king of the Lan Xang Kingdom in early Bangkok-style architecture mixed with its own unique style. It survived the Siamese-Lao war of 1828 and has become the oldest Buddhist monastery in Laos.

Art enthusiasts will be thrilled to see many figurines and sculptures fashioned by highly skilled craftsmen such as the five-metre long beautiful detailed wooden naga (in Sanskrit, it means serpent deity) as well as a Khmer-style Buddha seated on a coiled naga.

THINGS TO DO

One of the Laos people's favourite pastimes – as will become apparent when you are there – is sitting and watching the time pass by. The French coined the phrase: ‘The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Laos listen to it grow’. Understandably, this is not in everyone’s nature, but a few hours of guzzling Beer Lao on the tranquil shores of the Mekong, is kind of mandatory for any Vientiane visitor.

Alternatively, the numerous educational sites, natural wonders and startling scenery should satisfy. For those who want to work up a sweat by other means than walking, trying taking an arranged hike, bike ride or working your way around one of the picturesque golf courses 

Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage
Spas and massage shops are in plentiful supply in Vientiane, offering something for every budget. But for something more memorable, take the three kilometre trip out of the centre to Wat Sok Pa Luang, and down a path to the side of the temple you will find a rickety old jungle house offering Lao massage and traditional herbal spa; a hand-painted sign points the way.
The traditional massage and herbal sauna experience at Wat Sok Pa Luang isn’t for everyone as the facilities are basic, on the other end of the spectrum to a fancy hotel spa treatment, without the sycophantic staff or exclusiveness. But what you do get is the most authentic experience, with true Laotian hospitality and massage beds so close to the forest you can reach out and touch it. This massage centre originally became famous as the place where nuns from the adjoining temple gave healing massages to monks. The nuns are no longer there, but the therapeutic and utterly relaxing environment lives on. Life here is so laidback, even the chickens pecking through the foliage seem to take their time.
Visitors are first asked to change into a sarong and then enter the sauna, a rustic wooden slatted outhouse. The steam is infused with an intensely fragrant mix of fresh herbs and spices, including lemongrass, basil, mint, rosemary and eucalyptus. These ingredients are prepared and placed in water that is heated on an open fire burning below the shed. The effect is like a steam-slap in the face, but you quickly acclimatise and with each deep breath, the herbs work their magic, opening up pores and cleansing lungs. Once you feel suitably relaxed, it’s time for a quick ‘shower’ using a big earthen pot which is filled with fresh water from an underground well.
Next, it’s on to the massage. Laos massage is similar to its Thai cousin, just a little softer and more relaxing. It still gets the blood pumping into every muscle though, leaving you relaxed, yet more invigorated, like every good massage should. The traditional spa is really something different, as the sounds of the forest and the sunshine breaking through the bamboo shades are as central to the experience as the massage itself. Once you have been rubbed and massaged from your feet right up to your head, hot tea is served on the open veranda looking out into the forest.
Not within walking distance, a trip to Wat Sok Pa Luang might be as far from the tourist centre as you will travel during your stay in Vientiane. Having said that, it is only a ten minute motorbike ride away, travelling east past Talat Sao Morning Market and the COPE Visitor Centre.
This is the kind of leisure activity that is slowly being lost; replaced by modern spas with all the latest amenities but none of the mystical charisma. The traditional spa and herbal massage at Wat Sok Pa Luang is exactly the kind of therapeutic treatment that was taking place in Laos over a century ago when the French colonists were dotting the landscape with grand villas and allows visitors a chance to experience a side of Laos that is slowly slipping into the confines of history.

Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women
Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women was established originally to provide training in the art of weaving for Lao women from poor backgrounds. Over time, with funding from international non-governmental organizations, the training centre has expanded its scope to include minority ethnic groups and disabled folk.
The Centre was founded by Japanese-educated Chanthasone Inthavong in 1998, and offers short courses in weaving, dyeing, sewing and small business administration. Together with the job placement programme, it hopes to help generate income for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Situated seven km from Vientiane city centre in a Houey Hong Village, Chanthabury District, the centre is surrounded by a pleasant garden. There are altogether eight buildings, some of which are dedicated studios and workshop areas for weaving, dyeing, and tailoring.
The sporadic nature of its funding means that the centre has to support itself and it does so by selling crafts made on the premises and offering tailoring services. They also offer half or full-day workshops, where visitors learn the craft of Laotian weaving. This includes designing patterns, tying thread, dyeing (using natural colour), and trial loom weaving.
Participants get to take their creations home. The cost of the workshops usually includes transfer (pick up in front of Mixay Temple) and lunch. If you want to make your own way to the centre, Houey Hong is also reachable by tuk tuks and local buses.
Opening Hours: Monday through Saturday 08:30 – 12:00, 13:30 - 16:30
Location: Houey Hong Village, Chanthabury District

Meditation
Every Saturday local monks lead a walking and sitting meditation session at Wat Sok Pa Luang. Between 16:00 and 17:30, the sessions take place in pavilions and within the garden. Everyone is welcome, the session is, of course, free of charge and a translator is present for the after-period question time. Twice a year the Buddhist teacher holds intensive Vispassana meditation workshops at the monastery, open to all who wish to join.

Swimming
Swimming is popular and easily accessible in Vientiane although you might want to think twice before jumping head first into the Mekong; currents are notoriously fast and dangerous. As you might imagine, the best swimming pools can be found in the better hotels and they usually allow outsiders in at charge.

NIGHTLIFE

Vientiane has evolved from a quiet little town to a fun city with modern, trendy and eclectic choices of places to enjoy after dinner. Some well known venues have clearly been popular for years and still attract a crowd of local and expats, but it is easy to see why many travelers came to Vientiane and never left.

You’ll find lots of small and friendly bars and pubs, often serving specialties from their original country. The best way to explore is simply to just walk around downtown until a place calls your name.

1. Lao Bowling Centre
The Lao Bowling Centre in Vientiane is a great entertainment option for families and those looking for a fun, alternative night out. In the daytime, locals and tourists of all ages come to enjoy the discounted rates and pleasant cool environment – a welcome break from Vientiane’s often blistering heat. As the evening progresses, the music is turned up and the Beerlao start to flow - two key factors which inevitably create more of a lively atmosphere. Be aware that with only 10 lanes, arriving during peak hours (around 22:00) might mean you have to wait for a while. 
You can find the slightly run-down yet charming Lao Bowling Centre Read More...
Opening Hours: 09:00 - 01:00 (sometimes later)
Location: Boulevard Khunbulom, Vientiane
Price Range: 15-20,000kip per game ($2-3)
 
2. Spirit House
Whilst Spirit House is open from as early as 07:00 in the morning, this delightful little riverside spot really comes alive in the evening. The stylish wooden interior and tasteful background music creates that upmarket feeling which is lapped up by the mostly expat and local crowd who don’t mind splashing the cash – and the quality is well-worth the extra Kip.  
Spirit House is an especially good place to come and watch the sunset over the Mekong whilst sipping a drink from their range of international beers, wines and (as the name would suggest) spirits.  Food is served throughout the day, and you’ll find everything from burgers to sushi on their impressive menu.
Opening Hours: 07:00 - 23:00
Address: Beau Rivage Hotel, 09/093, Fa Ngum Road, Baan Seetarn Neua, Sikhottabong District, Vientiane

3. Bor Pen Nyang
Bor Pen Nyang is the most well-known bar in the whole of town - a title earned thanks in no small part to its ideal fourth-floor location overlooking the stunning Mekong River. Vientiane is a popular destination for solo-travellers, and Bor Pen Nyang’s mix of backpackers, expats (many of whom are in town to make their visas), and chatty locals just might make this one of the best spots to spark up a lively conversation with a friendly stranger – all in a great setting. Although scoring highly in our books for atmosphere and views, Bor Pen Nyang loses marks for its worn-out decor and uninspiring menu of $US4 burgers, Read More...
Opening Hours: 11:00 - 24:00
Location: On Th. Setthathilath, near Nam Pu Fountain Bor Pen Nyang, Fah Ngum Rd, Wat Chanh, Vientiane

4. Future Nightclub
Vientiane is not exactly a party destination; neither is it showing any real signs of ever becoming one. Flying one of the solitary flags for the party-lovers, however, is Future Nightclub on Luang Prabang Road, just past the Novotel Hotel. This venue has the same kind of format as any similar venue in neighbouring Thailand, and anybody who has ever sampled a Thai nightclub will know that this means a mix of live indie bands with hard house beats played in between, ample bottles of whiskey around miniature tables and no real dance floor. Entrance on standard nights is free and closing time is 01:30 (although this is pretty flexible, especially when things get busy on the weekend.)
Opening Hours: 17:00 – 01:30
Location: Luang Prabang Road, near the Novotel (Hotel)
 
5. Kong View Restaurant
Kong View Restaurant is a great place to spend the evening, winding down a typically lazy day in the equally lazy Laotian capital of Vientiane. This ever-so quaint restaurant and bar is set on the picturesque banks of the Mekong River; arrive early enough and you might be able to grab a table next to the river – perfect to watch the gorgeous sunset over the water. Later in the night, things start to liven up a little, with live music and an inside bar that stays open till late. 
The menu at Kong View is large enough to accommodate most tastes and budgets, with an excellent mix of Laotian, Read More...
Opening Hours: 12:00 - 23:00
Address: 183 Souphanouvong Rd, Vientiane
 
6. Vientiane Night Market and Mekong River
The Mekong River is Vientiane’s main focal point, so it is no surprise that this is where you’ll find the city’s busiest night spot. At the centre of it all is the unmissable Night Market – or night bazaar – which stretches along a good part the recently renovated riverside promenade. The iconic red-roofed market is worth a wonder if you’re looking for a souvenir of some kind, but the real appeal of this area is the buzzing atmosphere, with the crowd of locals and visitors all converging on the riverfront to shop, exercise, eat and drink from early evening until around midnight. 
Opening Hours: 18:00 – Midnight
Location: On the promenade next to Chao Anouvong Park
 
7. Chokdee Café and Belgian Beer Bar
Beer connoisseurs need look no further than the colourful and quirky Chokdee Café and Belgian Beer Bar on the main riverfront in Vientiane. Their vast range of international lagers, ales and ciders includes Guinness, Magners, Savanna Dry, Leffe, Hoegaarden, La Chouffe - and of course no watering hole in Vientiane would be complete without the local Beerlao. 
The food menu is as vast as the beer list, and the ‘avec les bieres’ (with the beers) dishes such as mini hamburgers, cheese plate, pork cold cuts, and spring rolls (all $US3-10) are all a tasty way to line your stomach and ensure your beer sampling session can go on late into the evening.
Opening Hours: 17:00 - Midnight
Location: Quai Fa Ngum, Vientiane, Laos
 
8. Martini Lounge
This swanky little cocktail bar tucked away down a small road (two blocks away from the river) is the place to come if you’re looking to add a little bit of class to your evening’s itinerary. The cocktails at Martini Lounge are as sophisticated as the decor, with house specials including the Lao Lao Shooter and a flaming hot Fire and Ice vodka-based mix. Their busy schedule during the week includes Salsa sessions (Thursdays), movie nights (Monday-Wednesday at 20:00) and the occasional live music event. A two-for-one cocktail happy hour also runs Monday to Wednesday from 18:00 and 19:30. 
Opening Hours: 17:00 - Midnight
Location: Nokeo Khumman

9. Samlo Pub
Samlo Pub is difficult to miss with its central location and bright yellow exterior, and always draws in a steady flow of expats and wondering tourists, curious to see what lies inside. The moment you enter, you might want to turn back: the lighting is grungy, the decor is dated and the indoor smoking policy is evidently liberal. However, what Samlo Pub does excel in is extremely cheap prices (we’re talking $US2-for-a-litre-of-beer kind of cheap). They also show live sports on widescreen TV’s and have a variety of classic pub games including pool and table football. Samlo Pub is also one of the few spots in town that stays open into the early hours. 
Opening Hours: 16:00 - 23:30
Location: 101 Setthathirat Road
 
10. Vangthong Evening Food Market

Visiting Vangthong Food Market makes for an intriguing evening activity, great to get a taste of both local Laotian life and food. From around sunset (17:00), the area around Rue Boulom becomes a hive of activity; food stalls pop up in a flash, barbeques are lit, and scores of motorcycles form a makeshift parking lot. 
As with most attractions in South East Asia, if it’s frequented by locals – which Vangthong certainly is – is probably a sign of quality. Make sure you stop by on an empty stomach as the huge range of tasty local snacks – including grilled pork skewers, fragrant fish cakes, spicy beef salads, whole roasted Read More...
Opening Hours: 17:00 - 22:00
Location: Vangthong Food Market, Boulevard Khounboulom

THINGS TO KNOW

Vientiane Weather
Vientiane has a tropical climate with a dry season and a wet season typical of Laos and its neighbouring countries. Temperatures range from warm to hot, with some very humid days when the rains mark the start of the southwest monsoon season in May or June. Rainy conditions continue through to the end of October, then the northeast monsoon arrives bringing with it drier and cooler days.

November through February feature the most comfortable, sunny days in Vientiane, then the temperatures rise in March, April and May.

Vientiane has a tropical climate with a dry season and a wet season typical of Laos and its neighbouring countries. Temperatures range from warm to hot, with some very humid days when the rains mark the start of the southwest monsoon season in May or June. Rainy conditions continue through to the end of October, then the northeast monsoon arrives bringing with it drier and cooler days. 

November through February feature the most comfortable, sunny days in Vientiane, then the temperatures rise in March, April and May.

Wattay International Airport 
Wattay International Airport is located just 3km from the country’s capital city Vientiane. A single terminal building houses arrivals and departures for domestic flights and a new terminal building services international flights. At one end of the terminal is a military installation which is off-limits to everyday passengers. The terminals have been upgraded in recent years to provide more comfortable facilities and more services for travellers.

Wattay International Airport services regular scheduled flights for Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Air Asia, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines.

Arrival
When you land in Vientiane you should head straight for the passport control desks inside the terminal building. If you need to apply for a visa-on-arrival head to the signed desk, submit your application form (which you can download prior to travel), your passport, two passport photos and US$20-45 depending on your nationality. US, UK and European nationals are charged US$35.00 while people from Canada are charged US$42.00. Swedes pay US$31.00 and Australians can purchase the visa for US$30.00. This must be paid in US dollars or Thai baht. The visa is good for 30 days. The application will only take a few minutes then you should go through passport control before claiming your baggage and heading out into the arrivals hall. Here you will find an ATM and a currency exchange booth which may or may not be open depending on the time of your arrival.
Airport Transfer
Jumbos do one way airport transfers for around $10USD; you can also purchase a taxi coupon from inside the terminal building for an alternative and economical route into the city. Tuk-tuks will also take you to and from the airport if you are happy to pay an overinflated price. The local bus is the cheapest option but you will need to walk about 500 metres at the other end. Most hotels will also be able to pick you up from the airport by advance arrangement.

For transportation back from your hotel to the airport you may need to negotiate a fee with a taxi or tuk-tuk driver.

Getting Around Vientiane – Local Transport Options
Vientiane is pretty easy to move around in although be warned that most maps are not very accurate and rarely to scale. Traffic here is not as thunderous as other Southeast Asian cities and the local people will help where they can but most do not speak much English so bring a translation guide book if seeking directions. Also be warned if attempting to use a pedestrian crossing as drivers do not pay them any attention and generally will not stop.

Taxis are readily available with fares being negotiated as you go, most are also happy to be rented for the day at a cost of around $30USD. Tuk-tuks and song-teows also navigate the city streets. Tuk-tuk drivers usually charge the most and will not barter on a fare.

White mini-buses and the old blue and white ones take passengers out of the city to places such as Buddha Park and Friendship Bridge, the one signposted to the airport does not actually go quite that far and you will need to walk a bit at the other end. Vientiane lends itself very well to navigation on bikes which can be hired by the day by leaving a small deposit. Cars can also be hired through international companies such as Europcar as long as you are happy to take a chance on the local erratic driving.


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