Vientiane, located on the bank of the Mekong river, is one hell of a laid-back city. The city consisted of much French colonial architectures and antique Buddhist temples surrounded by peaceful boulevards and tree-lined streets. It is nothing like any other capital cities you have experienced in South East Asia. The traffic is not as bad as Bangkok, the humidity is not as unbearable as Singapore, and the city is not as crowded as Jakarta. Not to mention all the hip cafes and French bakeries you can indulge yourself in when you are there.
Where to Stay in Vientiane
Manorom Hotel is a beautifully decorated boutique hotel by the river in the heart of Vientiane. The hotel and the rooms are furnished with modern Laos décor and you will find everything you have come to expect from a hotel such as a safe box, TV, air conditioner etc here. The restaurant is located on the top floor of the building allowing you to enjoy an amazing breakfast while overlooking the city from above. I don't usually stay in a hotel but I had a much needed quiet time staying here.
How to Get to Vientiane
The best way to get here is to fly into Bangkok and from there, fly domestically up north and to Udon Thani and cross the border to Laos on-foot. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find all the cheap flights from where you live to Bangkok and compare them so that you can find the one best fit for your itinerary.
After flying into Udon Thani, we took an airport shuttle bus to the border and crossed the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge to Laos. It was a fast but affordable way to travel to Laos. There are 2 AirAsia flights each day from Bangkok to Udon Thani which will take you a little more than an hour before you have to take a shuttle bus to the border for another 2 hours. You can find a shuttle bus kiosk at the exit of the Udon Than's airport.
You can also take a bus or a train from Bangkok but that might cost you a day of travel (12 hours+), overnighting either on the bus or the train. If you don't have much time, I would suggest you go with the first method I mentioned earlier, a combination of domestic flight and a shuttle bus.
Crossing the border
The whole process can take from an hour to half a day depending on the traffic going to Laos. Most of that time, you will spend at the border control lining up to get a stamp in your passport. Once you have passed through the Thai border, you will have to take another bus to cross the bridge and enters the immigration on the Laos side.
You will first have to line up at the queue to pay for a fee and get an entry pass before you can line up for the border control. Once you have passed the immigration, you will be surrounded by taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. Pick your favorite one, agree on a price and the driver will take you to where ever you want to go to the city center.
How to Get Around Vientiane
Even though, Vientiane is a small city, it is still quite confusing to navigate on foot especially when it comes to getting to one of the many temples around the area. The transportation infrastructure is either non-existent or doesn't accommodate English-speaking tourists very well. The best way to explore the city is to hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk driver to drive you around town for a day so you can get right into the business of exploring.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Laos, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
5 Awesome Things to Do in Vientiane
1. Walk around the Peaceful Pha That Luang
One of the most popular landmark in Vientiane is the Pha That Luang temple. Pha That Luang is a stunning gold stupa built during the 3rd century. It has been through some tough times and was even completely destroyed by the Thais ( sorry :( ) in the 18th century. Thankfully, the french restored the landmark to its glory and turned the landmark into quite a peaceful place to walk around and to get away from the chaos of the city.
2. Marvel at the detail of Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket is another popular Buddhist temple with a stunning antique architecture made out of teak wood which dated back to the early 18th century. The temple holds as many Buddha sculptures as 6800 while also displaying many stunning Khmer-style Buddhas and a five-meter-long wooden naga. The temple really shows off the amazing craftsmanship of the locals.
3. Hangout at the Patuxai during sunset
No trip to Laos is complete without visiting Patuxai. This arch of triumph was built to commomerate those who died in the struggle for independence from France. The gate was not complete though due to civil wars and was left unpainted exposing the concrete structure. "From a closer distance it looks even less impressive, like a monster of concrete" was a sentence carved onto the arc structure. I don't know what they are talking about because I love it!
During the sunset, you can climb up to the top and enjoy a good view of the whole city from above.
4. Shop at the Night Market by the Mekong River
When visiting a city, a market is always a good place to see how the locals live and so every 5 PM, I would always find myself at the night market, walking around, watching people. You will find a night market every night starting at 5 PM on the boulevard along the Mekong river which made the walk even more enjoyable.
Be warned: Do cover yourself with mosquito repellent before you go out at night. The mosquitoes here are massive and aggressive as hell.
5. Check Out Other architecture worth seeing
While you are at the Pha That Luang temple, do go for a walk around the landmark and check out the many beautiful buildings around it. Just beyond the Pha That Luang's gate is the Pha That Luang Neau temple that boasts a stunningly detailed carving as shown above.
Another impressive building nearby is the Tumma Sapa (ທັມມະສະພາ) which I assume is a place for people and monks to come and pray hence the massive size.
Digital Nomad Friendly Cafe
Of course, I can not end this article without mentioning a cool cafe for you to work from. Joma Bakery Café Nam Phou is a western style bakery that serves breakfast, bagels and amazing locally grown coffee. It has become quite popular among travelers over the years so much so that they have expanded to other neighboring countries. It has free and fast wifi (the best kind) and a relaxing atmosphere that I prefer when I work from a cafe. The location of the cafe is shown below:
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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