Vientiane is the capital and largest city of Laos. The town is located on the North bank of the Mekong river, opposite the Thai town of Si Chiang Mai.
Vientiane is a small city with a relaxed atmosphere that receives a growing number of tourists. French influence shows in the colonial era buildings and the broad boulevards. The town’s most distinguishing landmark is the Patuxai arch, that resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The name of the more than a thousand years old city is pronounced as Vieng Chan, which means “the walled city of sandalwood”. The city was destroyed by the Siamese army in 1828. It was rebuild when the French colonized Laos and made it part of French Indochina in 1893.
To do & see in Vientiane
Even though the city was destroyed in the early 19th century, there are plenty of historical sites worth a visit, as well as cultural and outdoor activities.
Monuments & temples
The Wat Si Saket is one of the oldest temples in Vientiane dating back to the early 19th century. It is one of the few temples that was not destroyed during the Siamese invasion of 1828. The temple houses thousands of Buddha images from the 16th to the 19th century.
The Pha That Luang or Great Sacred Stupa situated on a hill is an impressive gold covered stupa in Vientiane town. It is the most important monument in Laos. According to legend a smaller stupa was build at this spot in the 3rd century by monks send by the Indian emperor Ashoka to enshrine a breast bone of the Buddha. The monument that is standing today is a reconstruction build by the French in the 1930’s.
One of the most highly revered temples in Laos, the Haw Phra Kaew once housed the famous Emerald Buddha image, which is now enshrined in the Wat Phra Kaew on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The temple in the center of Vientiane was originally build in the 16th century and rebuild in the 19th century.
A very noticeable landmark is the Patuxai arch, also known as the Victory gate. The impressive structure with a broad avenue in front of it reminds of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Visitors can climb to the top of the monument passing numerous souvenir shops along the way. From the top there are great views of Vientiane town.
The Black Stupa or That Dam is a large stupa in the center of a busy roundabout in Vientiane. Local legend has it that the stupa is inhabited by a seven headed Naga serpent that protected the people of Vientiane when the Siamese army destroyed the city in 1828.
Buddha Park (Xiang Khouan) some 25 kilometers outside of town right next to the Mekong river was build in the late 1950’s. It contains hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu statues, as well as figures of animals and demons. Two of the most striking statues are a very large Reclining Buddha and a giant pumpkin with three stories. Entering the pumpkin through a huge mouth, visitors can get to the three stories representing Hell, Earth and Heaven.
Other attractions and activities
The Phatoke Laoderm restaurant in Vientiane organizes a Laos cultural show and dinner. Watch a traditional Laotian folk dancing show while enjoying Lao food.
The huge morning market Talat Sao houses an almost endless number of stalls selling items as antiques, silk scarves, cotton, batik, gold and silver products and gems. A good opportunity to try your bargaining skills and sample some Laotian street food. A modern air conditioned mall building was added a few years ago, next to the traditional market outside.
Other activities in and around Vientiane include kayaking, white water rafting, spa and massage, Muay Lao boxing and cycling.
Getting to Vientiane
Vientiane can be reached by air, bus or train.
The quickest and easiest way to get to Vientiane is by air. Vientiane airport is located a few kilometers from town. A taxi from the airport into town will cost around US$ 7. Many hotels will pick up without charge.
Several airlines serve Vientiane from Bangkok.
Thai Airways flies twice daily from Bangkok to Vientiane. The direct flight takes around one hour and 10 minutes.
Bangkok Airways has direct flights from Bangkok to Vientiane, that take one hour and 15 minutes.
Lao Airlines has multiple flights daily between Bangkok and Vientiane, that take about 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Lao Central Airlines serve Vientiane from Bangkok, the flight takes around 1 hour.
Air and coach via Udon Thani, Thailand
Another way of getting to Vientiane from Bangkok is a combination of flight and bus. The first leg of the trip is a flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani, about 50 kilometers South of the Laotian border. The second leg involves getting from Udon Thani to the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge spanning the Mekong river at Nong Khai, clearing Thai and Lao immigration and the short trip from the border to Vientiane.
Nok Air offers a Fly and Ride service from Bangkok to Vientiane via Udon Thani multiple times per day. Flights to Udon Thani leave from Bangkok’s old airport, Don Muang. A coach will transfer passengers to the Lao border at the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge. After having cleared immigration, passengers will be transferred by bus to Vientiane town.
Flight only is offered by both Thai Smile Air and Air Asia; they have multiple direct flights daily from Bangkok to Vientiane that take around 1 hour. From Udon Thani airport, take a shuttle bus to the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge, clear Thai and Laotian immigration and find a tuk tuk or van to Vientiane town.
Busses arrive at the Central bus station next to Talat Sao, the Vientiane morning market. From both Nong Khai and Udon Thani there are multiple bus connections daily to Vientiane.
From Nong Khai the trip takes around one hour at a fare of about US$ 2. From Udon Thani it takes around 3 hours, the fare is about US$ 3. Get a visa before taking either of these busses, as the bus does not wait long enough to get a visa at the border.
The town of Vientiane does not have a railway station. The end of the line is the Thanaleng station just across the Mekong river, about 15 kilometers South East of Vientiane.
The State Railway of Thailand offers a direct connection between Bangkok and Nong Khai on the Laotian border, which is a distance of 621 kilometers. Trains depart from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station. Fares for fist, second and third class are 103, 238 and 497 Thai Baht respectively, and for a bed between 658 and 1,317 Baht.
The easiest connection is the sleeper train 69 that leaves Bangkok at 8 pm and arrives at Nong Khai at 8.25 am the next day. At 9 am a shuttle train leaves Nong Khai and arrives in Thanaleng at 9.15 am. The short trip from Thanaleng to Vientiane can be made by tuk tuk or minivan.