Vientiane, Laos: An Insider’s Guide

Sleepy and languid by East Asia standards, Vientiane, Laos will surprise you with its diversity of cuisine, quirky sights, friendly locals, and sense of ease.

Visiting Vientiane, Laos, elicits such a diversity of opinions from travelers, it’s often hard to know if the laid back capital of Laos is worth a couple days of your Southeast Asia travel itinerary, or even more.

Having backpacked through Laos, myself, and now living here for the past three years, one thing has become clear regarding visiting Vientiane — How you interact as a visitor with this enigmatic city, along with your ultimate perception of Vientiane, very much depends on your own experience and perspective.

In this way, your opinion on Vientiane may have much more to do with you, personally, than the city, itself.

I first approached Vientiane via a long bus ride from Luang Prabang, and approached Laos, in general, on the heels of four months of budget backpacking through China, India and Thailand. For me, the laid back and friendly nature of the Laos people and culture was a breath of fresh air after struggling for months with aggressive peddlers, aggravating taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, and relentless hustlers.

Of the six national capitals my wife and I traveled through during that time, Vientiane was the only one we knew absolutely nothing about, and at just over half a million inhabitants, it was by far the smallest.

We literally had zero expectations and found Vientiane a most agreeable place.

For you, Vientiane may represent a relaxing foodie paradise a world apart from the materialism and go-go-go of better known Southeast Asian capital cities, or it may represent nothing more than a boring backwater, depending on your point of view.

If you visit expecting to find French-colonial charm and evocative Buddhist temples on par with Luang Prabang, you may well be disappointed.

If you come expecting to find a fast-paced, maddening, cosmopolitan mega-city comparable to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll also likely find yourself disappointed.

If, however, you come to Vientiane with few preconceptions, an open mind, and an adventurous spirit, you will likely find yourself well-rewarded for doing so.

Here, we’ve attempted to put together a guide for visiting Vientiane based on our own experiences living in and traveling through this unique city and the rest of Laos.

Lori and I have hosted a number of visitors over the past few years, which has resulted in the bringing together of a lot of information that we would like to share with you.

We hope this guide to visiting Vientiane helps answer questions of what to do in Vientiane, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and how best to approach this often overlooked corner of Southeast Asia.

Lori and I have a unique perspective to lend, given that we’re not only living (and working) here, but visited as backpackers four years prior. Compared to other foreigners we’ve met living here, it also appears we may be a bit more curious and more willing to explore than a lot of folks, even with two little ones in tow.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive travel guide, but rather a modest offering of our favorite Vientiane experiences, along with some helpful tips for planning your own memorable visit to Vientiane, Laos. Enjoy!

Where to Stay in Vientiane

Vientiane’s got a TON more lodging options than you might think. If you don’t know the lay of the land, it can seem like an impossible task to choose the right one.

Here are our top choices for places to stay in Vientiane — all highly-rated, centrally-located, and loaded with character and a sense of place, just like we like ’em.

Barn1920s Hostel

Our Top Budget Pick! This retro hostel in a historic building is one of the best places in town to meet other travelers AND grab a great cup of coffee. Rated 9.5/10 on Click here for details.

Sailomyen Hostel

Our top budget to middrange option. Sailomyen offers mod touches for pennies on the dollar. Rated 9.1/10 on Click here for details.

Lao Poet Hotel

Our top mid-range/ boutique option. Lao Poet's lux touches and rooftop pool never disappoints. Rated 9.4/10 on Click here for details.

All of Our Articles on Visiting Vientiane, Laos

Buddha Park: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Vientiane’s Spirit City
Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) just outside of Vientiane (Laos) is quite unlike anywhere we've visited. Read why you should visit, with tips on getting there.
that luang festival saffron clad monks
That Luang Festival: An Insider’s Guide for Travelers
That Luang Festival is the most important religious festival in Laos. Find out when to visit, what to do, where to stay, and more!
Hidden Laos: 7 Offbeat Things to Do in Vientiane
Tired of temples? Shake things up and check out this local's list of unusual and largely-unknown things to do in Vientiane, with map links.
Lao Airlines safety
Is Lao Airlines Safe (and Reliable)? A Frequent Flyer’s Honest Review
Are you concerned about Lao Airlines safety and reliability? Here's what you need to know to make an informed decision for your next trip to Laos.
how to get to vientiane
How to Get to Vientiane
Wondering how to get to Vientiane? Getting to Laos' laid back capital might seem easy, but there's a few things you should know before planning your trip.
getting around vientiane
Getting Around Vientiane
Getting around Vientiane isn't easy. The Laos capital isn't a major travel hub and bus options are limited. Here's how to get around Vientiane like a pro.
Vientiane DOs & DON’Ts
Some helpful considerations for planning your visit to Vientiane. A couple may surprise you.
20 Unforgettable Day Trips from Vientiane
A Laos expat's handpicked list of top day trips from Vientiane for visitors and long-term residents, with helpful tips for visiting each one.
Lao Lake House on the Nam Houm reservoir
Lao Lake House: Review & Visitor Guide
Lao Lake House is a unique and welcoming resort homestay on a scenic lake one hour from Vientiane. How to get there, helpful tips, and more!
Champa Garden Restaurant
A 10km drive north of the city center, Champa Garden offers excellent Lao food in a unique aquatic setting, along with a sprawling Champa flower garden in a city where gardens are few and far between.
Hiking Wealth Coffee Nature Trails
Who says there aren't any hiking trails around Vientiane? Today, we're exploring a little-known corner of the area, with a unique coffee shop and miles of semi-shaded nature trails.
Expat Living in Vientiane Laos
20 Essential Facebook Groups for Vientiane Expats
Vientiane can be a tough nut to crack for newcomers. Here are 20 game-changing English-language Facebook groups to help you get the most out of living in this unique and perplexing city.
Lao Zoo Laos
Lao Zoo: What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting
The Lao Zoo may just be the most misunderstood zoo in Southeast Asia. The national zoo of Laos isn't even really a “zoo” at all, but something far more interesting.
Vientiane Boat Racing Festival: An Insider’s Guide for Travelers
For some in Laos — the Boat Racing Festival is the big reward after a long, hard planting season. For many, many more — it's one more excuse to party down.
End of Buddhist Lent
The full moon of the eleventh lunar month marks the end of the Rains retreat, when monks emerge from monastery and light spills out onto rivers and doorsteps.
Phou Phanang Conversation Area Hiking Guide (Vientiane)
Phou Phanang National Biodiversity Conservation Area offers rural hiking near Vientiane. What to expect, route map, how to get there & more.

One Final Word of Advice

Laos is among the safest countries for travelers in Asia. With that said, we've had stuff happen affecting our travel — tropical storms, road accidents, broken bones, and other nasties.

When we've had these sorts of setbacks while traveling, it's been a huge relief to have insurance — from a financial standpoint, but also to have the support of English-speaking health care experts at any hour.

We use and recommend World Nomads for all of our independent travel overseas. We also have close family who have had good experiences with Allianz as well.

Vientiane, Laos
visit vientiane laos