Vientiane is one of the smallest capital cities you are likely to visit in SE Asia with a population of around 800,000 people. This makes it very easy to get around to all the sights and many hostels and hotels will rent you a bicycle for a few KIP per day.
In no particular order, here’s an idea of what to visit beyond the stunning temples of Vientiane.
1. Patuxai – Victory Gate
Looking a little like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but with a Laotian twist this grand monument actually stands to remember those who lost their lives in the struggle for independence against France.
It’s known by locals as the vertical runway as the cement it is constructed from was donated by the USA for the construction of a new airport.
For 3000 KIP ($0.40) you can take the lift or stairs to top of the monument for grand views across the capital and across the river towards Thailand. We got there a little late to do this but noticed the landscaped gardens are a popular spot for locals to gather at sunset and wait for the lights to come on.
2. Night market by the Mekong River
From mid afternoon traders begin to set up their stalls in the paved area alongside the Mekong River. This becomes a buzzing night market selling everything from fashion to electronics and handicrafts. It attracts a good mix of locals and tourists in search of a bargain and is worth a wander through.
It can get really busy just after sunset so maybe avoid if you dislike big crowds but calms down as the evening goes on. You’ll find the similar things here to a lot of markets across SE Asia but it’s a good place to pick up a bargain if you haggle hard.
There’re only a few food stalls in the market but many more located on the Quai Fa Ngum street running parallel to the river. Here you can find a mix of vendors selling kebabs, noodles, skewers and more.
3. Amazing pastries
You can’t visit Vientiane without noticing the French influence in the form of some amazing bakeries scattered across the city. As you explore the streets you’ll catch a whiff of freshly baked goods from just around the next corner.
One of our favourite places to head for a pastry and a coffee is Le Banneton Cafe and Delicatessen. There’s also a brach in Luang Prabang we had sniffed out so we knew how delicious the goods can be.
Don’t feel too guilty about taking a break from eating street noodles, you deserve it!
Le Banneton, Rue Nokeokoumane BP 568 Ban Mixay, Vientiane, Laos
4. COPE Visitor Center
If you visit 1 thing in Vientiane make it this place, a visit to COPE is both upsetting and inspirational in equal measure.
Here you can learn about the massive ongoing problem with UXO (unexploded ordnance) left from the American War. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States illegally flew more than half a million bombing missions over Laos, delivering more than two million tons of explosive ordnance in an attempt to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail. It is estimated around 30% of the bombs dropped never exploded.
Today, over 30 years after the war ended, people are regularly being injured, maimed and killed by these deadly devices. The centre offers hope, rehabilitation and medical support to those affected.
The exhibition and documentaries calmly explain the ongoing issues and what’s being done to help. You can make a donation or buy a funky t-shirt like we did to help support their vital work. Don’t skip a visit here when in Vientiane.
COPE: Located on Khou Vieng Road, 1km from the Talat Sao (Morning Market), and opposite Green Park Hotel. Easy to reach by bicycle or tuk tuk. You can also borrow the COPE bicycles for free to ride back and explore the town. Open everyday from 9am to 6pm.
5. A sunset beer from the rooftop
After all that sightseeing you must be thirsty? Relax with a beer or two and watch the sun go down over the Mekong River from the Highland Bar (I’m not sure how a Scottish bar ended up here either?!).
Around sunset the river front becomes a hive of activity as the Night Market sets into full swing and people head down to the sand banks to watch the night time roll in. We saw an impromptu game of volleyball, mass participation aerobics and ladies offering manicures by the rivers edge. Enjoy.
Look for the Highland Bar tin roof by the riverside and head up the steps to level 5 to find it.
Highland Bar & Restaurant, Khamkhong Rd, Ban Khounta tha (07).