Vientiane was extremely underwhelming, though it’s often a mandatory stop along your way through Laos, if not only to find an airport to get the hell out of there. It’s more international than most places in Laos, though it’s also more expensive. We stayed here for one day, got our visa for Vietnam at the embassy, and took off. There is a cool Arc de Triomphe style monument to check out, but that’s pretty much it. We’ll tell you how we survived our time in this bland, working city.
How to Get There
All travel through Laos will eventually go through Vientiane if you’re going north to south or vice versa. We arrived from Vang Vieng after a brutal 3.5 hour drive in our mini bus. It cost us 60,000 kip each, which was about 20,000 kip more expensive than the regular bus, but it left later which allowed us to go tubing in the morning. We hopped on at 4pm, then after a few pickups finally actually left the town at 5pm. About an hour in one of the girls behind us started vomiting and didn’t even attempt to warn the driver, though I don’t think he would’ve stopped anyway. She also managed to get some of her puke on my bag which was terrible. We arrived at a bus station about 7 kilometers from the center of town at 8:30pm and since we were the only ones there, had to pay 30,000 kip each for a tuk tuk into town. Not ideal.
The trip between Vientiane and Pakse is no piece of cake either. It takes about 13 hours, and we learned that it takes even longer when the bus breaks down at 5:30am! We were ushered off our sleeper bus half asleep and crunched into another sitting bus for the last 2.5 hours of the trip. The trip cost 160,000 kip each. A lot of people also opt to skip Pakse (it’s not the most exciting town) and head right to Si Phan Don, which adds another 3 hours to the trip.
Where to Stay
- Syri 2 – We stayed at a hostel in the main hostel section of the city on Rue Setthathilath just west of Ave Lang Xang. Our room cost 80,000 kip and the whole building gave off a really weird creepy vibe. Lots of clutter, random aquariums and weird carved furniture. Our room was massive though, about three times the size of what we were used to. You could probably find a less weird place for cheaper elsewhere. You can find a cheap place to stay in Vientiane here.
What to Do
- Patuxay Monument – Laos’ version of L’Arc de Triomphe, it’s pretty much just a smaller, almost identical structure. The park around it is nice however, and you get a good view of the city from the top.
- Vietnam Visa – Just north of the Patuxay Monument is the Vietnam Embassy, where you can purchase a visa to get into Vietnam. Vietnam is the only country we visited in SEA that doesn’t offer a visa-on-arrival, so make sure you arrange one beforehand if you plan on travelling there. The embassy is easy to spot, it’s just past the Toyota dealership, and if you’re arriving from the south you’ll see the entrance on the right side of the building (closest to Patuxay). On their website we had seen that if you arrive before 9am you could get it processed in one day, but apparently that wasn’t a thing anymore. But we begged and pleaded a little bit and were able to convince them to do it for us to pick up at 4:30pm. It cost us $70 US each, but would cost less if you didn’t want same day/24 hour turn around processing. Make sure to bring enough cash to cover that cost, as well as a passport sized photo.
Where to Eat
- Joma Bakery and Cafe – The only redeeming quality of Vientiane in our opinion was this awesome cafe. We spent probably 70% of our time in Vientiane here. It was air conditioned, had wifi (ask at the counter), great breakfasts, treats, and yummy smoothies. They also give you 50% off coupons (if you bought breakfast) for a treat later in the day. We killed a bunch of time in this cozy cafe journaling, posting pictures and researching the next part of our trip.
- Soho – A tasty Lebanese restaurant close to our hostel, where we scarfed down some shawarma for dinner after our less than ideal bus ride from Van Vieng. It was really good and the owner was very nice. As you can see by our restaurant recommendations, we didn’t really branch out too much in Vientiane.