In this Destination Guide you will find information for : Vientiane
♦Currency: Kip (LAK)
♦Zone: +7 GMT
♦Phone Code: +856
♦Best time to visit: October - April
♦Must eat: Khao niaw, (Sticky rice)
♦Must drink: Beer Lao
♦Don't miss: Dinner at Mekong river
♦Number of times visited: 1
Getting there and transportation: The small, landlocked country of Laos, is accessible from the neighbouring countries of Thailand, Vietnam, China, Myanmar and Cambodia. However most visitors and travellers come from Thailand, as the country itself has close ties to Thailand (culture and language) and it's easier to reach due to visa restrictions around the other countries.
When arriving to Laos, it is necessarily for most foreign tourists to obtain a visa, which can be obtained at the airport of arrival (you will need a passport picture photo and $35 (USD) in cash to pay the visa). After you will proceed to immgration as normal.
Arriving to Laos is possible directly by air from neighbouring countries,but unfortunately,a trip only to Laos is not possible as the national airline, Lao Airlines, only flies regional routes and does not fly long haul. Other airlines like Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines and Air Asia are the main airlines which fly there.
It is also possible, and quite common, to travel to Laos by bus from Thailand. There are daily services from Bangkok to Vientiane and from Chang Mai to Vientiane. Within the country, you can travel by bus (the most used option), by air and by train. However train options are very limited and it's not recommended due to poor infrastructure. Public transportation in the country is also quite limited and there is not a modern infrastructure, even in big cities, it's more common for everyone to travel by bike, motorcycle, and car. (using taxis is a must to be able to see some of the landmarks).
Weather and temperature: Laos has smoother weather than other South Asian nations, making it easier to explore. Specially if you go north of the country into the forests and it's dense vegetation. Temperatures are on average 25C during the best time to visit, between October and April, when the weather’s warm and dry throughout. River travel is best between November and January, when high water levels make passage easy along Laos' main waterway, the Mekong River. Laos’ geography plays a major part in shaping its climate, and cool temperatures can still be found in the highlands, which lie mainly in northern, eastern and central regions. The 'green season’ or rainy season is between late May and October, when the rains return to the country and it can also be quite humid and a temperature of 28C or higher. However, showers are usually short and sharp, having little impact on your exploration.Coldest months are December and January and the temperatures can go down in the evening to as little as 10-15C!
Food and drink: Laotian cuisine shows the clear influence of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, with its widespread use of chilli, fish sauce, soy and Asian herbs like lemongrass, ginger and Asian basil. There’s also a subtle French influence dating back to the colonial administration, most obvious in the baguette sandwiches sold on the streets of Vientiane. Some of the most atmospheric restaurants are set on terraces overlooking the swirling waters of the Mekong River. Naturally grilled river fish is a favourite local delicacy.
Specialities in Laos include: Khao niaw, (Sticky rice) is the national dish, simply roll it up into balls and pop in your mouth. Tam mak hoong, (Papaya Salad) Laos’ favourite salad is an incendiary mix of pounded green papaya, peanuts, dried shrimp, green beans, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar. Laap, a lip-smacking salad made from minced meat, fish or vegetables tossed with mint, chilli, lime juice, garlic, onions and powdered rice. Pho, white rice noodle soup, usually served with beef or pork; it’s subtly flavoured and locals spice it up with fish sauce, dried chillies and herbs. Khao jee, baguettes are a legacy of the French colonial period, often served with tomatoes, cheese and pork in chilli sauce. Sai oua, traditional Lao sausage, flavoured with lime leaves, onion, garlic and Lao herbs. Kai paen, weed from the Mekong River – a Luang Prabang speciality – usually served dried into sheets with sesame. Khao poon, spicy soup with vermicelli noodles, chilli, lime leaves and strongly-flavoured perilla leaves. Ping Kai, Lao-style grilled chicken, seasoned with pepper, coriander root, garlic and fish sauce. Or Lam, a rich jungle stew or dried buffalo meat or game, chilli, mushrooms, beans and mashed eggplants.
As for drinks, you can find: Lao lao, the local rice whisky, traditionally prepared in village stills. Beer Lao: The nation’s favourite brew. Cafe pakxong: Lao coffee, brewed using beans from plantations on the Boloven Plateau.
Transportation: Arriving to Vientiane airport (VTE) is very simple and doesn't take long till you're outside. The terminal is very small and there are limited services available. It is recommended you contact your accommodation to arrange a taxi to pick you up from the airport. When you clear customs they will wait for you just outside. If you don't, then the only option is to take a taxi to your accommodation. There is no public transport to the airport. A trip by taxi to the city centre will take about 15min
In the city of Vientiane there are not many public transportation options, specially for visitors. Only if you want to go further out of the city centre then you can find local busses next to the bus station. For the city centre and it's surroundings the best option is to go by foot, hire a tuk-tuk or a bicycle (being the best option to enjoy the city as it's mostly flat. It's safe to ride along the streets as there is not that much traffic and they are patient drivers).
What to see and do?: The city’s man-made structures are as distinctive as the areas of natural splendor. Modernity has yet to infiltrate this sleepy capital, where temples and religious affiliations blend with the rural foundations of the city. The majority of the city's sights are situated within relatively close proximity of each another due to the fact that an urban sprawl has yet to materialise within the city, however there are a few sites you will need a car to get reach them. The highlights to visit are:
Tip: There is true beautiful scenery and waterfalls out of the city in which you need to go by tour. When organising tours from Vientiane, make sure you plan with time as many tours have a space limitation as they use small vans to make the tours. also it's a good idea to get together with more people if you are a solo traveller. Prices are always cheaper if 3 or 4 persons make the tour as the prices are calculated per van instead of per person. Otherwise organising a taxi that can take you around the tourist sites out of the city is also recommended.Many local drivers do this as a job, ask your hotel for recommendations on people they might know.
Accommodation: Vientiane is very affordable for accommodation and you can get pretty good Hotels for a moderate price, even including swimming pool! Prices go up depending on the season but on average you can spend no more than €25 per night on a good value Hotel. Naturally hostels are always available and they are spread around the city, in fact, Vientiane is very popular for backpackers and there are plenty of budget hostels.
Recommended duration: The city is quite small and everything can be seen in a day or two. However it's a very laid back atmosphere so ideally you want to come here to relax and enjoy as well. A 3 night stay would be enough.