You won't find as many temple-ticking tour groups in Vientiane as you might in Luang Prabang, which is why we often suggest discovering this small and unassuming capital before exploring the rest of the country. Spend entire days bimbling around Vientiane, strolling by the riverside or dipping in and out of coffee houses and French-style bakeries. The night and day markets are geared towards locals, rather than tourists, and are great places to shop and socialise. The parks surrounding the Buddhist pagodas and national monuments are perfect for taking a break and watching the world wander by.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
You can't sugarcoat a visit to the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) centre in Vientiane, but it's an important part of understanding how the city, and the nation, are moving towards a positive future. This unique museum explores the historic horrors of the American War, and also the ever-present fear of unexploded ordnance that still remains for farmers and their families making a living off the land. Visit with an open mind and be prepared for an often heart breaking, yet inspirational, educational experience.
Stroll or sit along the banks of the Mekong at sunset and you'll instantly understand why Vientiane is reputed to offer a more grass-roots Laotian experience than cosmopolitan Luang Prabang. You’ll see ordinary, everyday life happening before your eyes. Cool coffee houses sit side-by-side with ramshackle street food stalls, while the markets offer opportunities for local people to actually shop rather than stare at souvenir stalls. Bowling alleys echo to the sounds of L-pop (Laos' pop music) whilst the smoke and sizzles from the riverside night market sing out to wide eyed travellers looking for evening excitement.
You can’t miss the golden spire of Pha That Luang that stands in the centre of Vientiane like a shining beacon to Buddhism. It's a real oasis of calm. The surrounding gardens provide a peaceful place to sit and admire the highly decorative designs, or to simply press pause and watch the world go by. A short stroll from Pha That Luang brings you to another of Vientiane's magical monuments: the Patuxai. This Arch de Triomphe-style structure stands proudly at the centre of Patuxai Park, where illuminated musical fountains and the setting sun provide a peaceful prelude to the nearby riverside night market.
16 days to see the very best of Laos.