Laos is a stunningly beautiful country and home to a mere 3.6 million people! The capital city Vientiane is more the size of a town than a city with an infrastructure to match. Vientiane is where most travellers to Laos arrive and so the gateway to a country currently unspoilt by tourism or development. This lack of development has both its good and bad sides with Laos being known for its beauty but also its bad roads, long journeys and, heaven forbid, mediocre wifi!
Visiting Vientiane is scheduled on every travellers list but many people schedule more time in Vientiane than is actually needed. Even if you don’t plan on visiting the capital you are likely to transfer through it en route to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, the northern mountains or even to Thailand (the most popular border crossing to the Kingdom is under an hour from Vientiane).
Seasoned travellers to south east Asia often recommend spending 48 hours in Vientiane to see everything the city has to offer. This time scale is offered probably because this is the amount of time it takes to get a visa for Thailand from the Thai embassy – which is what many travellers visit Vientiane for! But even if you are not looking to get a visa 48 hours is probably enough time to spend there before heading out to explore the rest of the country… So what to do in two days?
Eat – a former French colony Vientiane offers some delicious French cuisine, baguettes and fresh croissants everywhere you look. If this is your first stop in Asia you should stick to Lao ‘laap’ salads and sticky rice, but if you have been travelling for a while then you will be in heaven!
Drink – beer Lao has the reputation of the best south east Asian beer and it is incredibly cheap! As well as regular there is also a dark version as well as a range of more expensive, improved beers. And since there is a French influence good wine can be found all over the city.
Take a stroll down the riverside – every evening the whole city comes out around sunset to walk or jog their troubles away, chat with friends or enjoy a cool beer Lao looking toward the sunset. The riverside also has a great little market most evenings with many unique items including bracelets and spoons made of leftover metal from bombs and land mines. The river isn’t much to look at here but the atmosphere makes up for it.
Go to COPE – One of the most informative and interesting visitor information centres in Asia COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) is the main source of artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs in Laos. You will be humbled by the hard work and enthusiasm of the staff and people they help.
Visit arch de Patuxai – Patuxai is a war monument in the centre of Vientiane dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence of Laos from France. Patuxai resembles the Arc de Triomphe and it’s name also means the same ‘triumph’.
Read – Laos has been relatively forgotten when it comes to history. The Vietnam war and Cambodian genocide has left Laos eclipsed. However there is an interesting history waiting to be uncovered including the American involvement, bombs and reason why Laos has the most land mines in the region! Vientiane has a few bookshops but they stock all the right books!
Plan your next destination – with so many visitors to Vientiane being seasoned travellers in south east Asia and waiting for their newest visa, take the time to talk to them (over a beer, glass of wine or croissant) and learn about those hidden beaches and secret places not in the guidebooks. Many people there are a fountain of information when it comes to secret gems in the region.
While you may fall in love with Vientiane and stay longer but after 48 hours you will likely head out to one of the smaller towns in the country. Don’t forget that Vientiane is a capital city and it represents exactly how far away Laos is from the modern world. While 48 hours may be enough, it is always relaxing and blissful to relax there.