We left China through Kunming Airport, flying with China Eastern Airlines to Vientiane, Laos.
Arriving in Laos, the airport was like something from Craggy Island and as we drove to our hostel in the centre of town (which took literally 8 minutes!), I wondered where all the people were hiding. The heaving streets of China were replaced by a trickling of languid pedestrians and sparse slow-moving traffic (a lot of which were surprisingly swish cars).
The step down a gear was welcome though, as we were looking forward to very little exertion after traipsing thousands of miles around China. So we did lots of, well, nothing, interspersed with a few activities. Based on that lazy experience, here are seven of our top tips for things to do in Vientiane:
1. Stay at Vientiane Star Hotel
It cost us around US$20 per night through Agoda for a twin room at this welcoming hotel cum hostel. That included aircon, a free (tasty) breakfast and a private bathroom. The Aussie manager is really friendly and helpful, as is his younger English assistant and the local staff. It’s got some cool artwork as well…
2. Have lunch and coffee at Joma Bakery
OK, OK so you should try the local places first, but this Western style Laotian coffee-house chain is really good. And it is kind of local. It serves all the usual coffee styles but uses local coffee and supports local projects too. Try the freshly made roasted garlic soup with the whole wheat garlic bread…and their chocolate tart for afters! That’ll all cost about US$6.
3. Eat some local food where I’ve marked on the map below
I found this street having a wander around on the first day in Vientiane. It has a few very local noodle places, the kind of joints where they don’t speak English but do great food. The restaurants didn’t have any names but they should be easy to spot – try the spring rolls and Yum Woon Sen (I think it was that anyway – a tangy glass noodle dish that is as good as its name sounds!), it’ll only cost a few dollars.
4. Visit Victory Gate
Known locally as Patuxai, this monument celebrates independence from the French and, rather ironically, is based on the Arc de Triomphe. Although it is not as impressive as its Parisian big brother, it does offer decent views of the city, has interesting art adorning its walls and the fee is only half a dollar (US).
Self explanatory this one – go to the Thai embassy to arrange your two month Thai visa if you’re heading to the Land of Smiles after lazy Laos. Click here for more information on what you need to bring with you to the embassy.
6. Scoff pizza at Ai Capone
If you fancy some Western food for your dinner, head to centrally located Ai Capone. It does huge, delicious pizzas and it is run by bona fide Italians! You can get basic pizzas for around US$5-8 or fancy ones for up to US$20. So there’s something for all budgets!
7. Take a stroll by the river
This is the best thing to do in Vientiane. By day you can relax with a beer or a fruit shake watching the sun dance on the glistening water. By night you can join the locals at the riverside market and check out the massive statue of King Anouvong, the last King of Laos. Vientiane has a very laid back appeal and it’s the riverside that epitomises it. Enjoy!