6 Things to do in Vientiane in a Day

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Vientiane is the capital of Laos. However, it doesn’t really feel like a capital. It isn’t busy enough. The city does have traffic lights and road markings, unlike Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Weirdly enough we only realized the lack of those in previous cities when we arrived in Vientiane and had to stop for a red light.

During our short stay in Laos’ capital it rained a lot. So yes, we did get a little wet when biking throughout the city in search for the most fun things to do in Vientiane. But that’s a known risk when visiting during rainy season!

Visit COPE Visitor Centre

Upon arrival in the COPE Visitor Centre, we were confronted with a horrible truth: Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the world. During the Vietnam War, they got bombed because the Vietnamese traveled through Laos over what was called the Ho Chi Minh Route. As Laos actually wasn’t involved in the conflict, they call it the Secret War.

COPE Visitor Centre in VientianeCOPE Visitor Centre in Vientiane

About 580,000 bombing missions flew over Laos between 1964 and 1973. That’s one every 8 minutes. Their munition? Cluster bombs. When launched, these explosives release smaller submunitions or bomblets, thereby affecting an area of over 3 football fields big. An estimated 80 million of the 270 million bomblets that have been dropped on Laos, failed to explode. They are buried across Laos, and could still go off if triggered by heat or impact.

Here’s where COPE Laos comes in. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. They provide a rehabilitation service for all people with physical disabilities, also those who live in remote communities or have limited funds. Roughly 30% of all the patients that receive prostheses through COPE are UXO (unexploded ordnance) survivors.

At the COPE Visitor Centre you’ll learn about the history of UXO in Laos, how locals are confronted with it in daily life, and how COPE works to help its victims. We wandered around for about an hour, shocked that this hidden danger still lingers after 45 years. Visiting the COPE Visitor Centre is the one thing you should definitely do in Vientiane, to understand what Laos as a country is going through.

There’s no entrance fee, but you can support COPE and its noble cause by donating.

Admire That Luang

I knew That Luang looked familiarI knew That Luang looked familiar

That Luang, the Great Stupa, is probably the most important national monument in Laos. It’s depicted on Lao money bills, which was probably the reason this big golden structure looked familiar to us.

At the time of our visit (August 2017) they were doing renovating works on the surrounding gallery. Nevertheless, we weren’t the only tourists paying 10,000 kip (~0.98 EUR ~1.20 USD) per person to enter this sacred ground. When visiting, make sure you’re dressed appropriately, meaning knees and shoulders should be covered.

Climb Patuxay Monument

Climbing Patuxay Monument is arguably the most touristy thing to do in Vientiane. This square arch, also known as Victory Gate, was built in dedication to the Lao who were killed fighting for independence. Despite the Buddhist religious symbols adorning the outside, the monument reminds of the French Arc de Triomphe.

It does look a bit like the Arc de Triomphe, right?It does look a bit like the Arc de Triomphe, right?
View from Patuxay MonumentView from Patuxay Monument
Patuxay Monument in VientianePatuxay Monument in Vientiane

For 3,000 kip (~0.29 EUR ~0.36 USD) per person you can climb to the top of Patuxay Monument for panoramic views over Vientiane. There aren’t as many recognisable monuments or buildings to spot from up there as in Paris, but it’s still worth it. During the climb you’ll pass through several floors used as gift shops and a museum.

Patuxay Monument is situated on the southwestern end of Patuxay Park. The fountain that’s in front of the monument wasn’t working while we were there, but it’s supposed to be a musical one.

Did you know? Apparently Patuxay Monument was built with cement donated by the US for the construction of a new airport. That’s why it’s sometimes nicknamed ‘the vertical runway’.

Wander around the Vientiane Night Market

The Mekong Riverside Park attracts joggers and playing children throughout the day. In the late afternoon however, it slowly transforms into the Vientiane Night Market. Held daily, this market is crowded with tourists and locals alike, who are obviously there with different intentions.

Vientiane Night MarketVientiane Night Market

Whereas locals seem to come clothes shopping here, tourists display their haggling skills over all kinds of souvenirs. Whatever you need, from phone accessories to shoes, the Vientiane Night Market is the place to be. Oh, and yes, they have Beer Lao shirts too. Oddly enough there are barely any food stalls.

It tends to get really crowded in and around Vientiane Night Market, complete with a traffic jam. However, the honking drivers together with the red stalls, make sure you can’t miss the market. We recommend going on foot or by bicycle. To “legally” park your bike, you do have to pay about 2,000 kip (~0.20 EUR ~0.24 USD) per bike.

Go Geocaching

Geocaching around the Black StupaGeocaching around the Black Stupa

Geocaching is something we try to do in every city we visit. I wouldn’t call it a must do in Vientiane, as there are only 8 geocaches hidden there, but it’s still fun. It took us to That Dam, otherwise known as the Black Stupa. Left crumbling and slowly being taken over by grass on a quiet roundabout, it’s supposed to be one of the oldest structures left in Vientiane.

We only looked for (and found) one other geocache in Vientiane, on Patuxay Monument.

Watch the sunset over the Mekong River

Not much of a sunset over the Mekong riverNot much of a sunset over the Mekong river
Cocktails at The Spirit HouseCocktails at The Spirit House

And last but not least we’ve arrived at our favourite thing to do in Vientiane: watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand. Doesn’t have to be in Vientiane though, it’s probably my favourite thing to do anywhere in the world. Doesn’t really have to be during sunset either. I’m not picky.

Unfortunately it was a little too cloudy for a nice sunset over the Mekong River, but we still enjoyed our cocktails at The Spirit House. We particularly liked the Raspberry Blast and their homemade Sangria. And if I’m not mistaken you enjoy a 25% discount between 17:00 and 20:00. Cheers!

Did you know? On the other side of the Mekong River lies Thailand.

Getting around in Vientiane

Riding our bicycles around VientianeRiding our bicycles around Vientiane

The different things to do in Vientiane aren’t too far away from each other, as the city isn’t that big. So despite the rain, we decided to make use of the complementary bicycles provided by our hotel. The doorman reacted surprised to our request, but happily got them out for us, wiping the rain off of the saddle. Though, if you prefer, you can always take a taxi, a tuktuk, or rent a motorbike.

There’s plenty more to do in Vientiane, like visiting museums and wats (temples), but we were short on time (and sunshine). We would have loved to explore Buddha Park, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Simon and Erin from Never Ending Voyage did explore this  quirky sculpture park, so head over to their website for more info on that.

Did we miss any other fun things to do in Vientiane? We’d love to read about your experiences in the comments!


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6 Things to do in Vientiane6 Things to do in Vientiane