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Vientiane: A Visitor’s Guide

Gateway to the Land of a Million Elephants

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Pha That Luang—The Great Stupa of Vientiane
Pha That Luang
The Great Stupa of Vientiane

Cross the bridge into Laos at Nong Khai and you step back thirty years. The modern two-lane highway with giant billboards selling fast food and instant beauty stops at the Thai end of the Friendship bridge—to be replaced on the Lao side with a pot-holed, ill-defined, dusty road lined with concrete warehouses and dingy, crowded, wooden markets. Instead of brand-new pick-ups and SUVs there are ancient jeeps, belching buses and swarming motorcycles. The Lao women and girls seen shopping in the markets are wearing starched blouses and the pa-sin, a traditional long wrap worn like a skirt, rather than jeans and t-shirts.

The impressive Patuxai or Arch of Triumph of Vientiane.
Vientiane’s Impressive Patuxai.

Vientiane lacks the charm of Luang Prabang but it is great for a couple of days strolling around; getting a feel for the laid back pace of Laos.

Traffic is light compared to other SE Asian cities and so bicycling is a good way to get around and the city is easy to learn. It is laid out in a grid along the Mekong, with the historical centre a fairly compact area about a kilometre square in an area known as Chanthaboury District. There are plenty of pleasant shady tree-lined streets dotted with temples and French colonial buildings interspersed with traditional shop houses and more modern hotels.



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