Vientiane is the capital and largest city in Laos. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane is a city steeped in legend and history. The streets are lined with trees, French colonial buildings, street markets, Buddhist temples, and noodle shops. For more information visit the Laos official tourism site. A copy of the 2017 Laos guidebook can be downloaded here.
Currency / Money
Lao Kip is the local currency of Laos PDR. Most stores, hotels and restaurants also accept US dollars. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and a limited number of upscale shopping establishments, and can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs. There are a couple of ATM machines in Vientiane that dispenses a maximum of 700,000 Kep per transaction ($70 US dollars). For up to date currency conversion rates see here.
Laos climate can be described as tropical monsoon climate. Laos climate consists of a rainy season from May through to October, a cool dry season from November through to February, and a hot dry season in March and April. The average temperature reaches 29°C (84°F) in June.
The Lao people speak a tonal dialect which is very similar to that in Northern Thailand. French is still recognised as the official second language of the government but English is now spoken more widely throughout the country, especially in tourist-related industries.
In Laos the power sockets are of type A, B, C, E and F. The standard voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.
Vientiane is a small city and the centre can be covered on foot. This laid-back city is located on the bank of the Mekong River and if staying near the riverbank, it’s the perfect place for a stroll and watch the orange sunset. Out of the city centre there are few footpaths so walking can be uncomfortable.
Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city with most guesthouses and hotels able to arrange bike rentals.
Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow. Although the city’s flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify. Care should be taken when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced, even in the city centre, and they can be muddy and slippery. Cycling is not at all recommended after dark.
By Jumbos and Tuk-Tuks
Jumbos and tuk-tuks are motorcycle powered vehicles for hire. Jumbo/tuk-tuk fares in Vientiane are more expensive than in other SE Asian countries, usually more than double the rate in Thailand and Cambodia, and can be as much as taxis.
Vientiane has a handful of taxis that are used by business travellers.
Note: Taxis and tuk-tuks don’t use meters and a fare will typically need to negotiated before the commencement of the trip.
Old blue-and-white buses and newer white minibuses connect the Vientiane’s city centre to the suburban districts, but they are not equipped with air-conditioning and have no signs in English, although route numbers are usually, but not always, displayed on the front. The bus most likely to be of use to the casual visitor is Bus No. 14, travelling between Talat Sao Market and the Friendship Bridge.
Vientiane is an excellent destination for those interested in picking up handicrafts. There are a number of markets taking place around Vientiane where fresh produce as well as crafts and ornaments can be purchased. The city’s main shopping streets are Samsenthai and Setthathirat, around the Nam Phu Fountain area.
Food and drink
Rice, especially sticky rice, is the staple food and dishes will be Indo-Chinese in flavour and presentation. Lao food can be found on the stalls in the markets and in the many local restaurants.
Tipping is not customary in Laos. However, small gratuities may be given in appreciation for efficient, friendly service.