I’ve read a lot of negative articles about how bad and boring their experiences were in this “forgotten country” in Southeast Asia, called Laos. Forgotten in terms of tourism, as they call it. Well, after traveling to some of the Southeast Asian countries, I’m often shocked by what these places can offer. In short, I wasn’t convinced with those bad comments unless I see and experience it for myself. So, I decided to pack my stuff and head straight to Vientiane the capital city of Laos. Now let me give you the 5 Best Things you can do in Vientiane that no one has ever told you about.
Let me share to you my experiences and give you some good reasons to pay this beautiful Kingdom of Laos a visit.
How to get here
Apparently, I’m based in Hanoi, Vietnam. So from Hanoi, you can take either a bus or a plane. If you’re going by plane, you’ll be departing from Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport bound to Vientiane Wattay International Airport and it will take you 50 minutes to 1 hour. For a one-way ticket, it will cost you around 2.4 Million VND to 3 Million VND ($105 – $132). Hanoi to Vientiane and vice versa.
In my case, I took a one-way bus ride that costs me for only 500k VND ($22) and it took me 20 hours from Hanoi to Vientiane. Actually, the travel time is just 16 hours. We arrive at the Nam Phao border around 3 am and we need to wait until the border opens at 7 am. You can grab more sleep while waiting. If money is an issue and you don’t mind long-hour travel while seeing the paddy field of Vietnam and Laos, this is the best and cheapest option for you.
Buying a bus ticket
You can contact this person: Mr. Hung (0989124019), I booked my bus ticket with him, he can barely understand English but you’ll be fine. He only needs to know if you’re going straight to Vientiane (Vien Chan in Vietnamese) or just on the border of Vietnam and Laos.
Once everything is confirmed, on your preferred date, he will ask you to wait somewhere around the old quarter, Hanoi at 5 pm. He will pick you up there and will drop you to Nguoc Ngam Bus Station or you can go straight there. The bus will leave at 7 pm, you still got time to buy some snacks and drink. But don’t worry, bus stops every 3-4 hours for 15-20 minutes pee break or for you to eat.
Also, don’t forget to get a receipt from Mr. Hung which I forgot to have one. There’s a time the driver was looking for a ticket and I don’t have anything to show. I called Mr. Hung directly and let him talk to the driver. So don’t lose his number. 😊
Going to Vientiane, Laos requires crossing the Cau Treo Border (Vietnam) and Nam Phao Border (Laos). Wherever you are in Vietnam, there will be designated international border getting out the country by land. (See the above photo for your reference)
Steps in exiting the Cau Treo Border (Vietnam) and entering Nam Phao Border (Laos)
Once you’re close to the Cau Treo Border, a man will collect money to everyone for the exit stamp in Vietnam immigration. Unfortunately, I paid 100,000 VND ($4) where it supposed to be 20,000 VND ($1) only. That’s the only small bill I have during that time. So if I were you, try not to show a bigger amount to the man. Tell him that’s the only money you have because he will surely rip you off. LOL. 😊
The man led us to this building and asked us to wait. Again, you will be called one by one for immigration purposes. Like what we usually do at the airport, the same thing will happen here for the exit stamp.
After getting the exit stamp from the immigration, walk outside and go towards the gate. There will be a lot of police/immigration officers who will check your passport. Just follow the queue and you’ll be good. Once you’re outside the gate, you will walk like a few meters away heading to the Nam Phao border of Laos.
Visa on arrival
Just go inside this building and fall in line to your designated countries (ASEAN, etc.). Try to get the attention of the immigration officer by asking them where you can get the Arrival Visa form. Emphasize that you came from a different country, not Laos specifically if you’re Asian like me and look like a local. Because they will not entertain you immediately, especially there will be locals and Vietnamese who submitting their passports in groups. Which means they will consume plenty of time in checking the groups’ passports instead of yours. There are cases that they will let you go first if you’re coming alone, before doing the groups which happened to me.
After filling out the form give it to the immigration officer and wait until they will call your name. Again, they will collect information from you, take a photo, etc., the typical scenario in the immigration. You will pay another 50,000 VND ($2.15) for tourism tax. Laos introduces this kind of tax for any international traveler entering Lao PDR for tourism promotion and development.
Once you’ve got the visa you can head straight outside and wait for your bus on the other side of the building.
Click here for the visa policy and the amount you’re going to pay. Fortunately, Filipino passport holders can visit Laos without a visa. (Visa-free 30 days)
Vientiane International Bus Station
We arrived at the Vientiane Southern and International Bus Station around 3 pm. You can grab a tuk-tuk going to the city center or to your hotel directly for only 30,000 LAK ($3.40). There are tuk-tuks waiting inside/ around the vicinity of the bus station. By the way, If you don’t have any international card and you only got cash. I suggest you change some of your USD to LAK (Lao Kip) before entering the country. Because I was looking for a ForEx when I arrived but I can’t see one. There’s one inside the station but it’s closed. Luckily, the tuk-tuk driver accepted my Vietnamese Dong. I’ll tell you more about Foreign Exchange where can you change your USD to local currency (LAK). So keep reading…
5 Best things to do in Vientiane, Laos
I’m always astounded with massive and intricate structures like the Bayon Temple in Cambodia and the Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia. This time it’s the Patuxai of Laos.
Patuxai (Victory Gate in English) or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane. It’s an enormous war monument found in the center of Vientiane and was built in memory of those who fought for independence from France in 1949.
If you want to go to the top of the tower, it’s open from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm and 5 pm during weekends. You only need to pay an entrance fee of 3,000 LAK ($0.35). There are souvenir shops and an art gallery along the way to the top where the main view deck is located.
2. Buddha Park
This sculpture park is located 25 kilometers southeast of the city center of Vientiane. It is called the Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan which means the “Spirit City”. There are more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues around the park. A priest-shaman named Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat started this in 1958 who integrated Buddhism and Hinduism and banded together with the Laotian and Thai people.
How to get here? Well, hotels and other travel agencies offer a tour to Buddha Park. I remember the hostel where I’m staying at offered me a two-way transport from the hostel to the park for 140,000 LAK ($16) I declined as I know there’s something cheaper than that.
So what I did, I took a public bus from Talat Sao Bus station. The bus number is 14 and the ticket each way is only 8,000 kip ($0.91). Imagine, it’s just less than a dollar compared to the tours offered by travel agencies and hotels. It takes about an hour ride each way and it leaves every 20-25 minutes.
Don’t worry if you don’t know where you will be drop. The park is the bus last stop, you might be confused too when most of the passengers will get off at the Thai-Lao friendship bridge which is obviously not your destination. Buddha Park will be the next stop after the Thai-Lao friendship bridge. To get back to the city center of Vientiane just wait on the other side of the road and bus 14 will pass by every 20-25 minutes.
The Buddha Park opens at 8 am and closes at 4 pm. And the entrance fee is only 15,000 LAK ($1.70) per person. You don’t have to worry as the place offers almost everything you need, toilet, food, drinks, name it. If you’re looking for a quiet and peaceful place, this worth the visit.
There is great number of temples around Vientiane. People here predominantly practice Theravada Buddhism. It is the state religion of the republic Kingdom of Laos and about half of the country’s people are Buddhists.
Here are some of the well-known temples I’ve visited during my trip:
1. Wat Phra That Phoun
A Buddhist temple surrounded by tropical trees with a quiet and pristine environment, perfect for cultural travelers. This is walking distance from Patuxai Monument and I accidentally stumbled on it with my bicycle while roaming around Patuxai. It is located on Lane Xang Avenue.
2. Wat That Khao
This is where I found the big golden reclining buddha. It’s a bit far south of the city center but this is another worth seeing wat. Not a typical view of a Buddhist temple yet it was very impressive.
3. That Dam
The That Dam or Black Stupa (Laos ທາດດຳ) which is located on a roundabout near the American Embassy. The locals believed that a 7-headed-water serpent once protected this place which was covered in pure gold during the Siamese-Laotian war in 1827.
4. Vientiane City Pillar Shrine
I wasn’t able to go inside the shrine because it’s quite late when I pass by Setthathirath Road in Phiavat village, Sisattanak district. But I heard that there’s a dress code when visiting this place, with knees/shoulders covered.
It was built on exactly the same spot where 473 stone city pillar fragments were excavated along with other artifacts way back the 4th and 5th century.
4. Night Life
The nightlife in Vientiane is quite easygoing. I was even shocked when I went to the Night Market, it’s not actually the typical night market I’ve been to, compared to other night markets in Southeast Asian countries.
It’s quite relaxed and I can’t hear so much noise, but I was actually wrong since I came there early. 🙂 The people started coming around 7 pm, which is the busiest so expect a large crowd around that time. The Night Market is open from 6 pm to 10 pm.
Though there are still some bars along the riverside that play some tasteful background music and you might like it. You can also check Nam Phou Park, the area where you can find the best of the restaurants that offer good food and exceptional service.
5. Food Trip
“If someone has to taste real food, authentic food, it has to be street food.” -Chef’s Table
You must try the street foods here in Vientiane, Laos. Aside from the Night Market along the Mekong Riverfront, where you can find a lot of choices when it comes to souvenirs, clothes, accessories, and handicrafts. It is also worth a visit the tons of street food stalls along Quai Fa Ngum street, it’s right next to the Night Market. They cater to different dishes and you can enjoy the authentic Laotian food at affordable prices.
I had this experience where I had a hard time looking for a money changer that accepts USD. What I mean is that I have a 100 USD banknote that has some writing on it.
I didn’t expect that it will not be accepted. I tried a few money changers near my hostel but failed. Having said that, It left me with my remaining Vietnamese Dong which is not enough to buy something to eat or even a bottle of water. Hahaha. As much as possible I don’t want to use my card too.
So I kept looking around until I found one in the corner of Rue Francois Ngin Street and Rue Setthathilath Avenue. I forgot the name of the money changer but I know it’s the only one there. To be honest, I was actually in a hurry because I’m worried that if they will notice the writing on it they might refuse to change it. Hahaha.
The boring and tedious country I’ve read turned out to be one of the most laid-back countries I’ve ever been to and a country I will reminisce about for a long time. I would definitely go back to Laos If given a chance. The beautiful history and interesting culture of Laos gave them the edge from other Southeast Asian countries.
How about you? Do you have any experience in this amazing country that you would like to share? Comment below and let us know.