Vientiane Laos (Capital)
Vientiane, a tiny capital of a tiny country that few know of… wow, that sounds interesting…
But wait, keep reading!
The underdog Vientiane actually offers tons more than just a bus stop for onward travels (Laos tours from Vientiane) . Vientiane is kind of big, has excellent (really fantastic) restaurants, a nice beach walk next to Mekong (where you can gaze at Thailand without seeing that they stare back at you) and an abundance of SPA treatments that cost less than your western bought handcream. On top of that, accommodation is cheaper than Luang Prabang even though Vientiane doesn’t offer the same amount of boutique hotels.
Starting from the basics, Vientiane is the biggest city in Laos but nowhere near making any international list with its appx 750 000 inhabitants. It’s located close to Thailand with only the mighty Mekong dividing the countries. The Friendship Bridge transports business people, families, expats, tourists and many more on a daily basis to facilitate a smooth transport into the new country. Confusing, but still pretty pain free. The confusing part mostly comes from the range of plastic cards that need to be pre bought and returned for no apparent reason to allow you to pass out of the border control after you’ve been granted your visa. One would think that visas would be the tricky part but not at the Vientiane border crossing. Many expats and tourist falling in love with Laos utilities this border crossing to do visa runs in Vientiane (one only has to travel to Nong Khai) or stock up on western goods or foods. Certain golden letter fast food restaurants that can’t be found in Laos, have several eating houses in Udon Thani alongside with a movie theatre which also cannot be found in Vientiane. This make Vientiane a hub for all kinds of people.
You still have your normal backpack scene in Vientiane with pool tables, beer parlors and fried rice dish outs, but Vientiane offers so much more. It has a legitimate expat scene but is still small enough to not loose it’s people. While Bangkok is full of Westerner immigrants, Asian immigrants, locals, tourists and people that missed their flights (ten years ago), Vientiane has funky mix of people all present and visible. They don’t vanish in the largeness of it all and they are all pretty bored, hence out a lot being social. Use this! Find and grab an expat, they will most jubilantly show you around. Yes, they might huff and puff, but fact is, they will all be proud (and want to show off, (who doesn’t?!)) their expertise of the marvelous Vientiane and Lao culture.
Getting back to the geography of Vientiane, it is most easily explained by using the Mekong as a benchmark. Close to the Mekong is the touristy area of Vientiane that you will easily recognize because of the high percentage of English signs (and plethora of westerners who read them). The area is spread in a rectangular shape fading out the further away from the Mekong you get. Bus station and morning market (two great ways of getting inventive suggestions from others on what service you need or what goods you lack) are to the far right corner. Further away from the Mekong, in the center of Vientiane is Patouxai Gates (little Paris in Vientiane Laos). Not far away from there is the temple battle in colors with Pha That Luang showing why golden is such a smashing glow and That Dam stating that Black is and always will be Black. You be the judge of which one wins, but seeing as That Dam (Black Stupa) only is named so but actually looks ordinary stoney, I have my money on the golden shrine.
Vientiane was made capital in 1563 and has since become the economical center of Laos. Tons of NGOs try to improve the world and build relationships with governments from here. Yet others base their administration of scarves/slippers/wallets here. This can be an interesting an unexpected part of your journey if you research well.
As a tourist, there are many more things to do in Vientiane, and eating is one of them, but when that grows old, tours out from Vientiane isn’t such a bad idea. Many tours start in Vientiane, taking you on an epic journey from Vientiane through Laos.
Another splendid way to spend time, and a few kips, is as previously mentioned, to get yourself pampered with massages, pedicures and hair washing (maybe the greatest thing in the world).
Vientiane will treat you to less of a homey, intimate feeling than Luang Prabang or Nong Khiaw but appreciate the possibilities and you will find yourself liking the “big” city of Laos more that you anticipated.