Things to do:
- Kuan Xi Falls: Home to the Moon Bear sanctuary, a nice hike to the waterfall, and great places to swim
- Elephant Village: Elephant rides, mahout training, and swimming with elephants
- Night Market: Open most nights, great spot for street food and shopping
- Spa Day: Be sure to get a massage (so cheap) and go to a Fish Spa (literally a foot bath where tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet -- it feels so funny!)
Where I stayed:
- LPQ Backpackers: great location, clean, very friendly and helpful staff
Things to do:
- Buddha Park: About a 40 minute drive from Vientiane, this is a big park filled with Buddha statues and monuments
- Dinner on the Mekong River: Great views across the water at sunset. Eat where you see locals eating!
- That Luang Temple: Huge, gold Buddhist stupa
- Patuxai: Incredible view of the city from the top
- That Dam: Black Stupa, believe to be inhabited by a 7-headed god
- Wat Sisaket: Buddhist wat with thousands of ceramic and silver Buddha images
- Nam Phou Fountain: In a big plaza with lots of food and shopping
Where I stayed:
- Vientiane Backpackers Hostel: Breakfast is included, rooms are clean and well kept, staff was very friendly and helpful
Food to Try:
Laotian food is primarily soup and plant based, and everything is very fresh. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- don't be afraid of the street food! It is usually much cheaper than eating in a restaurant, and I often found it was much tastier.
Khao Poon: rice noodle soup, kind of like pho
Larb: minced meat with spices, herbs, and rice
TamMak Hoong: spicy papaya salad
There are many important cultural differences between Western and Eastern cultures, and you should be aware of them so as not to offend while you travel. Be sure to ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host to let you know if there are any important culture faux-pas you should be aware of. Most people are happy to give you a quick overview of their culture, and you will learn a lot of important tips this way!
Petty crime and pick-pocketing are common, so be sure to keep your bags close. Kids are often the biggest perpetrators, so don't be distracted by how adorable and sweet they all are!
At night, the touristy areas are very safe to go out in, but as in most areas of the world you should keep your wits about you. Some neighborhoods can get very sketchy after dark, so be sure to ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host what areas to avoid.
Laos has had some problems with growing crime in recent years, so make sure to check the State Department's STEP website for travel alerts before your trip.
Transportation in Laos:
Buses are a great (and inexpensive) way to get from city to city, and even country to country! I took a bus from Vietnam to Laos, and while it was an incredibly long trip (24 hours) it was an experience I'll never forget!
Scooters (mopeds) are another great way to travel short distances. Rental is pretty cheap, and if you're staying longer than a couple of weeks its also very easy to buy a used one and sell it to another traveller when you leave. Be incredibly careful while you are driving these! Traffic laws in Laos are a little wishy-washy, and while it is much easier to drive in the countryside you will need to be hyper vigilant when driving in the city. The roads are thick with bikes, cars, and trucks whizzing in every direction.
It's fairly easy to walk everywhere, but make sure you know your route well ahead of time! Streets are not always well market.
Tuk-tuks are an easy and inexpensive way to get around town, but be sure to agree on a price ahead of time. You can also rent a tuk-tuk for the full day, which is a really convenient way to go!