7 Best Things to Do in Vientiane in One Day

Laos’ sleepy capital of Vientiane doesn’t have the greatest reputation among tourists: browse online forums and you’ll find descriptions like “dusty”, “boring” and “not worth seeing”. Jeremy and I had a different take–while we would never want to dedicate a huge amount of time to the city, we loved our one day in Vientiane–and we managed to see most of the best things to do in Vientiane while we were there.

Here’s how to explore the best of Vientiane in one day!

view of the entrance to the laos national museum, as seen during one day in vientiane itinerary

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Visit the Laos National Museum.

This museum is unlike anything you would see in a major European or North American city: it is small, worn down (peeling paint, dirty displays), doesn’t have air conditioning, and doesn’t even pretend to be unbiased in the facts that they present.

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While you’ll never mistake it for the Louvre, I found myself fascinated by it: the museum presents an interesting insight into the way that the Lao government views history (American Imperialists bad, Communists good).

Even more so, it demonstrates how incredibly poor Laos is: I found myself thinking that I had been to local museums in small towns with more resources while in the West.

front garden of the laos national museum, one of the best places to visit in vientiane laos

Visit a Wat.

Vientiane has a handful of beautiful Wats, but with only one day in Vientiane, there’s no point in trying to squeeze them all in. Choose one, maybe two if you’re someone who really likes Wats.

We visited Wat Si Saket, which is directly across the street from the presidential palace. It actually ended up being one of my favorite Wats of our time in Southeast Asia–I loved the walls of tiny Buddhas behind the larger Buddha statues.

wat si saket building in vientiane

Climb Patuxai (Victory Gate).

Did you know that Vientiane has its own Arc de Triomphe?

There are a few differences, of course: Vientiane’s version is slightly taller, made of concrete, and is more Laotian in design (though French influences are obvious). The concrete and funds were actually given to Laos by the United States to build a new airport, though the arch was built instead.

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Unlike the more famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Patuxai is extremely inexpensive to climb ($0.37/person) and had no line at all while we are there. There are salespeople inside the arch on the way up, ready to sell any souvenir imaginable.

The views from the top are not to be missed–seeing the city from above is one of the best things to do in Vientiane.

kate storm and jeremy storm standing in front of laos victory gate

Visit the COPE Visitor Centre.

The COPE Visitor Centre was tough to see.

The Centre exists to provide prosthetic limbs, among other treatments, to victims of the cluster bombing that the US performed during to so-called “Secret War” from 1964 to 1973.

The sheer numbers are astounding–two million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos during those nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.

As is the nature of cluster bombs, many of them did not deploy immediately–to this day, there are many areas of Laos that are unsafe to visit due to the possibility of happening on one of these bombs and it exploding.

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The government is trying to clear the countryside of the bombs, but a mixture of inefficiency/corruption and lack of funds is making the task extremely difficult. As an added layer of nuance, the metal in them is valuable–there are Lao citizens who try to make money by collecting the ordnance themselves and selling the scrap metal, a clearly dangerous profession.

This was a hard piece of history to swallow–I had no familiarity with it before we visited Laos, which I think made it more difficult to hear about as an American–how could this not be covered by our history classes?

Knowing the Lao government’s propensity for propaganda a la the Laos National Museum, the first thing I did after getting back to our hotel was to Google the Secret War–but while the Lao National Museum did not take other points of view into account, the COPE Visitor Centre didn’t seem to need exaggeration to make their point about the human cost of war.

Vientiane in One Day

Finish at the Night Market.

I was underwhelmed by Vientiane’s night market, possibly because it was nearly identical to Luang Prabang’s night market and every other tourist-catering market that we saw in Southeast Asia. That being said, it’s still one of the best places to visit in Vientiane at night.

It was, however, fun to walk through, easily accessed by finishing the circle through Vientiane that we made throughout the day, and in a location that we wanted to see–a park along the Mekong River.

We were able to get some views of the river itself, and also see the wide stretches of concrete where Vientiane citizens gather in the morning for group aerobics–if you’re an early riser, feel free to join in!

Vientiane in One Day
We couldn’t get over the subtlety of those understated Beer Lao hats.

Consider visiting Buddha Park.

There is one major attraction in Vientiane that we are sad to have missed: Buddha Park, the eclectic park full of over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues. None of them are particularly historic (the park started in 1958), but it is an interesting place.

If you can pull yourself out of bed earlier than we do on a day after a long van ride, go to Buddha Park. It’s unexpected, it’s bizarre, and it’s one of the best things to do in Laos.

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Unfortunately, it is about a 45-minute tuk-tuk ride each way from the part of town we were staying in, and we simply didn’t have the time for it.

If you’re going to add one more stop in Vientiane, Buddha Park should be it!

view of vientiane from the top of patouxi

At the end of the day, is Vientiane going on our list of favorite cities? No. Do we ever feel the need to go back and spend several days exploring? No.

But, we are very glad that we saw it!

I would recommend spending one day in Vientiane while in Laos–it has some high points, it’s extremely inexpensive, and, most importantly–Vientiane provides extremely valuable context for understanding Laos as a whole.

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photo of patouxi, pink and white text in a white background reads "vientiane in one day"

About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

9 thoughts on “7 Best Things to Do in Vientiane in One Day”

  1. Vientiane looks like an interesting place to visit, even if just for a short time. I’m bummed I skipped Laos on my last Southeast Asia trip – will have to go next time I’m in the area, for sure. How did you find Lao food?

    • You should definitely go next time! I’ve heard that Lao people consider Thai food a ripoff of their cuisine, so… not much difference there! Food is a tiny bit pricier in Laos, but not enough that those of us lucky enough to have Western wallets really feel the difference.

  2. Good 2 read.
    Any clues how to travel from Luang Prabang to Vientiane?
    Transport and road are reliable?
    I go there next April.

    • Hey Jose! Transport between the two is very easy–both cities are right on the tourist trail, so there’s more or less a tourism company on every corner selling transport in a minivan. Haggle with a few to get the best price. It’s quite the long day, though–a lot of people (us included) stop at Vang Vieng as well, which is right in between the two.

      The roads are usually fine-ish–we visited during monsoon season and the shuttles were operating like normal, but I understand the roads can get washed out on rare occasion.

      Hope you have tons of fun in April!

  3. Thank you for this one day itinerary. We have just a day here and plan to follow your route.
    Truly appreciate your honest and compassionate travel writing!

    • People.miss out in traveling Laos..there are a lots of.things.to do and see.There is a secret.river call ngarm ngem..its a long river that.connected to Mekong…u can ride slow boat to see the natural beauty..And there are alots.of sport bar in Vientian…go sit at moon the night.cafe by Mekone river bank..sip beer Lao.and listen to music.and watch the sunset at night..listen to soft live music…

  4. This is a great blog, Kate! Would you suggest how best we can spend the evenings here? All monuments and museums seem to close by 5 PM. Apart from the night market and strolling by the Mekong, how best can evenings be enjoyed in Vientiene? We plan to spend 3 days in Vientiene. Thanks! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! It’s been a few years since we were in Vientiane, and we mostly stuck to the night market in the evenings, so I’m afraid I don’t have too much advice to offer on nightlife there! Hope you guys have a great time!


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