Low-slung Vientiane hugs the middle Mekong and is the growing capital of landlocked Laos. Originally known as the City of Sandalwood, it’s a quirky mix of beautiful Buddhist temples, Communist monuments, smart French colonial villas (plus a raft of neglected ones), cosmopolitan cafés, and an excellent foodie scene. It’s an essential visit for cruise passengers looking to understand this Southeast Asian nation.
Cruise port location
Boats dock at the small Lao Japan Friendship Port, Thadeua Road, about 4km south of the city centre. The port is next to the main road leading north to the centre.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
Walking to sites of interest from the port won’t be possible.
Short city centre tuk tuk hops cost around 50,000 kip. Tuk tuk journey trips into town from the port run anywhere between 50,000-100,000 kip, negotiating skills dependent. Bus no. 14 runs 20 mins (outside of rush hour times) north from the port, terminating near Wat Sisaket in the centre (8,000 kip one way, every 15 mins); and 45 mins east to Buddha Park (penultimate bus destination). Tuk tuk return trip journeys to Buddha Park with waiting time cost 250,000-350,000 kip.
What to see and do
Cruise excursions often cover main city sights but there’s ambling to do, coffee to drink, shops to visit, and an out of town sight (Buddha Park) to take in if it doesn’t feature in your cruise itinerary.
What can I do with a half a day in Vientiane?
Cruise excursions take in main city centre sights but part of the charm of Vientiane is to amble along its café-lined streets facing the Mekong, wander the new Mekong River boulevard and night market in the evening along with the locals, sample some of the Laos capital’s excellent cuisine, browse the stores, and search for the winsome remnants of the slowly vanishing French colonial architectural heritage. With extra time in port, or before the start of a cruise journey, book a brilliant foodie safari with Hungry Tuk Tuk.
What can I do with a bit longer?
Bizarre Buddha Park is a popular destination for its collection of giant concrete statues of Buddha, Vishnu and Shiva, and other outsized characters and animals. Built in the 1950s by monk-cum-artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, it’s an extraordinary testament to Sulilat’s world view, and an Instagram hit.
Eat and drink
Vientiane’s streets are packed with Lao restaurants, cafés, street stalls, and international restaurants. Search for coconut sweets and fiery papaya salad by the Mekong. Lunch at Kung’s Café Lao; for haute cuisine dine at French chef-run Bistro 22. Beer Lao and fried insects are de rigueur at on the first floor terrace of riverfront Symyek Parkpasuk Restaurant terrace. For cocktails, speak-easy style, search out hidden Cocoon.
Don’t leave Vientiane without…
Need to know
Independent exploration in Vientiane is safe, and the centre is safe to walk around. Take the usual care with valuables. Watch your feet due to increasing pavement clutter.
Best time to go
The monsoon season runs from May to October. The October Boat Racing Festival on the Mekong draws crowds.