How to Spend 1 Day in Vientiane the Best Way Possible (2024)

Vientiane is frequently described as sleepy, boring, uneventful, or all of these together.

I think it’s charming.

It’s Southeast Asia’s smallest capital. Vientiane is unlike megapolises like Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, and Hanoi in all the best ways – the hustle and bustle is gone, traffic is lighter, air quality is not as bad, etc.

The main avenue in Vientiane with the Patuxai in the background.
Vientiane: tidy, pretty, and little traffic!

Yes, it pales in comparison to Luang Prabang and so most backpackers don’t spend a lot of time in Vientiane. But you know what? One day in Vientiane is more than enough to get a quick feel and visit the sights!

What you will visit on this Vientiane itinerary

Places you can realistically visit in 1 day include:

  • Morning and night markets
  • At least 3 Buddhist temples (Wats) including Wat That Luang
  • Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe – the Patuxay
  • COPE Visitor Center where you will learn all about Laos’s being the most heavily bombed country in history and their current troubles with unexploded ordnance (UXO)
  • The Old Town

For this itinerary, I will assume you have a full day in Vientiane. If you’re arriving from Thailand and leaving for another place in Laos on the same day, you may have to cut something out.

I advise you to spend at least 1 night in Vientiane before hopping on the high-speed train to Luang Prabang.

Morning Market

We’re starting the day with the most authentic place in Vientiane – the local market.

I am specifically talking about the Talat Sao Morning Market. It’s right beside the Central Bus Station where you can catch minibuses to most places in Vientiane.

Outside, the market has local produce, fresh meat, and some delicious snacks. Look for the places that serve hot Lao soup for breakfast.

Food stalls in Talat Sao - the morning market in Vientiane
Sandwiches, snacks, desserts, you can find all sorts of food at the Morning Market in Vientiane

Inside, it’s more reminiscent of a mall than a local market. Textiles, gold, trinkets, shoes, glasses, etc. You can find it in Talat Sao.

The third floor houses the food court with more options for breakfast.

The real drawback of the morning market? It’s mostly cheap Chinese goods. Few are made in Laos. But you gotta see it all, right?


You will be able to see the imposing arch from Talat Sao. Follow the main avenue Lane Xang for about 750 meters and you will reach Laos’s own Arc de Triomphe.

I find it funny that the monument commemorating those who fought against the French for the independence of Laos looks too similar to the Parisian monument in memory of those who fought for France.

At least Vientiane’s Patuxay, or Victory Gate as it should be translated, is built following Buddhist principles and is adorned with all sorts of mythical creatures such as Nagas- one of the symbols of Laos.

You can even get inside the Patuxay and go to the top. The view isn’t spectacular as it’s not that high but it makes for a memorable experience.

  • Open: 8:30 to 17:00 every day
  • Price: 30.000 LAK (1.5$)

Fun fact: The Patuxay was built using American cement intended for a new airport which is why it’s nicknamed “The Vertical Runway”.

Wat That Luang Complex

A temple in Wat That Luang Complex
One of the temples at Wat That Luang

After chilling for a little bit in the newly built (by the Chinese) garden behind the Patuxay, proceed to the next destination. It’s only 2.3 km but if you’re not too keen on walking in the heat, negotiate with a nearby tuk-tuk to take you there for 20.000 to 30.000 LAK (1-1.5$).

Wat That Luang

I am of course talking about Wat That Luang – a complex of at least 4 different Buddhist temples including one of Vientiane’s most recognizable places – the golden stupa of Pha That Luang.

The Golden Stupa at Wat That Luang - a must visit in 1 day in Vientiane
The Golden Stupa is indeed covered in gold!

Oh, I don’t think I will ever get tired of looking at Wats.

You can marvel at all of the monastical complexes from outside for free. If you want to enter Pha That Luang (the Golden Stupa), you will have to buy a ticket.

You can visit the complex anytime. For Pha That Luang:

  • Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 to 17:00 with 1 hour lunch break from 12:00 to 13:00.
  • Price: 30.000 LAK (1.5$)

Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Reclining Buddha.

There isn’t anything particularly special about this Buddha here but it’s important to know the significance and symbolism of Buddha’s different positions.

The reclining Buddha is in the final stage of earthly life just before reaching nirvana after death.

If you’re not Buddhist remember: pictures with the Buddha are OK as long as you don’t have your back towards him!

COPE Visitor Center

Bombies on display at the COPE visitor center in Vientiane
Hundreds of millions of bombies…

Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world?

Countless millions of bombs were dropped over the country during the Vietnam-American War. Why? Because the Viet Cong went through Laos to get to South Vietnam. So the Americans bombed everything indiscriminately.

Over 200 million bombies remain buried in Laos’s earth. A bombie is a small piece of ordnance from a bigger cluster bomb. It is powerful enough to kill. Most of these are unexploded – every month Laotians are killed or maimed by one of these. If the current rate of clearance continues, it will take Laos 200 years to clear all the bombies.

Learn all about Laos’s war history, the toll these bombies have on locals today, what NGOs are doing to help and clear the land, and much more at the COPE Visitor Center in Vientiane.

  • Open: Every day from 8:30 to 16:00.
  • Price: Free but donations appreciated

There is a similar UXO Laos Visitor Center in Luang Prabang if you skip the one in Vientiane.

Simon in front of UXO Laos visitor Center in Luang Prabang
UXO Laos visitor center in Luang Prabang complements the COPE one in Vientiane

Oh, and take some tissues – you will need them.

Ho Phrakeo Museum

Ho Phrakeo used to be a Royal Temple. Built in the 16th century to house a particularly important Emerald Buddha artifact, today it’s one of Vientiane’s most visited museums.

  • Open: 8:00 to 16:00 with a lunch break between 12:00 and 13:00
  • Entrance fee: 30.000 LAK (1.5$)

You will see an Emerald Buddha inside but it’s not THE one. The original Emerald Buddha is inside Bangkok’s Grand Palace having been stolen during the Siamese occupation.

Inside Ho Phrakeo you will also find hundreds of other Buddhist artifacts and archeological finds from all across Laos. It’s a good way to end your 1 day in Vientiane.

Buddhist Wats in the Old Town of Vientiane

The Old Town of Vientiane is the area hugging the Mekong River. I may be the first to use this term – Vientiane used to be small and the Old Town was The Town.

But Vientiane is growing and expanding laterally. When you go to the Northern Bus Station or the new Laos-China Railway Station, you will notice the growing number of new buildings dotting the countryside.

That Dam Stupa - the Black Stupa
That Dam Stupa – the Black Stupa

Back to the Old Town – the heart of Vientiane. You will spend your evening here and chances are your lodging is also in this area. There is a Buddhist Wat behind every corner, so pick at least 2 and visit them before dark.

  • Wat Sisaket: serene and significant
  • That Dam Stupa: The Black Stupa. The legend claims that it used to be gold. It’s considered the protector of Vientiane.
  • Wat Mixay: Very colorful
  • Wat Ong Teu
  • Wat Inpeng
  • Wat Xieng Nyeun

Night Market

Grilled meat and sausages sold at the night market in Vientiane
Mmmm Lao barbecue!

It’s borderline criminal not to end your day at the Vientiane Night Market!

Even if you just browse around the clothing section and shop for smells at the food court, it’s still indisputably a must-see attraction in Vientiane.

And if you decide to buy stuff, don’t forget to bargain first! Except at the food court – there the prices are set (but are quite high compared to elsewhere in the city). Find out more about money and bargaining in Laos.

Woman selling waffles at Vientiane Night Market
Waffles with corn and cabbage is wild to me but the taste was quite alright!

Do you have 2 days?

One day in Vientiane is enough to see the main sights but if you have 2 days, you can either spend the second drinking coffee/beer in the Old Town or check out these two places below.

Buddha Park

Buddha Park from above

The Buddha Park is bizarre, eccentric, and if it weren’t for its skyrocketing popularity, could be classified as obscure.

It’s a park of 200 unique sculptures, not all of them depicting Buddhas, despite the name.

They are all inspired by Hindu and Buddhist religious beliefs and characters. But also feature skulls, demons, animals, and demi-gods. Macabre and surreal.

You may be led to believe that it’s an ancient place of great spiritual significance. Wrong! It was created in the 1950s by a lone mystic under the name of Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, who some considered a spiritual leader and others – just plain insane.

One of the concrete statues in the Buddha Park - a giant pumpkin-like monster.
Nothing says “Buddhism” like a giant pumpkin-like monster trying to devour you.

What’s more, Mr. Sulilat left Laos in 1975 after the communist revolution and hopped over the Mekong to his birthplace of Nong Khai in Thailand where he built a second bizarre park full of concrete sculptures. This one he named Sala Keoku- “Keoku’s Hall” – after the hermit that inspired him to follow a spiritual path in his life.

Sulilat’s mummified body is enshrined inside Sala Keoku. Truly occult stuff.

  • Open: Monday to Saturday from 8:00 to 17:00. Sunday from 10:00 to 15:30.
  • Ticket: 40.000 LAK (2$)
  • How to get there: Take bus #14 from Vientiane Central Station (just behind Talat Sao morning market). Bus ticket costs 12.000 LAK (0.6$)

Beer Lao Factory

Beer Lao - the original and the dark one

90% of the domestic beer market in Laos is captured by one brand – Beer Lao.

The Laotian alcohol giant has made a name for itself in the region. I’ve tried most of the local beer in Southeast Asia and I think Beer Lao is the best.

So do Laotians who refuse to change it for imported beer!

You can visit Beer Lao’s brewery and tour the premises. Their website is not very helpful: the “Book a Ticket” page is still under construction but if you just turn up you can enter and explore the Beer Lao Museum.

They do tours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 13:30 but email to confirm.

  • Open: Every day from 8:00 to 18:00
  • Ticket: 40.000 LAK (2$)
  • How to get there: Bus #14 conveniently stops in front of the factory.

Where to stay in Vientiane

Stay somewhere in the Old Town, near the Night Market. It’s an area full of nice places to eat and with plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.


For budget backpackers, I recommend Barn 1920s Hostel. It’s the best-rated hostel in Vientiane, its dorms are only 4 beds (less chance of someone snoring, right?) and it has that vintage atmosphere from the Roaring Twenties.


For couples and those who don’t want to share a room, my vote goes for Le Luxe Boutique Hotel. It’s cozy and clean, the staff is helpful and it’s in a superb location.


You’ve got the money to splurge and you want the best hotel in Vientiane? Don’t look further than La Seine Hotel. I won’t go on and on about why it’s the best – all I will say is: rooftop restaurant and bar. Just trust me, alright?

Where to next?

If you’re in Vientiane coming from Thailand, then you have two options: go south or go north.

In North Laos, you can stop at Vang Vieng (and climb that famous viewpoint with a motorcycle) and then proceed to Luang Prabang – the jewel, the pearl, the diamond. Where culture, religion, and nature intersect.

Consider taking the new Laos-China Railway to go north.

In South Laos, you will find more rural places and outstanding scenery. Consider stopping in Thakhek for what’s come to be known as the Thakhek Loop and in Pakse for the waterfall-galore Bolaven Plateau Loop.

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