With a population of just over half a million, Vientiane is the centre of Laos culture, commerce and administration and is considered as being mad busy in comparison with the other Laotian urban conglomerations. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane, like many Southeast Asian cities, is a place of contrast.
Rice and vegetable fields are well hidden behind tree-lined pathways, where French-style buildings stand next to Buddhist monasteries and monuments, each telling a story of the country's rich, cultural and somewhat troubled past. Less than 5% of the soil is farmable yet 80% of the population works in agriculture and this pretty much sums up the employment-and-class balance within the country. Rebuilt by the French after the Siamese army left it in virtual ruins in 1828, the city does not feature French-style architecture as prominently as say Saigon or Phnom Penh. But the local penchant for producing stomach-filling baguettes and fragrant coffee clearly shows that the influence of the French still lingers on.
The central boulevard is reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, another telling sign of the city's French heritage. Vientiane is relatively small so moving around can de done with ease. Accessing sights such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang and Buddha Park, can be done by hiring a song-teow, a pushbike or even going on foot. As for dining out; fringing the Mekong River there are an abundance of inexpensive food choices with everything from Indian, Thai, French, and Mediterranean readily available.
Getting Around Vientiane – Local Transport Options
Vientiane is pretty easy to move around in although be warned that most maps are not very accurate and rarely to scale. Traffic here is not as thunderous as other Southeast Asian cities and the local people will help where they can but most do not speak much English so bring a translation guide book if seeking directions. Also be warned if attempting to use a pedestrian crossing as drivers do not pay them any attention and generally will not stop.
Taxis are readily available with fares being negotiated as you go, most are also happy to be rented for the day at a cost of around $30USD. Tuk-tuks and song-teows also navigate the city streets. Tuk-tuk drivers usually charge the most and will not barter on a fare.
White mini-buses and the old blue and white ones take passengers out of the city to places such as Buddha Park and Friendship Bridge, the one signposted to the airport does not actually go quite that far and you will need to walk a bit at the other end. Vientiane lends itself very well to navigation on bikes which can be hired by the day by leaving a small deposit. Cars can also be hired through international companies such as Europcar as long as you are happy to take a chance on the local erratic driving.
Important Phone Numbers
|Police||191 or 212703|
|Fire||190 or 212707|
|Friendship Hospital||71 0006 Ext 103|
|Setthathirath Hospital||21 351 159|
|Nakhornphen Clinic||414 913|
|Tourism Information||021 212 248 or 021 212 251|
|Wattay Airport Flight Information||21 512 165|