Travel, Teach, Live in Asia
Sleepy, beautiful, laid-back Laos is becoming an ever-more popular tourist destination on the Southeast Asian backpacking tour. One of the two main starting points is the city of Vientiane, the largest city and capital of the country. However, the charms of Laos continue to hold true there, as charming Vientiane is lacking in any of the urban chaos and hustle of a typical Southeast Asian city.
Get to Vientiane. Flights are available from Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Kunming, China; and Phnom Penh, Camobida. You can also cross into the country via the Friendship Bridge from Thailand, by taking either a bus or a train within that country. Within Laos, Vientiane is the capital and at the center of the country's roads, so taking the bus there should be a straightforward affair.
Find a place to stay by the riverfront. Most of what is going on in Vientiane is on or near the Mekong riverfront, and the river itself is pretty besides.
Navigate with care. Street signs in this city can be lacking. You will need a good map, and to monitor your progress on it carefully.
Visit the city's various Buddhist attractions on a walking tour: Pha Thrat Luang (the national symbol), Wat Si Saket (the oldest standing temple in the city), the Black Stupa (mythical home of the city's protector dragon) and Haw Pha Kaew (home of the Emerald Buddha when Laos was in possession of it) are the most important. Also take in the Victory Arch (Patuxai) and the Lao National Museum. Pha Thrat Luang and Haw Pha Kaew have modest entrance fees.
Try Beer Lao. Beer Lao is the local brew, and is indisputably the best beer in all Southeast Asia. Vientiane is the only place where you will be able to get it on draft, so drink heartily.