Vientiane, City on the Mekong

VIENTIANE, Laos — Vientiane’s waterfront seems purpose-built for beautiful sunsets. With a wide promenade and park, it’s well used. And right across the river is Thailand.

Photo of Boys on a bike with sunset on the Mekong in Vientiane Laos (Viang Chan)
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Filed Under: Laos

Laos might be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some great water views. Winding through the entire length of the country is one of the world’s great rivers, the Mekong. From the snows of the Himalayas, the river runs through six southeast Asian countries: Tibet, China, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Down here, about halfway down the length of Laos, the river is wide. And it’s also relatively calm yet persistent—calm compared to further downriver near the Cambodian border, where the river becomes massive raging rapids during the rainy season. Unlike further north in Laos, where the landscape is mountainous and rugged, the topography around Vientiane is relatively flat, and the river banks here are sandy, not rocky.

The nation’s capital, Vientiane, sits on the bank of the river. And the opposite bank is Thailand; the middle of the river markets part of a long border between the two countries. There are no fences of walls or checkpoints here—just the endlessly surging water of the Mekong.

Vientiane’s waterfront seems purpose-built for glorious sunsets. A new park and promenade are heavily used by local families out enjoying the balmy evening air. Kids play and swim in the small, protected lagoons created by the wide sandy islands. And in the evening, vendors at a night market sell the usual wares to tourists.

It’s all makes for a relaxed, friendly, and scenic place to spend the early evening.

Photos of Vientiane

Photo of Lao Boys Watching the World Go By (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Vientiane Street at Night (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Wat Roof Silhouette in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Sunset on the Mekong silhouette in Vientiane (Viang Chan), Laos
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Wat Si Saket Vientiane Laos 2000 Buddhas 337-0116026588x
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Riding Bikes on the banks of the Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Boys swimming in the Mekong River at sunset in Vientiane Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Golden Carved Dragons in Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Night Market Stall Selling Pictures (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Vientiane (Viang Chan) Laos Patuxay from Avenue Lane Xang
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Hand of The Buddha Statue in Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Siddhartha Gautama Statue in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of The Buddha Statue Face (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Night Market in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Ornate Roof of a Wat in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Colored Lights at the Night Market in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Wat Si Saket in Vientiane Laos Wooden Naga 337-0121066610x
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Woman selling fabrics at the night market in Vientiane (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Beautiful Sunset on the Mekong in Vientiane Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Girl playin gin the water at sunset on the Mekong in Vientiane Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Wat Si Saket in Vientiane Laos Roof Tiers 337-0055016537x
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Photo of Hammer and Sickle Flag in Vientiane, Laos (Viang Chan)
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

More About Vientiane

  • Vientiane is the capital and largest city of Laos, located on the northeastern bank of the Mekong River.
  • The city has a population of approximately 850,000 people as of 2021.
  • Vientiane has a rich history dating back to the 11th century, with evidence of ancient settlements in the area.
  • The city was the administrative capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang, which lasted from the 14th to the 18th centuries.
  • Vientiane is known for its laid-back atmosphere, French colonial architecture, and numerous Buddhist temples and monuments.

Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos, is situated on the northeastern bank of the Mekong River. With a population of approximately 850,000 people, Vientiane is a diverse and vibrant city with a rich history dating back to the 11th century. The city served as the administrative capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang, which lasted from the 14th to the 18th centuries.

Known for its laid-back atmosphere, Vientiane features a mix of French colonial architecture and traditional Buddhist temples and monuments. Visitors can explore the city’s rich cultural heritage, including its numerous historic sites, museums, and art galleries. Vientiane also offers a range of dining options, from street food vendors to upscale restaurants, providing a taste of the country’s diverse culinary traditions.

What’s Nearby to Vientiane

  • Wat Si Saket: A historic Buddhist temple and museum with over 6,800 Buddha statues and images.
  • Patuxai Victory Monument: A war monument resembling the Arc de Triomphe, dedicated to those who fought for independence from France.
  • That Luang: A significant national symbol and gold-covered Buddhist stupa, said to enshrine a relic of the Buddha.
  • Lao National Museum: A museum providing an overview of Laotian history and culture, from prehistory to modern times.

How to Get to Vientiane

  • Vientiane is located in the north-central region of Laos.
  • The nearest major airport is Wattay International Airport (VTE), situated approximately 6 kilometers from the city center.
  • From the airport, travelers can take a taxi or tuk-tuk to reach the city center.
  • Within the city, public transportation options include local buses, tuk-tuks, and bicycles for hire.

Vientiane, Laos

What to Know Before You Go

It’s the capital of Laos, but it’s not as bustling as many other major Asian cities. It’s easy to get around and a good walking city, especially down by the waterfront.

Dive Deeper into Laos In These Books

If you’re looking to explore Laos more deeply on the written page, here are some books worth a look.

Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, by Brett Dakin

This memoir recounts the experiences of the author as he works for the Lao government in the early 2000s, providing an insightful look at the country’s culture, people, and the challenges faced by a developing nation.

Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos
  • Dakin, Brett (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos, by Natacha Du Pont De Bie

A culinary travelogue that explores the rich and diverse cuisine of Laos, following the author as she samples various dishes and learns about the culture and traditions surrounding Laotian food.

Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures Of A Food Tourist In Laos
  • Hardcover Book
  • Bie, Natacha Du Pont De (Author)

Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos, by Christopher Kremmer

This historical travelogue follows the author’s journey through Laos as he uncovers the history of the lost royal dynasty and the impact of the Vietnam War on the country.

Laos: A Journey Beyond the Mekong, by Ben Davies

This beautifully illustrated travelogue explores the diverse landscapes, culture, and history of Laos, providing a comprehensive and engaging look at the country.

Laos: A Journey Beyond the Mekong
  • The Best Picture Book on Laos in its second edition
  • All color photographs, portrait 25.5 x 27 cm, 132 pages

A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle, by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

In this adventurous travelogue, the author embarks on a daring motorcycle journey along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which passes through Laos, providing insights into the country’s history and the challenges faced by modern-day Laos.

A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle
  • Bolingbroke-Kent, Antonia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Ravens: The True Story of a Secret War in Laos, Vietnam, by Christopher Robbins

This memoir recounts the experiences of American pilots who secretly participated in the covert war in Laos during the Vietnam War, offering a unique perspective on the conflict and its effects on the people of Laos.

Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters, by Milton Osborne

In this travelogue, the author journeys along the Mekong River, which runs through Laos, exploring the history, culture, and natural beauty of the region.

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Travel Advice for Laos

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Laos (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Laos here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Laoshere.

General Information on Laos

The CIA's World Factbook contains a lot of good factual information Laos and is updated frequently.

  • Official Name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Population: Approximately 7.9 million (2023 est.)
  • Area: 236,800 sq km
  • Capital: Vientiane
  • Official Language: Lao
  • Government: Single-party socialist republic
  • Chief of State: President Thongloun Sisoulith (since 2021)
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh (since 2021)
  • Legislature: Unicameral National Assembly
  • GDP (nominal): $19.57 billion (2021 est.)
  • GDP per capita (nominal): $2,643 (2021 est.)
  • Currency: Lao kip (LAK)
  • Major Ethnic Groups: Lao (53.2%), Khmou (11%), Hmong (9.2%), other (26.6%)
  • Religions: Buddhist (64.7%), Christian (1.7%), other (2.1%), none (31.4%)
  • Time Zone: Indochina Time (ICT), UTC+7

Laos originated from the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, which was founded in the 14th century under King FA NGUM. Lan Xang was influential for 300 years, extending its reach into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, and over all of modern-day Laos. After declining over centuries, Laos was ruled by Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. Later, Laos became part of French Indochina after that. The present-day Laotian border with Thailand was defined by the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a monarchy that lasted six centuries and installing a strict socialist regime that was closely aligned with Vietnam. Laos began a gradual and limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws in 1988. Laos joined ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »