A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane is an overlooked gem that holds immense appeal for digital nomads seeking an enriching experience. Overshadowed by its more popular Southeast Asian counterparts, Vientiane offers a laid-back atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for those who crave a slower pace of life.
Population: 948,477 (2020)
Elevation: 174 m (570 ft)
Settled: 9th century
Tourist Arrivals: 300,000+ (2022)
Currency: Laos Kip (LAK)
Time Zone: Indochina Time (ICT), UTC+7
Length of Trip: 2-7 days.
Trip Type: cultural / historical / gastronomic.
Our Experience: We spent 10 days in Vientiane from December 2022 to January 2023.
Disclaimer: Before planning your trip, it’s essential to check for any travel restrictions, visa requirements, and other relevant information, as these might change over time.
Vientiane is ideal for:
The city isn’t ideal for:
Vientiane’s charm lies in its blend of French colonial architecture, ancient temples, and scenic riverside landscapes. With a burgeoning community of expats and a growing number of co-working spaces and cafes, Vientiane provides a supportive environment for digital nomads to work remotely while immersing themselves in Laos’ cultural heritage.
One of the most significant advantages of Vientiane for digital nomads is its affordability. Compared to other tourist hotspots in the region, living costs in Vientiane are relatively low, allowing freelancers and remote workers to stretch their budgets further. The city’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere, combined with a strong expat community, fosters opportunities for meaningful networking and connections.
Additionally, Vientiane’s manageable size means that everything is easily accessible, from vibrant markets to serene temples, creating a seamless balance between work and leisure. For those seeking an authentic and less touristy experience in Southeast Asia, Vientiane shines as a hidden gem that is home to a unique blend of history, culture, and modernity.
As the sleepy capital city of Laos, Vientiane offers a mix of cultural, historical, and leisurely activities. Below are our top recommendations for the best things to do:
Visit Pha That Luang: This iconic golden stupa is the national symbol of Laos and is one of the most important religious sites in the country. It’s an impressive structure that’s a must-visit attraction.
Explore Wat Si Saket: This temple is known for its beautiful architecture and is one of the oldest temples in Vientiane. It houses thousands of Buddha images, making it a unique and serene place to explore.
Walk along the Mekong River: The city has a pleasant riverside promenade where you can take leisurely walks, enjoy the scenery, and even witness a beautiful sunset over the Mekong River.
Visit Patuxai (Victory Gate): Often referred to as the “Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane,” Patuxai is a war monument that offers panoramic views of the city from the top. You can climb to the upper levels for a small fee.
Explore Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan): Located just outside the city, this park features an eclectic collection of unique Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. It’s a great place for photography while exploring the various statues.
Enjoy the Vientiane Night Market: As the evening sets in, head to the night market along the Mekong River for a lively atmosphere, street food, handicrafts, and clothing.
Shop at the Morning Market (Talat Sao): This bustling market is the perfect place to find souvenirs, traditional crafts, textiles, and local products. Bargaining is expected, so try your hand at negotiating a good price.
For digital nomads looking for the best area to stay in Vientiane with excellent internet connectivity, the Ban Mixay neighborhood is our top recommendation. In general, Ban Mixay is a popular choice amongst expats and remote workers due to its convenient location and reliable internet infrastructure.
Below are some reasons why Ban Mixay we believe that is an ideal area for digital nomads:
Internet Connectivity: It’s known for having some of the best internet connectivity in Vientiane. Many co-working spaces, cafes, and hotels in this neighborhood also offer high-speed internet, which is a rarity in Laos.
Centrally Located: Ban Mixay is situated close to the city center, making it easy to access major attractions, restaurants, shopping centers, and other amenities. It strikes a good balance between being well-connected and being relatively peaceful.
Co-working Spaces and Cafes: The area has a selection of co-working spaces and cafes with conducive work environments. These places cater to digital nomads and remote workers, providing comfortable workspaces and networking opportunities.
Accommodation Options: Ban Mixay offers a range of accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to mid-range hotels and serviced apartments. Many of these places offer private internet connections, making it convenient to work directly from your room.
Safety: The area is considered to be a safe neighborhood, be we recommend that you don’t leave your valuables unattended. It’s also worth noting that Laos, in general, has a reputation for being a safe and welcoming country.
International Community: With a significant expat community and an increasing number of digital nomads, Ban Mixay offers opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals through social events and meetups.
Accessibility to Amenities: The area has a good selection of supermarkets, gyms, restaurants, and other amenities that cater to the needs of both locals and expatriates.
It’s important to note that while we consider Ban Mixay to be one of the best areas for digital nomads in Vientiane, the internet connectivity in Laos is not as fast or reliable as in Thailand or Vietnam. However, within the city, this area stands out for its relatively strong internet infrastructure.
As with any travel decision, we highly recommend that you check recent reviews and contact potential accommodations to confirm the quality of the internet connection before booking your stay.
When visiting Vientiane, you’ll have the opportunity to savor a range of delicious traditional dishes and delightful street food. Below are some must-try Laotian foods, along with popular areas or places to enjoy them:
Laap (Larb): Laap is a minced meat salad mixed with herbs, lime juice, fish sauce, and toasted rice powder. It’s a popular dish made with various types of meat, including chicken, beef, or fish. You can find excellent Laap at the restaurants and street stalls near the Morning Market (Talat Sao).
Tam Mak Hoong (Green Papaya Salad): This zesty salad consists of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, chilies, and often topped with peanuts. Look for vendors selling Tam Mak Hoong at the bustling Night Market along the Mekong riverfront.
Khao Poon (Lao Coconut Curry Soup): Khao Poon is a rich and aromatic curry soup made with coconut milk, fresh herbs, and chili paste, that’s usually topped with rice noodles. You can find this delicious dish at food stalls in the city center or at the riverside eateries.
Or Lam (Meat Stew): Or Lam is a traditional Lao stew made with a mix of vegetables, herbs, and your choice of meat, usually buffalo or pork. The dish is flavored with galangal, lemongrass, and padaek (fermented fish sauce). For an authentic experience, try this dish at local eateries within the city.
Lao Baguette Sandwich: Influenced by the French colonial era, a Lao-style baguette sandwich is typically filled with pâté, cold cuts, fresh herbs, and sometimes spicy sauce. You can find vendors selling these fusion baguettes throughout the city, especially near the Patuxai monument.
Mok Pa (Lao Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves): Mok Pa is a dish where fish is mixed with herbs, spices, and curry paste, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. This tasty treat is commonly found at local night markets.
Khao Piak Sen (Lao Noodle Soup): Khao Piak Sen is a comforting noodle soup made with wide, flat rice noodles, tender meat (chicken or pork), and a flavorful broth. It’s a popular breakfast dish in Vientiane, and you can find it at various street stalls or small restaurants all over the city.
Insider Tip: Remember to explore different areas and be adventurous when trying Lao dishes. Many local eateries might not have English menus, but don’t let that deter you from trying something new and exciting.
To get around Vientiane, you have several transportation options to consider:
Renting a Motorbike: Renting a motorbike is a popular and convenient way to explore the city. It provides flexibility and allows you to reach various attractions easily. However, be cautious and use a reputable rental service, because you will be required to use your passport as collateral. Some scams have been reported, so research beforehand and choose a trusted provider.
Renting a Bicycle: For those who prefer a more active way of exploring, Vientiane offers bicycle rentals, allowing you to effortlessly pedal through the city’s charming streets and experience the local atmosphere at your own pace.
Walking Around on Foot: Vientiane is a relatively compact city, and many attractions are within walking distance of each other, especially in the city center. Exploring on foot allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture, discover hidden gems, and enjoy a leisurely pace.
Tuk-Tuks: While tuk-tuks are a common sight in Vientiane and can be a convenient mode of transport, they are not always the best choice. Tuk-tuk drivers have a reputation for overcharging tourists, and haggling can be tiresome. If you decide to take a tuk-tuk, negotiate the fare upfront, or consider using a ride-hailing app like LOCA for transparent pricing.
Insider Tip: It’s worth noting that the locals in Vientiane are known for their friendly and welcoming nature, often ready to offer directions or guidance to visitors. Language barriers are less common here, as English is widely spoken and understood in most tourist areas, making communication easier for international visitors.
Exchanging and obtaining money in Vientiane is relatively straightforward, and there are several options available, including money changers and ATMs. Below is a basic overview of the process:
Currency: The official currency of Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK). However, most tourist areas and larger businesses also accept US dollars and/or Thai baht, but it’s advisable to use Lao Kip for most transactions to avoid unfavorable exchange rates.
Exchanging Currency: Money changers are commonly found in tourist areas (near markets) and airports. You can exchange foreign currency, such as US dollars, euros, or Thai baht, into Lao Kip at these places. Hotels and banks also provide currency exchange services, but money changers often offer more competitive rates. Be cautious when using informal or street money changers, as they may offer less favorable rates or engage in scams.
ATMs: ATMs are widely available in Vientiane. They accept major international cards like Visa and Mastercard and allow you to withdraw money in Lao Kip. However, keep in mind that many ATMs charge a high withdrawal fee, and your home bank might apply additional fees for international transactions. It’s a good idea to check with your bank about the fees before your trip.
Here are some of the most commonly used banks in Laos that provide good ATM services:
a. Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao (BCEL): One of the largest and most reputable banks in Laos. It has ATMs in major cities and accepts a wide range of international cards.
b. Joint Development Bank (JDB): This bank also has a good network of ATMs in tourist areas and cities.
c. Lao-Viet Bank (LVB): Another option with a decent network of ATMs available for foreign cardholders.
Cash Usage: While major businesses, hotels, and restaurants in tourist areas may accept credit cards, cash is still the most widely used form of payment in Vientiane, especially in local markets and smaller establishments. Having some Lao Kip on hand will be useful for day-to-day expenses.
Keep Small Denominations: It’s a good idea to keep smaller denominations of Lao Kip as some places may have difficulty providing change for larger bills.
Insider Tip: As with any foreign travel, it’s wise to inform your bank about your travel plans to Laos to avoid any potential issues with your cards while abroad. Additionally, always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings when handling money in unfamiliar places.
When in Vientiane, getting a SIM card is necessary because it’ll provide reliable and fast internet connectivity via your mobile phone. Essentially, a local SIM card will allow you to work efficiently and stay connected without relying on potentially unreliable hotel internet services.
Below is a basic guide on how to get a SIM card in Vientiane:
Check Phone Compatibility: Before purchasing a local SIM card, ensure that your phone is unlocked and compatible with the GSM network used in Laos. Most modern smartphones are compatible, but it’s always best to double-check with your phone provider before arriving in Laos.
Choose a Provider: Laos has several telecom companies, and some of the major ones are Unitel, Lao Telecom, and Beeline. Each provider offers various prepaid SIM card packages with different data and call allowances. In our experience, Lao Telecom had the most reliable internet connectivity throughout the country.
Purchase the SIM Card: You can buy a prepaid SIM card at the airport upon arrival or from official stores and kiosks of the telecom providers throughout the city. They are also available at convenience stores and street vendors.
Registration: In Laos, it is required to register your SIM card with your passport information. The seller will usually assist you with the registration process, and you may need to provide the original or at least a copy of your passport.
Top-Up: After inserting the SIM card into your phone, you will need to top up your account with credit to activate your chosen package. Top-up cards are widely available throughout Laos at shops, kiosks, and even through mobile apps provided by the telecom companies.
Data and Call Packages: Telecom providers in Laos offer various prepaid packages that cater to different needs, such as data-only packages or combined data, call, and text packages. Choose the one that best suits your requirements, although opt for a package that has more “gigabytes” than you think you’ll need.
Internet Settings: Once your SIM card is activated and you have a data package, your phone should automatically configure the internet settings. If not, you can contact customer support for assistance or manually input the APN settings provided by the provider.
Insider Tip: Just remember that network coverage and internet speeds may vary depending on your location in Laos – especially in more remote areas. We highly recommend that you check the coverage maps of different providers to determine which one will work best for your travel plans.
After exploring Vientiane, we encourage digital nomads to embark on a journey to three different captivating destinations in Laos: Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Nong Khiaw.
Vang Vieng: Known for its striking karst landscapes and adventurous activities, Vang Vieng is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. This small town along the Nam Song River has transformed from a party destination to an eco-friendly and adventure-centric spot.
You can enjoy work sessions in riverside cafes while soaking in breathtaking views. When you’re off the clock, indulge in activities like kayaking, exploring caves, or hiking to viewpoints for awe-inspiring vistas.
Luang Prabang: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang is a charming town nestled amidst lush green mountains at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It exudes a unique blend of French colonial architecture and traditional Lao temples, creating a picturesque setting that appeals to every wanderer’s interests.
Here, you’ll find a range of cozy cafes with good internet connectivity, offering the perfect spots to work while surrounded by the town’s inherent tranquility. Don’t miss witnessing the daily Alms Giving Ceremony, exploring the vibrant night market, and hiking up to Mount Phousi for breathtaking panoramic views.
Nong Khiaw: This idyllic riverside town is an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Surrounded by dramatic limestone karsts and lush greenery, Nong Khiaw offers a serene countryside escape.
The slower pace of life and stunning landscapes provide an inspiring setting for digital nomads seeking both productivity and rejuvenation. Take a boat ride along the Nam Ou River, hike to the viewpoint at Phadeng Peak, and visit nearby villages to experience the authentic rural life of Laos.
These three destinations showcase the diverse beauty and cultural richness of Laos, making them perfect extensions to a stay in Vientiane. Each place offers a unique experience, from the spiritual and historical allure of Luang Prabang to the natural wonders and adventure opportunities in Nong Khiaw and Vang Vieng.
Insider Tip: Embrace the slow pace of life, immerse yourself in the local customs, and create unforgettable memories as you explore these gems in Laos.
Vientiane is known for its rich history and unique cultural charm. As one of the smallest capital cities in the world, Vientiane offers a laid-back atmosphere, a sharp contrast to the bustling metropolises of Bangkok and Saigon. The city’s history dates back to the 16th century when it was established as the administrative center of the Lan Xang Kingdom. Today, remnants of its past can be seen in various historical landmarks such as the revered Pha That Luang, a magnificent golden stupa considered a symbol of Laos’ Buddhist heritage.
Yes, Vientiane is worth visiting for its cultural sites like Pha That Luang and Wat Si Saket, colonial-era architecture, and a relaxed pace. The city’s location along the Mekong River offers scenic views, and attractions like the Buddha Park and local cuisine add to its charm. While not as bustling as other capitals, Vientiane’s blend of history and leisure makes it a unique destination in Southeast Asia.
Laos, in general, has a reputation for being one of the safer countries in Southeast Asia. However, like in any other destination, travelers should take some precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip in Vientiane:
Petty theft: Petty theft can occur in crowded areas and tourist spots, so it’s essential to keep an eye on your belongings and use a money belt or secure bag to carry valuables.
Scams: Be cautious of scams aimed at tourists. This can include overcharging for goods or services or misleading tour offers. Always negotiate prices beforehand and research reputable tour operators.
Traffic: Be careful when crossing the roads, as traffic in Vientiane can be chaotic, and pedestrian crossings may not always be respected.
Drinking water: Stick to bottled water and avoid drinking tap water to prevent waterborne illnesses.
Local laws and customs: Respect the local laws and customs, and be mindful of cultural sensitivities.
Drugs: Avoid involvement with illegal drugs, as the penalties for drug-related offenses can be severe in Laos.
It’s always a good idea to stay informed about the current situation in any country you plan to visit. Before traveling to Vientiane or any other destination, it’s recommended to check for updated travel advisories from your government and consult with experienced travelers or locals for any specific safety tips.
The best time to visit Vientiane is during the cool, dry season, which typically runs from November to February. During this time, the weather is more pleasant, with milder temperatures and lower humidity.
Specifically, December and January are considered the peak months for tourism in Vientiane, as the weather is at its best. Daytime temperatures during this period usually range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F), and the nights can be cooler, dropping to around 15°C (59°F). This pleasant weather will allow you to explore the city comfortably without being overwhelmed by the heat.
Avoiding the peak of rainy season is recommended, as it lasts from August to September and can bring heavy downpours and occasional flooding. Additionally, the months of March and April should also be considered with caution, as they fall within the hot season, and temperatures can soar to uncomfortable levels, often exceeding 35°C (95°F).
The ideal number of days to spend in Vientiane can vary depending on your travel style and interests.
General Travel: For a normal travel experience, where you want to cover the main attractions and get a good feel for the city, spending 2 to 3 days in Vientiane should be sufficient. This timeframe allows you to visit the most popular sites, enjoy the local cuisine, and get a glimpse of the city’s culture and history.
Slow Travel: If you prefer a more relaxed and immersive experience, slow travel allows you to take your time exploring the city and truly soak in the local ambiance. In this case, spending 5 to 7 days in Vientiane would be more appropriate. With this extra time, you can delve deeper into the local culture, try more authentic Lao dishes, wander through the markets, and take leisurely strolls along the Mekong River.
Additionally, slow travel gives you the opportunity to interact with locals, visit lesser-known temples, and discover hidden gems that may not be on the typical tourist itinerary.
There are several ways to get to Vientiane from Bangkok. Below are the most common transportation options:
Flight: The fastest and most convenient way to travel from Bangkok to Vientiane is by taking a flight. There are regular direct flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport (VTE). Airlines that operate this route include Thai Airways, Lao Airlines, and low-cost carriers like AirAsia. The flight takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Bus: Taking a bus from Bangkok to Vientiane is a more affordable option, but it also takes longer. Buses are available from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) in Bangkok. The journey will involve crossing the Thai-Lao border, and the bus will take you to the Lao capital. The travel time is approximately 10-12 hours, depending on the border crossing and traffic conditions.
Train and Bus: You can also combine a train and bus journey to get to Vientiane. Take a train from Bangkok’s Bang Sue Grand Station to Nong Khai, the northernmost Thai city. From Nong Khai, you can cross the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane by bus or taxi. The train journey takes around 10-12 hours, and the bus/taxi ride to Vientiane takes about 1 hour.
Below are the common ways to get to Vientiane from Hanoi:
Flights: The most convenient and quickest way to travel between the two cities is by taking a flight. There are direct flights available from Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi to Wattay International Airport (VTE) in Vientiane. Flight durations are relatively short, usually around 1.5 hours.
Bus: Long-distance buses connect Hanoi and Vientiane. However, this option involves a more extended travel time and can take around 24 to 30 hours, depending on the route and border crossing process. The journey typically includes a stop at the border for immigration procedures.
Train + Bus: Another option is to take a train from Hanoi to the border town of Thanaleng in Laos. From there, you can continue your journey to Vientiane by bus or other forms of transportation. However, note that the train service between Hanoi and Thanaleng may not be as frequent or as fast as other means of travel.