“City of sandalwood”, “City of the moon”, “Viangchan”

5th of January, 2013

[flickr size=”medium” float=”left”]7657313@N08/9788173776[/flickr]

After a long night train ride from Ayutthaya; we finally arrive to Thanaleng, the train station for Vientiane, and last stop of the line, across the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos. Not much could be seen over the window, mostly as it was overnight; and in the few hours after sunrise in the morning, there was nothing special to see either.

Vientiane is not a big capital city, and it’s well organised with some tree-lined main avenues. It’s not difficult to guess why this urbanism, but the French colonial period had all to do with. Getting lost can be almost impossible. When you start walking around, soon you will start admiring the vast amount of temples, with their fine paintings, decoration and architecture, which is although similar, but different to what you can see in Thailand. Temples here are smaller, but the paintings are much more elaborated. Next to the temple you will see the homes, schools and day to day live of the Buddhist people.

It is hard to imagine that Laos is in fact a Communist regime nowadays. Nowhere you will have that feeling. The country is very open to everyone, and so the people, who will welcome you with a warm and big smile.

The city is well worth it at least 2 full days. Unfortunately in our case, we were only for just one, meaning our sightseeing had to be done all packed in a day. Thankfully to our luck, and as we are experienced already in this sort of one day full sightseeing situation, renting a tuk tuk driver for the day worked just perfect.

With regards to food, it is, together with Cambodia, one of the very best foods I have ever tried from all the Southeast Asian countries. Make sure you try the local cuisine, like ping gai (grilled marinated chicken), kaeng kalee (curry) or mok pa (steamed fish with banana leaf).

For more information on the history of the city, check Wikipedia and Wikitravel.

Important information about the border/visa:

The trains coming from Thailand all do stop at  Nong Khai, right before the border to Laos. Anyone wishing to continue their journey to Laos, must get off the train, and buy at the desk office a train ticket from Nong Khai to Thanaleng, which is little over 5km apart, and you will need to pay for this in Thai Bhat, so please remember to leave some. Once in Thanaleng, you can get your visa on arrival, or show your visa should you have it done already before coming to Laos. It is a time consuming formality, because everyone who arrives must obtain the papers first, fill them, and then hand them one by one to the same person, together with an ID picture (please make sure to bring one with you!) and hand over the fee in USD (also, make sure you have USD $ with you beforehand!). Once you are done, you are ready to leave the station. A last check will be done by a border guard.

What to see and do in Vientiane:

  • Patuxai Or Victory Gate, on Avenue Lane Xang. Entrance 3000 Kips to go up. Built in 1957, offers great views of the city specially the avenue where it is located.
  • Wat Si Saket Sisaket Museum. Entrance 5000 kips. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat.
  • Black Stupa Or That Dam. In Thanon Bartholomie (off Thanon Samsenthai near the US embassy). Located in the centre of a nice roundabout.
  • Pha That Luang 5000 kips entrance, open from 08.00am to 16.00pm. Originally built in 1566. On Thanon That Luang.
  • Wat That Luang Neua  &  Wat That Luang Tai Two beautiful temples also located very near the Pha That Luang. Free admission.
  • Haw Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha .
  • Wat Si Muang Built in 1563. Between Thanons Setthatirat and Samsenthai. Free admission.
  • Wats Ong Teu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok All of them located along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town centre, and all free admission.

Transports:

From the train station, you will need for sure to get a tuk tuk, which will have a set price, and can accommodate up to 8 people. As you will be arriving with more tourists in the same train, the best you can do is to form a group and travel together in order to lower the costs. If you are unfortunate, and you are one or two people only, you will need still to pay the full fare. Those tuk tuks will drop you at the “bus station”, unless you are in a hotel along the way. Unfortunately in this “bus station”, you will need to change for another tuk tuk which is likely to quote you high prices. To avoid a high price, walk away to the main road where many drivers will stop and ask you for a ride, negotiate the price, and you will be better off. Also, as a tip to remember, if you offer them Kip (the Laos currency), they will be more likely to take you for less than their “standard quote” of 2 USD.

Always try to negotiate the prices in Kips instead of dollars. They will quote always a minimum of 2$ even if you just want to go few blocks away.

Once in the city centre, you will not need any further transportation if you have time, as you can navigate around all by walking, even if distances are big, for sure you will enjoy the walk along the many temples and nice buildings around, specially near the Royal Palace, Pha That Luang and the Patouxai Gate. Otherwise, if time is short (as in our case, only one day), the best is to negotiate a tuk tuk driver for the day to take you to all the sights you have planned in your list. This will come not expensive at all, and you will love the fact of being able to see every sight in the city in just one day.

Accommodation:

As usual on any hotel search, make sure you check all the websites, as you are likely to find the very same hotel at totally different prices depending on the site. In any case, and although there are not too many “Western” or renown hotel chains in the city, it is not difficult to find a nice, quiet and simple accommodation. In our case we did choose Keomixay Hotel. Very nice, located in a quiet area, within walking distance to the main sights.

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