While tourist numbers are increasing in Laos, it still lags behind two of its neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand. As a result, its capital, Vientiane still retains the feel of a town where life has yet to become as hectic as many Asian cities. Construction is ongoing but there is nothing to stop you relaxing by the Mekong River with a beer and watching the world go by. As capitals go, its population of around 200,000 is small though another half a million people live in the outlying areas.
If you are on a Laos tour as part of an Indochina travel package, Vientiane deserves a little of your time even though Luang Prabang is arguable more interesting. If you need some ideas of what to do in Vientiane, how about these if you have the energy and desire to get out and see the area and meet the people?
• There are tours where locals will introduce you to the environment as well as the manmade attractions of Vientiane. The nearest National Park is Phou Khao Khouay which is a great place for hiking. There are rivers and beautiful waterfalls in stunning surroundings, though the wildlife does its best to avoid human contact. Who knows? You may be lucky.
• If you want to explore by bicycle, you can do that as well. If you want to be independent, feel free to rent a bike and go, though you will be able to cycle in a group with a guide to show you the best things Vientiane and the surrounding area have to offer.
• Once a month, local monks gather at Sangha College willing to talk to tourists.
• Centre Culturel et de Coopération Linguistique near Patuxai has a small theatre and a library. There will also be a photographic exhibition illustrating aspects of history, culture and daily life.
• One of Laos’ national sports is Muay Lao, or kick-boxing. There is a gym on the road to the airport where you can watch the skill of the locals without feeling you are in some sort of tourist trap.
• If you want to go further afield, think about going to Nam Ngum Lake. It is about 90 kms away but there are floating restaurants serving the latest catch while you can also cruise and simply relax.
One of the real attractions of a Laos holiday is the relative lack of development. Laos was drawn into the Vietnam War and suffered as a consequence. It is a relatively poor country but its attractions are gradually resulting in more overseas travellers wanting to visit. Vientiane, the capital, inevitably has the many functions demanded of a capital, including government and embassies. It has accommodation to cater for those functions as well. If you are travelling on a Laos tour package, all the arrangements will be made for you in advance though with some free time, some of the things mentioned above may well interest you, and teach you more about Laos and its people.