Tucked in the middle of Indochina, the city of Vientiane is doing its best to keep up with its many swiftly growing, Southeast Asian neighbors. With a population of 800,000, Vientiane has a friendly and laid back atmosphere, in contrast to the stereotypical bustling and chaotic environment of most nearby capitals. Volunteer opportunities in Vientiane span a range of fields, as there are many needs scattered throughout the city; from medicine to education to tourism, those who choose to volunteer in Vientiane will be pleasantly surprised by the lesser known Laotian way of life.
Volunteering in Vientiane
It is possible to volunteer in Vientiane in a wide variety of placement areas, ranging from construction to medicine to teaching and childcare. Each placement offers volunteers a unique opportunity to work with locals and come to understand their day to day challenges, while contributing to projects that have the ability to improve the lives of generations to come.
Education. As Laos is striving to enter into the global sphere, the nation has put a focus on expanding the education system and increasing educational opportunities in order to better prepare young people for the international job market. Since Laos is a non-English speaking country, one of government’s main goals is to increase English language proficiency among citizens. Hence, there is a growing demand for English teachers in Vientiane, as well as an increased need for teachers to help teach other subjects to a variety of students.
Medicine. Medical volunteer placements in Vientiane provide skilled medical professionals with the opportunity to help local people receive much needed health care. Medical volunteering in Vientiane is also a great way for medical professionals to gain practical experience and develop their own skillset. It is possible to volunteer in Vientiane in many different specialties, including occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and psychology. Volunteers may have the chance to work in rehabilitation centers, therapy clinics, hospitals, and various rural healthcare facilities.
Construction volunteer projects are most suitable for volunteers who want to spend their time in Vientiane doing hands on, physical work. To become a construction volunteer in Vientiane, volunteers do not need any prior construction or renovation experience, all they need is a willingness to literally get their hands dirty (and sweat a lot). Construction placements will require volunteers to assist with light construction and renovation tasks, which may include classroom, medical clinic, child care center, or school building improvements and construction.
Childcare. Volunteers interested in working with children will greatly enjoy childcare volunteering in Vientiane. Placements may include assisting with the day to day care of children with disabilities, organizing games and activities for children at child care centers, or teaching children simple lessons in a variety of subjects.
Life in Vientiane
Compared to other capital cities in Southeast Asia, Vientiane can still be considered a rather sleepy city. Both locals and tourists enjoy the city’s slow pace of life, where they are never too far from the comfort of modern amenities. During day offs, you will be able to explore the country further and experience many sides of life in Laos, deepening your understanding of the Laotian people and culture.
The city of Vientiane sits along the Mekong River, which is lined by an enormous park that is perfect for an afternoon stroll, morning run, or evening picnic (there is even a morning Zumba class in the part each day). People living in Vientiane enjoy spending their time in the numerous cafés and restaurants that dot the city’s streets. But for budget conscious, food stalls and smaller, local restaurants are the most affordable option, and these are available on almost every corner too.
Getting around the city center is very easy because public transportation is readily available. Tuktuks are used for shorter distance travel, while buses are used for longer distances. However, it is most convenient to use a bicycle or motorbike to get around Vientiane, and it can be much cheaper too. Renting a motorbike can cost as little as $50 to $70 a month.
Costs & Affordability
The cost of living in Vientiane is rather cheap, especially when compared to nearly any Western or industrialized country. A local meal can cost around $2 to $4 at a small restaurant, but could cost up to $15 at a high-end, posh restaurant. A one and half liter bottle of water costs less than $1 and a local beer ranges from $2 to $3.
Most volunteer programs in Vientiane include airport transfer, accommodation, some excursions, orientation, and cultural or language lessons. Additionally, many organizations also provide volunteers with medical insurance, meals, and visa assistance. Each volunteer program in Vientiane will have a different price tag, and therefore a different set of inclusions, so it is best to clarify everything with each program provider before selecting your program. However, in general the price of volunteering in Vientiane will vary based on two main factors: duration and inclusions.
Accommodation & Visas
Those who volunteer in Vientiane are typically provided with a basic single or double occupancy room in a hotel or guest house situated conveniently in the city center. Vientiane’s city center is relatively small, so most volunteers will have everything they could ever need within walking distance from their accommodation. Volunteers should be sure to inquire about what living arrangements each volunteer program in Vientiane offers before committing to participation, in order to ensure they will be comfortable with their accommodation set up.
Most nationalities can obtain a visa upon arrival in Laos for a fee of $35, which lasts 30 days and can be extended for $2 per day. If volunteers want to obtain a visa before arriving in Laos, they can typically obtain a visa from a local Laotian embassy for $50. Remember that visa requirements vary for every nationality, so it is best to check with your local embassy to find out which requirements apply to you. Although, most host organization will provide volunteers with visa assistance throughout the duration of their program.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Vientiane will have its ups and down. Temperatures can be really hot during the summer, sometimes up to 40 degrees Celsius, with high humidity, which can be difficult for some people to adjust to. At the same time, it rains frequently and in great quantities during the rainy season, which can be equally hard to adjust to. Volunteers should consider the timing of the seasons before deciding when they’d like to volunteer abroad in Vientiane. The rainy season starts in June and lasts until September, while the dry (“cooler”) season lasts from October to February, and temperature tend to be highest in March and April.
Participating in a volunteer program in Vientiane will be an experience of a lifetime. It will not only be an incredible chance to learn another language and give back to communities in need, it will be a great opportunity to become immersed in a lesser known, hospitable, Southeast Asian culture and learn about yourself!