Hugging a bend in the Mekong, Vientiane has been Laos' capital since 1560 when King Setthathilat moved here from Luang Prabang. The city has had a turbulent history, having been invaded, occupied and overrun a number of times by the Khmer, the Burmese, the Chinese and the Siamese who sacked the city in 1828. Unsurprisingly, Vientiane has few remaining historical sites; however, Laos' most important religious building and its national symbol - That Luang – can be found here so is well-worth a visit, as is Haw Pha Kaew. This temple was built to house the Emerald Buddha, which the Siamese made off with in 1779.
There are plenty of charms in the capital city, one of which is that is doesn’t feel like a city at all – in fact it must be one of the most easy-going and tranquil capital cities in the whole of Asia. This fact is perfectly in-keeping with the rest of the country: Laos is known for its laid-back, friendly atmosphere and slow-pace of life.
The French left their mark on the city in the form of grand European architecture, which is characterised by bright daffodil coloured villas, blue shutters and maroon tiles roofs. Today, many of these buildings are crumbling, which adds to the charm. Some are used as government buildings, and others have been renovated and turned into boutique hotels like Settha Palace.
The area around the Mekong riverside is the most appealing, for it is lined by many boutiques selling Lao handicrafts and numerous simple barbeque stands, where one can sample the famous grilled chicken, grilled fish fresh from the Mekong river, and drink a cool Beer Lao whilst looking at Thailand on the other side. Further back from the narrow streets of the Mekong, the city opens up to wide leafy avenues, reminiscent of those found in Paris - one avenue even comes complete with Patuxai - Laos’ answer to the Arc de Triomphe.
Vientiane is home to a number of bustling markets, from the lively morning market, to the brightly lit night market, where you are able to try out your bargaining skills - a custom in Lao markets. Further afield, you may like to visit Buddha Park, which lies just outside the city but is well worth the short car journey to see a collection of quirky sculptures.
There is a good selection of hotels to be found in Vientiane – you can choose between a number of delightful boutique properties, which all have an equal amount of character and comfort. A visit to Laos is not complete without experiencing its easy-going capital, and we recommend a couple of nights here to soak up the atmosphere.
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