Capital of the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, since the sixteenth century, Vientiane must surely qualify as Asia’s most quiet and most sleepy capital city. With an estimated population of only around 200,000 people, she can be crossed leisurely by bicycle in under a morning and this remains a popular method of transport for local Laotians, who never hurry anywhere.
Although small, Vientiane’s atmosphere is both welcoming and charming. She now boasts some lovely boutiques selling Lao silk, antiques and artwork, as well as a good choice of day spas, all mostly focused in the central area around the Nam Phou fountain. Fresh bakeries, crêperies, Italian, French, vegetarian and Japanese restaurants all compete with the local Lao cuisine, which can itself be equally enjoyed from a plastic chair at an outdoor restaurant or in an upmarket venue with traditional music and dance performances. Lesser known than neighbouring Thai cuisine, Lao food shares the same influences and is a fragrant delight to discover.
Buddhist temples, golden stupas and museums are Vientiane’s main attractions. The important National Museum houses some beautiful artefacts and the Patuxai monument is Vientiane’s equivalent to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. The golden temple of That Luang and the beautiful Wat Si Saket are two of the best temples to visit. The large Talaat Sao (Morning Market) is also a fascinating place to explore with a huge array of fresh produce and some colourful and noisy vendors.
Once your touring of Vientiane is complete, the best way to relax is to head to one of the cheap outdoor cafés which line the banks of the Mekong and sip a famous Beer Lao as the sun goes down.
From Vientiane, it is easy to travel North to Luang Prabang, or to atmospheric Southern Laos, with its Four Thousand islands, stunning waterfalls and the pre-Angkorian ruins of Wat Phou at Champassak. Regular flights connect Vientiane to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Saigon, Hanoi and Bangkok.
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Best time to visit Vientiane
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