Quiet, relaxing, and uncrowded, Vientiane, the administrative seat of Laos, is everything that Southeast Asia's other capital cities aren't.
Wide, shady boulevards left by the French during their colonial rule over Laos during the late 19th century make Vientiane one of the most walkable cities in the region. The colonial buildings, aging but still well intact, are brimming with boutique shops and cafes selling locally crafted goods and excellent cuisine garnished with French flair. The riverfront promenade, another beautiful French holdover, is the center of Vientiane's leisurely pace of life. A growing number of bars and restaurants, some in refurbished colonial buildings while others are new construction, are springing up along the riverfront to cater to the ever growing number of tourists visiting the city. As dusk turns the Mekong River gold and bathes the city in purple light, a lively night market pops up on the promenade where vendors sell everything from household goods and travel souvenirs to freshly prepared local delicacies.
Buddhist temples, ranging from simple to opulent, are strewn throughout the city of Vientiane. Phat That Luang dates back to the 13th century when it was erected by the Khmer Empire of present day Cambodia as a Hindu temple. Rebuilt in the middle of the 16th century as a Buddhist shrine, Phat That Luang's central feature is a gold painted stupa shrine thought to contain a bone relic left from Buddha's cremation.
Wat Si Saket is a Buddhist pagoda built in the Thai style of architecture with a tiered roof design and central hall of pillars. There is a small museum on the 19th century temple grounds, and 2,000 Buddha sculptures made from ceramic and silver are cloistered near one of the walls.
In a city with one of the lowest profiles in Asia, barely a handful of buildings have been given permission to reach more than 10 stories, the Patuxai Monument is easily spotted. A Laotian version of the Arch De Triomphe with four gates instead of two, the Patuxai Monument commemorates the country's war dead.
Best Time to Visit Vientiane:
The weather in Laos is generally at its best during the temperate months between November and May. By June the temperatures are rising along with greater chances of daily rain showers that last through October.
How to get to Vientiane:
The city of Vientiane is the capital of Laos located across the winding Mekong River from the border of Thailand. Travelers on Laos tours can reach the city by direct international flight to the Wattay International Airport, or travel overland in a private vehicle from Luang Prabang to the north.
Vientiane's charms are a subtle mixture of colonial French culture and real Laotian river life that are easily appreciated. This quaint city, seemingly purpose built for sipping cool drinks or hot coffee in cozy garden cafes, is one of the most relaxing destinations for any luxury tour of Laos.
While western-style clothing is acceptable, Laotian culture is still fairly conservative with both men and women typically dressing in clothes that cover shoulders to knees. If you're planning to visit any of Vientiane's Buddhist temples or shrines, it's best to dress modestly while on consecrated ground.