Vientiane is one of the most laid-back capital cities in the world. Walking the dusty streets of the small town one thinks, really? This is the capital? When the French colonized Southeast Asia in the 19th century, they made Vientiane the capital of the country.
The city’s name translates from ancient Pali as “city of sandalwood”. Though Laos was drawn into both World War II and the Vietnam War, there remain beautiful buildings and temples. Laos developed its own communist party known as the Pathet Lao. The original aim of the Pathet Lao was to remove the French from power. They aligned with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Viet Cong in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, allowing the North Vietnamese to station military bases and troops inside Laos. All three successfully took over their countries for varying amounts of time, and the ensuing damage was extensive.
Vientiane today holds a unique charm. It remains one of the most colonial feeling cities in the region. Signs are in French and Lao, the cuisine has a pronounced French influence to it, and the city is replete with French bakeries (for which travelers are grateful). Colonial buildings remain, and the standard and sheer array of superb cuisine are stupendous for a town of its size.
Internal travelers will arrive by bus, as the transport of choice for travel in Laos. Taxis or tuk-tuks are readily available. This is the one place in Laos where upscale accommodation is available. Hotels with air-conditioning, wi-fi, mini-bars and more abound, albeit at a very high price tag.
Once settled in, there are several worthy sights. Those interested in history should start at the Lao National Museum. Patuxai, the local version of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, is a must see. Temples abound for those not templed out from Luang Prabang.
There are shows,festivals,films and more always happening in the capital. But the most fun to have in Vientiane is dining. From Mexican to Italian to French, the sheer range and quality of food and drink is astonishing. Travelers will delight in the gastronomic excursions this little town has to offer.
The Scandanavian Bakery is the most famous cafe in town, and the place to meet other travelers or find out about upcoming events. Stop by Banneton Cafe for the best baguettes and fresh coffee in town, and try La Terrasse for a fantastic French dinner.
There is shopping and entertainment in town as well. Handicrafts and textiles from around the country are on sale in the markets and handicraft shops lining the main street for those who prefer to get their souvenirs at the end of their in-country travels. The Morning Market is a feast for the eyes and those adept at bargaining. Try Nokeo Khunman street for upmarket textiles shops. Lao textiles is an intriguing place begun by the American Carol Cassidy.
This is a walking city. Enjoy strolling the main streets and soaking up the atmosphere of this city. Whether eating chicken hearts from a street vendor or the finest French cuisine in the region, one thing is for sure. One will agree that this is an extraordinary place, much like the beautiful country of Laos itself.