In spite of its role as the capital of Laos, Vientiane is unbelievably quiet, and a great place to hang out and relax, taking in the laid back atmosphere created by the countrys exceedingly friendly people.
War History Across the Mekong River from Nong Khai in Thailand, Vientiane is the capital of the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Laos). The warlord Fa Ngum founded the Lan Xang kingdom with Khmer backing in 1353. Its capital in modern-day Luang Prabang was shifted to Wieng Chan (Vientiane) around 1545. Over the centuries, Khmers, Vietnamese, Siamese, Burmese, French and Americans all fought wars on its soil before the communist Pathet Lao takeover in 1975.
City of Diversity Today, Vientiane is a peaceful city of multi-cultural influences, most evident in its architecture: Lao temples, French colonial mansions, Sino-Vietnamese shophouses and Soviet-style administrative offices. Southeast Asias recent development has been slower here, so there are few tall buildings and little traffic, but hotels and foreign restaurants are multiplying as the communist government opens up to visitors.
Stupas and Sculptures Vientianes majestic Pha That Luang is a 16th century gilded stupa surrounded first by a wall of 30 smaller stupas (also gilded), and then by a defensive cloister. This is actually the result of two restorations since the Siamese sacked Vientiane in 1828. The Bangkok-style Wat Si Saket (1818) is the citys oldest temple, containing 2,000 small and 300 larger Buddha images, mostly from the 16th to 19th centuries. The Lao monarchy used to worship at Haw Pha Kaew, now a museum. Said to have once held the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok), it contains some of Laos finest and oldest Buddhist sculptures. The Patuxai monument, the Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe, commemorates pre-Revolutionary war heroes: climb the inner stairs for a view of the city and its avenues. 24 km south of Vientiane, Wat Xieng Khuan is really a park containing huge and unusual Buddhist and Hindu sculptures from the 1950s.
Morning Market You can see the city, including shopping for hill tribe handicrafts and Lao textiles at the Morning Market, in a couple of days.