If you thought you knew South East Asian capitals, think again! Vientiane is a surprisingly easy-going place that takes life at a refreshingly slow pace. This is the place to sit in some of the best cafes of the region and to sample some of the finest dishes too, in restaurants created out of delightfully restored colonial villas. The historic old quarter is all tree-lined boulevards and its sights are all within a short walk from each other. Whatever Vientiane does it does it in style: so relax and enjoy fine dining, browsing the silk shops or sipping a Beer Lao as the sun sets over the Mekong.
Areas & Neighbourhoods in Vientiane
Nam Phou Place – This is the heart of downtown Vientiane, although things are still taken at a laid-back pace here. You will find the majority of the restaurants centred around here so be prepared for some taste sensations. There is also a cluster of high-end textile, souvenir and antique shops near the parallel Samsenthai and Setthathilat roads. Take your time browsing for ancient scales, opium pipes, stamps, coins, banknotes and fine regional textiles.
Wat Sisaket – The oldest wat (temple) in the city stands opposite the impressive French Beaux Arts-style Presidential Palace, which once housed the French colonial governor. More historic sights can be enjoyed at Haw Pha Kaew, a wonderful museum of art and antiquities that offers an excellent introduction to the history and culture of Laos.
That Louang – A mile or so from the centre stands the Buddhist stupa that is Laos’s most important religious building and its national symbol.
Buddha Park – Situated about 15 miles from the city is the intriguing mix of theme park eccentricity and studied religious iconography that is Buddha Park. The enormous statues housed in mock-jungles make for an intriguing visit indeed!
Things to See in Vientiane
Vientiane’s wats (temples), palaces and stupas are all within easy walking distance of each other, making sightseeing here a real joy. The kitsch splendour of Buddha Park will need the services of a tuk tuk driver to reach, but it certainly makes for a fun day out of the city. Look out for the silk, homespun cotton and silver-work on display in Vientiane’s boutiques in its downtown area or rummage for them at cheaper prices in the Talat Sao (Morning Market).
Things to Do in Vientiane
Vientiane is famous for its charming cafes, tempting bakeries and high-end restaurants. One of the real delights here is deciding where to eat, or indeed picking which cuisine to enjoy. It’s not all about the fine things in life, however. Simple pleasures include indulging in another typical Vientiane pastime: rounding off the evening with a beer or freshly made milkshake from a makeshift stall that lines the Mekong. Sip away, and watch the sun go down!