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The Mekong River winds its way from the far north of Laos to the very south, forming both the spine and lifeblood of this land-locked country. Halfway along its journey, it passes by Vientiane, the capital city.

Often overlooked by visitors on a tight timeline, Vientiane is a riverside city in which to enjoy a brief stop to experience a different side of life in Laos. A contrast to the spirituality of Luang Prabang and the natural beauty of the far south, taking a little time to learn the wider history of Laos and sample the capital’s cosmopolitan life is a worthwhile addition to your voyage through Laos.

Buddha head in Wat Sisaket, VientianeSitting close to the border with Thailand, Vientiane reflects the history and culture of Laos in a typically laid-back, Laotian way. The smallest of the Southeast Asian capitals, it’s said to have originally been established by the Khmer people, only to have been taken over by Laotian settlers as they spread south from China in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Over the proceeding centuries it waxed and waned in importance until the French arrived in the late 1800s. Subsequent invasion by the Japanese during the Second World War, reclamation by the French, then years of civil war meant that stability was always just out of reach. Once the civil war was over, and the Pathet Lao party victorious, things began to settle down.

Though it has just a handful of sights to tick off a visitor’s must-see list, Vientiane is best appreciated for its laidback atmosphere, French colonial architecture and smattering of revered Buddhist temples. At the heart of the city is the Patuxai memorial, a version of the Parisian Arc de Triomphe, best viewed at night when dramatically illuminated.

What to do in Vientiane

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, LaosStart the day with an early-morning stroll through Talat Sao Market, before continuing on through the French Colonial district. The revered (and glimmering) Wat Pha That Luang is a must-see for temple enthusiasts, and the nearby Buddha Park is an unusual collection of over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues set in manicured gardens.

Laos was greatly affected by the Indochina wars and we recommend a visit to COPE, a charity that gives an unsettling insight into the legacy of being caught in the cross hairs. It aims to educate people about the realities of unexploded ordinance in Laos, and there are a number of interactive displays and a purpose-built cinema.

The burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, driven by the expat community, now provides a great selection of places to try traditional and modern Laotian cuisine, often fused with French and other international fare. Spend the evening at a riverside café watching the sun set over the Mekong.

Best time to visit Vientiane

The best weather is from November to March when the weather is comfortably warm and dry. The hot weather tends to peak in April and into May, when it can be very warm and humid. If you’re willing to put up with the occasional shower, June through to August is good value and the surrounding countryside is particularly lush.

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who's been there
Audley Travel specialist Ian

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Vientiane by calling one of our Laos specialists at 617-223-4110

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Map of Vientiane

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