Quite unlike any other capital in the Southeast Asian region, Vientiane is a city of quiet splendour and old-world allure, pervaded by a laid-back atmosphere reminiscent of smaller towns. It never fails to captivate those who visit white on Laos tours, with its beautiful temple complexes, sleepy streets and gorgeous views over the Mekong. Those who take some time to explore its charms will be glad they did – here are some of the wonders that await.
Dip Into History
Vientiane was once a vital, thriving city in the old Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. It became the capital in the 16th century, when its reputation as a political and spiritual centre spread far and wide and its temples were renowned for their beauty and Buddhist scholarship. Sadly, little was left after the city was sacked in 1828 during conflict with the Thais. It became the capital again under the French, and retained this status after the country became independent in 1953. While many of its most dramatic changes have taken place in the last few centuries, the city’s history spans a much greater length of time. The best place for those on Laos tours to get a good overview is the Lao National Museum, which tells the story of the country – and its capital – from prehistory to present.
Tour the Temples
Of the temples that graced Vientiane before it was ransacked, only Wat Sisaket remains. Built in 1818, it is home to a collection of beautiful murals illustrating the jataka tales (stories from the Buddha’s past lives) and hundreds of Buddha images in stone, wood, bronze and silver. It is certainly worthy of a place on itineraries for Laos tours, as are many of the newer temples. While no longer a functioning temple, Wat Pha Kaew is notable as a reconstruction of the former royal temple, originally built to house the Emerald Buddha that now resides in Bangkok. Wat Pha Kaew is now a museum of Buddhist art with particularly fine examples of traditional wood-carving. Many other temples have their own unique attractions – look out for Wat Si Muang, home to the city pillar, and Wat Onteu with its carved wooden doors.
Sit Back, Relax
Vientiane is one of those rare cities that seem to encourage the visitor to take it slow – and it rewards those who do. After seeing the sights, investigating the temples, and hunting for souvenirs in the Morning Market, be sure to set aside some of time on your Laos tours for a leisurely stroll along the Mekong. Enjoy a sundowner on the riverbank and a good meal in one of the excellent French or Laotian restaurants; or simply soak up the atmosphere and watch the world go by.