by Andy Khong
Nestled along the banks of the majestic Mekong River, Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a city that exudes a unique blend of tradition and modernity. Often overlooked by travelers in favour of its more famous south-east Asian neighbours, Vientiane has a lot to offer for those who take the time to explore its hidden treasures. In this guide, we’ll take you through all you need to know about Vientiane, from its rich history and cultural attractions to its delectable cuisine and welcoming atmosphere, with the aim of encouraging you to plan your visit to this charming city.
Why visit Vientiane?
- History and Culture
Vientiane has a rich history that dates back to the 9th century, when it was a small Khmer trading post. It became the capital of Laos in the mid-16th century and was heavily influenced by both the French during the colonial period and its neighbouring countries, Thailand and Vietnam. This cultural tapestry is evident in the city’s architecture, food, and way of life. Key historical and cultural sites include:
- Pha That Luang: The national symbol of Laos, this grand golden stupa is a significant religious and cultural monument.
- Wat Si Saket: One of the oldest temples in Vientiane, this temple houses thousands of Buddha images.
- Patuxai: Often referred to as the “Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane“, this monument offers a panoramic view of the city from the top.
- COPE Visitor Centre: Learn about the impact of unexploded ordnance on the people of Laos and the efforts to provide support.
- Cuisine of Vientiane
Laotian cuisine is a hidden gem in the culinary world, and Vientiane is the perfect place to indulge in its delightful flavours. Lao cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, vibrant flavours, and the famous sticky rice. Must-try dishes include:
- Larb: A minced meat salad, often made with chicken or fish, mixed with fresh herbs and spices.
- Tam Mak Houng: A spicy green papaya salad with flavours that burst in your mouth.
- Khao Niaw: Sticky rice served in bamboo containers, often enjoyed with dipping sauces and grilled meats.
3. Mok Pla: A delectable fish dish, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with herbs and spices.
4. Natural Beauty
Vientiane offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of larger cities. The Mekong River, with its breath-taking sunsets, is perfect for a leisurely stroll, and nearby parks like Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) and Phou Khao Khouay National Park are ideal for nature lovers and hikers.
5. A Friendly and Laid-Back Atmosphere
One of the most endearing aspects of Vientiane is the relaxed pace of life and the warmth of its people. The city retains a small-town charm, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a peaceful and unhurried vacation. The locals, known as “Lao people,” are renowned for their friendly and welcoming nature.
6. Affordable Travel
Compared to many other south-east Asian destinations, Vientiane is a budget-friendly option for travellers. Accommodations, food, and transportation are reasonably priced, allowing you to enjoy your stay without breaking the bank.
Vientiane is a city that deserves to be explored and experienced. Its rich history, vibrant culture, mouth-watering cuisine, and relaxed atmosphere make it a unique and unforgettable destination in south-east Asia. Whether you’re interested in exploring temples, tasting exotic foods, or simply savouring the peace and tranquillity of the Mekong River, Vientiane has something for every traveller. So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to this enchanting city, and discover the hidden charms that make Vientiane an absolute must-visit destination.
Articles of interest:
Luang Prabang – well preserved UNESCO townscape
Plain of Jars – enigmatic plains
Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands)
Pakse – where time slows down
This is a sample of YPT’s South-East Asia Tours 2024. To view future tours to South-East Asia, go here.