Laos is a sleepy little Southeast Asian country, and Vientiane, its capital, is without a doubt one of the slowest moving, sleepiest towns in the world. Nothing moves fast in Vientiane, not even the wind; making it the perfect place for a traveler who just wants to kick back and relax.
Located on the Mekong River, Vientiane, with a population of just under 750,000 (nearly half the total population of the country), despite being under a Communist government, is a relatively warm and welcoming port of call. In addition to having most of the country’s population, it has most of the vehicles as well, but you will only encounter a traffic jam is if a truck of produce tips over on one of the narrow streets. What traffic there is moves slowly, and it is not at all unusual to stand on a corner for up to an hour and never see a car.
The meaning of the city’s name is unclear, with some saying it means “City of Sandalwood,” while others say it means “City of the Moon.” The current spelling of the name comes inability to pronounce the hard “ch” sound the way it’s pronounced by the Lao themselves. The average Lao calls the city “Viangchan” or “Wiangchan.” During the Vietnam War, hundreds of Americans served in Vientiane and other areas of the country as the US unsuccessfully tried to help the Royal Lao government fight off the Pathet Lao communist forces. Despite Americans being on the ‘wrong’ side of the struggle which the Pathet Lao won, there doesn’t seem to be any animosity against Americans who visit the country. In fact, a large number of American expats live in Vientiane with their Laotian spouses.
Things to See and Do
Vientiane doesn’t have as many Buddhist temples as Luang Prabang, nor does it have the fantastic mountain scenery of the southeastern and northern parts of the country, but it is nonetheless a beautiful place, where modernity has intruded only minimally. Many buildings from the French colonial period, especially government buildings, are still in active use, and sights like Haw Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Buddha sculptures at Pha That Luang are worth a visit. These are just a few of the interesting an picturesque sights in Vientiane, but it’s far better to be surprised than to know all there is to see in advance.
While it can be hot in the summer months, with April and May being the hottest, the temperatures are mild the rest of the year, making it ideal for hiking and sightseeing. The Lao are among the most mild-mannered people in Asia, and greet everyone with a smile.
Where to Stay
There are a number of hotels in Vientiane, from extremely pricey to low-budget local inns. For the first time visitor, though, I strongly recommend the familiarity of the Best Western franchise located not far from city center.
Best Western Vientiane Hotel
2-12 Francois Nginn Street, Ban Mixay