Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and the nation’s capital. It has been the capital since 1560 and home to the Royal Family since the communist takeover in 1975. It is a delightful place, more of a sleepy village than a thriving capital. The drive to commercial success has almost happened unnoticed as the old crumbling French colonial villas and Russian art deco structures share the space with ancient temples whose towering golden stupas reach for the sky. Vientiane has broad palm-lined avenues and a heady mix of swish cocktail bars, delightful restaurants and shanty town type eateries serving exquisite food made in seemingly impossible conditions.
The town square is surrounded by fabulous restaurants presenting the look and feel of a Mediterranean resort. The atmosphere here in the evenings is rather special, as holiday makers and the local well to do, sit at tables on al fresco terraces, eating fantastic food and enjoying wine or a cold Beer Lao, thought by most to be the best beer in Asia.
Two and a half miles to the north east of the city lies, Pha That Luang, a truly superb stupa covered in tonnes of gold. It is the National Emblem of Laos. It has had a torrid history since being built in 1566, having been plundered and destroyed by the Burmese, the Siamese, the Chinese and lastly the Thais. However it was finally restored to its true glory and is worthy of inclusion in any holiday itinerary.
Patuxai is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. From the top one gets superb views of the city. It was built from concrete that was originally designated for a new runway at the airport. A plaque on its wall describes it as a monster of concrete. It has earned the local nickname, the vertical runway.
The city though remains, one of the highlights of Indochina. Its a soothing gentle place to visit and a stroll along the river at twilight will leave memories that linger long after the sun has gone down.