Vientiane delivers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong. Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back.
The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. There are plenty of things to do after dark and bars cater to all tastes from backpacker beer haunts to elegant cocktail lounges. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or by hiring a song-teow. The countryside is never far away, with rice paddies providing a backdrop to most streets. Culture buffs should make the Laos National Museum their first stop.
When in Laos, do as the Laos do and the slow the pace right down. A common joke is that acronym PDF (Peoples Democratic Republic) actually stands for ‘Please Slow Down’. A word of warning to the anally punctual, the country is decidedly laid back and some visitors may mistake this for a lack of ambition or impolitesse but regardless, it's best not to expect things to run like clockwork.
With a population of just over half a million, Vientiane is the centre of Laos culture, commerce and administration and is considered as being mad busy in comparison with the other Laotian urban conglomerations. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane, like many Southeast Asian cities, is a place of contrast.
Rice and vegetable fields are well hidden behind tree-lined pathways, where French-style buildings stand next to Buddhist monasteries and monuments, each telling a story of the country's rich, cultural and somewhat troubled past. Less than 5% of the soil is farmable yet 80% of the population works in agriculture and this pretty much sums up the employment-and-class balance within the country. Rebuilt by the French after the Siamese army left it in virtual ruins in 1828, the city does not feature French-style architecture as prominently as say Saigon or Phnom Penh. But the local penchant for producing stomach-filling baguettes and fragrant coffee clearly shows that the influence of the French still lingers on.
The central boulevard is reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, another telling sign of the city's French heritage. Vientiane is relatively small so moving around can de done with ease. Accessing sights such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang and Buddha Park, can be done by hiring a song-teow, a pushbike or even going on foot. As for dining out; fringing the Mekong River there are an abundance of inexpensive food choices with everything from Indian, Thai, French, and Mediterranean readily available.