If you have travelled to many of the large cities of Asia and come to Vientiane for the first time you will be surprised by the ‘’small town’’ feel of the Capital of Laos. The hectic bustle of other capitals of the region is completely absent in Vientiane and that is one of the beauties of Laos travel.After a day of sightseeing there is no better experience than walking down to the Mekong River and relaxing with a cold beer. This Vientiane Travel Guide aims to explain to travellers what the city has to offer, day and night, and how it will fit into Laos holiday packages.
Tourism has grown gradually over recent years but numbers remain far behind those travelling to neighbouring countries. It may change Vientiane though this Vientiane Travel Guide is not here to predict anything only to say that Laos and its capital is certain to continue to attract more and more people. There are already signs of change in building while the Presidential Palace has been upgraded and a brand new conference centre is a recent addition.
Laos suffered in the early 19th Century from Siamese invasion but once it became a French protectorate Vientiane developed and it is clear to see in the wide boulevards of Vientiane that the French left a positive legacy. Independence was granted in 1953 but there were several years of problems to follow, especially during the years of the Vietnam War. The bombing damage during that war was a less positive international influence but at least that is now history.
This Vientiane Travel Guide hopes to help you make the most of your time in the City and to that end suggests that you see the following things while you are there:
• Lao National Museum includes exhibits of the region’s early history, items from the 18th Century Laotian kingdom and then the struggles with the Siamese (Thais), French and finally the Americans.
• Patuxai is a smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe though personalised to present a Buddhist feel to the structure. Visitors can get an excellent view down over the city from the 7th floor.
• COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Visitor Centre explains more about the impact of problems during and after the Vietnam War when bombing had caused untold damage within the country to person and property.
• Kaysone Phomvihane Museum
• Lao People's Army History Museum
• Memorial of President Souphanouvong
• Wat Si Saket now signposted as Sisaket Museum was built in 1818, the oldest temple in the City.
• The Hophakaew Museum nearby was a former royal temple, once held the emerald Buddha which was taken by the Siamese and now resides in Bangkok. The Siamese destroyed the original structure and today’s was rebuilt in 1942.
When you read this Vientiane Travel Guide you are likely to be mindful of Laos tour packages as a whole and what you want to see throughout the Country. Luang Prabang probably offers the best temples in Laos so you may prefer to enjoy Vientiane’s other highlights, not least the famous Mekong River which flows from the Tibetan Plateau through several countries until it flows out into the East Sea in Vietnam. It is not navigable along its whole length but it is worth having a short cruise, even an hour or two, on this iconic river.
There is much for those interested in ecology and the environment to absorb. The National Protected Area of Phou Khao Khouay is close by; the wildlife may be difficult to see but there is stunning scenery including impressive waterfalls. There is a chance to see wild elephants at Ba Na and the orchid displays of Phou Khao Khouay are certainly worth seeing.
The Art of Silk run by Lao Women's Union offers traditional as well as modern silk designs for shoppers looking for nice souvenirs. The Morning Market is fun and travellers should always allow a couple of hours to see such markets; cotton products are certainly worth considering and if you see something you like be prepared to bargain. There are places where you can see weavers at work incidentally.
This Vientiane Travel Guide is not recommending particular restaurants or food stalls but if you are adventurous there are some Laotian delicacies such as crickets that you can sample in the food market. Noodle shops are everywhere and there are plenty of street snacks worth trying; rice pancakes, pork and bean sprouts in batter, meat on skewers, coconut based drinks and tea. The riverbank is a great place to dine and there are several restaurants offering a whole range of cuisine. In recent years there has been significant Chinese investment in Laos and that is reflected in the quality of Chinese restaurants.
Vientiane Travel Guide advice is worth following:
• Don’t drink tap water even if it has been boiled. There is plenty of bottled water available though it is of variable quality.
• While mosquitoes do not carry the malaria virus, there is the risk of dengue fever so insect repellent is an essential thing to carry, perhaps in a basic medical kit? The major risk is at dusk incidentally.
• Be careful where you swim. Just because locals are in the water and you are feeling hot, think before you jump in. Hotel pools are fine and some public pools as well.
• Avoid drugs at all times. The whole of South East Asia has no tolerance for their use.
Laos travel packages will always include a visit to Vientiane, the Country’s capital. There may not be the developed infrastructure in Laos to match some of its neighbours but in many ways that is part of its charm. There is evidence everywhere that the country has suffered in previous times yet the locals are resilient and very welcoming. It is important to show due respect to them and their culture and religion. Conservative dress is expected of all visitors that want to visit a religious site. Use your common sense and you are certain to enjoy Vientiane.