The capital of Laos is booming. Driven by rising foreign investment, plenty of foreign aid workers and more urbane youth, change is coming as quickly as in any city in Asia. However, even with all this dynamism you won’t see words like ‘hustle’ and ‘bustle’ being used to describe Vientiane, which can still mount a strong argument for being the most relaxed capital city on earth.
Vientiane means ‘Sandalwood city’ and is actually pronounced Viang Chan (Viang means ‘city’ or ‘place with walls’ in Lao, Chan means ‘sandalwood’); the French are responsible for the modern transliteration. The combination of tree-lined boulevards and dozens of temples impart an atmosphere of timelessness, while the kaleidoscopic architectural styles reflect its historic influences, from classic Lao through Thai, Chinese, French, US and Soviet.
As Laos continues to open itself to the world, Vientiane is where the struggle between a communist past inevitably more capitalist future is most dramatically played out. Lao bands sing lyrics censored by the government to dancing youths who would look at home in any western bar. The Laos National Museum still has displays glorifying the victory over capitalist foreign imperialists, but across the road another slick restaurant opens in what is becoming one of the best valued dining cities on earth The contrasts are fascinating.
Of course, Vientiane is not only about witnessing change. The 6400 Buddha at Wat Si Saket the religious art of Haw Pha Kaeo, and the lotus-inspired lines of Laos’s gilded national symbol, Pha That Luang, speak of the historical importance of the city. Patuxai and the surreal Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park) may have less artistic merit, but like the city itself, they’re not sort of appeal.
• Gaze up at the tapered golden stupa of the Pha That Luang, the symbol of Laos nationhood
• Chech out the concrete folly that is Xieng Khuan, the bizarre park full of dozens of giaint Buddist and Hindu sculptures
• Treat yourself to a traditional herbal sauna and massage at Vietinane’s Wat Sok Pa Luang
Enjoy a night out, Lao-style, at on the rock pub and Marina
• Tube, climb, raft, kayak, cycle or walk through the rivers and imposing limestone karst around Viang Vieng
• Catch a glimpse of wild elephants from the elephant observation tower at the Phu Khao Khuay NPA
Wat Si Saket
Tags: Vientiane Travel Guide