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Many people are surprised that Vientiane is in fact a capital city as it exudes a relaxed atmosphere and small town charm. An eclectic mix of colonial-French buildings and ancient temples along with colorful markets characterizes Laos’ capital. It is possible to walk around the main areas of the centre in a morning, and unlike other capitals, the city's streets are often unpaved and dusty.
Vientiane does have a few sights worthy of note but the most enjoyable way to experience the city is to simply wander around, looking in on the markets and visiting some of the many temples where the resident monks will be delighted to chat. At dusk almost everyone heads to the banks of the Mekong River to watch the spectacular sunsets. There are many small bars along the riverbanks where visitors can gaze across to Thailand on the opposite side.
Laos retains some elements of its colonial heritage, despite the years of isolation from the rest of the world. One of the more agreeable legacies is the surprisingly high density of good restaurants and bars. Vientiane has international food to suit almost any palate and the spicy local delicacies are also popular.

Places of interest

Pha That Luang or Great Stupa is the most important national and religious monument in the country. This magnificent gilded structure was begun in 1566 by one of the nation’s most important rulers, King Setthathirat. The central stupa is enclosed in an imposing perimeter wall with cloisters on the inside, many adorned with Buddha images. Originally adorned with gold leaf, the main stupa has a brick core with a stucco layer on top. The whole structure was re-gilded in 1995 as part of the nation’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

When the French took control of the country in the late 19th century they set about totally re-designing Vientiane in the same style as the Indochinese capitals of Saigon and Phnom Penh. The wide boulevards lend themselves to monuments on a grand scale and one such is the Patuxai war memorial. It was decided in the late fifties that Lane Xang Avenue - dubbed the Champs Elysees of Vientiane - should be crowned with its own version of the Arc de Triomphe (Patuxai in Lao means Gateway of Victory).

The temple was originally built in 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha. The Lao monarchy used this temple for their prayer services until Siamese invaders destroyed it (and took off with the Emerald Buddha) in 1828. The temple’s main features are the cloister walls containing over 2,000 Buddha images made of silver and ceramics and some original murals in the ordination hall depicting Buddha’s life story.

Nam Ngum Lake is lies 80km to the north of Vientiane. The beautiful scenery over the Nam Ngum River and its green valley is enhanced by the presence of this spectacular lake, which is actually a man-made reservoir of a hydroelectric power dam, generating most of the electricity sold to Thailand. It is a rewarding experience to cruise around by motor-boat or spend the day or weekend at one of the bungalows or on the "floating restaurant boat" and enjoy the picturesque scenes of water, island, forest and fishing villages.

Originally the site of one of the city’s earliest temples, Vat Phrakeo is now a museum containing various religious and cultural artifacts. The most impressive displays are the Buddhist sculptures, some dating back over a thousand years.

Situated 25km outside the capital, Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park as it is better known is well worth a visit. This bizarre creation of Luang Pu, a yogi mystic contains a host of Hindu and Buddhist statues ranging from Shiva and Vishnu to the Buddha himself. The statues and sculptures come in all shapes and sizes, some even large enough to climb around.