The city was founded by King Setthathirat who decided to relocate his capital here in the early 1560s. The city was ransacked by the Siamese in 1827 and was abandoned for decades until the French commenced reconstruction at the end of the 19th century.
Not surprisingly, most of the interesting buildings in Vientiane are of religious significance. Preeminent among these is That Luang, the holiest Buddhist monument in the country. Its golden spire dominates the skyline northeast of the city.
According to legend, a stupa was first built here in the third century AD to house the breast bone of the Buddha. The present monument was built in 1566 by King Setthathirat and has been much restored and rebuilt since then. The other key sight is Wat Phra Kaeo, built by King Setthathirat to house the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok). The building displays a superb assortment of Lao and Khmer art, mostly collected from other wats in Vientiane.
There are plenty of short trips from Vientiane, ranging from the popular backpacker hotspot of Vang Vieng, which offers kayaking, caving and rock climbing, through to the stunning Phou Khao Khouay National Park and the Nam Ngum dam.