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Snuggled in a curve of the Mekong, Vientiane is, perhaps, the most charming of all South-east Asia’s capital cities. Cut off from the outside world for much of the modern period, its fusion of South-east Asian and French colonial culture remains largely intact. While the last few years have brought greater bustle and activity, it is still a small, quiet city where colourful tuk-tuks scuttle along tree-lined boulevards, past Buddhist temples and cosmopolitan cafés; hammer-and-sickle flags hang at 10-pin bowling discos, and green and pink chickens wander the streets.
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.Read more
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.