Vientiane is both backwater and a national capital, with French colonial mansions, a thriving international food scene and sleepy outlying villages on the riverside. It’s the administrative seat of Lao PDR, home to several embassies, the presidential palace and important facilities like the post office, bus station and Laos’ best hospitals.
Hotels in Vientiane vary, with rooms suitable both for backpackers and foreign government officials. Tourists typically use Vientiane as a transport hub or a visa depot. The city center is cut by tree-lined boulevards with Lane Xang at the center. First-time visitors would be forgiven for taking a seat in a comfortable restaurant like Joma Bakery Café without realizing they’re in the center of the nation’s capital.
But on second inspection, Vientiane’s capital touches become more apparent. The Patuxai monument resembles Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, and national institutes like the National Cultural Hall, Lao National Museum and National Stadium point to the city’s importance. Some of the best restaurants and hotels in Vientiane are around Nam Phou Fountain. Khop Chai Deu is one of these, known for live music and a traditional menu.
French influence is pronounced in Vientiane, but this is also a great place to explore Laotian culture. Visitors get an inside perspective on local life while dining on Laotian cuisine at Moon the Night restaurant, haggling for silk at Talad Sao (Morning Market) or stopping by 19th-century temples like Wat Si Meuang, Wat Sisaket , Wat Chan and Wat That Khao. Other worthwhile temples are That Luang, Wat That Foun and That Dam. Ho Phakeo, once the home of the Emerald Buddha, is perhaps the most cherished religious site in Vientiane.
While international tourists don't tend to stay long in Vientiane, Thai and Laotian visitors frequently come for weekend holidays. Dining along the Mekong at sunset is a must for all visitors – local must-try food includes seafood from the Mekong, baguettes, and dishes such as laab and sticky rice.