Laos is a firm favourite on the backpacker trail, but its charming, historic capital, Vientiane, is often overlooked. Travellers tend to head for tourist hotspots along the Mekong River in search of adrenaline-pumping activities and guided tours. If you are putting an itinerary together for a personalised Laos holiday, it’s worth taking a day to explore the underrated capital of Vientiane. Although it may not attract attention in the guidebooks, there’s so much to see and you’ll fall in love with the laid-back vibe.
Vientiane is not a bustling metropolis like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh but it has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. The city has undergone something of a transformation in the last decade and it’s a chic and cosmopolitan place to be. Café culture is well and truly alive here and you won’t struggle to find fancy restaurants and boutiques. There isn’t a to-do list as such, as many of the historic landmarks were lost during the civil war, but the architecture that remains doesn’t disappoint. There’s a strong French influence and stunning villas line the banks of the river, offering beautiful views of the rippling water, especially at sunset.
For a capital city, the pace of life is enjoyably slow here and you won’t have to contend with crowds, traffic jams or continuous noise. A day of sightseeing is much more likely to involve ambling around the pretty coloured streets and enjoying local delicacies in a café on a tree-lined avenue than touring museums or trying to get a selfie in front of a monument. The historic quarter is perhaps the jewel in the crown of this quaint city and you’ll come across a stream of ornate temples, statues featuring river serpents and monks going about their daily business. Visiting the street markets, which tend to take place at night, is an experience, and you can buy exotic foods as well as all kinds of wares to take home with you, including hand-crafted ornaments and jewellery.
If you fancy immersing yourself in the culture while in Laos, take a trip to Laos National Museum. This attraction boasts an array of interesting, insightful exhibits about the turbulent history of the country.
The best way to get around Vientiane is on foot. The city is small yet perfectly formed, and it’s almost worth getting lost to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the experience at a languid pace.