Introduction to Vientiane

As the economic and cultural hub of Laos, hugging close on the border with Thailand, Vientiane offers a little-explored capital city in the heart of Southeast Asia. Humid most of the year, with a rainy season that is particularly wet, the best time to visit would be November through March. From April on, monsoons set in and cause havoc country-wide. Dry season is hot but free of rain, thus allowing a comfortable visit.

Vientiane is a bizarre-sounding name, if you’re coming from the western hemisphere. It literally means ‘city of sandalwood’. Thanks to the French, who occupied Laos during their attempt to retain colonial control after WWII, the Romanized spelling is not quite close to the actual pronunciation, which would be more like ‘Wiangchan.’

Vientiane hugs to Mekong River closely, the high sun penetrating the surface and making it a warm flow. The history of this city dates back to 900AD. The influential Laotian epic, the Phra Lak Phra Lam, describes the origins of the city. The most famous piece of literature in the country, you might very well get into conversations about it over a strong tea with a passionate Laotian man. It states that a prince founded the city as commanded by a seven-headed Naga.

However, historians believe it was the Khmer people who first set up shop here. In either case, the history of the city is evident in the architecture. The localized conflicts from the 16th to the 19th century saw control of the city move from one invader to another between Khmer and Laotian, eventually landing in French hands at the end of the 19th century. The colonial architecture of the rebuilt buildings is beautiful. Strong Buddhist tradition is also evident in the temples and monasteries one finds here, despite the fact that the city had been invaded and looted several times, from ancient battles all the way to the Laotian Civil War in the 1960s.

There are many things to see and do including visiting temples, walking the wide avenues, eating new gastronomic delights in the bustling markets, and strolling in awesome tailored parks. The city is teeming with life, especially since its recent economic boom brought on by heightened foreign investment. Motorcycles and scooters are a common buzzing sight. Taxis are available to get you from A to B, but the city is small and finding a bicycle or walking are optimal choices.

Vientiane is perfectly located for the traveller, since only 18 kilometers away lies the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, the major crossing between the two countries. Buses offer the main form of domestic travel, and if you hold off your trip for a few years, you will arrive just when the high-speed railway link between this lovely capital city and China will be completed

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