Laos’s principal city is barely recognisable as an Asian capital, and this is a great part of its charm. Weathered, leafy villas; dusty streets; a central business district of just a few blocks where highrise has yet to arrive; the angles and curves of temple roofs above the canopy of palms; and the lazy flow of the Mekong … all are memorable features of a visit to Vientiane with TUI.
This city of less than a quarter of a million people has many beautiful and fascinating sites. The early 19th Century Wat Si Saket, strongly Siamese influenced, contains thousands of tiny Buddha images in its cloister walls, and many larger images, and beautiful murals cover the walls of the sim (ordination hall). Almost opposite, the Haw Pha Kaew is a former temple of the Lao kings which now houses the country’s premier collection of historical and religious artifacts: bronze and stone Buddha images in various styles and classic poses, some dating back over 1500 years, and other bronzes, stone and timber carvings of royalty and Buddhism.
We climb the Arc de Triumph-style Patuxai monument for views over the city and Mekong, and wander the city’s famous market with its fabulous array of Lao silk weavings. Perhaps the most striking of the city’s landmarks is the 16th Century Pha That Luang or Great Stupa, a glittering gold tower that symbolizes the historical power of both religion and the monarchy in Lao culture.
Any day of exploration in Vientiane should end at its wonderful evening meeting point: the banks of the Mekong on Thanon Fa Ngum, with sunset, a cool beer, and for the acclimatised palate a plate of spicy som taam (green papaya salad).