Vientiane, Laos’ very relaxed capital city, has changed in many ways since my last trip in 2008. Though still a very chilled and somewhat slow-moving place, the center is now bustling with a new well-off middle class, driving expensive cars and enjoying themselves in trendy restaurants. Looking at their menu it could be any place in Europe. A few years back it was mostly NGOs and government officials that frequented such places…
Tourism changed a lot as well. Of course you will find throngs of (young) Backpackers, who all congregate in the same area (around Th. Nokekoummane). But surprisingly, you now see a significant number of elder independent travelers (in their fifties or even sixties), as well as large groups going around in AC-buses, rushing from one tourist attraction to the other on their “Southeast Asia Highlights Two Week Tours”.
No matter what, Vientiane is full of highlights and well worth spending a few days discovering the city:
- Visit spectacular Wats – Do not expect to see them all: at every corner there is a magnificent Wat. Most of them can be visited free of charge. The most stunning ones to me were:
- Pha That Luang, Vientiane’s iconic Great Stupa
- Wat Si Saket, Vientiane’s oldest Wat, with its 1.000 small Bhuddas
- Wat Si Muang and its Emerald Bhudda
- Wat In Paeng and its artistic carvings.
- Pay your tribute to Kaysone Phomvihane, Laos First President, at his Memorial, a dive in the most pristine Communist Propaganda – very well researched and presented, though!
- Discover the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prothetic Enterprise) Visitor Center, and learn more about the horrible long term consequences of a war that never existed: during the Vietnam War, the USA relied on carpet bombing to cut the supply line of the Ho Chí Minh Trail that ran along the eastern part of the country bordering Vietnam. This made Laos the most heavily bombed country on this planet. With the many documentaries shown there, you can easily spend half a day.
- Enjoy great food, no matter what budget is… For cheap, great Lao food in a very pleasant outdoor setting, head to the Mekong River, upstream from the City Center. There, you find a mile of food stalls selling Lao specialties, from Grilled Mekong Fish to Lao Noodle Soups. If you want to splurge a little, you find a great number of excellent Lao Restaurants in the center, like the outstanding “Lao Kitchen” or the new “iPho” (amongst many others). And of course you have a large choice of (expensive) International Cuisine…
- Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the city… Vientiane is still a very quiet and relaxed capital city, reminding more of a large village … Even Tuk Tuk drivers are not (too) pushy!