Vientiane is the petite and charming capital of Laos, more a town than a city and very quiet compared with Asian giants like Bangkok or Saigon. Located on the banks of the Mekong, Vientane has been the centre of political life in Laos since the 16th century. With its gentle, almost sleepy pace, and low-key attractions, it remains an easy-going introduction to the country. Cafe culture predominates and many visitors find themselves drawn to staying longer than expected.
The most important sights in Vientiane are its historic temples. Golden spired Wat That Luang is a symbol of the nation and a focus of celebration and worship on Buddhist days. Wat Pha Kaew is now a museum housing many of the most sacred Buddha images in Laos, including some pieces from neighbouring Cambodia and Burma.
Nearby Wat Sisaket has a unique collection of minature Buddhas kept in thousands of carved niches around the walls. It also has some fine 19th century painted murals depicting the life of the Buddha and beautiful floral motifs on the ceiling. Vientiane has its very own Arc de Triomphe known as Patuxai and built in the late 1960s using cement given by the US to build a military runway. Lying 24km beyond the city is Buddha Park, a riverside garden brimming with kitsch Buddhist sculpture.
Vientiane is such a lowrise city that views from the top are quite spectacular. Shopping is pretty limited in Vientiane, but for the best range of Lao products, most visitors head to the Morning Market which has pretty much everything that Laos produces.