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Laos’s capital combines French-colonial architecture with Buddhist temples, while its cuisine blends local produce with Gallic technique. Imogen Lepere drinks it all in

Travel Time 14hrs 10min

Why go?

Historically known as the ‘City of Sandalwood’, Vientiane is one of Asia’s sleepiest capitals, which is key to its charm. With 200,000 residents, it’s a city of bicycles and bakeries, where laundry billows over French colonial boulevards and older residents tell tales of the Secret War of the 1960s, when the streets were home to American and Vietnamese spies. The pace of life ambles along as gently as the Mekong River, which separates Vientiane from Thailand and provides a setting for iced coffees in waterfront cafés, plus a breezy spot from which to enjoy January’s 28C highs.

What to do

Several of the city’s most interesting curiosities are located within the Ban Anou District. Start at Wat Si Saket Lan Xang Road, Laos’s star temple, which conceals thousands of carved Buddha statues in its marble folds. The nearby That Dam stupa Rue Samsenthai dates back to the 16th century, making it the oldest in Vientiane – many locals believe it is guarded by a seven-headed naga (dragon). Continue on down Avenue Lane Xang until you reach the Patuxai Monument, which looks suspiciously like Paris’s Arc de Triomphe and boasts 360-degree views from the top. Look out for engraved lotus leaves and kinnari (half-bird, half-woman figures) as you climb. Take a tuk-tuk (a cheap and easy way to travel around here) to the Xaysetha District, where the glittering spires of Pha That Luang shimmer through the heat. It’s the country’s holiest temple and is believed to contain a fragment of the Buddha, though the jury is out on whether it’s his breastbone or hair. For modern and incredibly moving history, visit the exhibition at charity COPE on Khouvieng Road to witness inspiring stories from those who survived the US attacks of the late Sixties and Seventies. A little outside the centre, near a pretty lake, the Lao Textile Museum Ban Nongtha Tai unravels the region’s silk-weaving artistry through a beautiful private collection.

Where to stay

Like many things in the city, Vientiane’s boutique hotels are steeped in colonial nostalgia, both historic and cultivated. A second-generation bolthole set a few metres back from the Mekong, Hôtel Khamvongsa 00 856 21 223 257, is named after the current owner’s mother. With air conditioning, tiled floors and dark-wood furniture, it strikes the right balance between characterful, comfortable and great value. Luxuriously restored by its original French owners after a stint as a government housing facility, the Settha Palace Hotel 00 856 21 217 581, is the city’s most graceful while Green Park 00 856 21 264 097 has a lovely garden swimming pool. At the more modern end of the spectrum, Salana Boutique Hotel 00 856 21 254 254, is centrally located and renowned for its attentive service.

Where to eat and drink

Nestled away down a shadowy alley that leads nowhere, Kung’s Café off Rue Simeuang is a local favourite. Tuck into homely soups and drink coffee from the Bolaven Plateau beneath a canopy of gourds, ferns and baskets of exotic fruit. For something more formal, Bistro 22 Samsenthai Road, 00 856 21 214 129 is an elegant echo of the 60 years of French rule that lasted until 1954. Menus fuse creamy French sauces with local ingredients such as Beerlao beer. A charming pit stop that combines well with a visit to nearby Wat Ong Teu, Pha Khao Lao 00 856 20 77 517 272 is a rambling terrace restaurant shaded by exotic greenery. Don’t miss duck larb (minced meat salad) topped with toasted rice powder. From 5pm, Ban Anou Night Market sees Khoun Boulom Road flooded with stalls selling kai yang (grilled chicken), moo ping (pork on skewers) and bowls of steaming klao niaw sticky rice. Supper here is a rite of passage. For cold beer by the litre, head to M-Park Ban Mixay, a street-food concept that wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch. The next morning, boutique roaster Le Trio Coffee Rue Setthathirat has you covered.

Time running out?

Catch the No.14 bus to Buddha Park, which boasts 200 sculptures by monk and artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Lao kip (LAK). The time is 7 hours ahead of GMT. Flight time from London is around 14 hours.

Getting There

Thai Airways offers flights from London Heathrow, via Bangkok, to Wattay International Airport.

Vietnam Airlines flies regularly from Heathrow to Vientiane with a layover in Hanoi, Vietnam.


Laos Tourism is the official tourist board and its website offers plenty of sightseeing inspiration and handy tips.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp172022252525252525232117
Max Temp283032333231313031302927

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