If you want to get your feet wet in Southeast Asia, this is the capital to do it in. Small, welcoming and easy to get around, the multicultural city offers a wide variety of activities and sightseeing opportunities, as well as great food — from street stalls to fine dining, shopping and culture.
Where to sleep
Twelve rooms and two suites are artfully decorated and well-appointed at Ansara Hotel. Rates (from $125) include breakfast, Wi-Fi, daily housekeeping, and (a big bonus for us) all rooms have a balcony.
If you're looking for a stay on a budget, the Vayakorn Guesthouse offers big, bright, clean rooms with large desks, mini fridge, complimentary water daily and Wi-Fi all for around $30 for a double.
A great mid-range option is the charming Mali Namphu Guesthouse. Rates (around $45), include breakfast in the intimate courtyard, Wi-Fi is free (there are also computers for guests to use) and the location can't be beat.
Where to eat
Quick tip: Baguette sandwiches are also popular and cheap. Grab one to go from one of the many carts making sandwiches to order.
You not only see the French influence on Vientiane in the architecture and aforementioned baguettes, but in the dining scene, too. Stop in at L'Adresse de Tinay for an elegant (and authentic) French meal.
For a meal featuring more local favorites, add Douang Deuane Restaurant & Wine Bar to your list of places to eat (Th Francois Nginn, (021) 241154). The popular, often-bustling spot features both local and western dishes at affordable prices.
If you're in the mood for Italian, we suggest grabbing a table at Aria Italian Culinary Arts (don't miss the wood-oven pizza). The flavors are fresh, clean and bright and service is friendly and inviting.
If you just want to cool off or need a midafternoon pick-me-up, juice bars abound. We were partial to the mango or orange shakes, but the flavor combinations are endless — and exotic. A great wake-up shake is the banana-coffee smoothie. Try Delight House of Fruit Shake (Th Samsenthai, (021) 212200).
What to do
For a truly wow-worthy experience, the Buddha Park (or Xiang Khouan) is a must-see. Giant, other-worldly statues tower over sightseers as they wander in awe through the grounds. Hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu statues are scattered around a meadow for a kind-of Alice-in-Wonderland feel. Ask any tuk-tuk driver to take you.
Take a stroll to the Victory Monument (or Patuxai), Laos' answer to the Arc de Triomph. It's quite stunning from afar and, while not quite as polished up close, still worth a look. Get there early if you want some photos that don't include other sightseers. You can also climb up for an aerial view of the city.
Check out Wat Si Saket, a must-see temple and Vientiane's oldest surviving monastery. It features more than 6,000 Buddha images and the grounds are peaceful.
Get up early and make a stop at Talet Sao, the morning market, for a glimpse into local life. Shop or browse for anything from produce to textiles to jewelry.
Simply walking around the city is a great way to experience Vientiane. Opportunities for eating, shopping and drinking abound, and the city is small enough to cover a lot of ground on foot.
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