Vientiane: A Capital Time Is Laos’ Number One City
Laos is a small, landlocked country sitting as it does, sandwiched in between Thailand and Vietnam. It also shares smaller borders with Myanmar, China and Cambodia. The French and more briefly the Japanese ruled Laos but it finally gained its independence in 1953. It’s population is made up of approximately 60% Lao with Mon-Khmer and hill tribe people making up the remaining 40%. Before I visited, I had long heard about the friendliness and hospitality of it’s people.
I went in order to sort my Thai visa requirements and took a bus from Bangkok on what was to prove an 11 hour overnight journey. We arrived at the Thai side of the Laos border at about 5 am and had to wait until 6 am for it to open. It seemed a little odd to my western mind, to wander about aimless for an hour whilst waiting for the security guard in his hut to simply lift a barrier. Such is life in South East Asia.
Eventually we were allowed through, but had to leave our bus and get a shuttle bus across The Friendship Bridge which spans the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos. As in Thailand traffic on the bridge drives on the left, but Laos due to its French past drives on the right and a set of traffic lights facilitates the change. On the Laos side we passed through immigration without incident and for some reason had to change into small minibuses for the next part of the journey. These drove like lunatics and in one very hairy moment we were on two wheels and very nearly turned over.
Eventually we arrived at our Hotel to the south of the city of Vientiane. We showered and decided to go straight into town to have a look round. Vientiane is the capital of Laos and has a population of three quarters of a million. It was host to the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, an achievement that gave the people of Laos great pride.
Evidence of French colonialism is everywhere and the beautiful restaurant lined square in the middle of town could easily be in a Mediterranean town in the south of France. We ate here at a different restaurant on each night of our stay, none disappointed and the atmosphere is extremely convivial. Laos feels incredibly safe and walking around my own at night I never felt threatened at all. After a few beers and good food I walked the 2 or 3 miles back to the hotel.
Vientiane is an open spaced low rise City where wide roads and small parks lend a very relaxed feel to your stay. Buddhist Temples abound and are well worth visiting. The Buddha Park is an extremely pleasant and peaceful place to spend a few hours. Many Buddhist statues and sculptures are scattered around beautiful gardens and trees.
Laos enjoys healthy tourism because of its many temples and stupas, the most famous being Pha That Luang, this golden stupa was lovingly restored in 1953. It is considered to be of great importance. Many other important sites are in evidence everywhere around the town, giving tourists many places of interest and opportunities for photography.
The Laos people are among the most friendly I have ever met and Vientiane is a very special place. I would recommend it to anyone.