For a capital city, Vientiane is perhaps surprisingly quaint. French colonial buildings sit side by side with Buddhist temples, and the city has a pleasant laid-back atmosphere. People have been settled on this point on the Mekong since the 9th century, although Vientiane did not become the capital of Laos (then called Lan Xang) until the middle of the 16th century.
Political turbulence has had a huge impact on Vientiane across the centuries. The city has been invaded numerous times by the Chinese, Khmer (Cambodian), Vietnamese, Burmese and Siamese (Thai). In the 19th century, Siam placed Chao Anou on the Laos throne, who although was a prince in the Laos royal family, had been raised in Bangkok. However Chao Anou stayed true to his roots, and in 1826 launched a rebellion against Siam in order to win Laos independence. Sadly, the rebellion was futile, and Chao Anou was defeated, with Viantiane practically destroyed by the Siam army in 1828.
During his reign, Chao Anou built many temples in the city. Whilst most were destroyed, Wat Si Saket remained standing, and this is now one of the city's most visited temples, decorated with thousands of Buddha statues. Another key site is Pha That Luang, a stupa covered in gold and revered as the most important religious building in the country.
Vientiane’s more modern architecture reflects the country’s varied rulers, occupiers and political partners over the last century or so. The French first came to Laos in 1867, and towards the turn of the century Vientiane was named as one of the capitals of French Indochina, with a number of colonial buildings being constructed. Within the capital there are also a number of Soviet-inspired buildings, from when Laos joined the communist regime in the 70s.
Vientiane is very easy to explore on foot. There are a variety of excellent restaurants, and the Ban Anou Night Market is a good spot to try local specialities.