An unusually delicate, temple-strewn capital sat on the banks of the Mekong, Vientiane goes totally against the grain of Asian capitals, being a slow-paced, relaxing kind of spot where you might want to hang around for more than just the tourist attractions.
Home to hoards of ornate wats (temples) and littered with tuk tuks and bigger jumbos (careful, they’ll take you for a ride in more than one way given half the chance), tourists spend days in Vientiane drifting out to the incredible out of town Buddha Park, or exploring the national symbol of Laos, the golden-spiked Pha That Luang. In the evenings, a glass or two of the local brew overlooking the Mekong and a quick walk around one of the cities night markets is the order of the day, before retiring to the rustic backpacker hostels or exploring one of the city’s two clubs.
The best souvenirs to grab hold of are usually textiles (silk is a particularly good bargain if you have a use for it), while you can gather with monks for an informal chat once a month or indulge in a wide variety of Lao Massage centers (which tend to be more innocent than their Thai counterparts).
One local quirk to be aware of is that any kind of sexual relationship with a local to whom you are not married is an illegal offence in Laos. At the very least you’ll find yourself with a hefty fine (in the region $5,000), and even if your partner’s willing to be discreet it’s probably not worth the risk. There are a handful of other risks, too: bag snatching and (far worse) missing drain covers on the sidewalks are all things foreign visitors have to get used to.
It’s all part of spending time in an Asian capital, though, and makes the experience all the more memorable and worthy of a jealousy-inducing postcard or two. Vientiane has its more lively sides, but all in all it’s a far more pleasant experience than those of Bangkok and Phnom Penh, being both picturesque and most a whole lot of good, innocent fun.