Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vientiane Travel Fish Description

The Laos capital of Vientiane sits on the northern bank

of the Mekong River facing across to the even sleepier

Thai town of Sri Chiang Mai. For many visitors,

Vientiane provides the first taste of Lao food, culture

and hospitality, and it does not disappoint on any count.

Actually pronounced Wiang Jan and translated as City

of Sandalwood, the modern name of Vientiane comes

courtesy of a bastardised French transliteration. Wiang

actually means "fort" (City of Sandalwood sounds better

than Fort... ) but by all accounts it mustn't have been

much of a stronghold, as the original city was overrun

on a number of occasions by the Burmese and Chinese,

and absolutely flattened by the Siamese (Thais) in 1828,

after which the city was abandoned and left to the


This is one reason why many of the wats in the city are

of a relatively young age, and if the road layout strikes

you as an inspired affair, thank the French for it -- they

laid the whole place out when they oversaw the

rebuilding of the city from the turn of the 19th to 20th


Like many French colonial cities, Vientiane is

characterised by broad, often leafy boulevards and

rundown, creaking colonial mansions. Dotted with rustic

wats surrounded by coconut palms and a generally

sedentary pace of life as well and the allure of the place

can be well understood.

Indeed it's only since the early 1990s that the city has

really started to develop. While it's a shame that the first

waves of (largely Thai) investors that hit landlocked

Laos brought with them the concrete egg-carton style

architecture that litters so much. The sunsets here are simply sublime.

For a capital, Vientiane isn't exactly overloaded with

museums and sights, but in a way that's part of the

attraction. Slow down to Lao speed -- hire a bicycle;

see one or two things a day; spend a lot of time

snacking and quenching your thirst by the river. You'll

grow to appreciate the attraction of the place.

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