The Mekong River, which flows through South East Asia, is one of the world’s great rivers. Along its banks are built major cities in a number of countries. One of these cities is Vientiane, capital of Laos.
As well as being a mighty river, the Mekong acts as a border for several countries, and Vientiane is located on a section of the river which borders Thailand. Once fairly isolated because of the magnitude of the river, once the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge was built in the 1990s trade with the outside world became much easier, and Vientiane’s economy began to grow as goods became more plentiful.
The city has had a chequered history and is now an interesting mix of Buddhist Temples and French colonial architecture, complete with wide boulevards, which is a legacy of French rule which lasted for about fifty years, until the end of World War II when the French were ejected and Laotian Civil War began which lasted about 30 years.
With a population of about 750,000 Vientiane is not an overly large city, which is part of its charm. With Buddhism being the most widely practised religion, the city is filled with many Buddhist temples and monuments, and even some temples that are the remnants of a Hindu past.
The gold-covered stupa Pha That Luang, which is located in the centre of the city, is regarded as the most important monument in Laos. It was originally erected as a Hindu Temple in the 3rd century, but has been a symbol of Buddhism since at least the 13th century, and has been rebuilt many times. The stupa is built on three levels, with each level conveying a different meaning of Buddhist doctrine. Adherents believe that the stupa contains a relic of the Buddha.
Another prominent monument is the Patuxai, which translates as `Victory Gate’ and is a stylised version of the Arc de Triomphe. Ironically, it was completed in 1968 to pay homage to those who fought from independence from France. You can climb the monument to enjoy great views over Laos. The Pauxai is surrounded by a park and a musical fountain entertains visitors.
Tourism has been slow to develop in Laos, but there is now a good range of hotels, of all standards for travellers, and the best was to get around town is by tuk-tuk, of which there are several types.
Laotian food is delicious, being similar to Thai and Vietnamese, with noodles and rice being the main staples, and prices at local restaurants being very reasonable.