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A world of gilded towers, steamy cuisine, and lush jungle scenery is waiting for you on the banks of the Mekong River. A minor metropolis with a relaxed environment and traditional feel, the capital of Laos makes a great base for you to explore the wonders of southeast Asia. From marketplaces and cooking classes to Zen meditation and long-tail boats, you can take advantage of a wealth of things to do in Vientiane that bring the country's beauty and heritage to life.
The center of Vientiane lies around the Talat Sao marketplace, a modern shopping center surrounded by blocks of little shops that offer handicrafts, dry goods, and fresh food. You'll find the city's biggest cluster of hotels just to the southeast, while temples and historic landmarks to the southwest lie amid French colonial buildings on the way to the riverbank.
When you follow the city's main thoroughfare to the north, you're taken past a chain of embassies and museums to a neighborhood offering fine restaurants and cafes. An even livelier scene awaits you to the south along Tha Deua Road, where craft shops mingle with entertainment venues along the waterfront to form the heart of the city's nightlife.
A laid-back, uncrowded atmosphere helps to underscore the timeless feel of Vientiane's most beautiful sights. Check out the exquisite handiwork of 500-year-old temples like Wat Si Muang and Haw Phra Kaew, or mingle with the crowd of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures among the trees in Buddha Park. The towering golden stupa of Pha That Luang makes one of the grandest sights in Laos, and the immense triumphal arch of the Patuxai Victory Monument offers one of the best views in the city from the balconies atop its tower. And you can get another kind of perspective at the Lao National Museum, which holds a wealth of history in a colonial mansion built for the former French governor.
Vientiane's deceptively quiet setting puts you right in the middle of a whole world of relaxation and beauty, along with just the people to help you explore it. You can get a personal introduction to the city with a private tour to some of its most famous landmarks, or venture out into the country for a ride among the islands of Nam Ngum Lake aboard a classic long-tail boat. A trip upriver to the village of Vang Vieng lets you see monuments even older than those in the capital, along with the spectacular steep hills and flooded caves along the Nam Song River.
If you want to get to know the city a bit better, there's few easier ways to do it than by spending some time at the markets. Have a guide show you the vendors and stalls on a food tour that lets you try some of the best Laotian cooking, or get a personalized lesson to learn how to make your own, so you can spend your time in Vientiane the way life here was meant to be lived.