Located on a curve of the Mekong River, Vientiane Capital has a recorded history that stretches back to around 1,000 AD. The area was originally settled because of the fertility of the surrounding alluvial plains, and Vientiane became the capital city of Laos around the mid-16th century.
Vientiane Capital is the home to the most significant national monument in Laos: That Luang (Great Stupa), which is the symbol of Lao and an icon of Buddhism in Laos. Of the many beautiful Wats in Vientiane, a visit to Wat Sisaket is a must; built in 1818, this is one of the oldest temples in Vientiane. Other Buddhist holy places are Wat Ong Teu Mahavihan, known for its 16th century bronze Buddha sheltered by a carved wooden masterpiece, and Wat Si Meuang, the site of the Lak Meuang or pillar-stone of Vientiane. Wat Si Meuang is also home to the guardian spirit of the city. Hor Phakeo, across the street from Wat Sisaket houses a beautiful collection of Buddha statues, including traditional Lao style of the “Calling for Rain” and “Offering Protection”. Spend a morning in the Lao National Museum, which displays an interesting mixture of revolutionary and contemporary exhibitions. The main sights in Vientiane are only a short walk or bicycle ride from most hotels. Wat Xieng Khouan, better known as theBuddha Park should not be missed: take a tuk-tuk to this unique park that includes Buddhist and Hindu. Shopping for handicrafts is easy in Vientiane Capital; visit Talat Sao (morning market) for a wide range of colourful textiles including silks, wall-hangings and other decorative pieces. For very fine handicrafts, try one of the many upscale galleries in the city center. Keep your eyes open for traditional wood carvings, mulberry paper and a variety of basketry made from bamboo and rattan.
When you get hungry try the nation’s signature dish, tam mak-hung (spicy green papaya salad). laap (spicy minced meat salad) and ping kai(fried chicken). For its size, Vientiane Capital is surprisingly multicultural and has excellent French, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants that serve both Lao and specialty dishes. Quench your thirst with a refreshing Beer Lao or fresh fruit shake from one of the many small restaurants found along almost every street in town. At dusk, find a spot along the Mekong promenade to enjoy an amazing view of the sunset over the river.
The largest fair, Boun Pha That Luang, is held in Vientiane Capital around mid-November each year. Celebrations begin at Wat Si Muang followed by a procession to That Luang. Festivities last a full week, ending in fireworks on the last night, which coincides with the full moon. In mid-October, the riverbank overflows with spectators watching the annual boat races. Boun Ok Phansa or the last day of Buddhist Lent precedes the boat races by one day. In the evening of Boun Ok Phansa, Lao people prepare small banana leaf boats called heua fai and set them afloat on the Mekong illuminated by candles and incense in a charming ceremony meant to bring good luck and prosperity.
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