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Former French trading post Vientiane has a continental flavour and a nostalgic feel, especially in its ornate Old Quarter. In fact, the laid-back capital of Laos is said to be one of the last in the world without any Western fast-food chains. What it does have, however, is a quirky independent café scene, sumptuous spas scented by fragrant oils and streets dotted with ornate temples.
Vientiane hostels are an eclectic mix. Choose a 1920s-themed spot decorated in artefacts from the period, or settle into a space with New York loft-inspired design. There's even a high-rise capsule hotel with curtained pod beds. Places with leafy gardens and chilled common areas feel restful, echoing the vibe of this sleepy city. They're stellar spots for getting to know other travellers, too. To enjoy excellent drip coffee alongside local Laotian delicacies like sticky rice and bamboo-roasted coconut, seek out a Vientiane hostel with its own café.
A lot of the action in this city is centred on the mighty Mekong River, around Ban Anou and Watchan where the night market's found. Beung Kha-Ngong is home to Rue That Khao, a street with art galleries and brunch spots to check out. Quiet Ban Sok Pa Luang is the most multicultural section of the city due to the international schools set here. It’s known for its upmarket houses and restaurants serving a mix of cuisines.
A handful of architectural gems can be found in Vientiane. Patuxai, a massive war memorial in the shape of an arch sits in the city centre, and the glittering gold Pha That Luang Buddhist national monument is about four kilometres to its northeast. You can't come to Laos without visiting a temple, so make space on the itinerary for Wat Si Saket. It's thought to be the oldest place of worship still in existence in Vientiane after much of the city was destroyed during the Siam invasion of 1828.
There are always plenty of tuk-tuks waiting to take you around, just make sure to agree a price beforehand. And remember it's usually less expensive to jump in a ride in the street rather than haggling with a driver waiting for passengers in a touristy area. Wattay International Airport is a 20-minute drive from the centre. You can get a shuttle from here to the main hotels or book a taxi from the counter in the arrivals hall.