Unlike the ancient capital city of Luang Prabang, whose 32 temples coerce visitors into hurry-up mode, the current capital of Vientiane encourages a leisurely pace. Here the brown Mekong River, virtually hidden behind a high earthen berm that protects the town during annual monsoon flooding, flows sluggishly past parks and small, exquisite temples that dot the waterfront. With no high-rise buildings and broad sidewalks that lie deserted in the searing midday sun, Vientiane may be the sleepiest capital in SE Asia.
On an especially hot afternoon I strolled for hours, checking out a handful of Wats, museums, the old Presidential Palace, statues, and street after side street crammed with French colonial inspired architecture. Despite attracting thousands of visitors from neighboring Thailand, who regularly cross the Friendship bridge to avail themselves of Laos’ low prices, Vientiane’s boulevards were deserted. When the heat became unbearable I retired to the cool interiors of Wats or dark corners of restaurants, where I shoveled local delicacies into my mouth as fast as I could.
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In the end, Vientiane was all about food and temples and gentility, in everything from its delicious food to its serene residents.