As far as Southeast Asian capital cities go, Vientiane, although somewhat disheveled, is nice and compact and holds plenty of intrigue for tourists. It sits on the banks of the Mekong River, beyond which Thai territory sits a whisker away across to the south.
Before the French took a hold of Vientiane and colonized Laos, the City of Sandalwood was taken apart by marauding Siamese (Thais), who ripped down much of the city's architectural splendor. Few ancient temples remain, although the French went about rebuilding and established wide, leafy boulevards and big houses.
Today, Vientiane continues its rebuilding and is somewhat erratic as a result, although there is a burgeoning supply of neat shops, cafés, guesthouses and bars, and some fantastic markets from which to pick up quality local handicrafts and textiles.
Downtown Vientiane is where it's at and the various districts are all close together, making getting about on foot easy. The city is essentially split into villages, with the most interesting to tourists lying along the northern bank of the Mekong River.
Ban Mixay / Ban Si Saket
This all-encompassing district in central Vientiane takes in the Morning Market and Samsenthai, Setthathirat and Fa Ngum roads and is the main tourist-centric part of town. Each facet of Ban Mixay has its own flavor and this is the area you will want to spend most of your time when in Vientiane.
Talat Sao is the Morning Market and is a major tourist destination in Vientiane. It is located near the heart of the city and is a large area home to lots of market produce, shops and eateries and it also has the main bus station and banks nearby. The shopping is top-draw and many major temples are within easy reach.
Samsenthai and Setthathirat roads
These are the main thoroughfares in Vientiane, lying just south of the Morning Market. They offer the best combination of shopping, dining and sleeping and are particularly good for handicrafts. In between the two roads is the popular Nam Phu Fountain, known for its boutiques and bakeries.