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.
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.
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.
The popular Fa Ngum Road runs right alongside the northern bank of the Mekong River and is another popular sleeping and eating area. It is more laid-back than downtown Vientiane (just north) and is especially good for drinking Beer Lao at a makeshift bar while the sun goes down.
That Luang is centered a couple of miles to the north of town and has many high profile sights. First and foremost is the That Luang stupa (shrine), the most revered temple in Laos, while nearby is the That Luang Market and the gigantic Patuxai Monument.
Lane Xang Road is the widest thoroughfare in town and runs from central Vientiane at the Presidential Palace off to the north toward the large Patuxai Monument. Another road then continues on to the That Luang temple. Some of the largest hotels and banks in Vientiane reside along here.
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