Sometimes spelled Vieng Chan, Viengchan or Viang Chan (the name “Vientiane” is a French romanised version), the city has been controlled at various times by the Vietnamese, the Siamese, the Burmese and the Khmers – and, more recently, the French and the Americans. A positive result of all this outside intervention is that the streets are a compelling mélange of Lao, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, French, American and even Russian influences in architecture, cuisine and culture. It is home to a little over 10 percent of the country’s population, but a far larger share of its wealth.
This low-key city has a pleasant waterfront along the Mekong, best accessed along Fa Ngum Road. The most significant city sight is the 16th-century stupa of That Luang, while further north is Patuxai, a southeast Asian Arc de Triomphe. Elsewhere are various attractive temples, frangipani-lined streets, some colourful markets and glimpses of French colonial architecture.