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• Site Around City
 • Mekong Riverfront • Nam Ngun Lake • Caves in Vang Vieng • Patouxai - Arc de Triomphe • Haw Phra Kaew - Emerald Buddha Hall • Vientiane President Palace • That Luang Stupa • Wat Sisaket • Wat Si Muang • Buddha Park • Vang Vieng Hill Tribe Villages • Phou Khao Khouay National Park
Geography Demographics Telephone
Location: Central
Area: 3,920 km2
Population: 610,000
Density: 155/ km2
Calling code
Town and Districts
Chanthabouly, Sikhotabong, Xaysettha, Sisattanak, NaXaithong, Xaythany, Hadxaifong, Sangthong, Parkngum.
General Information
Vientiane is a prefecture of Laos, located in the north-west of the country. The capital of the country, Vientiane, is located in the prefecture which was created in 1989, when it was split off from the Vientiane Province.
The small and relaxed Laos capital of Vientiane sits on the northern bank of the Mekong River facing across to the even sleepier Thai town of Sri Chiang Mai. For many visitors, Vientiane is the first taste of Lao food, culture and hospitality and on all counts it does not disappoint.
Actually pronounced Wiang Jan and translated as City of Sandalwood, the modern name of Vientiane comes courtesy of a bastardised French transliteration. Wiang actually means "fort" but by all accounts it mustn't have been much of a fort, as the original city was over-run on a number of occasions by the Burmese and Chinese and was absolutely flattened by the Siamese (Thais) in 1828, after which the city was abandoned back to the jungle.
This is one of the reasons why many of the Wats in the city are of a relatively young age, and if the road layout strikes you as a pretty inspired affair, you can thank the French for it -- they laid the whole place when they oversaw the rebuilding of the city through the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
Like many of the French colonial cities, Vientiane is characterised by broad, often tree-lined boulevards, run-down and creaking colonial mansions, rustic Wats surrounded by coconut palms and a generally sedentary pace of life.
Indeed it's only since the early 1990's that the city has really started to develop. While it's a shame that the first waves of investors that hit the Lao shores brought with them the concrete egg-carton style architecture that litters much of Thailand, at least the riverfront, with it's sleepy wats and broken pavements didn't bear the brunt of it.
Nevertheless, slowly, the Mekong riverfront is developing from what was once just a simple grass bank into a promenade of sorts, the embankment between the hospitals and the Lane Xang Hotel now hosts a lovely garden and walkway. Elsewhere, the area is largely unspoilt and offers some stunning scenery. The sunsets here are simply sublime.
The great Laotian epic, the Phra Lak Phra Lam, claims that Prince Thattaradtha founded the city when he left the legendary Lao kingdom of Muong Inthapatha Maha Nakhone because he was denied the throne in favor of his younger brother. Thattaradtha originally founded a city called Maha Thani Si Phan Phao on the western banks of the Mekong River; this city was told to have later become today's Udon Thani, Thailand. One day, a seven-headed Naga told Thattaradtha to start a new city on the eastern bank of the river opposite Maha Thani Si Phan Phao. The prince called this city Chanthabuly Si Sattanakhanahud; which was told to be the predecessor of modern Vientiane.
Contrary to the Phra Lak Phra Lam, most historians believe Vientiane was an early Khmer settlement centered around a Hindu temple, which the Pha That Luang would later replace. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the time when the Lao and Thai people are believed to have entered Southeast Asia from Southern China, the few remaining Khmers in the area were either killed, removed, or assimilated into the Lao civilization, which would soon overtake the area.
In 1354, when Fa Ngum founded the kingdom of Lan Xang, Vientiane became an important administrative city, even though it was not made the capital. King Setthathirath officially established it as the capital of Lan Xang in 1560. When Lan Xang fell apart in 1707, it became an independent kingdom. In 1779, it was conquered by the Siamese general Phraya Chakri and made a vassal of Siam.
When King Anouvong raised an unsuccessful rebellion, it was obliterated by Siamese armies in 1827. It eventually passed to French rule in 1893. It became the capital of the French protectorate of Laos in 1899.
The name of the city is derived from P?li, the literary language of Theravada Buddhism, and its original meaning was "The king's grove of sandalwood", this tree being prized for its fragrance in classical India. It is also believed that the original name of Vientiane (Viangchan) means "City of the Moon" in the native Lao language. Modern Lao pronunciation and orthography do not clearly reflect the Pali etymology. The romanized spelling "Vientiane" is of French origin, and reflects the difficulty the French had in pronouncing the hard "ch" syllable of the Lao word; a common English-based spelling is "Viangchan", or occasionally "Wiangchan".
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