Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos’ national capital, mixes French-colonial architecture with Buddhist temples such as the golden, 16th-century Pha That Luang, which is a national symbol. Along broad boulevards and tree-lined streets are many notable shrines including Wat Si Saket, which features thousands of Buddha images, and Wat Si Muang, built atop a Hindu shrine.

From its sleepy tuk-tuk drivers to its cafe society and affordable spas, this former French trading post is languid to say the least. Eminently walkable, the historic old quarter of Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ) beguiles with tree-lined boulevards crowded with frangipani and tamarind, glittering temples, wandering Buddhist monks and lunging naga (dragon) statues. For the well-heeled traveller and backpacker the city acquits itself equally well, be it low-cost digs and street markets or upscale boutique hotels and gastronomic French restaurants.

Meanwhile, with most of its old French villas now stylishly reincarnated into restaurants and small hotels, Vientiane is achieving an unprecedented level of panache with a distinctly Gallic flavour. Whether you spend your time here lounging over a novel in an old-fashioned bakery, shopping in silk shops or swigging Beerlao and drinking up the fiery sunset over the Mekong, you’ll miss this place more than you initially realise.

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