Geoffrey Grier is an American financier based in Hong Kong and Macau. Mr. Grier has lived in the Orient for over fifteen years and enjoys visiting far-flung and exotic locales throughout South East Asia. Grier is part of our Kiwi Insiders that travels the globe visiting properties in the Kiwi Collection, sharing his experiences.
I thought I would follow up my previous travel post to Luang Prabang, Laos and complete the journey with a posting of a trip I made late last year to the capital of Laos – Vientiane. While I consider Luang Prabang the jewel of the country, Vietiane is only a short flight (or long river boat ride) away and the capital represents the centre of culture, commerce and administration in Laos.
Vientiane is by far the largest city in Laos with a population of approximately 450,000, or about 7 per cent of the country. Like all of Laos’ major cities, Vientiane is situated on the bank of the Mekong River and it boasts serene Buddhist monasteries along with significant monuments, pagodas and French Colonial architecture that dominate the scene on the city’s streets.
Vientiane is a welcome respite from the rest of bustling Southeast Asia – there are no touts pestering tourists on street corners, no traffic jams, and incidentally, not all that many sights to see. It’s a sleepy, little capital and its main roads are bereft of traffic even on weekday afternoons. Backpackers, perhaps having finally tired of the Thailand Islands further south, have begun to migrate to Laos and are a welcome sight everywhere. French Colonial architecture sits next to gilded temples; and freshly baked French bread is served next to home-spun shops selling noodles.
1. First day in Vientiane, arriving from the nearby airport by restored antique car at my hotel, the Settha Palace.
2. I jumped right into a cultural tour of the town – here is Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple in Vientiane, originally built in 1818 and home to more than 6,800 Buddhist images and statues. It is the only temple to survive and not be burned during the numerous wars with Siam (today known as Thailand) and remains the most popular temple for foreign visitors.
3. One of the outside walls of the outer courtyard of Wat Sisaket, typical of the hundreds of niches and shelves containing thousands of Buddhist statues.
4. Wat Ho Phra Keow, originally built in 1565 by King Xayasethathirath (yep, that’s a mouthful) when he moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Also the former home of the famous Emerald Buddha, which now resides in Bangkok. Rebuilt in 1936 after numerous wars with Siam (now Thailand) and, interestingly, the most popular place to visit for Thai tourists.
5. One of the outside corridors of Wat Ho Phra Keow.
6. That Dam Stupa – pre-1828, and a structure that supposedly protected the Lao people during the great Siamese War of 1828.