Vientiane and surrounds
Bustling Vientiane and over-popular Vang Vieng
First port of call for many visitors, the capital of Laos, Vientiane, is a bustling riverside city set on northern bank of the muddy waters of the Mekong River. For many years Vientiane was a sleepy backwater capital of an equally backwater state, but, as the country has slowly opened up to foreign investment and tourism, Vientiane has gone through vast changes.
While the Lao capital is now home to a vibrant wealth of hotels, bars and restaurants, Vientiane still retains its sleepy tree-lined dirt roads and somnolent temples -- and people. The pace of life, as with all of Laos, is best described as slow -- bordering on glacial.
Although Vientiane lacks the overwhelming charm of Luang Prabang, it still has enough sights and attractions to garner interest for a day or two, and with an international airport, this remains one of the primary gateways into Laos. Many choose to brush through, spending little more than a night in town, but as with most Lao destinations, a longer stay can be rewarding.
North of Vientiane lies the backpacker and independent traveller magnet of Vang Vieng -- a village that became a tourist town in way too short a period of time. The state of the place is such a debacle that other regions in Laos now use Vang Vieng as a model of exactly how they don't want their locales to develop.
Packed with tourists and travellers pigging out of banana pancakes and magic pizzas while watching Friends episodes back to back, Vang Vieng is a disheartening place to visit for those who saw it before all these changes hit. There's not a less Lao town in Laos -- we guarantee it. Nevertheless the scenery around Vang Vieng is beautiful and all the hordes are going there for a reason -- drop by, see the caves, float down the river, then pack your bags and head somewhere that is actually interesting.
There is more to the region though than Vientiane and Vang Vieng -- Nam Ngum dam, Lao Pako and the sculpture garden to name but three -- look around a bit and chances are you'll find somewhere interesting.
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