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August 2, 2014 as of 07:20 AM

Many people are surprised that Vientiane is in fact a capital city as it exudes a relaxed atmosphere and small town charm. An eclectic mix of colonial-French buildings and ancient temples along with colorful markets characterizes Laos’ capital.

It is possible to walk around the main areas of the centre in a morning, and unlike other capitals, the city's streets are often unpaved and dusty.

A walk along Lane Xang Avenue might bring visions of Paris. Designed to resemble the Champs Elysees, this tree lined street in the centre of town even has its very own ‘Arc de Triomphe’. Slightly quirky, climbing to the top of Patuxay offers fantastic views of the city. Continuing out of town on Lane Xang Avenue, you reach That Luang. This magnificent gold-leaf covered stupa is the national symbol of Laos and one of its most important religious sights. Each fall, a massive festival is held in the grounds around the stupa and people from all over the country descend upon Vientiane to partake in the religious celebrations.

Any day of exploration in Vientiane should end at its wonderful evening meeting point: the banks of the Mekong on Thanon Fa Ngum, with a cool beer, and watch the fishermen and catch a beautiful sunset view.
If you have more than a day in Vientiane, it is worth it to take an excursion outside of the city where there are many delights to be explored.

On the way toward the Thai border lies the bizarre Buddha Park. Built by an eccentric former shaman priest in the 1950s, this park has hundreds of stone Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.  The Phou Khao Kway National Park is just an hour away from the capital. Here you can trek through dense forests, swim in cool waterfalls, and experience the diversity of Laos’ flora and fauna. A special Orchid Trek can be arranged, a unique experience where a local guide takes you on a journey through the park to try and spot some of the beautiful orchid species in the park.

North of the city is Nam Ngum Lake, the largest lake in Laos, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Take a boat cruise on the lake and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, hills and forests. With an abundance of fish in the waters, Nam Ngum Lake is a favorite fishing area for the locals and you will see the fishermen using hoop nets, regular nets and lines. Ban Pako, located 55km from the capital, is the perfect place to chill out and escape Vientiane. Set along the banks of the Nam Ngum River and surrounded by jungle, Ban Pako offers a glimpse in to the real rural Laos. A small eco-lodge, Ban Pako Lodge, is located there for those wishing to stay over night.

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