Vientiane

Vientiane: Laos with a French Flavour


Vientiane is the capital city of Laos, and is located on the Southern border of Laos with Thailand, on the banks of the Mekong River. Vientiane moves at a much slower pace than other South East Asian capitals such as Bangkok. An almost sleepy city, with a charm unlike any other. For a period of 60 years, Laos became a French protectorate, and during this time the local people adopted many of the customs of the French people, along with the French language and a taste for European food.

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

flickr image by danou_info

The French Inspired Architecture of Vientiane

Much of the uniqueness of Vientiane can be traced to its more recent history. The period of time which Laos spent as a French Protectorate came at a time when the global economy, and more importantly the construction technology available, were both changing swiftly. What resulted was an almost entire remodelling of the city, with a very strong French influence being found throughout its architecture. A stroll through the suburbs of Laos is much like strolling through an old French Colonial town. It is only the city centre with its newer government buildings and ancient Buddhist temples which do not display this image.

Vat That Luang Neua

flickr image by Philip Roeland

French Food with an Asian Twist

The food of Laos is possibly some of the most unique to be found in South East Asia. On the one hand we have spicy local dishes such as Laab, a kind of meat salad garnished with chili, spring onions and coriander. On the same menu you will find baguettes stuffed with cheese and ham. These are not simply included on the menu to please westerners; these have been adopted as part of the Laos diet. Many European foods are now eaten daily by the Laos people. This is another direct influence of the period of time Laos spent as a French protectorate. There are also many French restaurants dotted around the city of Vientiane, the best of which are:

  • LÁdresse de Tinay – Offering possibly the most extensive wine menu in the city, as well as a full vegetarian menu alongside Laos favourites.
  • Le Silipa – This is a romantic candlelit restaurant which takes the concept of fusion food to a new level.
  • LÉstaminet – This is part Asian restaurant, part French brassiere. Plenty of outdoor seating and frequent live entertainment make this one of the favourite restaurants for both local and visitors.

Asian People Speaking a European Language

If you spend any time out in public in Vientiane it will not be long before you hear one of the local people speaking their own particular dialect of French. It is quite possible that there are more bilingual people in Laos than in any other South East Asian country. For this reason, Vientiane is a very popular destination with French tourists, as it means they can communicate very easily indeed.

Vientiane is an Art Lovers Dream

Most shopping areas, including street markets and large shopping malls have a significantly higher number of art related shops and stores than any other city in South East Asia. Street vendors can often be found painting passers-by for a few Kip (the Laos currency) and almost every restaurant will feature more than one reproduction of a famous French painting.

In many ways it is quite surprising just how much of the French influence is still visible in Vientiane. The French occupancy only lasted for around 60 years, and ended almost 60 years ago. It is a measure of how much this short occupation effected Vientiane and Laos in general that so much has remained. A visitor does not need to move very far from the beaten track to begin witnessing evidence of this everywhere.

Date posted: 16th November, 2015

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