Vientiane (Vieng Chan), Laos

Reference work entry


The administrative Capital of the Lao People’s Democratic, Vientiane is the only city of any size in Laos but with barely half a million inhabitants it is the second smallest capital city in Asia, next to Bandar Seri Begawan.

Vientiane is situated on a plain on a bend in the Mekong River, 217-km southeast of Luang Phrabang, the former Royal Capital of Laos.

The city is noted for its canals, houses built on stilts, and many pagodas.


Although founded in the thirteenth century Vientiane came to prominence in the seventeenth century as the capital of a kingdom of the same name. In 1609 Lang Xang fell prey to rival contenders for the throne. The ensuing struggles split the country into three rival kingdoms, Vientiane, Laouangphrabang (now Luang Phrabang), and Champasak.

Conflict with the neighbouring Burmese and Siamese involved Vientiane and Laouangphrabang in internecine struggles. Weakened, Vientiane became a vassal state of Siam in 1778. Vientiane’s destruction came when the Siamese punished the Lao for insurgencies in 1827. Vientiane lay ruined and wholly forgotten for four decades until, in 1867, a French expedition led by Ernest Doudart de Lagrée and Francis Garnier stumbled across the ruins of the city. From 1899–1953, with the exception of the Japanese occupation of Indo-China in 1945 Vientiane was the seat of the French Governor and the French administrative capital.

Modern City

The City’s central river port location in a country that relies heavily on river transportation and its position in an intensively rice-cultivated hinterland ensured that Vientiane was to become the major economic centre in Laos. Modern Vientiane is a relaxed and clean city. The city is home to Mahavithagnalay Heang Xath Lao, the National University of Laos.

Places of Interest

The most important national monument in Laos, Pha That Luang [Great Sacred Stupa] is situated atop a hill in Vientiane. This monument dates from 1599. It was built on the site of a much older That erected in the third century, allegedly to house a breastbone of the Bhudda.

Wat Si Saket, the oldest monastery in Vientiane, was built in 1824 by King Anouvong. A wall surrounding the main temple contains 10,000 representations of the Buddha. It is said that there are 10,000 Buddhas.

The morning market, which opens from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. trades in a wide variety of goods from Laos including silk and cotton weavings.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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