Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane’s deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you’ve done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao – the national beer – and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
Of course, the booming tourism industry is changing this by slowly but surely bringing the excesses of Thailand and China to this formerly sleepy city. Just like any other Southeast Asian capital/major city, Vientiane is experiencing a building boom. Even its Presidential Palace is having a major makeover-addition and a new convention centre has opened recently.
Settled since at least 1000 CE, Vientiane became an important administrative city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (“million elephants”) in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane experienced a resurgence when it became the capital of the French protectorate, a position it kept after independence 1953, and was unchanged after the communist revolution in 1975. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 210,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.
Vientiane has a typical tropical savannah climate with a distinct wet and dry season. Rainfall measures 1.660mm (65.3 inches) on average every year and humidity is high year-round. The drier and cooler season runs from November to March and is characterised by clear skies and pleasantly warm temperatures. Nighttime and daytime temperatures hover around 16°C (60°F) and 28°C (81°F) presperctively. Cooler air masses from the north may arrive at any given point and push temperatures below 10°C (50°F), but very rarely below 6°C (42°F). The all-time record low stands at 0°C (32°F) and snow has never been reported. The wet or rainy season lasts from April to October and is characterised by sweltering heat and freak thunderstorms. Daytime temperatures hover around 32°C (90°F) and nighttime temperatures hover around 24°C (75°F), while humidity is very high (84%). The best time of the year to visit the city is late December to early February.