The French colonial influence is still strong in Vientiane, in its architecture, the odd beret-wearing local and the French-infused food. The food is especially noticeable when you’ve crossed over from Thailand; after gorging yourself on green curry on one side of the border you might have a craving for the croissants or baguettes available on the Lao side. Try them at any of the French bakeries scattered through the city and your taste buds will think you’ve just left a Parisian boulangerie. Though the spectacular view over the vast dirt intersection seen from the city’s own arc-de-triumph will make sure you know you’re still in Laos.
Sandalwood city, as Vientiane literally translates to, is as seductively sedate as the mood conjured by a whiff of temple incense. But it’s wandering the Lao capital’s central park of Buddhist statues and then on to the banks of the Mekong for a quiet sunset beer that really shimmies any residual stress from your muscles. The sunset bars and beer gardens along the river, many of them serving French food or delicious local specialties, are your best bet to enjoy a Beer Lao, a fine beer by anyone’s standards. The bargain-priced beer has a premium ‘Asian-style’ pilsner taste: a fine malt character and a hop bitterness that goes well with the warm climate and local food. Made by a woman brewmaster with a moderate amount of rice to refresh and lighten the beer’s body, its taste will do as much for your body and make the sunset all the sweeter.