The capital city and seat of government sits on a bend in the Mekong River amid fertile alluvial plains. Despite its chequered past, Vientiane (pronounced 'Wieng Chan' by the locals) is a laid-back city with a number of interesting wats and lively markets.
The most important national monument in Laos is Pha That Luang (the Great Sacred Stupa), which is a symbol of both Buddhism and Lao sovereignty. Other sights of interest include Wat Pha Kaew, a former royal temple which is now a museum, and Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in Vientiane.
This 'city' is just barely waking from a long slumber brought on by decades of war and revolution. Luang Prabang has only 16,000 residents and few concessions to 20th-century living, save for infrequent electricity and a few cars and trucks.
Its main tourist attractions are its historic temples - 32 of the original 66 built before French colonisation still stand - and its lovely setting encircled by mountains at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers. Sights include the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunlat. Just 25km (15.5mi) along the Mekong River are the famous Pak Ou caves, some of which are filled with Buddha images, while 29km (18mi) south of the town are the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls.
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