Vientiane, city (1990 est. pop. 140,000), administrative capital and largest city of Laos, N central Laos, on the Mekong River, c.130 mi (210 km) southeast of the former royal capital of Luang Phabang. Vientiane possesses diverse light industry and is a trading center for forest products, textiles, and hides. Many commodities are ferried across the Mekong to Thailand, where they are transported by rail to Bangkok. Chinese and Vietnamese minorities dominate retailing and commerce in Vientiane. The city is noted for its canals, its houses built on stilts, and its numerous pagodas, one of which now houses an architectural museum. There is an international airport. Vientiane was the capital of a Lao kingdom from 1707. It was sacked by the Siamese in 1827. It passed under French rule in 1893 and became the capital of the French protectorate of Laos in 1899. The ruins of the old capital are near the modern city.
Vientiane (Lao ວຽງຈັນ Viang-chan ) is the capital city of Laos, situated in the Mekong Valley. It is also Laos's largest city. The estimated population of the city is 200,000 (2005) while the number of people living in the Vientiane metropolitan area (the entire Vientiane Prefecture and parts of Vientiane Province) is believed to be over 730,000. Vientiane is located at 17°58' North, 102°36' East (17.9667, 102.6).

Sri Sattanak, or Sisattanak (ສີສັດຕະນາກ), is a former name of Vientiane. It is often confused with Sri Sattanakanahut, the Pali name of Lan Xang, the Kingdom of the Million Elephants. Sisattanak now is the name of one of the five districts of the city Vientiane.

Origin of the name

The name of the city is derived from Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. Its original meaning is "royal sandalwood grove" or "city of sandalwood", this tree being highly valued in classical India for its fragrance. In modern Lao, the meaning of Vientiane is ambiguous, and is often mistakenly believed to mean "city of the moon", because the words for 'moon' and 'sandalwood' are written and pronounced identically. However, the name in Thai, เวียงจันทน์, retains the etymologically correct spelling, and clearly indicates "city of sandalwood" as the meaning. The romanized spelling "Vientiane" is of French origin, and reflects the difficulty the French had in pronouncing the hard "ch" sound in the Lao word; a common English-based spelling is "Viangchan", or occasionally "Wiangchan".


The great Laotian epic, the Phra Lak Phra Lam, claims that Prince Thattaradtha founded the city when he left the legendary Lao kingdom of Muong Inthapatha Maha Nakhone because he was denied the throne in favor of his younger brother. Thattaradtha founded a city called Maha Thani Si Phan Phao on the western banks of the Mekong River; this city was told to have later become today's Udon Thani, Thailand. One day, a seven-headed Naga told Thattaradtha to start a new city on the eastern bank of the river opposite Maha Thani Si Phan Phao. The prince called this city Chanthabuly Si Sattanakhanahud; which was told to be the predecessor of modern Vientiane.

Contrary to the Phra Lak Phra Lam, most historians believe Vientiane was an early Khmer settlement centered around a Hindu temple, which the Pha That Luang would later replace. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the time when the Lao and Thai people are believed to have entered Southeast Asia from Southern China, the few remaining Khmers in the area were either killed, removed, or assimilated into the Lao civilization, which would soon overtake the area.

In 1354, when Fa Ngum founded the kingdom of Lan Xang, Vientiane became an important administrative city, even though it was not made the capital. King Setthathirath officially established it as the capital of Lan Xang in 1560. When Lan Xang fell apart in 1707, it became an independent kingdom. In 1779, it was conquered by the Siamese general Phraya Chakri and made a vassal of Siam.

When King Anouvong raised an unsuccessful rebellion, it was obliterated by Siamese armies in 1827. It eventually passed to French rule in 1893. It became the capital of the French protectorate of Laos in 1899.

Vientiane will host the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, with 18 disciplines being dropped from the previous games held in Thailand due to Laos' landlocked state and the lack of adequate facilities in Vientiane.


Vientiane is located in and is the capital of the Vientiane Prefecture (kampheng nakhon Vientiane). There is also the Vientiane Province — the prefecture was split off from the province in 1989.

Vientiane city comprises the following districts:


Vientiane is situated on a bend of the Mekong river, which forms the border with Thailand at this point.


Vientiane is home to one of Laos's only bowling alleys (the other bowling alley being in Luang Prabang) and its only mosques. There are many upper-class hotels in Vientiane.

Colleges and universities


By land

From Thailand

The First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, built in the 1990s, crosses the river 18 kilometers downstream of the city to Nong Khai in Thailand, and is the major crossing between the two countries. Rails for an international railway link run on to the bridge, but service terminates several kilometers south of the river on the Thai side. Construction on an extension of the line to the Lao border post was begun in 2007 and is expected to be completed in the course of 2008. There are plans to extend the line further to Vientiane itself. Eventually it will be possible to travel by train from Bangkok to Vientiane.

The official name of the bridge was changed in 2007 by the addition of "First", after the Second Friendship Bridge linking Mukdahan in Thailand with Savannakhet in Laos was opened early in 2007.

Within Laos

There are regular bus services connecting Vientiane with the rest of the country.

By air


Vientiane is served by the Wattay International Airport with international connections to Bangkok, Chiang Mai (Thailand, via Luang Prabang), Hanoi (Vietnam), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Siem Reap (Cambodia), and Kunming (Yunnan, Western China).


Lao Airlines has regular flights to several domestic destinations (several flights daily to Luang Prabang; a few flights weekly to other destinations).


The "Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France" is available to the foreign community in Laos in April 2007. Also the Mahosot Hospital is an important hospital in treating and researching diseases and is in connection with the University of Oxford. The Australian Embassy has a resident doctor available for appointments.

Further reading

  • Askew, Marc, William Stewart Logan, and Colin Long. Vientiane: Transformations of a Lao Landscape. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0415331412
  • Flores, Penelope V. Good-Bye, Vientiane: Untold Stories of Filipinos in Laos. San Francisco, CA: Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc, 2005. ISBN 0976331616
  • Renaut, Thomas, and Arnaud Dubus. Eternal Vientiane. City heritage. Hong Kong: Published by Fortune Image Ltd. for Les Editions d'Indochine, 1995.
  • Schrama, Ilse, and Birgit Schrama. ''Buddhist Temple Life in Laos: Wat Sok Pa Luang". Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2006. ISBN 9745240737
  • Women's International Group (Viangchan, Laos). Vientiane Guide. [Vientiane]: Women's International Group, 1993.

See also


External links

2009 Southeast Asian Games

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