With less than a million inhabitants Vientiane is the smallest capital in Southeast Asia and as a result has a very relaxed feel to it. The city became the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom in 1563 and under its royal patronage also became the major religious centre in the land. The city’s two most important Wats, Wat That Luang and Wat Phra Kaeo date back to this time. Later Vientiane was sacked by the Siamese army and was left to ruin until the French arrival in the 19th century heralded an age of renovation and renewal. The city’s architecture therefore combines influences from Laos, Thailand and France and this, coupled with its wonderful location on the banks of the Mekong River, gives Vientiane a unique charm. A great day trip from the capital takes you to Lake Nam Ngum, which is surrounded by hills and where boats weave around picturesque islands and you can dine at any number of small restaurants that overlook the blue-green waters of the lake.