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Encyclopedia > Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, is the common name used in western countries for a province, prefecture, and city pronounced Wiang Chan by its residents, and situated in the Mekong Valley, of Laos. The estimated population of the prefecture is 140,000 (1990), with the city itself estimated at fewer than 100,000 citizens, and the province as a whole is variously reported as comprising more than 200,000 persons.

Vientiane prefecture is comprised of the following districts;

  • Chantabuly
  • Sikhottabong
  • Xaysetha
  • Sisattanak
  • Hadxaifong

Vientiane is situated on a sweeping bend on the Mekong river, which forms the border with Thailand at this point. The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, built in the 1990s, crosses the river a few miles downsteam of the city and forms one of the major border crossings between the two countries. Currently, the rails for an international railway link do run over the bridge, but service terminates several kilometers south of the river on the Thai side.

Pha That Luang temple. One of the most important places in Vientiane and Laos.

King Setthathirath 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 is located in the Vientiane prefecture (kampheng nakhon Vientiane). There is also the Vientiane province - the prefecture was split off from the province in 1989.

The name of the city is derived from Pali, the literary language of Theravada Buddhism, and its original meaning was "The king's grove of sandalwood", the latter species of tree being prized for its fragrance in classical India. Modern Lao pronounciation and orthodgraphy do not clearly reflect the Pali etymology. The romanized spelling "Vientiane" is of French origin, and reflects the difficulty the French had in pronouncing the hard "ch" syllable of the Lao word; another common transliteration is "Viangchan", or occasionally "Wiangchan".



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