Vientienne remains the gateway into Laos for many travellers. It’s one of quietest capitals in the universe, and everything is within a few blocks of the river. She’s a bit like Madge, the bridesmaid, whose charms are there, if not always apparent... Accommodation and Spa. Settha Palace / Pang Kham St. / 021 217 581 / setthapalace.com / has Indochine rooms with four-poster beds and hardwood floors. Drink n’ dine at La Belle Epoque. Ansara Hotel / Ban Vat Chan Tha / 021 213 514 / ansarahotel.com / has just 14 understatedly stylish rooms. Green Park Boutique Hotel / Khouvieng Rd. / 021 264 097 / greenparkvientiane.com / is modern, sleek Laos, with balconied rooms and Champa Lao Spa. Other spas include LV City Massage & Spa / Ban Nongdouang Tai / 030 525 6699 / lvcitylaos. com / for top to toe pampering; Oasis / François Ngin Rd. / 021 243 579 / is good for facials; and Dharani / François Ngin Rd. / 021 252 761 / for scalp massages, mani/pedi or waxing. Restaurants and Bars. French cuisine still rules the table. Le Silapa / Sihom Rd. / 021 219 689 / is a Frenchpats’ fave; L’opera / Nam Phou Pl / 021 215 099 / has Italian home-cooking; Aria Mixai / François Ngin Rd. / 021 222 589 / ariaorg.com / makes tasty pizzas; Le Vendôme / Inpeng St. / 021 216 402 / serves Med dishes, plus delightful garden terrace; Benoni / Setthathilat Rd. above Phimphone Market / 021 213 334 / has delish Euro-asian eats. Le Banneton Café / 568 Nokeo Koumane Rd. / 021 217 321 / is a French bread and java stop; while Pimentón / Nokeo Koumane Rd. / 021 215 506 / sears imported Angus beef steaks. For Lao bites, Amphone / Setthathilat Rd. / 021 212 489 / has an airy wooden patio; or Kualao / Samsenthai Rd. / 021 215 777 / kualao.laopdr.com / in a colonial house is Lao made for Western palates. L’addresse de Tinay / behind Vat Ongteu / 020 5691 3434 / laddressedetinay / has great fine dining set menus; and Kong View / 183 Souphanouvong Rd. / 021 520 522 / kongview. com / just outside of town, serves Lao and Thai food on the Mekong River, to the strains of live music nightly.