Revision as of 09:23, 2 March 2013
Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos
Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ Vieng Chan) is the capital of Laos.
Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane's deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you've done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao - the national beer - and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
Of course, the booming tourism industry is changing this by slowly but surely bringing the excesses of Thailand and China to this formerly sleepy city. It has also become famous for bedbugs. Just like any other Southeast Asian capital/major city, Vientiane is experiencing a building boom. Even its Presidential Palace is having a major makeover-addition and a new convention centre has opened recently.
Settled since at least 1000 CE, Vientiane became an important administrative city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane experienced a resurgence when it became the capital of the French protectorate, a position it kept after independence 1953, and was unchanged after the communist revolution in 1975. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 210,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.
Vientiane is stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the river bank inland, the main roads running parallel to the river are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthathirat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chanthabuli, contains most of Vientiane's government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lane Xang, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for government offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.
A visa on arrival is available at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and Tha Naleng train station. Bring US$25-42 plus a US$1 in cash (depending on your nationality) and a passport photo; see Laos#Get in for details. You can also get a visa in advance at the Lao Embassy in Bangkok; the only real advantages of doing this are that you need to spend less time queuing when you get to Laos and if you are travelling by through-bus from Udon Thani in Thailand to Vientiane the bus may not wait for visas on arrival to be processed.
Vientiane's Wattay Airport (IATA: VTE, ICAO: VLVT) is 4 km west of the city. International services are quite limited, but this is slowly changing.
There are direct flights to/from:
- Bangkok Suvarnabhumi: Thai Airways, two flights daily (code share with Lao Airlines) and Lao Airlines, one.
- Hanoi (Viet Nam): Lao Airlines, three times weekly and Vietnam Airlines daily.
- Kunming (Yunnan, West China): China Eastern Airlines operate four and Lao Airlines three flights weekly. Lao Airlines and the Lao Consulate both have offices in the Camellia Hotel, Kunming.
- Singapore: Lao Airlines flies four times a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday.
There is a US$10 departure tax for international flights, but this is being incorporated into the ticket cost so is not now payable in cash for most flights.
From Bangkok many visitors choose to fly into Udon Thani in Thailand, and cross the border by bus, as this domestic flight is considerably cheaper than a direct international flight to Vientiane. There is a direct shuttle from Udon Thani airport to the Thai/Lao border at Nong Khai (about 50 km away) for 200 baht, and there are also direct cross-border bus services from Udon Thani (the city, not the airport!) to Vientiane. This option (flight plus bus transfers and immigration clearance at 2 points) takes at least 2 hours longer than a direct Bangkok to Vientiane flight. Be aware that you may have difficulty getting an international bus to Laos if you do not already hold a visa. Ticket officers for the buses sometimes check for this as the buses do not wait at the border long enough for the painfully slow visa on arrival process. If you are flying to Udon Thani you should also make sure you go to the correct departure airport. Nok Air and Thai Air Asia flies from Don Muang, the old Bangkok airport, with Thai Airways flying from Suvarnabhumi .
- Lao Airlines flies to five domestic destinations (three to five flights daily to Luang Prabang; once or twice daily to Pakse, four times per week to Huay Xai and Oudomxay, and six times per week to Xieng Khuang (Phonsavan).
- Lao Air, the second Lao airline, operates two flights weekly each between Vientiane and Phongsali, Samneua and Sayaboury (Sainyabuli) (aircraft: Cessna).
- Lao Central Airlines has daily flights between Vientiane and Luang Prabang (aircrafts: B737 and Sukhoil Superjet 100).
Transfer to the city
Many hotels offer a pickup service from the airport, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for US$7 (57,000 kip).You can buy a taxi coupon before you leave the airport building for US$7. The journey to the airport should be cheaper, around US$3 by tuk-tuk. From city to airport, tuk-tuk is 30,000 kip. Do not agree with 55,000 kip, shown on a price list by some tuk-tuk drivers. You can bargain down to 30,000 kip, or simply walk away to find another tuk-tuk. Always agree with the price before boarding the tuk-tuk. If you don't mind walking the distance between the airport and the main road (less than 500 m), you can take a local bus for less than US$1.
The railway link across the Mekong finally opened in March 2009, and there are now four shuttle services daily from Nong Khai to Tha Naleng, some 13 km away from Vientiane and reachable by shuttle bus from the Morning Market. The shuttle trains are timed to connect with overnight trains to and from Bangkok, with around 90 minutes buffer time at the Thai side of the border for buying tickets and Immigration. It's thus possible to hop aboard express #69 at 8 PM in Bangkok, arrive at Nong Khai at 9:30 AM and reach Tha Naleng around 10:30. The train has first and second class air-con sleepers, which cost around 1200/800 baht respectively. Check State Railway of Thailand  for the the up-to-date time tables and fares, as well as online ticket booking. A Lao visa on arrival is now available at Tha Naleng station, though you need to arrange your own onward transport to get into the city. This is a major drawback, as the station (unlike Friendship bridge) is located in the middle of nowhere, and songthaew drivers asked as much as 100 baht/person (even from Thai/Lao people) for a shared ride to Vientiane.
The other option is to get off the train at Nong Khai and cross the border by bus via the Friendship Bridge. The Nong Khai station is just 1.5 km from the bridge, so if you take a tuk-tuk it should cost no more than 30-40 baht for all, after bargaining of course. Outside the station there's an information board listing the official prices to the nearby destinations. Most tuk-tuk drivers will stop at a travel agent just outside the station and try to coerce you to buy both a Lao visa and shuttle bus to Vientiane. Don't listen to them: you can get a visa and shuttle easily at the Lao border.
For those, who already have a Lao visa, or do not need one for a short visit (citizens of ASEAN countries, Russia and a few others), getting off the train in Udon Thani then taking direct cross-border bus to Vientiane bus is a good option. See below for details.
The train journey either way is pleasant if basic, if you have a sleeper. (Less than 800 baht.) You usually don't need air-con as the train isn't hot, though non-air-con often isn't available: few cold-blooded travellers say the air-con is too cold. Pack your own meals, beer, etc. The food on the train is expensive - and beyond awful. There is a 'change racket' operating among the catering staff: being seriously short-changed is the rule, not the exception. You need to note the prices on the menu, have baht as kip or US dollars will result in a big loss on the change & have small denominations: a 1,000 baht note can serve as an excuse for a 9-hour delay in bringing change; even then you will have to go looking for it.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot or by bicycle (theoretically; however people have been seen strolling the bridge), but there are frequent 20 baht shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. The price changes depending on the time of day and day of week. You will get a receipt. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.
Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (55 baht), Khon Kaen(180 baht) and Udon Thani (80 baht) arrive and depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal. These are cheap, comfortable, hassle-free and popular, so book ahead or arrive early. Schedules change often, currently the buses start at 08:00 and leave every 2 hours or so, until 18:00. Note: these buses are not an option if you plan to obtain a Lao visa on arrival at the bridge - the bus will not wait long enough. To get from the Udon airport to the Friendship Bridge, a 200 baht minibus fare can be purchased in the airport and will drop you off on the Thai side of the bridge.
Visas on arrival are available at the bridge.
If you forgot your passport photo, they'll photocopy your passport for an extra US$1/40 baht (or do it on the Thai side for just 2 baht).
Update: The need for a photo seems to have been abolished, as a recent visa on arrival appeared as a large sticker attached to a page of the passport, with no photo and no US$1 fee.
When you get a visa on arrival, you get the entry stamp at the same time, so you don't have to wait in line afterwards. A 40 baht (or 9,000 kip) "entry fee" is sometimes charged once through. Just walk past the entry fee booth. If no-one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.
Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 250 baht, easy to bargain down to 100 baht or less for immediate departure with only one passenger) or taxi (300 baht) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper. You should be able to negotiate to a good deal less than 50 baht/person if you're prepared to share and possibly wait.
The local bus (usually #14) to Talat Sao (the Morning Market) is the cheapest of all, 5,000 kip or 20 baht, but signage is nonexistent and you may be in for a wait (up to 20 minutes). The bus runs until at least 18:45 or so.
It's about 25 km from the bridge to Vientiane; allow at least 30 minutes.
When arriving via the Friendship Bridge, you might like to visit the Buddha Park sculpture garden before going on to Vientiane, and save yourself a return trip back past the border crossing later. The same local bus (usually #14) that connects Talat Sao (the Morning Market) and the Friendship Bridge checkpoint also continues on to Buddha Park. Ask the driver which way it's going, just in case.
The bridge immigration shuts quite late, around 22:00. (Ambulances can go through at any hour, in an emergency.) But check with the locals if you are unsure. Although note that the Thai clock is very different to the Western one, so using 24 hour time may be a better way to ask.
Khon Kaen - Vientiane direct bus, 185 baht per way, departs twice daily from Khon Kaen Aircon Bus Terminal (Prab-argat) at 07:45 (usually delayed till 08:00) and arrives Vientiane Talat Sao Bus Station around noon. Second bus departs at 15:15.
A direct bus from Hanoi takes at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say, avg 24 hrs) and should cost about US$15-20. There is a twice a week VIP bus (better seats) and a local bus that departs every day. For the local bus: apparently you're not always certain of a seat and Vietnamese people tend to sit and never get up again until you've arrived.
The journey from Hue is 14-18 hrs and should cost US$20-30. The bus arrives at Southern Terminal where you have to bargain hard with tuk-tuk drivers. The ride to town after midnight is 30,000 kip. There are local buses heading towards town from here that usually stop at the central market priced at about 10,000 kip.
The bus trip from Phnom Penh to Vientiane costs about US$50 if you go 'VIP': this involves a bed for the night portion of your trip; however unless you have a partner you will share the rather small bed with a random passenger of the same sex. The bed is comfortable, though there have been reports of leaking windows and wet mattresses.
At the Lao-Cambodian border, essentially the same form has to be filled out numerous times (to ensure each official gets his 'fee'). If you can't carry your luggage 500 m from the Cambodian border post to the Lao, you're out of luck: the bus staff will have disappeared by now. The border process is hot, slow and enervating.
Regardless of what the travel agent or busline tells you, the Phnom Penh-Vientiane (or vice-versa) trip usually involves four separate buses, not two. The Phnom Penh-Lao border and Pakse-Vientiane legs are comfortable enough. However in between the border and Pakse in Southern Laos you will be crammed into a minibus or open van, sit on other people's laps, etc, as the vehicle does the rounds of every guesthouse in the region. You will eventually be transferred into another van, and the process repeated. It can take 4-6 hours, and it is seldom clear where you are, where you are going, or who is in charge..
If the busline talks you into putting your luggage on a second bus (because of space problems), it is liable to vanish along the road.
The bus trip from Phnom Penh to Vientiane, or vice-versa, averages 27 hours.
From elsewhere in Laos
Buses to and from destinations in Vientiane Prefecture depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus piers painted on the central building, which is where you can also buy tickets.
The Southern Bus Terminal, used by all buses coming from the south (including VIP), is on Thanon Kaisone Phomvihane, which is the first stretch of the "Route 13 South". It is 10 km and, perversely, north east of the centre. If you are lucky, the cost of a tuk-tuk is 15,000 kip. Public bus number 23 stops by the entrance of the southern bus station and connects it with the Talat Sao bus terminal (Morning Market) at 5,000 kip, from where it is a ten minutes walk into the tourist centre.
The Northern Bus Terminal, somewhat north-west of the city centre on the T2 road, now officially named Asiane Road, is where all buses to the north arrive and depart.
Note that if you buy a bus ticket, with quite a margin, in town, it should include the transfer to the respective terminal.
Cash & credit cards
Banks and Money Changers
Banks and money changers are plentiful in the city centre. Money changer shops have a competitive edge over the banks. The best rates are at the shops along Rue Lane Xang in the section north of the Talat Sao morning market.
Banque Franco-Lao (BFL) on Lane Xang Ave, The only European bank in Laos, with branches in Nam Phu, Talat Sao, Sihom, Talat Sikai, That Luang. Nam Phu branch is open 7 days a week, from 08:00 to 20:30.
Phongsavanh Bank on Thanon Samsenthai is Vientiane's newest and privately-owned bank and operates a currency exchange until about 20:30 on weekdays, and for shorter hours on weekends.
BCEL operates foreign exchange counters on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade), Thanon Setthathilath (near JoMa), Thanon Pang Kham as well as at at the Friendship Bridge, just past the visa on arrival pick-up window. This bank charges no commission, gives better conversion rates, and has longer opening hours than most local banks.
BCEL also has an exchange counter.
Home Ideal, a Chinese-owned store, offers a good foreign exchange rates. The store is a 2 minute walk on the next street over from Phongsavanh Bank.
A comprehensive list of banks, ATMs, and ATM fees in Vientiane: 
ATMs are plentiful, but often cause problems such as out-of-cash or "eaten card" and sometimes do not accept the major international credit and debit card networks. In addition, most have withdrawal limits of 700,000-2,000,000 kip and charge additional fees. For preventing such trouble, tourists should withdraw money from ATMs only at bank branches.
- BFL (Banque Franco-Lao): Withdrawals up to 2,000,000 kip per transaction, limit 4 times per days, 30,000 kip fee. Accepts Visa cards. Ten ATMs in the city.
- ANZV: Allows withdrawals of up to 2,000,000 kip per transaction with a 40,000 kip transaction fee. Supports both Visa and Maestro. There are 2 branches in Vientiane. The first is at the main ANZV office located mid-way down Lane Xang. There are now also various ANZV ATMs, for example on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum and Rue Chao Anou and at various minimarts, like the City Minimart and at some M Point marts.
- BCEL: Withdrawals are limited to 1,000,000 kip per transaction; however, you may make up to ten of these in one day. Mastercard and Maestro are readily accepted; Visa also. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction.
- Joint Development Bank: Possible to withdraw up to 1,000,000 kip per transaction with a 30,000 transaction fee. Supports both Visa and Maestro.
Credit cards are accepted by travel agencies and in better restaurants and shops, but many charge a non-negotiable 3% fee.
Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signage is, however, rather lacking though in the centre more and more signs are appearing. Where there are signs displaying street names these are bilingual Lao and French. The Lao word "thanon" on these signs is translated by "rue", "avenue" or "boulevard", in many cases without any apparent logic. Therefore the Lao word "thanon" is used throughout this article.
When asking for directions or streets with "r" in them, be aware that Laotians often pronounce them as "l". Example is Rue Setthathirat pronounced as "Lue Setthathilat".
Probably they are shy about their English skills or lack of it, but most locals are "dumb" on street directions, even people in police uniforms.
The map on the right, which is fully to scale, covers the centre only. Maps covering a larger area are available at bookshops and some mini-marts, but are not as detailed and not always to scale. Many shop fronts feature addresses in Roman letters, and these are often the best way to determine the street one is walking. People navigate using landmarks, so get the nearest embassy, hotel or temple to where you want to go.
Since 2006 a major road upgrading project has been going on in the town centre and out of it up to way past the airport in the west and the Friendship Bridge in the east, financed by the Japanese government and planned and overseen by Japanese engineers. Largely gone are the hazards presented by missing drainage gully covers and sidewalks upturned by tree roots. Almost no trees have been cut - amazing! In the centre of Vientiane the through roads Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai and the side roads connecting them and down to the river now have sealed surfaces and sidewalks, and there is decent street lighting. A one-way traffic regime is in place (but the police are not enforcing it), and parking regulations have also been introduced. Markings for pedestrian crossings have been painted on the new roads, but the local drivers regard them as decoration so don't rely on them!
Vientiane's rainwater drainage system, which also takes care of "grey water" from baths, sinks, laundry, etc. consists of gullies on the roadside, usually covered by concrete slabs. These slabs are sometimes damaged and very precariously balanced, or even missing altogether; people rapidly learn to take care before stepping on anything that looks like a slab! Waste from toilets is or should be collected in septic tanks at every house, but gullies can nevertheless smell abominably. In the centre things have improved markedly as a result of the road upgrading and the smell from the gullies is now no longer very noticeable.
Note: do not rely on the Google Earth view of Vientiane for locating the sights: many locations put there by well-meaning users (the "Google Earth Community") are clearly in the wrong place, not just a block or so away but some even in a wrong part of the town!
Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around US$0.50 per km or US$20-40 to hire one for the day, depending on car type and distance.
Taxi Vientiane Capital Lao Group Co. Ltd. (21-454168, 21-454088, 90 Th Nongbone) advertises 20,000 kip for the 1st km, then 2,000 kip every 300m.
By tuk-tuk or jumbo
A typical jumbo (tuk-tuk) in Vientiane
There are three types of motorcycle powered vehicle. Jumbos, despite their name are the smallest, then come tuk-tuks and finally sky labs. These are ubiquitous in Vientiane. If chartering a tuk-tuk/jumbo/sky lab, make sure of the fare in advance. Short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 10,000 kip per person. In most cases, foreigners are difficult such bargain price. All the tuk-tuk drivers carry a fare card for popular destinations but these fares are ridiculously inflated. Do not pay these bogus, published fares. Walking away can cause the fare to be lowered. Share jumbos running on set routes, eg. Th Lan Xang to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 10,000 Kip. Tuk-tuks lined in front the Mekong bank restaurants or other busy areas will try to charge you 30-50K even for short trips. It's not worth trying to bargain as they won't go anywhere with a normal (10K) fare. Walk a few blocks and you bargain a much lower price.
Rattly old blue-and-white buses and newer white minibuses connect the centre to the suburban districts, but they are not equipped with air-con and have no signs in English, although route numbers are usually, but not always, displayed on the front. Recently, a fleet of new, clean buses with air-con and a large flat-panel television screen playing Lao music videos have been donated by the Japanese government. The bus most likely to be of use to the casual visitor is Bus 14 from Talat Sao Market to/from the Friendship Bridge, which costs 6,000 kip. At the Friendship Bridge, paying an additional 2,000 kip and transferring to a beat-up minibus will take you the remaining distance to Buddha Park, along a bumpy and unpaved road. The bus to Wattay International Airport goes near the airport but not quite into it.
Routes from Talat Sao:
- 14- Friendship Bridge, 6,000 kip, continues to Buddha Park with transfer and additional 2,000 kip
- 29- south bus station - 2,000 Kip
Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guest houses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around 10,000 kip per day, with the cheapest reported to be 8,000 kip at Douang Deuane Hotel although the bikes aren't the best.. Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify. You can usually choose to leave your passport, your driver's licence, about 1,000 baht, or a comparable amount of kip or US dollars as a deposit.
Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow. But take extra care when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced even in the city centre, and they can be muddy and slippery—innocent-looking puddles sometimes conceal deep potholes.
The city centre can be quite comfortably covered on foot, at least in the cool season. Pha That Luang, however, is 4 km away from the centre and thus a bit of a hike. Out of the city centre there are few footpaths so walking can be uncomfortable.
Take your free to discover the city by car, you can independently drive yourself whenever and wherever you want, but be careful with local driving. In Laos there are a lot of car rental company, but if you are looking for a international standard and service, you can try Europcar (Asia Vehicle rental), located on Samsenthai Rd, just 5 minutes from Namphu fountain.
Vientiane is best viewed as a comfortable transit point for other places in Laos, or as a recuperative stop on the way out. It's a pleasant enough place, but generally, there is little reason to spend more than a couple of days here.
- Lao National Museum (Revolutionary Museum ພິພິຕະພັນແຫ່ງຊາດ), Thanon Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). 08:00-12:00, then 13:00-16:00. Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum by name, the historical exhibits on the first floor are modest though very interesting in depicting some of the early history. They include one of the original Jars from the Plain of Jars and various stone and bronze age implements. The second floor provides us with a great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Loatians didn't treat their guests quite as well in those days, often keeping them from leaving the country for several months. The floor builds up to a fervently revolutionary pitch as it documents the heroic struggle of the Lao against the Siamese (Thai), French and American imperialists. Exhibits include items such as socks worn by Politburo members when they escaped from prison and Kaysone Phomvihane's chest expander. The final rooms, on post-revolutionary Laos, are mostly a photo gallery of pressing topics such as the comrades of the 7th Plenary Session of the Laos People's Congress inspecting fertilizer production processes. The final rooms provide an insight into some of the modern advancements, though these are fairly dowdy and uninspiring. A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young western visitors on the subject of communism. Most exhibits are labelled in English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. Foreigner: 10000 kip, Laotian: 2000. (17.96684,102.60722)
- Patuxai (Victory Gate), Avenue Lane Xang.
A local rendition of Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Besides the elaborate Buddhist embellishment, it differs from the original in having four gates instead of two and being just a bit higher (to trump the French). Reasonably impressive from afar, a surprisingly frank English sign inside the monument labels it a "monster of concrete" when seen up close - and the concrete in question was donated by the US, although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead: hence the nickname "the Vertical Runway". The monument itself aside, the palm tree-lined park around it complete with fountains is quite pleasant though lacking of shade during the day time. You can climb up to the 7th story for a nice view of central Vientiane and three levels of souvenir shops with less than enthusiastic sales people sitting about. Features a musical fountain nearby that attracts visitors from around Laos and Asia, as well as a World Peace gong presented by Indonesia. Roving cameramen will be happy to charge you for photos near these attractions. 3000 kip (to climb). (17.971482,102.618468)
Patuxai, the Victory Gate
- COPE Visitor Centre, Khou Vieng Road (1km from Talat Sao (Morning Market) Opposite Green Park Hotel), . 09:00-18:00. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, is a local not for profit organisation that provides orthotic, prosthetic, rehabilitation and advocacy services for survivors of UXO accidents and other people with disabilities in Laos. During the Vietnam War (1964-1973), conflict spilled over into Laos in a secret war where more than 500,000 bombing missions dropped over two million tons of ordnance on the country. The COPE Visitor Centre provides visitors with the opportunity to understand the impact of UXO on Lao PDR, issues related to disability in developing countries and the work of the COPE project through a free permanent exhibition. The Visitor Centre is open from 9am to 6pm daily. Visitors are invited to watch documentaries on UXO, read survivor stories and interact with rehabilitative devices. The Visitor Centre also hosts a gift shop selling wares from local Lao organisations and the Karma Café where delicious homemade ice cream and Lao coffee are available. Exhibits are appropriate for all ages. Free parking. Free entry. (17.96127,102.61789)
- The Art of Silk, Manthatourath Road, Lao Women's Union, ☎ 7719798 or 2202547. Mon-Fri 9am-4pm. A local magazine says "Phone before visiting as there is no permanent staff." free(?).
- Kaysone Phomvihane Museum, km6 Dongdok Road, ☎ 911215. Tue-Sun 09:00-16:00. Museum about Kaysone Phomvihane. Foreigner: 5,00 kip, Laotian: 2,000 kip.
- Lao People's Army History Museum, Kaysone Phomvihane Road, Ban Nongsangthong, ☎ 900662. Tue-Sun 08:30-16:30. Museum about the army. Foreigner: 5000, Laotian: 2000.
- Memorial of president Souphanouvong, Kaysone Phomvihane Road, Ban Phonsa-art. Tue-Sun 08:30-16:00. Foreigner: 5000, Laotian: free.
Temples and Stupas
Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee of 2,000/5,000 kip for Lao nationals and foreigners and are open 08:00-16:00, with a noon-13:00 lunch break. The monks of those that don’t charge a fee will be grateful for a small donation in the box.
Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane
- Wat Si Saket now signposted as Sisaket Museum. Entrance fee 5,000 kip. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat. With very contemplative ambience, probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style and hence left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the centre of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim (ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives.
- Hophakaew Museum. Entrance fee 5,000 kip. Thanon Setthathirat (opposite Wat Si Saket). An elegant, and majestic structure, King Setthathirat's former royal temple, which housed the magical Emerald Buddha (pha kaew) after it was taken from Lanna (Chiang Mai). The Siamese took it back in 1779 - the image is now housed in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew - and came back in 1828 to raze the temple for good measure. The present structure is a 1942 reconstruction of dubious provenance. The temple no longer operates and the interior has been turned into a small jumbled museum housing Buddha images; look out for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down "calling for rain" pose.
- Black Stupa (That Dam). Thanon Bartholomie (off Thanon Samsenthai near the US embassy). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. It was renovated in 1995 but still has an attractive patina of age, and is slowly being overgrown again by lush grass vegetation. Warning: there have been dog attacks here at night.
- Pha That Luang. 5,000 kip Entrance fee (2,000 kip for Laotians). Thanon That Luang (2 km east from Patuxai). The national symbol and most important religious monument of the country, That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa. The current version dates from 1566, although it has been ransacked and renovated numerous times since then. All days 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. Accessing the inner courtyard gives you a slightly closer view of the stupa, and lots of Buddha statues. Vientiane's most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in November on the night of the full moon.
- There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua to the north(ish) and Wat That Luang Tai to the south(ish), both presently being renovated.
- Wat Si Muang. Between Thanons Setthatirat and Samsenthai, about 1km east of the centre. Free. Disney-esque and gaudy in set-up, one would not think that it's a religious compound. Despite its small size, the temple is very active. Followers believe that lifting the small uddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered. The city pillar is being housed in a pagoda-like structure now being constructed separately on another block northwest across the street.
- Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok are along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town centre, and therefore the most likely temples to be visited by tourists.
There are many more temples all over the town, but it must be said that if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.
- Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is a bizarre outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist & Hindu deities, and real & imaginary beasts. The reclining Buddha is especially impressive. Built in 1958 by mystic Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, who left the country after the communist take-over, and in 1978 he established a similar but more impressive park (Sala Keoku or Sala Kaew Ku) across the river in Nong Khai, Thailand. Located 24 km from the city, it's about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge - hence it's well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you're crossing the Friendship Bridge, as this will save a 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane. You can hire a tuk-tuk for the entire Vientiane - Buddha Park - Friendship bridge (or vice versa) trip, but taking the public bus #14 is much cheaper. The bus #14 leaves Talat Sao station to Xieng Khuan at 15 to 20 min intervals. The timetable is painted on the wall near the ticket office. Fare is 6,000 kip one-way, and it is no problem to flag down a bus on the way back or to the Friendship Bridge. The buses can be dilapidated minibuses without air-conditioning or new air-conditioned coaches sponsored by a foreign country. You may be required to change buses at the Friendship Bridge to another bus (also #14), in which case the fare will be 4,000 kip to the bridge and 2,000 kip for the remaining distance. The conductor will advise accordingly.
- On the main road (Thanon Thadeua), just before the access road to the Bridge branches off, is the National Ethnic Cultural Park where typical houses of various ethnic groups are on display, although only from the outside unless a custodian unlocks some of them. There also are some statues of dinosaurs and a rather dismal small "zoo". Generally the only activity are kiosks selling drinks and snacks, but there are said to be occasional cultural shows. Tour operators often take their guests here before or after a visit to the Buddha Park. Well, but it is not a place to go out of your way to visit.
- The project for the preservation of the old Vientiane Wall, Ban Nonghai (traffic light the way to go to Thadeua), ☎ 330-164 or 560-7620. 08:00-17:00. " free.
- Monk Chat. Once a month, local monks gather at the Sangha College (Wat Onteu) for chats with tourists.
- Green Discovery Laos, on Setthathirat Road (next to Khop Chai Deu), . Agency organising adventure tours and eco-tourism
- Trekking through nature parks.
- Picnicking on the Shores of Nam Ngum Lake, 90 km from Vientiane. A local favourite. There are floating restaurants along the lake shore; their specialty is fish fresh from the lake. Cruises among the lake's islands can be booked here, which makes for a relaxing couple of hours. Just inquire at your guest house/hotel or at any travel agency (where they will then try to sell their tours).
- Lao Massage, ☎ 02028582332. Your masseur or masseuse will be grateful for a tip. The staff will be happy if you have the decency to take a shower before you go. They won't say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant. The one next to The Drop Zone on Chao Anou Road is particularly delightful. The massage parlour does not really have a name, and the most prominent signboard merely says "now open". US$10-16/hour.
- Centre Culturel et de Cooperation L'inguistique (French Cultural Centre), Lane Xang Road. Has a French library and a small theatre that shows plays and films.
- Grooming (Holiday Barber), Chou Anou Road (across from the Home Ideal Department Store). The best salon in Vientiane. To get an idea of how reasonable the pricing is, here are some of the services and their prices: 1 hour long massage for 30,000 kip, manicure/pedicure and foot scrape for 30,000 kip, Brazilian blowout 100,000 kip.
- Muay Lao (Kickboxing) (Kuanjai Sikhot Boxing Gym), (on the same road as the airport, going out of town; head towards the Sekhai Market. Make a right turn right before the market, then go straight and make the first left turn, go straight another 700 m), ☎ 020 566 32835. A national sport of Lao PDR. Similar to Muay Thai, but not a tourist trap like most gyms in Thailand
- Meditation (Lao Dhamma Center), (on Route 13, to the south, at km38), . Peaceful Buddhist meditation centre with a daily schedule dedicated to sincere meditation practice. Foreigners are welcome. It is difficult to find such a place elsewhere in Laos.
- Bicycle Touring (Vientiane ByCycle), (tours start at the parking lot of Khong View Restaurant), ☎ +856 205 581 2337, . half and full day. Vientiane ByCycle offers awesome guided bicycle tours through and around Vientiane. They take you off the beaten track to places where you usually wouldn't go. Along villages, temples, school yards, the banks of Mekong River, crematoria, markets, and local businesses. They have excellent quality mountain bikes. Make reservations through their website.
- Adina Spa, 170 Phonesaath, Kaysone Road (half a kilometre north of Patuxay Monument.), ☎ +856 21 414138, . Daily, 09:00- 22:00. Adina Spa is well-known as the first to have opened its doors to offer full service spa and massage treatments in Vientiane. Started in 2005, this spa has provided excellent service to visiting dignitaries. (17.977386,102.62623099999996)
- Champa Spa, Fa Ngum Road (on the Mekong Riverfront), ☎ +856 21 251926, . Daily, 09:00 - 22:00. Champa Spa has pretty much has all the services you would expect from a spa and massage place. (17.962802,102.606865)
- Lao Experiences Cooking Course and Food Tours, (Bookings at The Full Moon Cafe), ☎ 020 95553097/02055699429. Daily. Learn about Lao people and their culture. Cook Lao-style in the garden on a quiet stretch of the Mekong River.
Markets and department stores
- Talat Sao (Morning Market), corner of Lane Xang Rd and Khu Vieng Rd. 09:00-16:00. A large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics (nearly all of it counterfeit), and watches; the second floor has clothing, gold and jewellery. Depending on the product, you should negotiate for discounts 10-33%.
The snack section along Rue Lan Xang has some delicacies selling including fried insects (maybe locusts or grasshoppers, and also larvae and worms).
- Talat Sao Mall, . Has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with an indoor parking. At weekends people from the countryside come and marvel at the escalators (which, in one local magazine article, were referred to in English as "electricity ladders"), and at the bravery of those who venture onto them. The mall boasts a few cafés and a Thai-style food court. Many vendors are Thais so they expect you to pay in baht, despite the signs urging you to pay in kip, and they also expect you to be typical dumb tourists who'll pay any price and still think it's a bargain. Souvenir T-shirts cost 3 for 200 baht.
- Home Ideal Department Store, Samsenthai Road. Large one-stop shop for assorted products from stationery to housewares, clothing to luggage. Prices are fixed and reasonable.
Look for the "Stay Another Day: Laos"  booklet for a guide to non-profit handicraft shops, sustainable manufacturing and other NGO stuff in Vientiane and elsewhere in Laos.
Above all, silk and cotton weavings are for sale in the Morning Market and in many shops along Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai, and in several of their side roads. In the Morning Market you should bargain; in the other shops you may try to get a discount but don't count on it. Some of the better shops are:
- Mixay Boutic (yes, that's how they write it) in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (with a branch in Thanon Setthathirat) - they have some women weaving fabrics of the shop's own design on the premises, who you are welcome to watch. Beautiful wall hangings, not the cheapest in town but well worth the price. Also on sale are shirts and skirts, scarves, cushion covers and anything made of textiles.
- Laha Boutique, Thanon Francois Ngin: naturally dyed textiles (mainly cotton) from the south (Savannakhet).
- Kanchana: the Beauty of Lao Silk: traditional Lao silk weavings, hand-woven fabrics, textiles and clothing using natural dyes. Just off Thanon Samsenthai on Thanon Chantha Kumman, the road to That Dam.
- Lao Textiles,  Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Founded 1990 by an American woman (Carol Cassidy), who now employs some 40 artisans, this firm offers modern cotton weavings using traditional motifs and- some of their work has been exhibited in international museums, with this reflected in the price. They are not particularly welcoming to visitors, including a locked front door, a bell that needs to be rung to request entry & very prominent 'No photography' signs.
- The Art of Silk, Thanon Manthatulat, run by the Lao Women's Union. Silk and cotton weavings in both traditional and modern designs.
- Mulberries Lao Sericulture Company, Thanon Nokeo Kumman. The sales outlet of a not-for-profit organisation that operates in about five hundred villages in Northern Laos, seeking to create income generating opportunities. Naturally-dyed, handmade Lao silk products.
- TShop Lai, Vat Inpeng Street, ☎ 856 (21) 22 31 78, . Sells oils, shampoos, soaps, etc. made by Les Artisans Lao as well as honey and some nice handicrafts. Les Artisans Lao is a social venture allowing disadvantaged, uneducated and often marginalised people to receive an apprenticeship.
Most supermarkets offer groceries from Europe, wines from all over the world, and due to the low taxation in Laos these are astonishingly low-priced considering the long transport routes; dairy products from Laos itself and Thailand (milk, yoghurt), butter and cheese from Europe and New Zealand.
- City Mini-mart on Samsenthai Road opposite Wat Si Muang - maybe the shop with the most extensive range of merchandise in town, and somewhat cheaper than the shops in the centre.
- M-Point Mart is a relatively new convenience store chain, with at least five locations in Vientiane. Much like a 7-11. Stop by around 18:00 and there will be a Thai food cart right in front. Offers pad Thai, fried baby mussels, fried rice, mixed seafood platter. Price: 15,000 kip per plate.
- Phimphone Mini-mart on Setthathirat Road next to JoMa. It is no mere mini-mart, but almost a full-grown supermarket. This place will surprise you in the amount of Western stock it carries, but it is expensive and the exchange rate on foreign currency is not good. It pays to pay in kip! A second shop with the same name, the owners are related but the shops are not, is on Samsenthai Road, corner of Chantha Kumman Road. Excellent, European-style bread is usually available (at Setthathirat), though the delivery schedule is a bit erratic.
- Riverside Minimart on Fa Ngum Road, the Mekong promenade.
- V-Shop on Khun Bulom Road between Setthathirat Road and Samsenthai Road. Outside in front is a small express café where they serve some of the best coffee in town (Lao Mountain Coffee), shakes, fruit juices, waffles, doughnuts. Good for people-watching on the edge of the Chinese quarter.
Several shops around town, including the Full Moon Cafe, offer book buy/sell/exchange services. Some of the tomes on the shelves look as if they have been on a long, long trip in a back-pack, but you can find interesting reading material.
- Monument Books, Thanon Nokeo Kumman (next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse). Offers a good selection of English and French language books and magazines.
Vientiane boasts one of the best DVD shops in Southeast Asia, with 10,000 titles of quality European, Asian and US movies. This is Seng Lao, about 100 m toward the river down Chao Anou Street from the Home Ideal department store - on your left. Seng Lao has dozens of books displaying covers: you browse the books, and list your choices on a piece of paper they provide, at 10,000 kip each. (Don't go to the nearby and better-marked Seng Dao DVD shop by mistake, as service and choice here are much inferior.). Mind the possible consequences of importing large amounts of illegally copied DVDs into your country.
- Chinese bicycles and mountain bikes can be found in the Morning Market (Talat Sao) and in a few shops in the surrounding streets. Prices for a single gear bike start at about US$50, mountain bikes at about US$80. In the tourist area, bike rentals cost ~10,000 kip per day.
- Top Cycle Zone, 47 Dong Palan. the place to go if you want to buy a decent Western style bicycle, or spare parts for one. Mountain bike: From US$350.
Watch out for fake brand name alcohol in Laos.
- Vientiane State Import/Export Enterprises, Samsenthai Road (next to Phongsavanh Bank). a duty free, state owned liquor store. Limited selection but the cheapest price in town for popular brand name liquor by the bottle. This place is pretty good in terms of product authenticity but nothing is 100% guaranteed.
There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese to Tex-Mex. More restaurants open all the time, but many are there for just a few months before they go under. A few are successful and stay and may even flourish. It’s a question of offering something special, either in the way of the food served, or the atmosphere, or the friendly and competent service.
On the west side of the morning food market, one can sample fried cricket delicacies together with other bug-like critters.
For authentic Lao food and dining experience there is one noodle soup shop on the street across from the end of Rue Saylom next to a green Fuji film shop and developing studio and with the sign "DELICIOUS NOODLE". This restaurant offers the best Lao white thick rice noodles with some pieces of chicken or fried pork, quail's eggs, and the usual vegetable servings, spring onions, cilantro, mung bean sprouts (unlimited serve-yourself quantity). There's also the Kanom Ku (Chinese doughnuts) on the side. Unlimited servings, and it's all for 8,000 kip plus 1,000 kip per Kanom Ku consumed (honour system).
Most importantly, the noodle soup tastes great, the broth is delicious.
On Lane Xiang, a dirt alley north of Hatsady Road and the Morning Market, across from the Bank of Ayudhya, is a small group of stalls offering local food patronized by office workers. The ambiance is similar to the morning and night street food markets in Luang Prabang and the vendors seemingly have not been co-opted by a tourist-mindset. At 09:30, flies hover rarely and the food is steaming hot, having just been lifted out of the cooking fire.
- Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve rice noodle soups ("feu", a close cousin to Vietnamese phở and Chinese 粉 fan2), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate: around 1 USD for a large bowl or plate.
- Ban Anou Night Market is only about 1 block long and starts setting up at sundown, but it has some of the best cheap eats in town. There's a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with hand-pulled noodles, little lettuce-wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice, local beverages made from coconut, chai tea, corn grass jelly, and more. Particularly worth trying are the small rice pancakes. Two hemispheres of rice-based batter are fried in a tin, filled with minced pork and bean sprouts and put together. About the size of a flattened tennis ball, and absolutely delicious.
- Ray's Grille, (on Rue Nokeokoummane (across the street from Mixay Guesthouse). Serves delicious Philly cheese steaks, kebabs, quesadillas, salads & other dishes. Baguettes are freshly-baked each day and sandwiches are given generous amounts of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Middle-eastern options are accompanied by home-made tahini or tzatziki sauce. The quality of the food is rivalled only by the friendliness of the chef. "Ray" is the owner's young son. 17,000 - 30,000 kip.
- Stay Hungry Burger, (Setthathirat Road near Nam Phu, in front of State Bookstore), ☎ +8562077516084. Stay Hungry Burger's claim is true, you really do stay hungry after eating there as the burger are the smallest in town.
A selection of more sophisticated restaurants:
- Along the river: dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens, from opposite the BCEL bank strung along the Mekong for approximately 2 km upriver (those upstream from the main beach promenade are generally cheaper). All are pleasant places for a beer and a snack or a complete meal while the sun goes down over the river. One of these is one-time famous John's Restaurant, but since the owner married an Australian and left for down under there is nothing to distinguish it from the other places left and right. All serve inexpensive (but not really cheap for Laos - in fact, the prices for most foods are much like in Thailand) Lao, Thai and some Western food. Among the best is the grilled fish, served by many of them. Take care when you're in for boiled eggs: what you get here are incubated duck eggs. When you open them you're in for a surprise (but at least the little bird does not chirp). The Lao love them, they are hugely popular.
In 2005 one of the eateries along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan tables (ka toke); diners sit cross-legged on the mat around the table. These became so popular that they can now be found at many of these establishments. They are much nicer than the rickety metal tables and plastic chairs that are the standard of all but the better restaurants in Laos. The riverside open-air restaurants have been known to use two menus, a cheaper one for locals and an expensive one for foreigners.
- Nazim Indian Restaurant on the Mekong river road: decent Indian food. Their toilet is not the cleanest in the country, perhaps because the patrons of some of the eateries on the river bank are directed here for certain needs when they are not simply sent down to the reeds at the water's edge. Nazim has opened another branch in Thanon Pang Kham, opposite the offices of Lao Airlines. There are at least 4 other Indian restaurants in the city centre, and all quite similar.
- Taj Mahal Restaurant, just south of the National Culture Hall, has OK Indian food at OK prices. The only thing making an Indian ambiance is some cheesy Indian music. When we were there, only tourists were eating at the place.
- Noor, at the waterfront couple of blocks away from Nazim Indian restaurant. Noor restaurant is clearly the better option in terms of food quality and taste. Good value for money.
Vegetarian / Vegan:
- Happy Golden Age A reasonably priced (15,000kip for noodle soup) vegan restaurant. Seems to be Vietnamese-centric with assortment of mock meats and dishes. Staff was nice, place was clean, they spoke some English. Its where Rue Saylom curves behind the "Vientiane Plaza".
- Nirvana Simuang Road. (a small road connecting Sethattirat Road to Khou Vieng Road. in Ban Simuang, Muang Sisattanak, close to the famous tourist site Wat Simuang). Delicious Lao traditional vegetarian/vegan food with some Western-style options. Nice change from the mostly Chinese-style offer of other buffets. High diversity and rotation rates. In the evening, ask for the menu (they have two - one basic one with pictures and another, much larger). 20,000 kip buffet at lunch hours. Open M-Sa. Family-managed, very clean. Some English spoken. Tel: +856 21 217 385.
- Vegan restaurant @ Talat Khuadin Inside the market opposite the Talat Sao. Pass the big basket shop and you will see a wooden sign pointing you down an alley. Offers a lunch time buffet serving vegan Laotian food. You can also get there from Mahosot Road: go north past the bus station and watch for the alley on the right. Down the alley you'll see a "vegetarian" sign on the left. The buffet is open from 10:00 to 14:30 for 20,000 kip per person.
- Vegan food stall @ Talat Sao food court (at the top level of Talat Sao shopping mall). All plates at 10,000 kip each. Buffet plates, excellent veg spring rolls and noodle soups.
- Benoni Cafe, on the first floor of Phimphone Market (entrance next to it), opens from 10:00 to 17:00, and offers a wide range of reasonably priced Asian and European dishes. The owners are Lao, but speak fluent English, French, and German. daily specials and home roasted coffee beans, basis for one of the best coffees in town. Busy at lunch time, discounts after 14:00.
- Café des Arts, Heng Boun Road (close to Lao Cultural Hall), ☎ +856 021 212 260, . M-F, 10:00-14:00, 17:00-23:00; weekends evenings only. Excellent home-made pasta and pizzas for around US$6-7, as well as a good selection of wines, including by the glass. Accepts kip, Thai baht, Euros, US dollars. Most expensive pizza, 73,000 kip.
- Café Indochine, Setthathirat Road. Authentic Vietnamese food. Particularly recommended: the set meals at about US$4-5. When there are more than just a few guests, the kitchen staff may lose sight of their priorities.
- Chokdee, Mekong road. Belgian food and Belgian beers. Good food, but the fries were a bit disappointing. Rather sloppy and not the Belgian quality they claim they serve. The restaurant serves a wide selection of Belgian beers as well as Beerlao. Maybe not the place to go for cocktails though.
- Le Côte d’Azur on Fa Ngum Road: a favourite of the expat community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.
- Le Croissant d'Or and Banneton Café, almost next to each other in Nokeo Kumman Road (running from the river to Setthathirat Road) have croissants and pastries and serve simple lunches. Banneton sells the best baguettes in town - tasty, not just something to chew. Their coffee is among the best in Vientiane, on a par with that at JoMa. The owners of Le Croissant d'Or also run the Vista Café in Thanon François Ngin (free Wi-Fi when you spend 30,000 kip on food and drink).
- Full Moon Café, almost next to Sticky Fingers, nice interior with comfortable seating arrangements and relaxed atmosphere. Asian/European fusion cuisine. Friendly but unfocused staff and reasonable prices. Manager named Khamfanh speaks good English and can help with orders or information about Laos. Has a free book exchange: 1 for 1. Free Wi-Fi.
- Hong Kong Restaurant, opposite Lao Plaza Hotel. Lackadaisical Cantonese dishes (US$2-9) and a small selection of dim sum (8,000 kip per plate). There have been reports of them padding the bill. Check the bill carefully before paying! (That, by the way, is something you should do everywhere: in a country where they use a calculator to subtract 7 from 10 it comes as no surprise that their counting of beers consumed is not always accurate, although to be fair the mistakes are not always to the disadvantage of the customer.
- Inter Hotel Restaurant - Quai Fa Ngum, riverside, well prepared Szechuan food, about 24,000 kip per dish. The hotel also runs the Inter Stone House in the same building round the corner; about the same or a slightly higher price range. Western and Thai/Lao food; their speciality is the sizzling steak on a stone platter, which however is not recommended as it's rather leathery meat with maltreated French fries and tasteless vegetables. Offers little for vegetarians.
- JoMa, Setthathirat Road, in the fountain square, extremely popular air-conditioned café and bakery with simple lunches and excellent cakes & coffee. Free Wi-Fi. TV
- Just For Fun, by the That Dam, just off Rue Samsenthai. Bright, cheery, friendly place perfect for a leisurely bite and beer in the shadow of the That Dam. Wholesome, healthy Thai-influenced food and fresh desserts. Good selection of vegetarian dishes. Mains start at US$2.50.
- Khao Nieow on Nokeo Kumman Road, almost next to La Terrasse. Set three-course meals at US$4.50. Steaks in two qualities: Lao beef at around 4 or 5 USD; New Zealand lamb and beef at about US$8 and above. To be tried on a cool evening: the fondue bourguignonne at US$26 for two and, a surprise in a place whose name means "Sticky Rice", excellent cheese fondue at US$28 for two - not something for the hottest months of the year, but nice around year-end when temperatures drop.
- Kop Kap, across from Tat Luang Temple. A favourite among exats living nearby, if you crave Thai food. Packed during lunch time, the restaurant is known for its excellent Penang curry. Closed Sundays.
- Kua Lao at Thanon Samsenthai. Authentic Lao food with a good selection of vegetarian dishes; traditional Lao music and dance performances in the evening. The food is expensive by Lao standards with main dishes from US$6-12 and set meals at US$15.
- Lane Xang Hotel Restaurant on Thanon Fa Ngum has traditional Lao music and dance performances every evening from about 19:00, which you watch while eating the Lao food. Get there early to secure a table with a good view of the stage. A meal for four, consisting of 5 or 6 dishes including drinks, will come at about US$30.
- Lao Garden, 2 km east on Tha Deua Road. For decent Lao, Thai and Western food in a charming environment, this is the place. Very popular with locals and with a great view of the Mekong. Mains cost between 30,000-100,000 kip. The fried fish laap is excellent. Often offers live music in the evenings. Meena nightclub opposite is a fun place to dance the night away with local Lao youth after dinner.
- Little House Cafe on Manthatourat Road (opposite Lao Cotton) - Japanese owner roasts her own coffee, using shade-grown, organic Lao coffee beans. Coffee is excellent and the coffee shake is wonderful on hot days. The home-made scones and cakes ,when available, are tasty. The cafe also sells textiles.
- Lotus Restaurant, next to Cultural Hall. Serves traditional Lao and Western food, 08:30- 23:30. Price range: US$2-4.
- Makphet, Behind Wat Ong Teu, just a block or two from the river. Training restaurant to give street kids skills in the hospitality industry. Excellent food and service. Just be aware that this is Lao food cooked for the Western palate and is not really authentic. Great alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Mushroom curry noodles and banana flower salad are both excellent.
- Moon the Night Restaurant. Another 0.5 km farther upstream from the Spirit House and somewhat difficult to find: the river promenade ends a few hundred metres before – best to take a tuk-tuk. (Directions: from the Novotel 0.5 km west, direction airport, past the Ford showroom, then turn into a soi on the left which after 200 m takes you to the river. There ask around). A very pleasant spot to eat excellent Lao food. A large place, an extensive menu, competent and friendly service. Background music not too loud. Highly recommended. A meal of 6 to 8 dishes for 4 people costs US$15-20 including drinks.
- Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant, Thanon Sailom opposite the Lao Telecom Service Centre. Part of a chain that also has restaurants in Thailand and Indonesia. Good Lao, Thai, Chinese and Western food. Reasonable prices and good, attentive service. Very popular at lunch time with office workers and students.
- Le Provençal at Nam Phu (the Fountain) - French fare, excellent pizzas Very good steaks as well as good French regional cooking. The owner allows you to bring your own wine as well. Main courses from about US$4-10.
- Sticky Fingers - François Ngin Road opposite the Tai Pan Hotel. High quality Western style food at reasonable prices. They have won a national award for their grasshopper/cricket tacos! Also offer a wide selection of vegetarian options. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, including half price cocktails. Open for breakfast and lunch on weekends only. Free Wi-Fi. Hangout for expats and NGO volunteers.
- La Terrasse, Nokeo Kumman Road, is popular with both expats and tourists. It is one of the best French restaurants in Vientiane (very good pizzas, and excellent tender steaks at about 40,000 kip). Set three-course lunch is US$5.50, main dishes up to 80,000 kip. Closed on Sundays.
- Salana Corner 2 minutes walk away from the Mekong River on Chao Anou Road. (+856)21254254 07:30-22:00. this restaurant & cafe is part of Salana Boutique Hotel and offers a good selection of Lao Western Dishes. Known for employing Lao Chefs from famous hotels in Laos, the restaurant is between Wat Ong Teu and Wat Inpaeng, quiet but in a very good location. Good selection of beers & beverages also available. Approx US$3-12 per person.
- The Spirit House on that tree-shaded part of the river promenade that has not yet been "upgraded" to Lao-style sterile banality like the stretch downriver (there are plans for it, but fortunately the money seems to have run out). It is about 0.3 km upstream from the end of the paved portion of the road. An excellent cocktail bar, it also offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu with competent and friendly service. Every evening there is 25% off all cocktails and a view of the sun setting on the Mekong. Watch the waiters jump the puddles in the rainy season when you've chosen to sit outside on the terrace across the potholed road.
- Swedish Pizza & Baking House. Ban Anou Road. Tel (+856)215705. Open 07:00-21:00. Huge selection of excellent thin-crust pizzas for 45,000-60,000 kip. The mocha shakes are particularly tasty. Also has a wide variety of fresh baked breads, pastries and cakes. Note that the location changed in December 2011 and it is now a block north of where some maps have it marked, closer to the night market. The sign is currently hidden from view until you are well past Win Hotel.
- Tex-Mex Alexia Restaurant and Bar, on Fa Ngum Road almost directly across from the Chinese Temple. Ostensibly a Tex-Mex eatery, expat Americans uniformly condemn the food. Yet the place is almost always packed. The bar does a lively business, serving up very strong margaritas. Live music many nights. Even if you don't fancy trying the food, it's a fine place to sip a drink and watch the city roll by. Caution to males: the pretties coming by your table to chat you up--certainly the Lao are friendly people, but Tex-Mex Alexia seems to have become a haven for the city's working girls eyeing some "foreign exchange".
- Up 2 U just off of Lane Xang Road. Call Nok for English reservations/directions on (+856)206711784 11:00-23:00. 5 min walk from the Morning Market, this restaurant offers a good selection of Lao 'BBQ' dishes and soups as well as the usual rice dishes. The restaurant is just off the main road next to a large fishing pond surrounded by colonial houses, a welcome change from the busy river front. Good selection of beers & beverages also available. US$5-8 per person. It's popular with locals.
- Via Via Opposite Riverside Hotel on Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Excellent tasting wood-fired paper-thin crust pizzas and home-made pastas priced from 32,000 kip. Good selection of Belgian beers.
- Aria Mixai Italian Culinary Arts 8 Rue Francois Ngin, Ban Mixai ,
Phone: +856 30 570 0831, or +856 21 222 589 [www.ariaorg.com] .
Finest Italian dining in the capital, real Neapolitan pizza with wood fired oven, superb Italian cuisine, excellent selection of homemade pasta’s and gourmet choice of meats and fishes. The most popular buffet in town. Extensive Italian wine list ranked among the top ten in Asia.
Price Range from 6$ up
- Balkan House, Thongsangnang Village (from Thongkhankham market, second traffic light left, than first street right opposite Nakhomesack Hotel, down the street 300 m on the left side), ☎ 020 7709 729. Tu-Su 08:00-15:00 & 18:00-23:00. Traditional Yugoslav and Mediterranean home-made dishes, prepared by a Montenegrin chef. From US$5-15.
- La Belle Epoque in the Settha Palace Hotel. Excellent food in an atmosphere of colonial elegance but the service needs improvement. Main courses starting at US$8.
- Le Central on Setthathirat Road: good Western food, main courses at US$8-15. Three-course set lunch for 75,000 kip (US$9.75).
- Le Nadao opposite Patuxai Park. Excellent classical French fare, main courses starting at US$8. Booking is recommended (tel: 021-213174).
- Nam Phou. The first and arguably the best of the restaurants around the Fountain (Nam Phu), with good food and exceptional service. A favourite of NGO types.
- L'Opera: at the Fountain; good Italian food, but not quite comparable to what you get in the owner's home country. Good pizzas. Don't go there if you cannot stand opera - it is played continuously in the background though not, fortunately, so loud that it drowns the conversation.
- La Scala Italian Restaurant, Lak 3, Thadeua Road, ☎ +856 21 931 169. Excellent Italian food. Romantic setting in a beautifully maintained colonial home. Offers a lunchtime buffet Monday-Friday. Pizzas a bit bland, with thicker/2cm crust throughout. Has an extensive wine list. Pasta mains from US$8..
- Le Silapa, (Sihom Road (the road leading off the Setthathirat/Khun Bulom intersection)). A small atmospheric restaurant with excellent French food and a good wine list. Main courses start at about US$15..
The massive influx in recent years of Chinese investment into Laos may be controversial, but one area in which it has had an undeniably positive impact is the vastly increased quality of Chinese restaurants in Vientiane. No reason anymore to settle for the ghastly Hong Kong Restaurant or uninspired banquet fare in the big hotels. Vientiane has a growing selection of authentic regional Chinese cuisine, particularly from the southwest.
- Fu Man Lou 福滿樓 (Tel: 21-262249; mobile: 020-55519185), Luang Prabang Road: this restaurant is so successful it now has two locations. The one on the road to the airport is the best by far. It is the most established of the better Chinese restaurants in the city, and the Chinese diplomats posted to Laos often dine here. Food selection is multi-regional, but the Sichuan dishes are well done.
- Dihao Hunan Restaurant 帝豪酒店 (Tel: 21-262799), on T2 Road not far from Patuxai. If you are craving spicy Hunan fare, Dihao serves up some of the best you'll find this side of Changsha. Hunanese-owned and operated (the Hunan Chamber of Commerce is on the 4th floor), Dihao is likely the finest and most authentic Chinese restaurant in Vientiane at the moment. Staff speak Chinese and Lao, and the menu is same, but every dish has its own photo. Order anything containing chilies, and you can't go wrong.
- Jiu-Jiu Restaurant 久玖酒家 (Tel: 21-213059; mobile: 020-55333419), Luang Prabang Road (almost directly opposite the Marina Nightclub): an unheralded gem, this restaurant offers fantastic southwestern Chinese cuisine. The chef hails from Qujing 曲靖 in Yunnan Province. The food is best described as Yunnan-Sichuan fusion. Helps if you know Chinese, but the staff can speak Lao as well. Menu contains plenty of photographs, so if all else fails, just point.
- Restaurant Chengdu 成都食府, Luang Prabang Road. Formerly the 東北美食館 (Manchuria Gourmet), this restaurant opened with new name and management in January 2011. The owner/manager claims the chef is from Chengdu, but the heavily Manchurian-influenced food from the kitchen clearly puts the lie to that claim. It is obvious they have changed the menu to Sichuan fare, but kept a Manchurian chef who doesn't know how to properly prepare it.
Sunset and Beerlao by the Mekong
Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, and there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline has long been the epicentre of low-key night life, although a massive construction project to build a flood management system and a riverside park has seen most of the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens here disappear.
- Bor Pen Nyang, (Fa Ngum Road (the river promenade), ☎ +856 20 787 3965, . Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Tourists, locals, expats, working girls and ladyboys in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive fine whisky range in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors. Special daily cocktail for 20,000 kip. Pool & snooker tables on the 2nd floor. At the back of the bar there is a winner stays/loser pays pool competition every night
- CCC Bar, Supanvong Road, Ban Haai Sok, . The second of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane, located next to Silapa Restaurant and catty-corner from Vat Inpeng. Friendly atmosphere and staff with good dance beats. Mixed drinks typical cost around 30,000 kip, with happy hour between 19:00 and 21:00. Second floor has a dance floor.
- Deja Vu, (next to L'Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square (Fountain)). A classy and cozy bar, owned and run by a Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Closed on Sundays. Approximately 50K kip per cocktail.
- Don Chan Palace. closes at 04:00 on weekends. An after-hours club popular with working girls. Closed now for renovation.
- GQ Bar, (off Rue Chao Anou (the same street as the Inter City and Lao Orchid Hotel, off Fa Ngum Road along the river)). One of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane. Closes between midnight and 01:00, when some head off to the @Home nightclub. Friendly staff, crazy owner, cheap drinks, and occasional cabaret shows around 24:00.
- Jazzy-Brick, (Setthathirat Road nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu). A classy, and expensive, bar. The sign out front states "no shorts, no flip-flops allowed".
- Khop Chai Deu, (Setthathirat Road next to the fountain square.), . The name means "thank you very much". Popular with tourists, expats and Lao hi-so types. OK food; mid-range prices; large selection of Western, Thai, and recently introduced classic Lao dishes. Great place to drink beer in the centre of town.
- Martini Lounge, (Thanon Nokeo Kummane Road, just a block from the Mekong and next door to Croissant d'Or Bakery.). Opens at 18:00 and closes well past the normal 23:30 curfew. Movies shown Monday-Wednesday 20:00. Thursdays are salsa nights and most Fridays a DJ is spinning. Possibly plays the most eclectic music in Vientiane.
- Red Mekong Bar and Restaurant, ☎ +856 20 222 2513, . Happy hour between 18:00 and 20:00. Its large red illuminated sign can be easily seen from nearby Bor Pen Nyang.
- Samlo Pub, (Setthathirat Road opposite Wat Onteu). Was once one of only a few bars in town, and was packed every evening, especially between 23:00 and 02:00, after other bars around town closed. Perhaps quieter now that there is more competition. Has pool table and shows sports, but the "background" music often drowns the TV commentary. Drinkers from Bor Pen Nyang often come here when it closes, then move on again to the Don Chan Palace night club once Samlo closes.
- Wind West. Different cover bands play throughout the night. Maybe the only country & western bar in Laos. A sit-and-listen-to-live-band place, not a dance club.
There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, but there is little budget accommodation. Most options are mid to high-range for Lao standards, and can go up to astronomic prices exceeding the yearly salary of most Laotians, and which can not be paid in local currency. In recent years many new establishments have opened, but mid-2007 the Government announced plans to restrict the number of new permits: they wish to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The days that anyone could convert their home to a guest house seem to be over.
Normally, just get into the town centre (for instance, Nam Phu Square) and start looking around along Thanon Setthathirat and its side streets. You’ll find something within minutes except in "peak season" (January) when it will be really difficult to find a room: book in advance!
High season is something like October through April or May; low season June through September.
Some places insist on an early nightly curfew and lock the front door without giving you a key. If you wish to enjoy the nightlife (what there is of it), make sure that you will be able to stay out and, more importantly, get in again. Often there will be a door man who sleeps near to the main entrance doors and can be woken up to get in, but it's advisable to check what system they have in place for getting back in during the small hours of the morning.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
|| Under 120,000 kip
|| 120,000-400,000 kip
|| Over 400,000 kip
Budget accommodation in Vientiane fills quickly and can be difficult to find by late afternoon.
- Benacam Guest House, Ban Watchan. checkout: 11:00. Clean, nice rooms, great value. Nice bathrooms with great water pressure, real shower, clean bed linen. Rooms can be small, have fridge and cable TV. Wi-Fi, although signal can be weak in areas.
- Vientiane Backpackers Hostel (email@example.com), ☎ +8562098288627, . Free breakfast, free vodka all night, clean rooms, western managed and friendly staff, free wifi 24hrs. Only dorm 40,000 with a/c.
- DreamTime Eco Retreat, ☎ +856 20 77 895 721 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . If you are looking for peace and quiet, this is the place. Seven bungalows scattered in the jungle with a small stream. Mike, the owner, is really nice and helpful with everything. Located 30 km from the city. Price depends on the type of bungalow, 30,000-90,000 kip.
- Mimi Guest House, (Francois Ngin Road), ☎ +856 20 55 666 736. Doubles for 50,000 kip.
- Mixay Guesthouse, 54 Nokeo Koummane Road. Simple rooms with fan and shared bathroom. Friendly staff. Clean, but has ventilation issues in some rooms (especially on the top floor where there is a smoking section). Watch your head on the stairs, watch your step, and be patient with the staff. Free Wi-Fi, but only between 09:00 and 23:00. Dorms with/without breakfast 50,000/45,000 kip, single with/without breakfast 70,000/65,000, Double with common bathroom with/without breakfast 90,000/85,000, double with bathroom with/without breakfast 100,000/90,000 kip, double with air-con with/without breakfast 110,000/100,000 kip.
- Mixay Paradise, Francois Ngin Road. Partner to Mixay Guesthouse and just one block away. Prices are the same but this is a clean, new guest house. Same for the Wi-Fi as well, only between 11:00 and 23:30. Staff are friendly, you can add breakfast for 8,000 kip. Besides the Wi-Fi issue it is highly recommended.
- RD Guesthouse, Norkeokoummane Road. "Starting at 50,000 kip for a dorm bed, the "Relax and Dream away" Guest house isn't very dreamy, but does have padded ceiling on the stairs (good for tall people) (but be careful going through doorways), and the library has a huge Korean selection, a modest English selection aling with some other languages.
- Sabaidy Guest House, 203 Settathirat Road. checkout: 11:00. Has lockers to keep your belongings in. Close to the centre, dormitories with no doors or sheets on a bed for 20,000 kip, doubles for 50,000 kip. No Wi-Fi, friendly stuff, shared toilets. Laundry for 9,000 kip/kg. Warning: bedbugs have been reported.
- Seng Lao Hotel, (on Chao Anou Road around 3 blocks up from Fa Ngum Road), (Senglaohotel@Yahoo.com). . Clean rooms with A/C and TVs at 115,000 for single 170,000 and 190,000 for twins and 260,000 for a triple. Very helpful staff can let you know where to find more local stuff in addition to normal tourist things.
- Soutchai Travel, Nokeo Koummane Road (across from Mixay Guesthouse), ☎ +856 21 25 4512-5. (Formerly aYa Guest House). Clean dorm rooms, moderately fast 24-hour Wi-Fi, small balcony, fan and air-con, lamp, locker/cabinet, towel, and water refill for 40,000 kip. Two common rooms, one with TVs. Discounted travel fares for guests. Friendly staff. Double room is 110,000 kip..
- Youth Inn, (Francois Ngin Road), ☎ +856 21 21 7130 (email@example.com). Got a nice cafe with couches downstairs, friendly staff. If you insist, they might offer you an improvised dormitory, which is a three-bed room with window, fan, and a closet. Air-con available in some rooms. Free Wi-Fi for guests with questionable quality. Internet stations are 8,000 kip/hour. Pay attention, bedbugs. Dorm 25,000 kip, rooms 60,000+ kip. (17.9649569,102.6045638)
- Youth Inn 2, (Francois Ngin Road), (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Very clean, rooms with air-con, fan, en suite bath. Helpful and friendly staff. Free drinking water in room, bicycle hire 10,000 kip. 12-hour free Wi-Fi with captive portal or Cyberia Hotspot Wi-Fi, 6,000 kip/hour. The original older Youth Inn is located on the other end of the same road near to the river and has slightly cheaper rooms but of a lower quality. Avoid 4th floor in cool season. Rooms 80,000 kip or 300 baht. (17.9655,102.6046)
- Asian Pavilion Hotel, 379 Samsenthai Road. Good, if not quite their self-proclaimed "fascinating" mid-range choice. Formerly known as the Hotel Constellation as chronicled in John le Carre's, The Honourable Schoolboy. Rooms from US$26 with air-con, hot water, cable TV, breakfast and airport transfer..
- Baan Champa Lao Heritage Hotel, 125 Phnompehn Road (Anou Village), ☎ +856 20 50 23782, 20 55 05840 (email@example.com). Baan Champa is a clean modest hotel. It's a family-run, relatively new and is located in a quiet area only 2 blocks from the National Museum and Cultural Centre. Itmis possible to book a bus to Luang Prabang and train tickets to Bangkok at reception. They are extremely kind and helpful. Room rates US$15-25 incl breakfast (toast, fruit, tea, coffee).
- Beau Rivage Mekong Hotel, Fa Ngum Road (on the river road but at the shady tree-lined stretch that has not yet been “developed”, a few hundred metres upriver from where the road has been asphalted), . New, very nice. All rooms have Wi-Fi, courtesy of the HBRM Spirit House next door. Room prices from US$40-70 depending on season and single or double occupancy.
- Chanthapanya Hotel, Nokeo Kummane Road. Owned and operated by the Chanthapanya family, the hotel offers the charm of a family guest house while providing the comfort of a hotel. All rooms have air-con, Wi-Fi, personal safe, cable TV. Wi-Fi access points are on floors 2 and 4,. Beware unpleasant smells from air-con in some top floor rooms, and ask for a room with a view (meaning not the view of the neighbours' wall). They lock up early so confirm the time with reception From US$35 per room per night.
- D`Rose Hotel, No. 339 Pangkham Road, Sisakhet Village (next to the Lao Plaza Hotel and walking distance to Nam Phou Fountain), ☎ +85621215038 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Mid-size boutique hotel with all the warmth of Laotian hospitality. Laundry service, free Wi-Fi, airport transfer and it also accepts credit cards with secure facilities. US$45-60 including breakfast.
- iHouse Residence Hotel, Pangkham Road (near Namphu Fountain) (just north of the Namphu Fountain), ☎ +856 21 217 053 (email@example.com), . A new and modern hotel located in the heart of Vientiane. It's rooms are designed for comfort with most conveniences nearby. Rooms start at US$25 and there are special offers and promotions when reserving a room through their website. (17.964906,102.608550)
- Inter City Hotel, 24-25 Fa Ngum Road (the river road), . A boutique hotel. Ask for a room with a view of the river. Has rooms and corridors filled with countless statues with fierce faces, which generates a spooky feeling for some. Rooms are equally spooky with creaking floorboards, so you may wish to inspect the rooms before you check-in. Free Wi-Fi and there are two free computers in the lobby. Room prices from US$35 (standard room) to US$61 (deluxe).
- Lane Xang Hotel, Fa Ngum Road. A majestic old hotel from decades ago, built 1960. It is one of the oldest hotels in Vientiane. Boasted the first elevator in the country. The charm of past glory: see the bathroom fittings! Hunter S. Thompson wrote dispatches from here after scrambling out of Saigon as it fell. They claim that English, French, Japanese, Thai, Russian, Vietnamese and, would you believe it, Lao are spoken. US$30-50 including breakfast.
- Lani Guest House, Setthathirat Road (next to Wat Haisok), . An old, French colonial-style house in a small garden set back from the main road. A quiet place to relax, yet right in the centre. Simple breakfast is included. Shower not very good, but the place is clean and very well-located. from US$27.50 (single) to US$38.50 (double).
- Leuxay Hotel, 189/19 Ban Hongkhatay, Chanthabouly District, Vientiane, ☎ +856-20 265 111, . Decent hotel in a slightly out of the way location. Free Wi-Fi in rooms plus computers for guest use in lobby. Lobby is also home to an air-ticket booking service and tour service. Small but pleasant garden that is mostly occupied by a clean swimming pool. Quiet environment, also not much noise between rooms. On-site restaurant is reasonable, but by no means the best. Breakfast options are limited, but make reasonable start to the day. Friendly staff. Most expensive rooms have large balconies overlooking swimming pool. Good business hotel or for tourists who don't mind being a little out of the way.
- Mali Namphu Guest House, (60 m from Nam Phu (the Fountain)). Great central location near the fountain, clean rooms with air-con and own bathroom start from US$29 per night, garden rooms from US$35. A simple breakfast is included and is different every day, served in a nice garden setting. They provide Wi-Fi. Their laundry service is not good for your clothes or your budget.
- MIXOK Guest House, 188 Setthathirate Road (in city centre), ☎ 0085621251606. checkout: 11:00. Standard room with cable TV, private bathroom with hot shower, free Wi-Fi in rooms and free breakfast. 130,000 kip.
- New Lao Paris Hotel, 118 Samsenthai Road (Sieng Ngeun Village), (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: (856-21) 216-382), . Renovated, very clean hotel with quiet spacious rooms. Close to the National Museum, Cultural Centre, and the American Embassy. French-run French restaurant on the premises. You can book a bus to Nong Kai, Udon Thani, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang at the desk. Airport pick up available upon request. Receptionists speak English and are extremely kind and helpful. 1,000+ baht incl. cable TV, free bottled water, free Internet cafe and WiFi, breakfast (eggs, toast and coffee).
- Orchid Guest House, (Fa Ngum Road). Large rooms that face the river, with en suite bathrooms and air-con are US$20. Friendly staff and nice location on the river. Rooms from US$12 (single) to US$15 (double)..
- Sinnakhone Hotel, (near the Thai-Pan Hotel). Clean with air-con, private bathroom, free Wi-Fi. Double room is 150,000 kip; double room with windows is 170,000 kip..
- Soupanphone Guest House, 145, Ban Wat Chan (about 300 m from the Mekong promenade on the river), ☎ +856-21 261 468 (email@example.com, fax: +856-21 262 094), . Clean guest house. Free Wi-Fi, TV, air-con, warm water. Breakfast optional. Nice large rooms with en-suite bath. Doubles 170,000 kip.
- Vayakorn Guest House, 91 Nokeo Kumman Road (just off Setthathirat Rd). Very clean, rooms with wood floors, air-con, hot water. Helpful and friendly staff. Free Wi-Fi but only reaches first floor rooms and lobby. Singles US$22 & doubles US$32. (30,)
- Villa Lao (Villa Nongduang or Thong Bay Guest house), Ban Nong Nuang, ☎ +856-21-242292, . Comfortable, two building hotel in a quiet area. The garden with nice seating area and hammocks make for a relaxing stay. Rooms are traditional Lao-style and unique, though a bit dark. Rooms have fan and air-con. Breakfast is not included, Wi-Fi will cost you US$1.50 a day. Overall it's a wonderful place and good value. 170,000 kip.
- Settha Palace Hotel, 6 Pang Kham Street (right at the end of the street, north from Nam Phu past Lao Plaza and Days Inn Hotels), . Built circa 1932, the luxurious Hotel has been restored to its former charm. Re-opened in 1999, the French colonial architecture, its period furniture and its landscaped gardens with a free-form pool, complemented by modern facilities, are some of the features of this historical landmark in the heart of Vientiane. If you see a London taxicab cruising the streets, it’s theirs, used to ferry guests around. They have an excellent restaurant “La Belle Epoque” (see below) and an open air sidewalk café. Room rates from US$105.
- Green Park Boutique Hotel and Resort, Thanon Ku Vieng (About 1 km east from the Morning Market), . A newer boutique hotel built in Lao style - several buildings in a garden setting. Nice pool. It is somewhat away from the centre, but ideal to “get away from the bustle”. Recent guest complaints about lost or stolen items have been verified by local authorities. Be careful with your belongings at this hotel. (Shuttle bus to the city centre every hour until 22.00). Room rates depend on season and start at 100 to 125 USD (single); 110 to 130 (double)..
- Don Chan Palace, (far out at the eastern end of the river promenade), . This hotel was completed in 2004, almost complying with the municipality's town planning by-laws which at the time limited buildings in Vientiane to 7 storeys, although Don Chan has 14. Offers panoramic views of the city. It has a swimming pool overlooking the Mekong and a popular open-air beer garden overlooking the Mekong which gets crowded late in the evening. Rooms are showing their age, and often smell of stale cigarettes. Slightly far from the centre but hotel provides shuttle service. From US$68.
- Salana Boutique Hotel, Chao Anou Road, 112 Ban Wat Chan, Chanthabouly District (just 2 minutes walk from the Mekong River and Chao Anou Park), ☎ +85621254254, . Recently named by Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine as one of the best boutique hotels in the world, Salana Boutique Hotel was revamped from the old site of Xaysana Hotel, and opened only recently in October 2010. Boasting a total of 41 rooms, Salana Boutique Hotel offers an excellent location in the centre of the city and near to the Mekong River, the recently finished Chao Anou Park, as well and other nearby attractions. The hotel is well known among business travellers and tourists, and have received many positive reviews since opening. From US$76.
- Mercure Vientiane, Unit 10 Samsenthai Road, P.O.Box 585, Samsenthai Road, Sikhotabong (150 m west of Fa Ngum Park), ☎ (+856) 21/213570/1 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: (+856)21/213572/3), . Has absorbed the former Novotel in new premises, where it provides the standard it's 4-star status demands. Truly friendly staff with surprisingly good English, a peaceful courtyard with spotless pool, fitness centre and steam bath. Very family-friendly. Quality Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) at 130,000 kip including use of pool and fitness centre. Saturday and Sunday poolside BBQ (15:00-18:00). Despite the price range, Wi-Fi usage costs extra (starting from 20,000 kip per hour). Rooms from 49 USD (all prices +10% service charge +10% taxes). (17.969212,102.594098)
See the section on "Contact" in the article about Laos
See the section on "Contact" in the article about Laos
Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Thanon Samsenthai and the east end of Thanon Setthathirat. The going rate is 100 Kip per minute, usually charged in 10 minute increments. Charged by the hour from 5.000-6.000 Kip.
- FastestNet, Thanon Samsenthai (between Lao Plaza and Asian Pavilion). Lives up to its name fairly well. No firewalls or program install restrictions. 100 kip per minute.
Wi-Fi and GPRS
If you have a laptop and Thai SIM card, 3G GPRS access via Thai network is a good option - if there is a signal in the place where you stay, of course. Thailand's TrueMove coverage is better in Vientiane than over the border in Nong Khai!
The city's waterworks are called Nam PaPaa, which some may joke means "water without fishes". Yes, the fishes have been removed but not everything else. Don't drink the tap water, no matter how long it's been boiled (it tastes very industrial) - stick to the bottled water available everywhere, though even that varies in quality. Some people have a major preference for clear plastic bottles.
Vientiane is free from malaria, but dengue is a real threat, especially during the rainy season. Take the necessary precautions against mosquito bites by wearing DEET repellent - available to purchase at any minimart. It is common practice to request a mosquito coil at dusk at outdoor venues.
They can be vicious, whether they're stray or just owned by irresponsible people who don't bother closing their gates. You don't need to be out in the suburbs to be attacked. Avoid anything but the most well-lit, busy streets at night.
If you're bitten see a doctor, even if you've had a rabies vaccination before your trip as you will still need a booster jab.
Taxi drivers will offer ladies as bed partners for single men as part of their all-out sales pitch of Laos. These drivers may be Thais, they operate on unmarked vans and they always mistakenly quote prices in baht not in kips as if they are in Thailand.
Don't follow the example of the locals who will bathe in anything that looks like water. There is a real risk of picking up parasites. Swimming in public pools is okay. There is one in a kind of garden setting on Thanon Sok Paluang, and another, not in such a nice setting, on the road by the stadium.
Hotel pools are also safe. Some hotels with pools that you can use for a fee if you are not staying there: Mercure, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace, and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) in the Mercure at 130,000 kip (+10% service charge +10% taxes) including use of pool and fitness centre.
The choices for gyms in Vientiane are limited, though good prices and adequate facilities are available. Most popular among the expat community is Sengdara Gym, located on Rue Dongpaina: expressionless reception staff and many under-employed young male staff standing around staring at you, but excellent equipment and a nice pool. Daily rates are between 30,000 and 50,000 kip. Be especially watchful at the pool with children or the infirm. In 2011, a 21-year-old Lao man sank to the pool bottom and drowned.
For the more adventurous/frugal gym-goer is Vientiane Gym located near the Russian Circus on 15 Savang St. Daily rates are beween 5,000 and 10,000 kip.
Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in the West or even in Thailand. Mahosot and Setthathirat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Thailand (see below) where there are good private hospitals with American or European trained doctors.
For emergency dental treatment you certainly do not need to go to Thailand; there is an excellent clinic just behind the Wind West Bar in Sihoum.
Mahosot Hospital is on the river (go to their "International Clinic" where you pay more and get more personal service, but from the same doctors that work in the hospital itself); Setthathirat Hospital is away from the city centre on the T4 Road.
Medical Centre : Centre Médical de l’Ambassade de France Medical. With the support of the French Embassy in Vientiane, the “Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France” opened its doors to the foreign community in Laos in April 2007. The medical centre provides primary health care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, along with paramedical services, including dental care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy, to expatriates and tourists in Vientiane. (English-speaking.) Practice Dr. Jean Marie Hospied; Bvd Kouvieng. Simuang BP 7168.Vientiane. Laos Tel / Fax: 856 21 214150 email@example.com
Australian Embassy Clinic. The Australian Embassy Clinic provides limited general practice services with a small pharmacy and pathology department. Although the clinic is primarily for diplomatic staff and their families, Australian citizens may access its services on a fee for service basis. Reciprocal arrangements with other embassies means that citizens from certain other countries may also access the service. The clinic is located at the Australian Embassy at km4 on Thadeua Road. Phone number: +856  21353840. Clinic Hours: 08:30-12:30 and 13:30-17:00 Monday to Friday. There is no after-hours service. Email:Chittakone.firstname.lastname@example.org
The French Embassy clinic charges US$36 per consultation, and the Australian Embassy clinic US$75.
Recommended hospitals close to Vientiane are:
- Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, good for treating simpler cases. Tel. from Laos 0066-42-465201.
- Aek Udon International Hospital in Udon Thani, has more facilities. Tel. from Laos 0066-42-342555.
- Ambulance services to Thailand: The ambulances of Wattana Hospital can cross the border to pick up patients in Vientiane; they can also take them to Aek Udon Hospital. Ambulances of Setthathirat Hospital (Tel. 021-351156) can also cross the border.
The bridge is open from 06:00 till 22:00; outside these hours the gates are only opened for emergencies upon telephone request from the hospital.
Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime. However, bag snatching from guests sitting in front of cafes is becoming more common. Bags in the baskets of (rented) bicycles or mopeds, even when moving along, are also far from safe. Do not leave a bag in an accessible position. If your bag is snatched, immediately start shouting: the perpetrators rely on tourists reacting by silently trying to chase them without alerting the numerous police boxes. The thieves are often drug addicts.
Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on pavements. Additionally, there are many loose stones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.
To prevent the development of a sex trade industry, which is so prevalent in neighbouring Thailand, Laotian law bans foreigners from having sexual relations with Laotian nationals other than their spouses. This law is enforced by the village chief and, given the fines, the incentive to enforce is high. The penalty is US$500 for the first offence, though as the text of the law is not available, the fine could be much more (the U.S. Embassy says US$5,000); the foreign offender can face prison or deportation and the Lao woman prison. A Laotian prison is the last place anyone would want to be. If you take a girl to your room and she robs you, this law makes it almost impossible to obtain police assistance. Foreign women should note that, while rare, Laotian police enforce this law on both sexes. Bartenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls at the same bars they picked up the night before. Most hotels also do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms as it is officially prohibited.
Homosexuality is legal and there is a fairly open gay scene in Vientiane. Since the Pathet Lao took over in 1975, the Lao government has been completely silent on LGBT rights and homosexuality itself. Female homosexuality is relatively frowned upon for Lao women while male homosexuality is widely tolerated. A growing acceptance of homosexuality in Laos continues. Gay and lesbian travelers should be aware though that some hotels will impose the same restrictions as for straight people and not allow a Lao national into your room.
Illegal drugs are a problem throughout Laos and certainly so in Vientiane where even very young children can try to peddle "happy pills" to tourists. After declaring victory in the "war on opium" in 2005, it is not so much opium and heroin these days as methamphetamine that incurs the wrath of the authorities. Penalties are extremely harsh. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or police impersonators to "shake down" unsuspecting tourists.
Current as of 2006, the Lao PDR criminal code for drug trafficking or possession are:
Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip ($1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment. 50 million kip ($6,578) fine.
Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip ($921) fine.
Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip ($3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg.
Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip ($2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kg.
As noted above, dogs - whether stray or just owned by irresponsible idiots - are dangerous, especially at night. Stay on well-lit, busy streets.
Long trousers and sleeves are recommended when visiting a temple or official offices. Foreign women adopting the traditional long sarong (siin) are very appreciated.
- China, Wat Nak Road, Sisattanak (Get there: motorbike, tuk-tuk (~15.000Kip from centre, 1 way), jumbo, small white bus from capital bus station to engineering faculty (2,000 kip) + 5min walk), ☎ +856 21 315100 (email@example.com, fax: +856 21 315104), . M-F 09:00-11:30. To apply for Chinese visa, pay only in U.S. dollars, valid for 90 days, duration of stay 1 month maximum, but extendable. Standard fee US$32 (Americans US$140) in 4 days, express extra fee US$30/20 in 1 day or 2-3 days. French nationals need to provide one return air ticket, one hotel booking.
- Philippines, Unit 18, Ban Sibounheuang, Sisattanak District, P.O. Box 2415, Vientiane, Laos, ☎ +856 21 452-490/ 491 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +856 21452-493), .
- Vietnam, No 85, 23 Singha Road, Ban Phonxay, Saysettha District (Go to Patuxai and continue road from town center), ☎ +856 21 990986 (email@example.com, fax: +856-21 416720), . M 10AM-11:30AM & 1:30PM-4:30PM, Tu-F 8AM-11:30AM & 1:30PM-4:30PM. To get visa, pay only in U.S dollars. Need to fill a form, 1 picture, next day delivery US$50, 2 days delivery US$45, 1 month duration, 1 day delay.
Buses take you to dozens of towns around Laos including the most popular. Minibuses operate from here to around the town suburbs itself, though there is nothing to see around the town that you need a bus to get to, and tuk-tuks will be more direct, convenient and relatively cheap if you bargain.
- Luang Prabang a supremely charming city in the north of the country.
- Vang Vieng for a party atmosphere head three hours north to the beautiful town of Vang Vieng. Buses from Talat Sao cost 35,000 kip, but can get a little crowded.
Buses to Thailand operate regularly from Talat Sao bus station. There are 6 buses to Nong Khai and Udon Thani during the day. Avoid the tuk-tuk/songthaew drivers insisting it is late/slow/gone and wanting 50,000 kip to drive you to the border before dumping you there at the mercy of their Thai equivalents on the other side. Your driver will provide Thai arrival/departure cards for you to fill out on the way to speed the process; be sure to have a Thai multiple entry visa or pre-arranged visa ready so that you don't delay the bus. They do undertake head counts, but do you want to risk it driving off without you while you fill in forms? (Related matter: carry your bag with you just in case it ends up at the destination and you do not!)
Buses to Cambodia: see above: Get In > By road > From Cambodia: The same information applies for the reverse journey.
Asking around the bus station for "Friendship Bridge" or "border" is effective. The last bus, #14, leaves Talat Sao for the bridge and Buddha Park at 17:30 according to the timetable, but it may run later. Don't believe anyone who tells you the bus has gone. Just ask the bus driver.
There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the bridge, except at weekends when a token 9000 kip or 40 baht (August 2010)"overtime charge" might apply. Just walk past the exit fee booth. If no one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.
Tickets from Vientiane to Udon Thani can only be bought from the Talat Sao bus station on the day of the trip for 22,000 kip.
Central bus station
Some bus are available from there at the same price than south bus station, most notably Tha Khek/Pakse
South bus station
Take bus 29 (3,000 kip, ~20min) to go there. Typical destinations are Tha Khek (60,000 kip), Pakse.
|| Departs hours
|| Approximate Price (Kip)
|| Duration (Hours)
|| Last update
|Lak Sao (Local)
|Nam Thone (Local)
|Tha Khaek (Local)
|Tha Khaek (VIP)
North Bus Station
The northen bus station is located about 10 km from the city centre.
A tuk-tuk will probably try to charge you about 50,000 kip. Don't pay more then 10,000 kip! As of Feb 2012 one person including baggage costs 20,000 kip.
GQ Bar, Chao Anou Road , Ban Watchan Village (Opposite Phoung Champa Hotel). 19.00 - 01.00. to edit the timetable, simply find the town and replace the old with the new information. To add a town,copy a complete section from |- to |- (excluding one of the marks.
|| Departs hours
|| Approximate Price (Kip)
|| Duration (Hours)
|| Last update
|Luang Prabang (Local)
|Luang Prabang (Vip)
|Oudom Xay (Local)
|Oudom Xay (VIP)
|Oudom Xay(Local ?)
|Luang Namtha (Local)
|Xam Neua (Local)
|Xam Neua (Local ?)
|Xien Khung (Phonsavan) (Local)
|Xien Khung (Phonsavan) (Vip)
|Nong Hat (Local)
|Sayabouly (Local ?)
|Pak Lay (Local)
|Sana Kham (Local)
|Bokeo (Houay Xai) (Local)
There is no rail terminal in Vientiane; the only train station in Laos itself is 20 km away at Tha Naleng, beside the Friendship Bridge. Built with enthusiasm by the Australian government wishing for improved connections between Laos and Thailand, the Vientiane government has simply left it hanging as a useless station in the middle of nowhere with no plans to connect it to the town.
If you do wish to travel by train (e.g., for decent sleeping quarters), the most convenient bus for rail travel to Bangkok leaves at 14:30 for 15,000 kip. This allows you to breeze through the border during a less busy time and on to the quiet charm of Nong Khai with an hour or two to spare before the "Rapid" train heads for Bangkok at 18:30, arriving supposedly at 07:00 but often closer to 08:00. Cost of this journey: 15,000 kip for bus to Nong Khai, 680 baht for 2nd class sleeping berth to Bangkok.
There are plans for building a high speed railway from Kunming (China) to Vientiane, and extend to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Wattay International Airport is close to the town but direct flights only operate to/from Laos' four more developed neighbours, Thailand, China, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as AirAsia's direct service to Kuala Lumpur. Note that flights to Cambodia go via Pakse - meaning that there are no money changing facilities - so make sure you change your kip in town before you leave as it's not exchangeable outside of Laos. If you only have a small amount of kip, some shops at the airport may be able to give you change in US dollars if you buy something. When travelling long distance to Laos, aim for Bangkok and travel on from there. It is often cheap and relatively painless to travel to Vientiane overland rather than by air from its neighbours.
Vientiane may be situated on the mighty Mekong; but it lives more in fear than in love with the river. There are no bridges across it in Vientiane, and there are no docks or promenades currently: a new levee is being built (due for 2010) that will separate the town from the river by 100 m of parkland. As such, boat travel from Vientiane on the Mekong is extremely rare, slow and expensive, especially travelling upstream.
|This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information including hotels, restaurants, attractions, arrival and departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!