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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 prominades currently: a new levee is being built (due for 2010) that will separate the town from the river by 100 metres of parkland. As such, boat travel from Vientiane on the Mekong is extremely rare, slow and expensive, especially travelling upstream. Don't plan on it!
 
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 prominades currently: a new levee is being built (due for 2010) that will separate the town from the river by 100 metres of parkland. As such, boat travel from Vientiane on the Mekong is extremely rare, slow and expensive, especially travelling upstream. Don't plan on it!
  
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{{hasDocent|anglina}}
 
[[WikiPedia:Vientiane]]
 
[[WikiPedia:Vientiane]]
 
[[World66:asia/southeastasia/laos/vientiane]]
 
[[World66:asia/southeastasia/laos/vientiane]]

Revision as of 09:55, 25 September 2010

Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos

Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ Vieng Chan) is the capital of Laos.

Contents

Understand

Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asia 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 one of the riverside beer gardens, kick back with a cold Beerlao - the Lao national beer - and watch the sun set over the Mekong. However, a long stretch of the Mekong river bank is presently a construction site as the authorities are building a flood management levee system and a riverside park. The project is the result of a grant from the government of South Korea. Work should be complete by October 2010; hopefully the beer bars will then be allowed back.

History

Settled since at least 1000 AD, Vientiane became the capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane sprung back in time to be again named the capital of the protectorate of Laos by the French, a position it kept after independence (1953) and after the communists took over 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.

Orientation

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.

Get in

A visa on arrival is available at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and Tha Naleng train station. Bring US$30-40 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 traveling by through-bus from Udon Thani in Thailand to Vientiane the bus may not wait for visas on arrival to be processed.

By plane

Vientiane's Wattay Airport is 4 km west of the city. International services are quite limited, but this is slowly changing.

International flights

There are direct flights to/from:

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 50km away) for 200baht, 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 flies from Don Muang, the old Bangkok airport, Thai Airways and Thai Air Asia from Suvarnabhumi [2], the new Bangkok airport.

Domestic flights

  • 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).

Transfer to the city

Many hotels offer a pickup service from the airport, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for US$6. You can buy a taxi coupon before you leave the airport building for $6. Rides to the airport should be cheaper, around $3 by tuk-tuk.

By train

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 AM. The train has first and second class A/C sleepers, which cost around 1200/800 baht respectively. Check State Railway of Thailand [3] 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.

By road

From Thailand

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. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.

Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (55 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 8AM and leave every 2 hours or so, until 6PM. 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). 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 10 baht "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 6:45PM or so.

It's about 20km 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 10PM. (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, 180 THB per way, departs from Khon Kaen Aircon Terminal (Prabargat) at 0745 and 1515 daily.

From Vietnam

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$15-20. There is a twice a week VIP bus (better seats) and a local bus that departs every day. For the local bus: apparently you're not always certain of a seat and Vietnamese people tend to sit and never get up again until you've arrived. The journey from Hue is 16hrs and should cost 16 US$

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 (that is the first stretch of the "Route 13 South"), quite far from town leaving you at the mercy of the tuk-tuk bullies. Note that if you buy a ticket in town you should be able to get a free ride to the terminal.

The Northern Bus Terminal, somewhat north-west of the city center on the T2 road (now officially named Asiane Road), is where all buses to the north arrive and depart.

Get around

Downtown Vientiane

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 center 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.

The map on the right, which is fully to scale, covers the center 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 storefronts feature addresses in Roman letters, and these are often the best way to determine the street one is walking. People navigate using landmarks, so name 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 center 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 downtown 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. 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 those gullies can nevertheless smell abominably. In the center things have improved markedly as a result of the road upgrading. 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!

By taxi

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

Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins jumbos are ubiquitous in Vientiane. To charter a tuk-tuk/jumbo, agree on the fare in advance (do not pay more than 40K Kip per hour); short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 10,000 kip per person, although as a tourist you may have difficulty bargaining to less than that. 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 make the fare drop quickly. Also do not insult them with ridiculous offers such as 10,000 Kip for four people no matter how short the distance. 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 can cut a deal much closer to the local price.

By bus

Rattly old blue-and-white buses and newer white minibuses connect the center to the suburban districts, but they are not equipped with air-con and have no signage in English, although route numbers are usually (not always) posted on the front. The only bus likely to be of use to the casual visitor is the bus to/from the Friendship Bridge, which continues on to Buddha Park for a fixed fare of 5000K. (The bus to Wattay International Airport goes near the airport but not quite into it.)

By bike

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. (The cheapest is apparently Douang Deuane Hotel, 8,000 kip, though their 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 license, about 1,000 baht, or a comparable amount of kip or dollars as a deposit.

Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow (maybe because of the condition of the roads). But take extra care when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced (even in the city center), and they can be muddy and slippery - innocent-looking puddles sometimes conceal deep potholes.

On foot

The city center can be quite comfortably covered on foot, at least in the cool season. Pha That Luang, however, is 4 km away from the center and thus a bit of a hike. Out of the city center there are few footpaths so walking can be uncomfortable.

By Car

Take your free to discover the city by car, you can indepently drive yourself whenever and wherever you want.but be careful with local driving. In Laos there are alot of car rental company, but if you are looking for a international standard & Service, you can try Europcar(Asia Vehicle rental), located on Samsenthai Road. just only 5 minutes from Namphu fountain.

See

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), Thanon Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). 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. Visitors are forced to walk through the shop (items look like they have been on sale since the revolution in 1975). A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young western visitors on the subject of communism. Most exhibits are labeled in English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. Tourist: 10000 kip. (17.96684,102.60722)
  • Patuxai (Victory Gate), Avenue Lane Xang.
    Patuxai, the Victory Gate
    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 spite 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, and for three thousand kip you can climb up to the 7th story (stairs only) for a nice view of downtown Vientiane and two 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)
  • COPE Visitor Centre, Ku Wieng Road (Waterpark near Green Park Hotel), [4]. 09:00-18:00. Explains Laos' legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the National Rehabilitation Centre's efforts to expand prosthetic services across the country. There are a number of hands-on exhibits and visitors can watch a number of short films on the subject. Exhibits are appropriate for all ages. An excellent gift shop offers fun, off-beat souvenirs that support a good cause. Free parking (do not confuse with the paid parking lot). Free. (17.96127,102.61789)

Temples and Stupas

Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee of 2,000/5,000K for Lao nationals and foreigners and are open 8AM-4PM, with a Noon-1PM 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. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat. 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 center 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.
  • Haw Pha Kaew. Entrance fee. Thanon Setthathirat (opposite Wat Si Saket). 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. Today, 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 vegetation. Warning: there have been dog attacks here at night.
  • Pha That Luang. Entrance fee. 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. Closed Mondays. You have to pay a few thousand kip to access the inner courtyard, which 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 center. Despite its small size, the temple is very active and houses the city pillar. Followers believe that lifting the small buddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered.
  • Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok are along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town center, and therefore the most likely temples to be visited by travelers.

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.


Nearby

Buddha Park
  • Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is a bizarre outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities and real and 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, went on to establish a nearly identical park (Sala Keoku or Sala Kaew Ku) across the river in Nong Khai, Thailand. Located some 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, thereby saving you an extra 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane. Getting transportation from the Buddha park can be difficult so it is best to hire a tuk-tuk for the entire Vientiane - buddha park - friendship bridge (or vice versa) trip. Another idea is to take the bus. No. 14 leaves Talat Sao station to Xieng Khuan for 5,000K oneway, and it is no problem to flag down a bus on the way back or to the Friendship Bridge.
  • 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, though only from the outside unless you happen to meet some kind of custodian who will be eager to unlock some of them and show the inside. There also are some statues of dinosaurs and a rather dismal looking small "zoo". Most times the only activity seems to be the kiosks where they sell soft drinks and chips, 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, to have it in their brochures may serve to make those more impressive. It is not a place to go out of your way for, not as long as it is not made more attractive.

Do

Once a month, local monks gather at the Sangha College (Wat Onteu) for Monk Chat with tourists. Monk Chat can also be found on Facebook.

Apart from exploring the city itself there are several worthwhile trips into the surrounding countryside on offer. Some can be done independently, some are offered by commercial agencies. Within one to two hours from Vientiane you can go kayaking, wild-water rafting, trekking through nature parks, etc.

A reputable agency organising adventure tours and eco-tourism is Green Discovery Laos [5] in Thanon Setthathirat next to Kop Chei Deu.

The local people love to go picnicking at some of the rivers or on the shores of Nam Ngum Lake, about 90km from Vientiane. 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).

Hurting legs and backs from a day roaming the city? Go for a traditional Lao massage. There are lots of massage places all over the town, from "holes in the wall" to upscale establishments. Prices range from US$3-6/hour, more for the truly luxurious spa-like places where you will really be pampered (for instance Papaya Spa [6] (which has had mixed reviews), on a road parallel to the river facing Xieng Veh temple about 2km from the city center).

There's also a nice little herbal sauna in Wat Sok Pa Luang (the forest temple), 10,000 kip for the sauna with free tea, but the 30,000 kip 1h massage is bizarre and not recommended.

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 there. They won't say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant.

The French Cultural Centre (Centre Culturel et de Cooperation Linguistique) on Th Lane Xang has a (French) library and a small theatre that shows plays and films.

The small booklet-style magazine Paisai (What's On) is available at some shops, cafes, etc. such as the Scandinavian Bakery. Getting a current edition can be a challenge, but the listings are very detailed - films, music, festivals, etc.

Buy

Banks and exchange offices are located throughout the city center. 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's main foreign exchange counter is on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade) and Thanon Pang Kham, charges no commission, gives better conversion rate and has longer opening hours than most local banks. In addition, BCEL has an exchange counter just as you walk out of the immigration check in line. The rates offered are the same as those of BCEL branches in the city, including two or three booths of BCEL within Talat Sao. BCEL also has an exchange counter at the Friendship Bridge, just past the visa on arrival pick-up window. Good USD to Lao Kip conversion rate can be found at the Chinese owned Home Ideal store (see conversion rate on sign at check out counter), a 2 minute walk on the next street over from Phongsavanh bank, where all of the night food action is.

ATMs can now be found throughout the city, but sometimes run out of money (their stock of kip gets exhausted in the course of the day). Furthermore, the range of international credit and debit cards accepted depends on the bank operating the ATM. If one does not work for you, try the next one, or come back later. As the maximum amount per withdrawal is about 230 USD the fees charged by the local bank and the one back home may render cash withdrawal an expensive option. You might be better off with traveller cheques, dollars and Thai baht which are all readily accepted. Most foreigners living in Vientiane withdraw Thai baht from ATMs in Thailand and then exchange baht for kip as needed.

  • ANZV: Allows withdrawals of up to 2,000,000 kip per transaction (around 230 USD) 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 is also a single ANZV ATM on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum and Rue Chao Anou.
  • BCEL: Withdrawals are limited to 700,000 kip per transaction (a bit more than 80 USD); however, you may make up to ten of these in one day. Mastercard and Maestro are readily accepted; Visa is currently not. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction.
  • Other local banks: Maximum withdrawal 1,000,000 kip per withdrawal, maximum 3 withdrawals/day.

Normally, no-one will want to withdraw large amounts of kip, because Thai baht and US$ are almost universally accepted at stores and restaurants; some places also accept Euros. In some restaurants the bill will state the amount in kip and US$, baht or Euro or any combination of these. The Government tries to persuade its people to always use only kip, but at the same time its own offices and institutions will gladly accept US$ or even bill their services in US$.

Credit cards are accepted by travel agencies and in better restaurants and shops, but many charge a 3% fee, take it or leave it.

Markets

  • Morning Market (Talat Sao - corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Khu Vieng) - a large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics, and watches; the second floor has clothing, gold, and jewelery. Depending on the product, you should negotiate, discounts can vary from 10% to 33%. Despite the name it is still struggling into operation at 9AM and remains open until around 4PM.
The old buildings are being replaced by modern structures - at present (December 2007) one of these is completed: the Talat Sao Mall. See below under department stores.

Handicraft shops

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, [7] 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. Prices reflect this but if you can afford them you will get something to be proud of and of the very highest quality. Not the usual backpacker's souvenirs.
  • 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, [8]. 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 marginalized people to receive an apprenticeship.

Look for the "Stay Another Day: Laos" [9] booklet for a guide to non-profit handicraft shops, sustainable manufacturing and other NGO stuff in Vientiane and elsewhere in Laos.

Supermarkets and Department Stores

Need a toothbrush or nail clipper? Or just fed up with rice or noodle soup three times a day, and craving for a self-composed picnic? Visit one of the many “minimarts” where you may well find whatever you’re looking for. Some of the best-stocked of these are

  • Phimphone Minimart on Thanon Setthathirat next to JoMa. Opened again after renovations end December 2007, it is no longer merely a "minimart" 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 owners must make a nice profit on the exchange rate that they apply. Here it pays to pay in kip! A second shop with the same name (the owners are related, the shops are not) is on Thanon Samsenthai / corner of Thanon Chantha Kumman. Excellent, European-style bread is usually available (on Setthathirat), though the delivery schedule is a bit erratic.
  • M-Point Mart is a relatively new convenience store chain, with at least five locations in Vientiane. Much like a 7-11.
  • V-Shop on Thanon Khun Bulom netween Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai. Outside in front is a small express café where they serve some of the best coffee specialties in town (Lao Mountain Coffee), shakes, fruit juices, waffles, donuts – good for people watching on the edge of the chinese quarter.
  • Riverside Minimart on Thanon Fa Ngum, the Mekong promenade.
  • City Minimart on Thanon Samsenthai opposite Wat Si Muang - maybe the shop with the most extensive range of merchandise in the town, and somewhat cheaper than the shops more in the center.
All of these offer groceries from Europe, wines from all over the world (thanks 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, and everything else one may need.
  • Vientiane Department Store was at the center of the Lane Xang side of the Morning Market and is now (end 2007) being torn down to be replaced by a second new building. Many of the shops that were here have been relocated to the Talat Sao Mall. This has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with an indoor parking. At weekends folks 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 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.
  • Home Ideal (Samsenthai Road) large one stop shop for assorted products from stationery to housewares, clothing to luggage. Prices are fixed and reasonable.

Books

  • There is a real book store, Monument Books on Thanon Nokeo Kumman next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse with a good selection of English and French language books and magazines.
    Several stores around town 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 stuff here.

Bicycle

  • Simple 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 50$, Mountainbikes at about 80$.
  • Top Cycle Zone, 47 Dong Palan, is the place to go if you want to buy a decent western style bicycle - or spare parts for one. Prices for a Mountain Bike start at about 350$.

Alcohol

  • Vientiane State Import/Export Enterprises on 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. Watch out for fake brand name alcohol in Laos. This place is pretty good in terms of product authenticity but nothing is 100% guaranteed.

Eat

There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex. More restaurants are opened 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. The following is only a small selection. Note: where prices are given, these may no longer be up-to-date (inflation, exchange rate dollar/kip)

Budget

  • Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve Vietnamese-type noodle soups (pho), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate: around 1 USD for a large bowl or plate. There really is no need to go hungry in this town, but it is advisable to eat in places where there are many customers: there the food is likely to be good and fresh. Avoid empty places where the only guests are the flies buzzing around the food on display.
  • 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 handpulled noodles, little lettuce wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice and more....

A selection of more "sophisticated" eateries follows:

  • Along the river: dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens, from opposite the BCEL bank strung along the Mekong for approximately 2km 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.
  • Sunset Bar (Sala Sunset) at the very western end of the Mekong river road. Popular with expats and tourists. The main things to recommend it are the sunsets (and those are not of their doing) and the rickety construction of wood apparently salvaged from demolished buildings. When the river is really high parts of the terrace sometimes wash away. Truly romantic! The beer is cold and whiling away an hour or so under the tree canopy with a bottle or two and some snacks can be very relaxing indeed. 100% falang now. Similar offerings exist along the same road.
  • Nazim Indian Restaurant on the Mekong river road: decent Indian food. Their washroom 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 a branch in Thanon Pang Kham, opposite the offices of Lao Airlines. (No reports on their washroom yet). At least 4 other Indian restaurants in the city centre, all quite equivalent.
  • Taj Mahal Restaurant, just south of the National Culture Hall, has good Indian food at good prices, if you don't mind listening to American pop music.

Vegetarian/vegan:

  • Nirvana Simuang Rd. (a small road connecting Sethattirat Rd. to Khou Vieng Rd. 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). 17,000 kip buffet at lunch hours. Open every day of the week (Sunday as a test for the time being). Tends to close early, don't arrive after 8pm. 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 Th Mahosot: 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 runs from 11AM to 2PM (?) for 17,000 kip per person.
  • Vegan food stall @ Talat Sao food court (at the top level of Talat Sao shopping mall). All plates at 10 000 LAK each. Buffet plates, excellent veg spring rolls (7 per plate) and noodle soups available.
  • Fathima A Malaysian-Indian restaurant along the Mekong on Fa Ngum Rd., just around the corner from Mixay guesthouse. Numerous vegetarian options for 9-10,000 kip. Friendly staff and excellent service. Dish quality is extremely variable even for several exact-same dishes ordered on the same day. A bit of a pot-luck option.

Mid-range

  • Lao Garden, 2km 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 - 100,000K ($4-$12). 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.
  • Café des Arts, in Thanon Hengboun, near the Cultural Hall, [10]. Excellent home made pasta (try the noodles al pesto!) and pizzas (around $6 - $7), as well as a good selection of wines, also by the glass.
  • Up 2 U just off of Thanon Lane Xang. Call Nok for English reservations/directions on (+856)206711784 11AM-11PM . 5 mins walk from the Morning Market this restuarant offers a good selection of Lao 'BBQ' dishes and soups as well as the usual rice dishes. The restuarant is situated just off the main road next to a large fishing pond surrounded by colonial houses - a welcome change from the busy riverfront. Good selection of beers & beverages also avaliable. Approx $5 -$8 per person. Popular with locals - Highly recommended.
  • Café Indochine, Thanon Setthathirat. Authentic Vietnamese food - particularly recommended: the set meals at about 4 to 5 USD. When there are more than just a few guests the kitchen crew may loose sight of their priorities.
  • Le Provençal at Nam Phu (the Fountain) - French fare, excellent pizzas but the steaks sometimes leave much to the imagination. Main courses from about 4 to 10 USD.


  • Lotus Restaurant, next to Cultural Hall. Serves traditional Lao and Western food, 08:30AM - 11:30PM. Price range: 2-4 USD.
  • The Pizza Company/Swensen's, next to the National Culture Hall on Samsenthai Road, is the first international fast food chain to open in Laos. It features a similar menu to its Thai parent operation, though prices are 10-15% higher, since practically everything is imported from Thailand.
  • Khop Chai Deu, near the fountain. Inside (2 floors) and outside seating. Very good Lao, Thai, Indian and Western food. Competent and friendly service. Open until late evening. Price range: 1-4 USD. Try the “Lao Discovery” menu at 6.5 USD (but check with the waiter how spicy it all is…). Noisy low-quality bands play Western popular music some evenings. Also a bar (see below). Buffet at lunchtime.
  • Hong Kong Restaurant, opposite Lao Plaza Hotel. Excellent Cantonese dishes (2 USD - approx. 9 USD) and a small selection of dim sum (1 USD 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. 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 3 USD/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 specialty is the sizzling steak on a stone platter, which however is not recommended (rather leathery meat with maltreated french fries and tasteless vegs).
  • JoMa, Thanon Setthathirat, and Scandinavian Bakery in the fountain square, extremely popular air-conditioned cafés and bakeries with simple lunches and excellent cakes and coffee. Free Wifi internet at JoMa. TV showing CNN upstairs at the Scandinavian.
  • Le Croissant d'Or and Banneton Café, almost next to each other in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (running from the river to Thanon Setthathirat) 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 wifi internet when you spend 30,000 kip on food and drink).
  • Mekong Deck: a new place on the river, near PVO. This one stands out from the competition upriver because of the way it's laid out; it is a very nice place to nurse a beer and enjoy the company of friends. Extensive food menu, including many vegetarian items. Note: Mekong Deck has now closed due to the massive flood management levee construction project on the Mekong River. It is unknown at this time when/if it will reopen.
  • Sticky Fingers - Thanon François Ngin opposite the Tai Pan Hotel. Quality western style food at reasonable prices. Good selection of vegetarian options. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, including half price cocktails. Closed Mondays.
  • Full Moon Café, almost next to Sticky Fingers, nice interior with comfortable seating arrangements. Serves what they call fusion fare. Reasonable prices. As in some other Vientiane restaurants, the kitchen crew may loose track of their priorities when more than just a few guests have placed orders.
  • Via Via Opposite Riverside Hotel on Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Excellent wood-fired Italian style pizza and homemade pastas (From US 4-8). Good selection of Belgian beers.
  • La Terrasse, Thanon Nokeo Kumman, is popular with expats and tourists alike. It is one of the best French restaurants in Vientiane (very good pizzas, and excellent tender steaks at about 5 US$). Set three-course lunch is 5.50 USD, main dishes up to 10 USD. Closed Sundays.
  • Khao Nieow in Thanon Nokeo Kumman, almost next to La Terrasse. Set three-course meals at 4.50 USD. Steaks in two qualities: Lao beef at around 4 or 5 USD; New Zealand lamb and beef at about 8 USD and above. To be tried on a cool evening: the fondue bourguignonne at 26 USD for two and, a surprise in a place whose name means "Sticky Rice", excellent cheese fondue at 28 USD for two - not something for the hottest months of the year, but nice around the year's end when temperatures drop.
  • The restaurant in the Lane Xang Hotel on Thanon Fa Ngum has traditional Lao music and dance performances every evening from about 7PM, which you watch while eating your dinner of (recommended) 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 30 USD.
  • Kua Lao at Thanon Samsenthai. Authentic Lao food with a good selection of vegetarian dishes; traditional Lao music and dance performances in the evening. Main dishes from 6 to about 12 USD; set meals (recommended!) at 15 USD. Expensive for Lao food.
  • Le Côte d’Azur on Thanon Fa Ngum: a favourite of the expat community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.
  • 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 0.3km 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.
  • Moon the Night Restaurant. Another 0.5km farther upstream from the Spirit House and somewhat difficult to find: the river promenade ends a few hundred meters before – best to take a tuk-tuk. (Directions: from the Novotel 0.5km west, direction airport, past the FORD showroom, then turn into a soi on the left which after 200 meters 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 comes at 15 to 20 US$ including drinks.
  • Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant, Thanon Sailom opposite the Lao Telecom Service Center. 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.
  • Kop Kap, across from Tat Luang Temple. A favorite among ex-pats living nearby, if you crave Thai food. Packed during lunch time, the restaurant is known for its excellent Penang curry. Closed Sundays.
  • Evening Dinner Cruises on the river – two different companies, on boat moored opposite Wat Chan and one 300 metres upriver. Not very impressive, neither the boat trip (1 hour, departure around 7PM: 1 km upstream then 2 downstream and back - only when the water level is high enough) nor the food. But very relaxing. This Lao maritime experience will cost you only slightly more than the same meal in one of the beer gardens on the river bank.

Splurge

  • 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 music - it is played continuously in the background though not, fortunately, so loud that it drowns the conversation.
  • Le Central on Thanon Setthathirat: good western food, main courses at 8 to 15 USD.
  • Le Silapa on Thanon Sihom (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 6 USD.
  • Le Nadao opposite the Patuxai park, excellent classical French fare, main courses starting at 8 USD. Probably the best restauarnt in Vientiane and booking is recommended (tel: 021-213174).
  • La Belle Epoque in the Settha Palace Hotel - excellent food in an atmosphere of colonial elegance. Main courses starting at 8 USD.
  • 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. Tue-Sun 8AM-3PM & 6PM-11PM. Traditional Yugoslav and Mediterranean homemade dishes, prepared by Montenegrin chef. From US$5-15.

Drink

Sunset and Beerlao by the Mekong

Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, but there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline is packed with near-identical but pleasant bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens offering cold beer and spicy snacks.

  • Bor Pen Nyang, Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade), tel. +856-20-7873965, [11]. Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Travellers, locals, ex-pats, 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.
  • Red Mekong Bar and Restaurant tel. +856-20-2222513, [12]. Happy hour between 6pm and 8pm. It's large red illuminated name sign can be easily seen from nearby Bor Pen Nyang.
  • Martini Lounge, Thanon Nokeo Kummane, just a block from the Mekong and next door to Croissant d'Or Bakery. Opens at 6:00PM and closes well past the normal 11:30 curfew. Movies shown Monday-Wednesday 8:00PM. Thursdays are Salsa nights and most Fridays a DJ is spinning. Don't forget to checkout the chill'n second floor AND the Mango Martini. The place in Vientiane to find the most eclectic music mix.
  • Jazzy-Brick, Thanon Setthathirat nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu. The classiest and most expensive bar in town. The sign out front states "no shorts, no flip-flops allowed".
  • Samlo Pub, Thanon Setthathirat opposite Wat Onteu. It has long been one of only a few bars in town, and was packed every evening, especially between 11pm and 1am. Perhaps quieter now that there is more competition. Has pool table and shows sports, but the "background" music often drowns the TV commentary. Tends to stay open later than other bars listed here. 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.
  • Khop Chai Deu [13] Thanon Setthathirat next to the fountain square. The name means "thank you very much". Popular with tourists, expats, and Lao hi-so type. OK food; mid-range prices; large selection of Western, Thai, and recently introduced classic Lao dishes. Great place to drink beer in the center of town.
  • Deja Vu, next to L'Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square (Fountain), a very classy and cozy bar, owned and run by Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Great drinks. Approx. 50K kip per cocktail. Closed Sundays.

There are two clubs near the Novotel hotel:

  • DTech, in the hotel grounds. Mainly techno.
  • Future, just outside. 80s and 90s songs with a big video screen.

Other clubs:

Meena: Across the street from Lao Garden restaurant. Popular with Lao teenagers.

Marina: Happening all nights of the week. Crowd changes from beginning, midweek, to weekend. Bowling alley and karaoke next door, same owner. Diverse crowd and music.

Romeo: Upgraded interior within the last 6 months. Diverse crowd and music.

Champa: Vietnamese owned NY style 'super' club. Place to go for loud techno music.

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.

Note that everything is supposed to close down before midnight before the start of the unofficial curfew, although clubs generally stay open until 1-1.30AM. The most notable exception is the extremely popular Don Chan Palace Hotel Nightclub which is open until 4AM on the weekend. It's an after hours club popular with working girls.

Now that the closing time is more strictly enforced (December 2006), the popularity of the bowling alley has increased again, as it is open and serving customers for 24 hours a day.

  • GQ Bar and Massage. Popular, though small, gay bar on Rue Chao Anou (the same street as the Inter City and Orchid hotels, off Thanon Fa Ngum, along the river). Busy after 10PM or so, packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Closes between midnight and 1AM, when many head off to the Don Chan Palace hotel nightclub. Friendly staff, cheap drinks, cabaret shows around 11PM. Also offers massages, starting in the afternoon.

Sleep

There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, from very basic guest houses with dormitory-type rooms to comfortable upscale boutique hotels, with prices from very moderate to mid-range and higher. 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 and partake of the boom seem to be over.

Normally, just get into the town center (for instance the Nam Phu square) and start looking around along Thanon Setthathirat and its side streets. You’ll find something within minutes except when it's "high season" (January) when it will be really difficult to find room: book in advance!

Room rates may vary depending on the season: 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 its wise to check what system they have in place for getting back in during the small hours of the morning.

The Lao Hotel and Restaurant Association [14] has an extensive list of hotels in Vientiane. The following is just a small selection.


Budget

Budget accommodation in Vientiane fills quickly and can be difficult to find by late afternoon.

  • One Inn Hotel, Unit 8 Pangkham Rd, Sisakhet Village (near Lao Plaza Hotel, at the heart of Vientiane city center, walking distance to Nam Phou Fountain), +85621254001 (), [15]. Opened in 2010, very comfortable with nice design touch and air conditioning, bathroom attached, free wifi. $25-45.
  • Sabaidy Guest House, 203 Thanon Settathirat. Has lockers to keep your belongings in. Close to downtown, dormitories with no doors or sheets on a bed for 25 000 kip. Free bedbugs.
  • Mixay Guesthouse, 54 Thanon Nokeo Koummane. A simple room 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 sometimes you have to be patient with the staff. Free breakfast until about 11:30AM. Dorms 40,000 kip, private rooms start at 50,000 LAK.
  • Mixay Paradise, Th Francois Ngin. Partner to Mixay Guesthouse and just one block away. Prices are the same but this is a clean, new guesthouse which also benefits from free wifi. Staff are friendly and the free breakfast is also included. Highly recommended.
  • Youth Inn, Th Francois Ngin, 021217130 (). Clean guesthouse with free Wifi, 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. Alircon available in some rooms. Dorm 25,000 kip, rooms 50,000+ kip. (17.9649569,102.6045638)
  • Youth Inn 2, Th Francois Ngin, (). checkout: 12. Newly opened Nov 2009. Very clean, rooms with air-con, fan, en-suite. Helpful and friendly staff. Free drinking water in room, bicycle hire 10,000 kip. No internet but restaurant/reception area is in range of Cyberia Hotspot wifi, 6,000 kip/hour[16]. 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. Rooms 100,000 kip. (17.9655,102.6046)
  • Vayakorn Guest House, 91 Thanon Nokeo Kumman (just off Thanon Setthathirat). checkout: noon. Opened in 2003. Very clean, rooms with wood floors, air-con, hot water. Helpful and friendly staff. Free wifi but only reaches first floor rooms and lobby. Singles $17/Doubles US$27. (30,)
  • Auberge du Temple, Thanon Luang Prabang (next to Wat Khunta). A bit far from the city centre, but a very pleasant guest house owned by a French-Swiss gentleman
  • Douang Deuane Hotel, Norkeokoummane Rd. "Has rooms starting at $15 with aircon, TV and minibar. This hotel has been reported scamming travelers (producing larger than agreed bill at checkout.
  • RD Guesthouse. "Starting at 50,000 kip for a dorm bed, the "Relax and Dream away" Guesthouse 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, and some other languages.
  • Mali Namphu Guest House, (60 meters from Nam Phu (the Fountain)). Great central location, clean rooms with aircon, own bathroom from US$29 per night, garden rooms $35 (high Season). Simple breakfast, different every day in a nice garden setting. They provide Wi-Fi internet.
  • Saysouly Guesthouse. Would be nice, atmospheric, and good value if they would clean the shared bathrooms once in a while and call the exterminators to get rid of the bedbugs. Family suite upstairs is huge, clean, very comfortable and excellent value; no bedbugs.
  • Sinnakhone Hotel. near Thai-Pan Hotel, newly opened in Nov '09, would clean with aircon, own bathroom, free wifi. Double K150,000, Double with Windows K170,000, Triple.
  • Villa Lao (Villa Nongduang or Thong Bay Guesthouse), Ban nong nuang, +856-21-242292, [17]. Comfortable two building hotel in a quiet area. The garden with nice seeting area and hammocks make for a relaxing stay. Rooms are traditional lao style and unique, thiugh a bit dark. Rooms have fan and aircon. Breakfast is not included, wifi internet will cost you US$1.5 a day. Overall wonderful place for a great price in this city. 170,000 kip.

Many more guest houses all over downtown Vientiane - too many to even begin listing them all. Walk in and ask!

Mid-range

  • D`Rose Hotel, No. 339 Pangkham Rd, Sisakhet Village (next to the Lao Plaza Hotel and walking distance to Nam Phou Fountain), +85621215038 (), [18]. Mid size boutique hotel with the warmness of Laotian hospitality. Laundry service, free WiFi, airport transfer and it also accept credit card with secure facilities.
  • Lane Xang Hotel, Thanon Fa Ngum. 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. Room rate 30 -50 US$ incl breakfast.
  • Soupanphone Guesthouse (Soupanphone Guesthouse), 145, Ban Wat Chan (approx 300 meter from the Mekong promenade on the river), +856-21 261 468 (, fax: +856-21 262 094), [19]. checkout: noon. Clean guesthouse. Free Wifi, TV, aircon, warm water. Possibility for breakfast but not standard included. Nice large rooms with en-suite. Doubles 170,000 KIP.
  • Asian Pavilion Hotel, 379 Thanon Samsenthai. A good if not quite their self-proclaimed "fascinating" mid-range choice formerly known as Hotel Constellation - as recorded in John le Carré's The Honourable Schoolboy - and Hotel Vieng Vilay. Rooms from US$26 with air-con, hot water, cable TV, breakfast and airport transfer..
  • Chanthapanya Hotel, Thanon Nokeo Kummane. 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 A/C, Wi-Fi access, personal safe (too small for a notebook PC), cable TV, 24hr hot water. Wi-Fi access points are on floors 2 and 4, and reception is best there. 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 neighbors' wall). They lock up early - check with Reception! From US$35 per room per night.
  • Inter City Hotel, 24-25 Thanon Fa Ngum (the river road), [20]. Totally renovated in 2004, now a boutique hotel. Ask for a room with a view of the river. Has rooms and corridors filled with countless statues with fierce faces, which generates a spooky feeling for some. Rooms are equally spooky, so check out the room before you check-in. WiFi is provided for free and there are also two free computers in the lobby. Note: the hotel location is not marked on the map, though it is given in the map legend (H6) - it is where the Inter Restaurant is marked(Restaurant 8). Room prices from 35 US$ (standard room) to 61 US$ (deluxe).
  • Beau Rivage Mekong Hotel, Thanon Fa Ngum (On the river road but at the shady tree-lined stretch that has not yet been “developed”, a few hundred meters upriver from where the road has been asphalted), [21]. New, very nice. All rooms have WiFi internet, courtesy of the HBRM spirit house next door. Room prices from 40 to 70 US$ depending on season and single or double occupancy.
  • Lani Guest House, Thanon Setthathirat (next to Wat Haisok), [22]. 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 center of downtown. Prices from 27.50 (single) to 38.50 US$ (double).
  • Orchid Guest House, Thanon Fa Ngum. Large rooms that face the river, with en-suite bathrooms and A/C are $20. Friendly staff and nice location on the river. Rooms from 12 (single) to 15 US$ (double)..
  • Baan Champa Lao Heritage Hotel, 125 Th Phnompehn (Anou Village), 0205023782, 205505840 (). checkin: after noon; checkout: noon. Baan Champa clean modest hotel. It's relatively new. It's located in a quiet area. It's only 2 blocks from the National Museum and Cultural Center. They are a family run hotel. You can book bus to Luang Prabang, and train tickets to Bangkok at the desk. They are extremely kind and helpful. Room rate 15-25 US$ incl breakfast(toast, fruit, tea, coffee.
  • New Lao Paris Hotel, 118 Thanon Samsenthai (Sieng Ngeun Village), (, fax: (856-21) 216-382), [23]. checkin: after noon; checkout: noon. Renovated very clean hotel with quiet spacious rooms. Close to the National Museum, Cultural Center 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. Room rate 1000+ THB incl. cable TV, free bottled water, free Internet cafe and Wi-Fi, breakfast (eggs, toast and coffee).

Splurge

  • Settha Palace Hotel, 6 Pang Kham Street (right at the end of the street, north from Nam Phu past Lao Plaza and Day Inn Hotels), [24]. 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 1km east from the Morning Market), [25]. A newer boutique hotel built in Lao style - several buildings in a garden setting. Nice pool. It is somewhat away from the center, 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 downtown area every hour until 22.00 PM). 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), [26]. 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 (Don Chan has 14). The place to be if you are looking for panoramic views. The Chinese Restaurant offers fantastic cuisine; 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. Not a bad place to stay if you can afford to splurge: slightly far from the center but hotel provides shuttle service to city center. Careful when shopping for jewelry in the shops in the lobby! Rooms at Don Chan: from $68.

Respect

Long trousers and sleeves are recommended when visiting a temple or official offices. Foreign women adopting the traditional long sarong (siin) are very appreciated.

Contact

Post and Telephone: 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 as of September 2007 is 100K/minute, usually charged in 10 minute increments.

  • FastestNet. Thanon Samsenthai (between Lao Plaza and Asian Pavilion). Lives up to its name fairly well and charges the standard 100K/min. No firewalls or program install restrictions.

If you have a laptop and Thai SIM card, 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!

Stay healthy

Water

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.

Mosquito-borne diseases

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.

Dogs

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: you will still need a booster jab.

Swimming

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're not staying there: Novotel, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace - and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch at the Novotel at c. US$ 10 including use of the pool.

Hospitals

In Vientiane

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 it's also best to go to Thailand; in Vientiane's dental clinics they seem to resort to tooth extractions a bit too easily.

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 downtown on the T4 Road.

Medical Center : 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 cmaflao@gmail.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 [0] 21353840. Clinic Hours: 8.30-12.30 and 13.30-17.00 Monday to Friday. There is no after hours service. Email:Chittakone.keochanla@dfat.gov.au

The French Embassy clinic charges $36 per consultation, and the Australian Embassy clinic $75.

In Thailand

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 06:00AM till 10:00PM; outside these hours the gates are only opened for emergencies upon telephone request from the hospital.

Stay safe

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 sidewalks. Additionally, there are many loose sidewalk stones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.

In an attempt to prevent the development of the sex trade industry which is so prevalent in neighbouring Thailand, Lao law says that foreigners cannot have sexual relations with Lao nationals other than their spouses. This law is enforced by the village chief and, given the amounts, the incentive to apply it is very high. The penalty, if caught, is US$500 for first time, though as the text of the law is not available, may be much more (the US embassy says $5000); the foreigner may be jailed or deported and the Lao woman may find herself in jail - and that is really 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 assistance from the police. Foreign women should note that, while rare, there have been cases of the police enforcing this law on both genders. Bar tenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls in the same bars they picked them up the night before! Anyway, most hotels do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms, as it is officially prohibited.

Homosexuality is technically illegal, although this does not seem to be widely enforced and there is a fairly open gay scene in Vientiane. Gay and lesbian travelers should be aware though that many hotels will impose the same restrictions as for straight people and not allow a Lao national to 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.

As noted above, dogs - whether stray or just owned by irresponsible idiots - are dangerous, especially at night. Stay on well-lit/busy streets.

Get out

Bus

Buses take you to dozens of towns around Laos including most likely the ones on your itinerary. 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 tuktuks will be more direct convenient and relatively cheap if you bargain.

  • Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area for wonderful elephants and waterfalls and fresh highland scenery.
  • 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 35,000K, but can get a little crowded.

Buses to Thailand operate regularly from the bus station. Avoid the tuktuk/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 perform 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!)

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 5:30PM according to the timetable, but it may run later. Don't believe anyone who tells you the bus is finished - just ask the bus driver.

There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the Bridge, except at weekends when a token 2500 kip "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 itself for 22,000 kip.

Train

There is no rail terminal in Vientiane; the only train station in Laos itself is 20km away at Tha Naleng, beside the Friendship Bridge. Built with enthusiasm by the Thai wishing for greater connectivity with Laos, 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 BKK at 18:30, arriving supposedly at 7.00 but often closer to 08:00. Cost of this journey: 15,000 kip (~75 baht) for bus to Nong Khai, 680 baht for 2nd class sleeping quarters to Bangkok.

Air

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. When traveling long distance to Laos, aim for Bangkok and work from there; often it is very cheap and relatively painless to travel to Vientiane over land rather than by air from its neighbours.

Boat

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 prominades currently: a new levee is being built (due for 2010) that will separate the town from the river by 100 metres of parkland. As such, boat travel from Vientiane on the Mekong is extremely rare, slow and expensive, especially travelling upstream. Don't plan on it!





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