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Vientiane's restaurants offer a wide selection of cuisines, from regional Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex.
Vientiane's restaurants offer a wide selection of cuisines, from regional Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex.
* '''PVO''', 344 Th Samsenthai (''opp Asian Pavilion Hotel''), advertises Vietnamese food and the pho isn't bad, but the best eats here are the stuffed baguettes (7000/14000K for half/full).  English menu, open 08:00-20:00.
* '''Unamed Riverside Restaurant''', 344 Th Samsenthai (''Between river and PVO''). Great views of the river at sunset. Food is mostly acceptable but not great, and a bit pricy. Beware of dirty plates and glasses, and biting red ants. Pleasant place for a beer and chips while the sun goes down.
* '''Samsenthai Fried Noodle''', Th Samsenthai (''west end''), serves all sorts of noodles (fried or otherwise) and some basic rice dishes too. English menu, most dishes around US$1.

Revision as of 17:13, 7 June 2007

Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos

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


Compared to the other hectic, bustling capitals in Southeast Asia, Vientiane's deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you're done the round of temples, the best thing to do here is 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.


Settled since at least 1000 AD, Vientiane became the capital of Lan Xang 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 under communist rule. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 200,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.


Vientiane is stretched out on the eastern bank of the Mekong River. From shore inland, the main roads are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthatilat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chantabuli, contains most of Vientiane's government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lan Xang, leads from here to the northeast through Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the most important temple in Laos.

Get in

By plane

Vientiane's Wattay Airport is just to the west of the city. International services are quite limited, but there are fairly frequent flights from Bangkok and Hanoi. Most hotels offer a pickup service, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for US$6. (Rides to the airport should be cheaper.)

Visas are available on arrival at the airport, and the fee is US$30. Until recently these were only for 14 days, however, 30 day visas are now being issued on arrival. There is a US$10 departure tax for international flights.

From Bangkok and Singapore, many visitors choose to fly into Udon Thani in Thailand instead, and cross the border by bus, as this domestic flight is considerably cheaper than a direct international flight. There is a direct shuttle from the airport to the Thai border at Nong Khai, and there are also direct cross-border bus services from Udon Thani to Vientiane. This option takes about 1hr longer than a direct Bangkok to Vientiane flight.

By train

Plans to connect Vientiane to the Thai railway network remain just plans, so for now the railhead remains at Nong Khai, on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge.

By road

From Thailand

The Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot, 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 (30 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.

Lao visas are available on arrival (until recently, only 15 day, but as of July 2006, this has increased to 30 days) and the official fee is US$30 (plus US$1 outside working hours and on weekends). The fee is considerably higher if paid with Thai baht (about US$9 more at current exchange rates), so bring clean US$ notes. A passport photo is also required, however an extra 40 baht or US$1 can usually be paid if you're unable to provide one. A 10 baht "entry fee" is charged once through, though walking straight past this desk seems not to be difficult.

Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 150 baht) or taxi (200 baht) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper and local buses to Talat Sao cheapest of all, but signage is nonexistent and you may be in for a wait. You should be able to negotiate to about 50 baht/person if you're prepared to share (and possibly wait). 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 that connects the Morning Market and the Friendship Bridge checkpoint also continues on to Buddha Park.

Going the opposite way, asking around the bus station for Friendship Bridge is effective. There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the Bridge, except at weekends when a token 2500 kip "overtime charge" applies.

Tickets from Vientiane to Udon Thani can only be bought from the Talat Sao bus station on the day itself for 22,000 kip.

From Vietnam

A direct bus from Hanoi will take at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say) and should cost about US$15-20.

From elsewhere in Laos

Buses to all provinces in Laos 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 in tickets.

The Southern Bus Terminal, used by all buses going south (including VIP), is quite far from town leaving you at the mercy of the taxi bullies. Note that if you buy a ticket in town you should be able to get a free ride to the terminal.

Get around

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 so a good map comes in handy. Maps are available at bookshops and some minimarts. Many storefronts feature full mailing 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 or hotel to where you want to go.

Vientiane's sewage system consists of drainage gullies on the roadside, usually obscured by concrete slabs. These concrete slabs are sometimes damaged and very precariously balanced; people rapidly learn to take care before stepping on anything that looks like a slab!

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.

By tuk-tuk or jumbo

Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins jumbos are ubiquitous in Vientiane. To charter a tuk-tuk/jumbo, agree on the fare in advance; short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 5000K, although as a tourist you may have difficulty bargaining to less than US$1 (10000K). Share jumbos running on set routes, eg. Th Lan Xang to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 1000K.

By bus

Minibuses connect the center to the suburban districts, but are not particularly useful for tourists, with the possible exception of the bus to the Friendship Bridge. The main terminal is on the east side of Talat Sao.

By bike

Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guesthouses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around US$2 per day. Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify.

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.



Unless otherwise noted, all temples below charge 2000/5000K for Lao/foreigners and are open 08:00-16:00, with a 12:00-13:00 lunch break.

Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane
  • Wat Si Saket. Corner of Th Lan Xang and Th Setthatilat. 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. Within the cloister walls are thousands of niches (6840, according to one count) 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. Th Setthatilat (opp Wat Si Saket). King Setthatilat'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). Th Barthonomie (off Th Samsenthai). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. Renovated in 1995 but still has an attractive patina of age.
  • Pha That Luang. Th That Luang (2 km east from Patuxai). The national symbol and most important religious monument, That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa that bears more than little resemblance to a missile silo. The current version dates from 1566, although it has been ransacked and renovated numerous times since then. Closed Mondays.
    • 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 and Wat That Luang Tai to the south, both presently being renovated.
  • Wat Si Muang. 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.


Patuxai, the Victory Gate
  • Patuxai (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. The monument itself aside, the palm tree-lined park around it complete with fountains is quite pleasant, and you can climb up to the 7th story (stairs only) for a view of downtown Vientiane.
  • Lao National Museum. Th Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum by name, the historical exhibits on the first floor are fairly pathetic. The second floor, however, builds up to a fervently revolutionary pitch as it documents the heroic struggle of the Lao against the Siamese, French and American imperialists, including exhibits 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. A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young western visitors on the subject of communism. Most exhibits patchily labeled in English and/or French. Entry 5000K, open daily from 08:00 to 16:00. Bags must be checked at the front desk.


  • Buddha Park (Wat 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. Originally built in 1958 by mystic Luang Pa Bunleua Sulilat, who was more or less kicked out the country in 1978 and went on to establish a nearly identical park (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 - hences 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.



Banks and exchange offices are located through the city center. Phongsavanh Bank, with its distinctive gold elephants, is Vientiane's newest bank and operates a currency exchange until about 16:30 on weekdays, and for shorter hours on weekends. It is located on the same road as the national museum and cultural hall, a few hundred meters in the opposite direction of Talat Sao. Fees of 1% are charged. BCEL's foreign exchange counter is located opposite PVO, charges no commission, and has longer opening hours than most local banks.

ATMs can now be found throughout the city, but are notorious for their unreliability, and limited to 1 million kip per withdrawal.

Thai baht and US$ are accepted at most stores; some places also accept Euros.

  • Morning Market (Talat Sao - corner of Th Lan Xang and Th 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. Expect to pay about one third or one quarter of the first price you are offered. Despite the name it is still struggling into operation at 09:00 and remains open until around 16:00.
  • Vientiane Department Store (on the center of the Lan Xang side of the Morning Market) resembles the rest of the market so much that you'll be hard put to spot it. It sells mostly imported goods from elsewhere in Asia.


Inside the Lotus Restaurant

Vientiane's restaurants offer a wide selection of cuisines, from regional Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex.


  • PVO, 344 Th Samsenthai (opp Asian Pavilion Hotel), advertises Vietnamese food and the pho isn't bad, but the best eats here are the stuffed baguettes (7000/14000K for half/full). English menu, open 08:00-20:00.
  • Unamed Riverside Restaurant, 344 Th Samsenthai (Between river and PVO). Great views of the river at sunset. Food is mostly acceptable but not great, and a bit pricy. Beware of dirty plates and glasses, and biting red ants. Pleasant place for a beer and chips while the sun goes down.
  • Samsenthai Fried Noodle, Th Samsenthai (west end), serves all sorts of noodles (fried or otherwise) and some basic rice dishes too. English menu, most dishes around US$1.


  • John Restaurant, Fa Ngum Road. Inexpensive Lao and Western food. Be sure to have your bill signed by the mysterious (and imaginary?) "John".
  • Lotus Restaurant and Bar, next to Cultural Hall, [1]. Serves traditional Lao and Western food, 08:30-11:30. Price range: 20-40.000K (~2-4 USD), VISA and Master Card accepted. Free wireless internet available!
  • Kop Chai Deu, near the fountain. Very good Lao, Thai, Western and Indian food. Competent and friendly service. Open until late evening. Price range: 10-40,000K (~1-4 USD). Good band plays Western popular music covers 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). Its slogan boasts about its unbelievably good value: unfortunately it routinely attempts to present an unitemised bill coming in at double(!) the advertised prices - check the accounting carefully before paying.
  • Inter Hotel Restaurant - Quai Ngum, riverside, well prepared Szechuan food, about 3 USD/dish.
  • JoMa - near the fountain, extremely popular air-conditioned cafe and bakery with excellent cakes and coffee. If you sit outside keep a close eye on your bag.
  • Sticky Fingers - One a lane coming up from the river. Quality western style food at reasonable prices. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, including half price cocktails.


There are numerous restaurants offering cuisine from Provence in France clustered around the Nam Phou fountain. Expect to pay about US$10 for a meal.

  • Nam Phou. The first and arguably the best, with good food and exceptional service. A favourite of NGO types.
  • La Terrasse, near the riverfront and possibly the best of all the French restaurants in Vientiane, dishes out scrumptious French fare, even extending to a competent creme brulee. Set three course lunch is 5 USD, main dishes up to 10 USD.


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, tel. +856-20-7873965, [2]. Breezy fourth-floor bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Live bands every night. Travellers, locals and ex-pats in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive Fine Whisky Range in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors, including absinthe on Thursdays for $2/shot.
  • Chicago Bar, just a block from the Mekong, [3].
  • Jazzy-Brick, near Kop Chai Deu. The classiest and most expensive bar in town.
  • Samlor Pub, is the cheapest bar in town. Has pool table and shows sports. Also tends to stay open later than other bars listed here.
  • Kop Chai Deu, near the fountain. The name means "thank you very much", and despite the prices, this is usually the most active place is near the fountain until action moves on to one of the discos.

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.

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.

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.


Accommodation options in the Lao capital are plentiful. At the very top end however international operators have been slow to arrive, the only branded name around being the Novotel by the airport.

Some places insist on an early nightly curfew and lock the front door. If you wish to enjoy the nightlife, make sure that you will be able to stay out.


  • Sabaidy Guesthouse, 203 Thanon Settathilat, offers cheap dorm beds and a few rooms, and has lockers to keep your belongings in. Close to downtown, it's a great place for the budget backpacker.
  • Auberge du Temple, Luang Prabang Road (next to Wat Khunta), is a bit far from the city centre, but a very pleasant guest house owned by a French-Swiss gentleman.
  • Vayakorn Guesthouse, Nokeo Koummane Road; tel. (856-21) 241911-2, [4]. Centrally located, very clean, well-appointed rooms with wood floors, air-con, very helpful and friendly staff. Double room $15.


  • Asian Pavilion Hotel, 379 Th Samsenthai, tel. 021-213430, [5]. 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, [6] is conveniently located a walk away from Vientiane's numerous tourist attractions, markets, restaurants and internet café’s. Being owned and operated by the Chanthapanya family the hotel offers the charm of the family while providing the luxuries 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, so reception is best nearby. Beware unpleasant smells from air con in some top floor rooms. From US$35 per room per night. 138 Norkeokoummarn Road, Tel: (856-21) 244 284, E-mail: [email protected]


  • Lane Xang Hotel, Fa Ngum Road. A majestic old hotel from decades ago that remains the elegant place to stay. Hunter S. Thompson wrote dispatches from here after scrambling out of Saigon as it fell.


Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Th Samsenthai. The going rate as of Mar 2007 is 100K/minute, usually charged in 10 minute increments.

  • FastestNet. Th 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.

Stay healthy

Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in Thailand. Mahasot and Setthithalat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Udon Thani or Bangkok.

Stay safe

Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime. However, bag snatching from guests sitting in front of cafes like JoMa is common. 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.

Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on sidewalks. Additionally, there are many loose flagstones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.

A "secret" Lao law says that foreigners cannot have sexual relations with Lao women other than their spouses. 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). Some girls are known to behave in a very friendly way and then take advantage of travellers by robbing their hotel rooms - this law makes it even more difficult to obtain assistance from the police. Bar tenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls in the same bars they picked them up the night before! Also, most hotels do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!