Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ Vieng Chan) is the capital of Laos.
Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane's relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you've done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to the riverside, relax with a cold Beerlao, the Lao national beer, and watch the sun set on the Mekong.
Of course, the booming tourism industry is changing this by slowly but surely bringing the excesses of Thailand and China to this formerly sleepy city. It has also become famous for bedbugs. Just like any other Southeast Asian capital/major city, Vientiane is experiencing a building boom. Even its Presidential Palace is having a major makeover-addition and a new convention centre has been built.
Settled since at least 1000 CE, Vientiane became an important administrative city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane sprung back 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.
Vientiane stretches along the northeast bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the riverbank inland, the main roads running parallel to the river are Fa Ngum Rd, Setthathirat Rd, and Samsenthai Rd. The central district, Chanthabuli, contains most of Vientiane's governmental offices, hotels, and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Lane Xang Rd, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for governmental offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.
A visa on arrival is available at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and Tha Naleng train station. Bring USD25-42 (depending on your nationality) plus a USD1 note in cash and a passport photo. You can also get a visa in advance at the Lao Embassy in Bangkok. The only real advantages of doing this are that you need to spend less time queuing when you get to Laos and if you are travelling by through-bus from Udon Thani in Thailand to Vientiane the bus may not wait for visas on arrival to be processed.
Vientiane's Wattay Airport (VTE) is 3 km west of the city.
There are direct flights to/from:
- Bangkok Suvarnabhumi: Thai Airways two flights daily (code share with Lao Airlines) and Lao Airlines one.
- Busan, South Korea: Lao Airlines flies three times a week.
- Chiang Mai (Thailand): Lao Airlines six times weekly via Luang Prabang.
- Hanoi (Viet Nam): Lao Airlines three times weekly and Vietnam Airlines daily.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam): Vietnam Airlines daily via Phnom Penh; Lao Airlines three times/week via Pakse
- Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): AirAsia three flights weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
- Kunming (Yunnan, West China): China Eastern Airlines operate four and Lao Airlines three flights weekly. Lao Airlines and the Lao Consulate both have offices in the Camellia Hotel, Kunming.
- Phnom Penh (Cambodia): Vietnam Airlines daily.
- Siem Reap (Cambodia): Lao Airlines three flights weekly via Pakse.
- Singapore: Lao Airlines flies three times a week.
From Bangkok many visitors fly into Udon Thani in Thailand, and cross the border by bus, as this domestic flight is considerably cheaper than a direct international flight to Vientiane. There is a direct shuttle from Udon Thani airport to the Thai/Lao border at Nong Khai (about 50 km away) for 200 baht, and there are also direct cross-border bus services from Udon Thani (the city, not the airport) to Vientiane. This option (flight plus bus transfers and immigration clearance at 2 points) takes at least 2 hours longer than a direct Bangkok to Vientiane flight. You may have difficulty getting an international bus to Laos if you do not already hold a visa. Bus conductors 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 make sure you go to the correct departure airport. Nok Air and Air Asia fly from Don Mueang airport, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways from Suvarnabhumi.
- Lao Air, the second Lao airline, operates two flights weekly each between Vientiane and Phongsali, Samneua and Sayaboury (Sainyabuli) on small Cessnas.
- Lao Airlines flies to five domestic destinations: three to five flights daily to Luang Prabang for about USD100; 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 Central Airlines, a new Lao airline, now operates flights from several cities, including (at least) once a day between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. It is about 30% cheaper than Lao Airlines, with similar aircraft.
Many hotels offer a pickup service from the airport, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for USD7 (or 57,000 kip) for up to 8 people. You can buy a taxi coupon before you leave the airport building. Rides to the airport should be cheaper. From city to airport, a tuk-tuk is around 30,000 kip (Jun 2013). Do not agree to 55,000 kip, as shown on a price list by some tuk-tuk drivers, as they can bargained down to 30,000 kip. Always agree with the price before boarding the tuk-tuk. You can book up to one day in advance and ask the driver to pick you up at your hotel. If you don't mind walking the distance between the airport and the main road (less than 500 m), you can take a local bus for less than USD1.
The railway link across the Mekong has four shuttle services daily from Nong Khai to Tha Naleng, which is 13 km from Vientiane and within reach by shuttle bus from the Morning Market. The 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 20:00 in Bangkok, arrive at Nong Khai at 09:30 and reach Tha Naleng around 10:30. The train has first and second class air-con sleepers, which cost around 1,200/800 baht respectively. Check State Railway of Thailand for up-to-date timetables and fares, as well as on-line ticket booking. A Lao visa on arrival is 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 in the middle of nowhere.
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, after bargaining of course. Outside the station there's an information board listing the official prices to 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 such as 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.
The train trip either way is pleasant if basic if you have a sleeper (less than 800 baht). You usually don't need air-con as the train isn't hot, though non-air-con often isn't available. A few cold-blooded travellers do say the air-con is too cold. Pack your own meals, beer, etc. The food on the train is expensive, and beyond awful. There is a change racket operating among the catering staff. Being short-changed is common. You need to note the prices on the menu, have baht (USD or kip will result in a big loss on the exchange rate) and have small denominations (a 1,000 baht note can serve an excuse for a 9-hour delay in bringing change. Even then you will have to go looking for it).
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot or by bicycle (however, people have been seen strolling the bridge), but there are frequent 20 baht shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. (The price changes depending on the time of day and day of week. You will get a receipt.) Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.
Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (55 baht), Khon Kaen(180 baht) and Udon Thani (80 baht) arrive and depart from the Morning Market (Talat Sao) bus terminal. These are cheap, comfortable, hassle-free, and popular, so book ahead or arrive early. Schedules change often. Currently the buses start at 08:00 and leave every 2 hours or so, until 18:00. Note: these buses are not an option if you plan to obtain a Lao visa on arrival at the bridge. The bus will not wait long enough. To get from the Udon airport to the Friendship Bridge, a 200 baht minibus fare can be purchased in the airport and will drop you off on the Thai side of the bridge.
Visas on arrival are available at the bridge. If you forgot your passport photo, they'll photocopy your passport for an extra USD1/40 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 40 baht (or 9,000 kip) entry fee is sometimes charged once through. Just walk past the entry fee booth. If no one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.
Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 250 baht, easy to bargain down to 100 baht or less for immediate departure with only one passenger) or taxi (300 baht) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper. You should be able to negotiate to a good deal less than 50 baht/person if you're prepared to share (and possibly wait).
The local bus (usually Bus 14) to Talat Sao (Morning Market) is the cheapest of all, 5,000 kip or 20 baht, but signs are nonexistent and you may be in for a wait (up to 20 minutes). The bus runs until at least 18:45 or so. It's about 25 km from the bridge to Vientiane; allow at least 30 minutes.
When arriving via the Friendship Bridge, you might like to visit the Buddha Park sculpture garden before going on to Vientiane, and save yourself a return trip back past the border crossing later. The same local bus (usually Bus 14) that connects Talat Sao (Morning Market) and the Friendship Bridge checkpoint also continues on to Buddha Park. Ask the driver which way he's going, just in case.
Bridge immigration shuts quite late, around 22:00. (Ambulances can go through at any hour, in an emergency.) But check with the locals if you are unsure.
Khon Kaen-Vientiane direct bus, 185 baht each way, departs twice daily from Khon Kaen Bus Terminal (Prab-argat) at 07:45 (usually delayed till 08:00) and arrives at Vientiane Talat Sao Bus Station around 12:00. A second bus departs at 15:15.
A direct bus from Hanoi takes at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say it averages 24 hr) and should cost about USD15-20. There is a twice weekly VIP bus (better seats) and a local bus that departs every day. With the local bus you're not certain of a seat and Vietnamese people tend to sit and never get up again until arrival.
The journey from Hue is 14-18 hr and should cost USD20-30. The bus arrives to Southern Terminal where you have to bargain hard with tuk-tuks. The ride to town after midnight is 30,000 kip. There are local buses heading towards town from here that usually stop at the central market priced at about 10,000 kip.
The bus trip from Phnom Penh to Vientiane costs about USD50 if you go VIP. This means you get a sleeper (bed) for the night portion of your trip. Unless, however, you have a partner you will share the rather small bed with a random passenger of the same gender. The bed is comfortable, though there have been reports of leaking windows and flooded mattresses.
At the Lao-Cambodian border, essentially the same form has to be filled out numerous times (to ensure each official gets his fee). If you can't carry your luggage 500 m from the Cambodian border post to the Lao, you're out of luck. The bus staff will have disappeared by now. The border process is hot, slow, and enervating.
Regardless of what the travel agent or bus line tells you, the Phnom Penh-Vientiane (or return) trip usually involves four separate buses, not two. The Phnom Penh-Lao border and Pakse-Vientiane legs are comfortable enough. However, between the border and Pakse (Southern Laos) you will be crammed into a minibus or open van, sit on other people's laps, etc., as the vehicle does the rounds of every guesthouse in the region. You will eventually be transferred into another van, and the process repeated. It can take 4-6 hours, and it is seldom clear where you are, where you are going, or who is in charge.
If the bus staff talks you into putting your luggage on a second bus, because of space problems, it is liable to vanish along the road. The bus trip between Phnom Penh and Vientiane averages 27 hours.
From elsewhere in Laos
Buses to and from destinations in Vientiane Prefecture depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus station 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 buses), is on Kaisone Phomvihane Rd, the first stretch of Rte 13 South, quite far from town (10 km northeast of the centre), leaving you at the mercy of the tuk-tuks (starting from 15,000 kip if you are lucky). Public Bus 23 stops by the entrance of the southern bus station and connects it with the Talat Sao bus terminal (Morning Market) at 5,000 kip, from where it is a ten-minute walk into the tourist centre. Mind that the existence of the city buses is going to be vigorously denied by most people you ask, as many have stakes in passenger transportation, and want you to take their ride instead.
The Northern Bus Terminal, somewhat northwest of the city centre on the T2 Road (now officially named Asiane Road), is where all buses to the north arrive and depart.
If you buy a bus ticket in town, with quite a surcharge, it should include the transfer to the respective terminal.
If you're coming from Luang Prabang, you can catch an overnight VIP bus for around 130,000 kip booked from any of the agents in town. Prepare for an uncomfortable, bumpy, winding journey with a 01:30 rest stop for a free bowl of soup with noodles at some unmarked place in the middle of nowhere before being dumped in Vientiane at 06:30.
Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signage is, however, rather lacking, though in the centre more and more signs are appearing. Where there are signs displaying street names they are bilingual in Lao and French. The Lao word "thanon" on these signs is translated by "road", "rue", "avenue" or "boulevard", in many cases without any apparent logic. Because most travellers may go straight to the restaurant and hotel listing and not read this paragraph, "road" or "Rd" is used instead of "thanon".
When asking for directions or streets with "r" in them, be aware that Laotians, as do the Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodians, pronounce "r" as "l" ("plied lice" rather than "fried rice"). An example is Rue Setthathirat pronounced as "Lue Setthathilat".
Perhaps because they are shy about their English skills, most locals are "dumb" on street directions, even people in police uniforms.
Maps covering the city 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 near where you want to go.
Since 2006 a major road upgrade project has been going on in the town centre and out of it up to 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 pavements upturned by tree roots. Almost no trees have been cut down. In the centre of Vientiane the through roads Setthathirat Rd and Samsenthai Rd 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 includes "grey water" from baths, sinks, laundries, 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 centre things have improved markedly as a result of the road upgrading. The smell from the gullies is now no longer very noticeable.
Do not rely exclusively on the Google Earth view of Vientiane for locating the sights: many locations put there by well-meaning users are clearly in the wrong place, not just a block or so away, but some even in a wrong part of the town.
Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around USD0.50 per km or USD20-40 to hire one for the day, depending on car type and distance.
Taxi Vientiane Capital Lao Group Co. Ltd. (+856 21 454168, +856 21 454088, 90 Nongbone Rd) advertises 20,000 kip for the first kilometre, then 2,000 kip every 300m thereafter.
By tuk-tuk or jumbo
Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins, jumbos, are ubiquitous in Vientiane. If chartering a tuk-tuk/jumbo, make sure of the fare in advance. Short hops within the city should not cost more than 10,000 kip per person. In most cases, foreigners will find it difficult to get bargain prices. 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. Shared jumbos running on set routes, e.g., Lan Xang Rd to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 10,000 kip. Tuk-tuks lined up at Mekong riverside restaurants or other busy areas will try to charge you 30,000-50,000 kip even for short trips. It's not worth trying to bargain as they won't go anywhere for a normal (10,000 kip) fare. Walk a few blocks and you get a much lower price.
Old blue-and-white buses and newer white minibuses connect the centre to the suburban districts, but they are not equipped with air-con and have no 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 5,000 kip. The bus to Wattay International Airport goes near the airport, but not quite into it.
Routes from Morning Market
- Bus 14: Friendship Bridge, continues on to Buddha Park, 6,000 kip
- Bus 29: south bus station, 2,000 kip
Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guesthouses 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 are not the best.) Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify. You can usually choose to leave your passport, your driver's licence, about 1,000 baht, or a comparable amount of kip or dollars as a deposit. Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow. But take extra care when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced (even in the city centre), and they can be muddy and slippery. Innocent-looking puddles sometimes conceal deep potholes.
The city centre can be quite comfortably covered on foot, at least in the cool season. Pha That Luang, however, is 4 km away from the centre and thus a bit of a hike. Out of the city centre there are few footpaths so walking can be uncomfortable.
In Laos there are many car rental companies. If you are looking for a Western level of service, try Europcar (Asia Vehicle Rental), on Samsenthai Rd, 5 minutes from Namphu Fountain.
Vientiane is best viewed as a comfortable transit point for other places in Laos, or as a recuperative stop on the way out. It's a pleasant enough place, but generally, there is little reason to spend more than a couple of days here.
- COPE Visitor Centre (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) (Khou Vieng Rd, 300 m east of Water Park/JoMa Cafe, opposite Green Park Hotel). 09:00-18:00. This centre explores the Lao legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the National Rehabilitation Centre's efforts to expand prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation services across the country. There are a number of 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, offbeat souvenirs that support a good cause. Free parking. Free.
- Kaysone Phomvihane Museum (km6 Dongdok Rd). Tu-Su, 09:00-16:00. Kaysone Phomvihane was the leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955. He served as the first prime minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic from 1975 to 1991 and then as president from 1991 until his death a year later. 5,000 kip.
- Lao National Museum (Lao Revolutionary Museum ພິພິຕະພັນແຫ່ງຊາດ), Samsenthai Rd (Next to Lao Plaza Hotel). 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum. It should be rechristened the Lao Natural, Cultural, and Political Science and History Museum, 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 great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Laotians did not 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 routed through the shop, and 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 merits of communism. Most exhibits are labelled in English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. 10,000 kip.
- Lao People's Army History Museum, Kaysone Phomvihane Rd, Ban Nongsangthong. Tu-Su, 08:30-16:30. Displays the equipment and other items from the period of revolutionary struggle, 1950-1975. 5,000 kip.
- Patuxai (Victory Gate), Ave Lane Xang. A local rendition of the Arc de Triomphe. Besides having 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. The concrete 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 daytime. You can climb up to the 7th storey, stairs only, for a nice view of central Vientiane and three levels of souvenir shops with less than enthusiastic sales people sitting about. It 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. 3,000 kip (to climb).
- President Souphanouvong Memorial, Kaysone Phomvihane Rd, Ban Phonsa-art. Tu-Su, 08:30-16:00. 5,000 kip.
Temples and stupas
There are many more temples all over the town, but if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.
Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee 5,000 kip and are open 08:00-16:00, with a 12:00-13:00 lunch break. The monks at places that don’t charge a fee are grateful for a small donation.
- Black Stupa (That Dam) (Bartholomie Rd, off Samsenthai Rd near the US embassy). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. It was renovated in 1995, but still has an attractive patina of age, and is slowly being overgrown again by lush grass vegetation. Take care as there have been dog attacks at night.
- Hophakaew Museum (Setthathirat Rd opposite Wat Si Saket). A stunning, elegant, and majestic structure, King Setthathirat's former royal temple, which housed the magical Emerald Buddha (pha kaew) after it was taken from Lanna (Chiang Mai). The Siamese took it back in 1779, and is now housed in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew. Later the Thais returned in 1828 to raze the temple. 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 for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down "calling for rain" pose. 5,000 kip.
- Pha That Luang (That Luang Rd (2 km east of Patuxai).). Daily, 08:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. 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. Accessing the inner courtyard gives you a slightly closer view of the stupa, and lots of Buddha statues. Vientiane's most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in Nov on the night of the full moon. There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua (north) and Wat That Luang Tai (south), both presently being renovated. 5,000 kip.
- Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay & Haisok (Along Setthatirat Rd in the town centre). Given their location, the temples most likely to be visited by tourists.
- Wat Si Muang (Between Setthatirat Rd and Samsenthai Rd, about 1 km east of the centre). Disney-esque and gaudy in set-up, one would not think that it's a religious compound. Despite its small size, the temple is very active. Followers believe that lifting the small Buddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered. The city pillar is being housed in a pagoda-like structure now being constructed separately on another block northwest across the street. Free.
- Wat Si Saket (Sisaket Museum) (Corner of Lane Xang Rd and Setthathirat Rd). With very contemplative ambience, probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok-style and hence left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the centre of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim (ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful, but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives. 5,000 kip.
- Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) (Some 24 km from the city, it's about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge, hence well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you're crossing the Friendship Bridge, thereby saving you a 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane.). 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. 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 bus. Bus 14 leaves Talat Sao station to Xieng Khuan for 6,000 kip one-way, and it is no problem to flag down a bus on the way back or to the Friendship Bridge.
- National Ethnic Cultural Park (On the main road (Thadeua Rd), just before the access road to the Friendship Bridge branches off). Here, 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 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. Not worth a trip.
- French Cultural Centre (Centre Culturel et de Cooperation Linguistique), Lane Xang Rd. Has a French library and a small theatre that shows plays and films.
- Holiday Barber, Chou Anou Rd (Across from the Home Ideal Department Store). This place may be the best salon in Vientiane. Hour long massage for 30,000 kip, manicure/pedicure plus foot scrape for 30,000 kip, Brazilian blowout 100,000 kip.
- Kuanjai Sikhot Boxing Gym (Muay Lao (kickboxing)) (On the same road as the airport, going out of town; head towards the Sekhai Market. Turn right before the market, then go straight and make the first left turn, go straight another 700 m), ☎ . The national sport of Lao PDR. Similar to muay Thai, but not a tourist trap like most gyms in Thailand.
- Lao Dhamma Center KM 38 (On Rte 13, to the south, at km38). Peaceful Buddhist meditation centre with a daily schedule dedicated to sincere meditation practice. Foreigners welcome. Hard to find such a place elsewhere in Laos.
- Lao Experiences Cooking Course and Food Tours (Bookings at The Full Moon Cafe), ☎ +856 20 95553097, +856 20 55699429. Daily. Learn about Lao cooking and culture. Cook Lao-style in the garden on a quiet stretch of the Mekong River.
- Lao Massage (Next to The Drop Zone on Chao Anou Rd). This massage shop is particularly delightful. The massage parlour does not really have a name, and the most prominent signboard merely says "now open". Your masseur or masseuse will be grateful for a tip. The staff will be happy if you have the decency to take a shower before you go. They won't say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant. USD3-6/hour.
- Monk Chat (Sangha College (Wat Onteu)). Once a month, local monks gather for chats with tourists.
- Nam Ngum Lake (90 km from Vientiane). A local favourite. There are floating restaurants along the lakeshore; 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 enquire at your guest house/hotel or at any travel agency (where they will then try to sell their tours).
- Tour via Vientiane ByCycle, Ban Sithan Neua (Tours start in front of Spirit House Cafe), ☎ . Vientiane ByCycle offers awesome guided bicycle tours through and around Vientiane. They take you off the beaten track to places where you usually would not go ordinarily. Along villages, temples, school yards, bank of Mekong River, crematoria, markets and local businesses. They have excellent quality mountain bikes.
- Vientiane State Import/Export Enterprises, Samsenthai Rd (Next to Phongsavanh Bank). A duty free, state-owned liquor store. Limited selection but the cheapest prices in town for popular brand name liquor by the bottle. This place is pretty good in terms of product authenticity but nothing is 100% guaranteed.
- Banks and money changers are plentiful in the city centre. Money changers give a better rate than the banks. The best rates are at the shops along Rue Lane Xang in the section north of the Talat Sao Morning Market.
- Credit cards are accepted by travel agencies and in better restaurants and shops, but many charge a non-negotiable 3% fee.
- BCEL (Corner of Fa Ngum Rd (the river promenade), Setthathilath Rd (near JoMa), Pang Kham Rd as well as at the Friendship Bridge, just past the visa on arrival pick-up window). Foreign exchange counters at various locations. This bank charges no commission, gives better conversion rates, and has longer opening hours than most local banks.
- Phongsavanh Bank (On Samsenthai Rd). Vientiane's newest and privately owned bank and operates a currency exchange until about 20:30 on weekdays, and for shorter hours on weekends.
ATMs are plentiful, but often cause problems such as out of cash or "eaten card" and sometimes do not accept the major international credit and debit card networks. In addition, most have withdrawal limits of 700,000-2,000,000 kip and charge additional fees. For preventing such trouble, tourists should withdraw money only at ATMs at bank branches.
- ANZV. Allows withdrawals of up to 2,000,000 kip per transaction with a 40,000 kip transaction fee. Supports both Visa and Maestro. There are 2 branches in Vientiane. The first is at the main ANZV office located mid-way down Lane Xang. There are now also various ANZV ATMs, for example on the corner of Fa Ngum Rd and Rue Chao Anou and at various minimarts, like the City minimart and at some M Point marts.
- BCEL. Withdrawals are limited to 1,000,000 kip per transaction; however, you may make up to ten of these in one day. MasterCard and Maestro are accepted; Visa also. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction.
- Joint Development Bank. Possible to withdraw up to 1,000,000 kip per transaction with a 30,000 kip transaction fee. Supports both Visa and Maestro.
- 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 USD50, Mountain bikes at about USD80. In the tourist areas, bikes are rented out for 10,000 kip per day (Feb 2012).
- Top Cycle Zone, 47 Dong Palan. The place to go if you want to buy a decent Western style bicycle or spare parts for one. Mountain bikes from USD350.
- Monument Books, Nokeo Kumman Rd (Next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse). Offers a good selection of English and French language books and magazines.
- Seng Lao DVDs (About 100 m toward the river down Chao Anou St from the Home Ideal department store, on your left). Vientiane boasts one of the best DVD shops in Southeast Asia, with 10,000 titles of quality European, Asian and US movies. Seng Lao has dozens of books displaying DVD covers: you browse the books, and list your choices on a piece of paper they provide, at 10,000 kip (USD1.20) each. (Don't go to the nearby and better-marked Seng Dao DVD shop by mistake, as service and choice here are much inferior.). Mind the possible consequences of importing large amounts of illegally copied DVDs into your country. 10,000 kip.
- Look for the Stay Another Day: Laos booklet for a guide to non-profit handicraft shops, sustainable manufacturing and other NGO stuff in Vientiane and elsewhere in Laos.
- The Art of Silk (Lao Women's Union), Manthatourath Rd, ☎ +856 77 19798, +856 22 02547. M-F, 09:00-16:00. Silk and cotton weavings in both traditional and modern designs. A local magazine says "phone before visiting, as there is no permanent staff." Free.
- Kanchana (The Beauty of Lao Silk) (Just off Samsenthai Rd on Chantha Kumman Rd, the road to That Dam). Traditional Lao silk weavings, hand-woven fabrics, textiles and clothing using natural dyes.
- Laha Boutique (Francois Ngin Rd). Naturally dyed textiles (mainly cotton) from the south (Savannakhet).
- Lao Textiles (Nokeo Kumman Rd). Founded 1990 by an American woman (Carol Cassidy), who now employs some 40 artisans, this firm offers modern cotton weavings using traditional motifs and. Some of their work has been exhibited in international museums, with this reflected in the price. They are not particularly welcoming to visitors, including a locked front door, a bell that needs to be rung to request entry and very prominent "No photography" signs.
- Mixay Boutic (sic) (On Nokeo Kumman Rd, with a second shop on Setthathirat Rd). They weave handmade textiles of the shop's own design on the premises, and 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 fabric.
- Mulberries Lao Sericulture Company (Nokeo Kumman Rd). 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 St, ☎ . Sells oils, shampoos, soaps, etc., made by Les Artisans Lao as well as honey and some nice handicrafts. Les Artisans Lao is a social venture allowing disadvantaged, uneducated and often marginalised people to receive apprenticeships.
Markets and shops
- Home Ideal, Samsenthai Rd (A 2 minute walk on the next street over from Phongsavanh Bank). A Chinese-owned store, offering good foreign exchange rates. Large one-stop shop for assorted products from stationery to housewares, clothing to luggage. Prices are fixed and reasonable.
- Morning Market (Talat Sao) (Corner, Lane Xang and Khu Vieng Rd). 09:00-16:00. A large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics (watch out as nearly all of them are counterfeit), and watches. The second floor has clothing, gold, and jewellery. Depending on the product, you should negotiate. Discounts can vary from 10% to 33%.
- Talat Sao Mall. Has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with indoor parking. On 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 are Thais so they expect you to pay in baht, despite the signs urging you to pay in kip, and they also expect you to be typical dumb tourists who'll pay any price and still think it's a bargain. Souvenir t-shirts, 3 for 200 baht. Almost of products here are mentioned in many newspapers or fake product report sites.
Most supermarkets offer groceries from Europe, wines from all over the world (thanks to the low taxation in Laos these are astonishingly low-priced considering the distances involved); dairy products from Laos itself and Thailand (milk, yoghurt), butter and cheese from Europe and New Zealand, and everything else one may need.
- City Minimart (On Samsenthai Rd opposite Wat Si Muang). Maybe the shop with the most extensive range of merchandise in the town, and somewhat cheaper than the shops in the centre.
- M-Point Mart. A relatively new convenience store chain, with at least five locations in Vientiane. Much like a 7-Eleven. Stop by around 18:00 and there will be a Thai food cart right in front. Has the best pad Thai in town. You can choose from pad Thai, fried baby mussels, fried rice, and mixed seafood platter. 15,000 kip per plate.
- Phimphone Minimart (On Setthathirat Rd next to JoMa). An almost a full-grown supermarket. This place will surprise you with 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 so it' advisable to pay in kip. A second shop with the same name (the owners are related, the shops are not) is on Samsenthai Rd / corner of Chantha Kumman Rd. Excellent, European-style bread is usually available (on Setthathirat), though the delivery schedule is a bit erratic.
- V-Shop (On Khun Bulom Rd netween Setthathirat Rd and Samsenthai Rd). Outside in front is a small café where they serve some of the best coffee specialties in town (Lao Mountain Coffee), shakes, fruit juices, waffles, doughnuts. Good for people watching on the edge of the Chinese quarter.
- Along the river (From opposite the BCEL Bank along the Mekong for approximately 2 km upriver). Dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens (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 town there is nothing to distinguish it from the other places left and right. All serve inexpensive (but not really cheap for Laos) 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 and they are hugely popular. In 2005 one of the restaurants along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan "tables" (kantoke). 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.
- Ban Anou Night Market. Has some of the best cheap meals in the city despite being only about 1 block long. Starts setting up at sundown. There's a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with hand pulled noodles, little lettuce-wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice, local beverages made from coconut, chai tea, cornm grass jelly and more. Particularly worth trying are the small rice pancakes, two hemispheres of rice-based batter fried in a tin, filled with minced pork and beansprouts and put together. About the size of a flattened tennis ball, absolutely delicious.
- Delicious Noodle - Quan Banh Canh Ngon (On Khun Bu Lom Road, across from the southern end of Rue Saylom, on the right side of a big green Fujifilm shop sign). For an authentic Lao dining experience there is this noodle soup shop. This restaurant offers the best Lao white thick slimy rice noodles with some pieces of chicken, fried pork, quail's eggs, etc., and the usual vegetable servings: spring onions, cilantro, mung bean sprouts (unlimited serve-yourself quantities). There is also "kanom ku" (Chinese donuts) on the side, served ready for pick on every table. Excellent value as it's all for 10,000 kip plus 1,000 kip per kanom ku consumed, on the honour system. Most importantly, the noodle soup tastes great, the broth is delicious.
- Name Unknown (On Lane Xiang, a dirt alley north of Hatsady Rd and the Morning Market, across from the Bank of Ayudhya). A small group of stalls offering local food patronized by office workers. The ambiance is similar to the morning and night street food markets in Luang Prabang and the vendors seemingly have not been adulterated by touristy mindset. At 09:30, flies hover rarely and the food is steaming hot, having just been lifted out of the cooking fire.
- Nazim Indian Restaurant (On the Mekong River Rd). Decent Indian food. Their toilet is not the cleanest in the country, perhaps because the patrons of some of the restaurants on the river bank are directed here for certain needs when they are not sent down to the reeds at the water's edge. Nazim has opened another branch in Pang Kham Rd, opposite the offices of Lao Airlines. There are at least 4 other Indian restaurants in the city centre, and all quite similar.
- Noodle Shops (All over town). They typically serve rice noodle soups ("feu", a close cousin to Vietnamese phở and Chinese 粉 fan2), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Around USD1 for a large bowl or plate..
- Ray's Grille (On Rue Nokeokoummane across the street from Mixay Guesthouse). Serves delicious Philly cheesesteaks, kebabs and quesadillas. Baguettes are freshly baked each day, and sandwiches are given generous amounts of mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Middle Eastern options are accompanied by homemade tahini or tzatziki sauce. Also possible is a traditional family-style Thai feast. The quality of the food is rivalled only by the friendliness of the chef. 17,000 - 30,000 kip.
- Stay Hungry Burger (Setthathirat Rd near Nam Phu, in front of State Bookstore), ☎ . Stay Hungry Burger's claim is true, you really do stay hungry after eating there! The burger you're about to unwrap is the smallest in town.
- Taj Mahal Restaurant (Just south of the National Culture Hall). Good Indian food at good prices if you don't mind listening to American pop music.
- Banneton Café (Nokeo Kumman Rd (running from the river to Setthathirat Rd)). Croissants and pastries and 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.
- Benoni Cafe (On the first floor of Phimphone Market). 10:00-17:00. Offers a wide range of reasonably priced Asian and European dishes. The owners are Lao, but speak fluent English, French and German. Daily specials and home roasted coffee beans, the basis for one of the best coffees in town. Busy at lunchtime, discounts after 14:00.
- Café des Arts (On Hengboun Rd, near the Cultural Hall). Excellent homemade pasta and pizzas for around USD6-7, as well as a good selection of wines including by the glass.
- Café Indochine (Setthathirat Rd). Authentic Vietnamese food. When there are more than just a few guests the kitchen staff may lose sight of their priorities. Set meals at about USD4-5.
- Le Côte d’Azur (Fa Ngum Rd). A favourite of the expat community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.
- Le Croissant d'Or. Has croissants and pastries and simple lunches. The owners of Le Croissant d'Or also run the Vista café on François Ngin Rd (free Wi-Fi when you spend 30,000 kip on food and drink).
- Dinner Cruises. Two different companies, on boats moored opposite Wat Chan and one 300 metres upriver. Not very impressive, neither the boat trip (1 hour, departure around 19:00, 1 km upstream then 2 downstream and back, only when the water level is high enough) nor the food. Very relaxing. This Lao maritime experience will cost you only slightly more than the same meal in one of the beer gardens on the riverbank.
- Full Moon Café (Almost next to Sticky Fingers). Nice interior with comfortable seating arrangements and relaxed atmosphere. Asian/European fusion cuisine. Friendly but unfocused staff and reasonable prices. Manager named Khamfanh speaks good English and can help with orders or information about Laos. Free book exchange. Free Wi-Fi.
- Just For Fun (By the That Dam, just off Rue Samsenthai). Bright, cheery, friendly place, perfect for a leisurely bite and beer in the shadow of the That Dam. Wholesome, healthy Thai-influenced food and fresh desserts. Good selection of vegetarian dishes. Mains start at USD2.50.
- Khao Nieow (Nokeo Kumman Rd close to La Terrasse). Meat offered at two levels of quality: Lao beef at around USD4-5; New Zealand lamb and beef at about USD8 and above. To be tried on a cool evening, the fondue bourguignon at USD26 for two, a surprise in a place whose name means "sticky rice". Excellent cheese fondue at USD28 for two. Not something for the hottest months of the year, but nice around year's end when temperatures drop. Set three-course meals at USD4.50.
- Kong View Bar and Restaurant, 183 Luang Prabang Rd. With the ongoing construction of the flood management levee and river park in Vientiane, this restaurant offers the most optimal dining views of the Mekong. Thai owned, it features an extensive menu of what is best termed Thai-Lao fusion. Not incredibly exciting food, but good, although portions on the small side. Also, the staff will invariably mess up your order. Keep a close eye on the bill, as well, as items tend to make it on there that you didn't order.
- Kop Kap (Across from Tat Luang Temple). Closed Sunday. Thai food. A favourite among expats living nearby. Packed at lunch, the restaurant is known for its excellent Penang curry.
- Kua Lao (Samsenthai Rd). Authentic Lao food with a good selection of vegetarian dishes. Traditional Lao music and dance performances in the evening. Expensive by Lao standards with main dishes from USD6-12 and set meals at USD15.
- Lao Garden (2 km east on Tha Deua Rd). 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. 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 locals after dinner. Mains cost between 30,000-100,000 kip.
- Lotus Restaurant (Next to Cultural Hall). 08:30-23:30. Serves traditional Lao and Western food. USD2-4..
- Makphet (Behind Wat Ong Teu, just a block or two from the river). Training restaurant to give street kids skills in the hospitality industry. Excellent food and service. Inventive, interesting, well-presented, and expertly cooked modern Laotian food. Great alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Mushroom curry noodles and banana flower salad are both excellent.
- Moon the Night Restaurant (0.5 km upstream from the Spirit House and somewhat difficult to find: the river promenade ends a few hundred metres before. Best to take a tuk-tuk. (Directions: from the Novotel 0.5 km west, direction airport, past the Ford showroom, then turn into a soi on the left which after 200 m takes you to the river.). A very pleasant spot to eat excellent Lao food. A large place, an extensive menu, competent and friendly service. Background music not too loud. Highly recommended. A meal of 6 to 8 dishes for 4 people costs USD15-20 including drinks.
- Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant (Sailom Rd opposite the Lao Telecom Service Centre). Part of a chain that also has restaurants in Thailand and Indonesia. Good Lao, Thai, Chinese, and Western food. Reasonable prices and good, attentive service. Very popular at lunchtime with office workers and students.
- Le Provençal (At Nam Phu, the fountain). French fare, excellent pizzas but the steaks sometimes leave much to the imagination. Main courses from about USD4-10.
- The Spirit House. On that tree-shaded part of the river promenade that has not yet been upgraded to Lao-style sterile banality like the stretch downriver (there are plans for it, but fortunately the money seems to have run out). It is about 0.3 km upstream from the end of the paved portion of the road. An excellent cocktail bar, it also offers a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu with competent and friendly service. Every evening there is 25% off all cocktails and a view of the sun setting on the Mekong. Watch the servers jump the puddles in the rainy season when you've chosen to sit outside on the terrace across the potholed road.
- Sticky Fingers (François Ngin Rd opposite the Tai Pan Hotel). High quality Western-style food at reasonable prices. They have won a national award for their grasshopper/cricket tacos! Also offer a wide selection of vegetarian options. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, with half price cocktails. Open for breakfast and lunch on weekends only. Free Wi-Fi. Hangout for expats and NGO volunteers.
- Swedish Pizza & Baking House (Ban Anou Rd close to the night markets. The sign is hidden from view until you are well past Win Hotel), ☎ . 07:00-21:00. Huge selection of excellent pizzas for around 45,000 kip. The mocha shakes are particularly tasty. Also has a wide variety of fresh baked breads, pastries and cakes.
- La Terrasse (Nokeo Kumman Rd). Closed Sundays. 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 USD5). Set three-course lunch is USD5.50, main dishes up to USD10..
- Tex-Mex Alexia Restaurant and Bar (On Fa Ngum Rd almost directly across from the Chinese Temple). Ostensibly a Tex-Mex restaurant, expat Americans uniformly condemn the food. Yet the place is almost always packed. The bar does a lively business, serving up very strong margaritas. Live music many nights. Even if you don't fancy trying the food, it's a fine place to sip a drink and watch the city roll by. Caution to males: the pretty ladies coming by your table to chat you up...sure the Lao are a friendly people...but it seems to have become a haven for the city's working girls eyeing some "foreign exchange".
- Up 2 U (Just off of Lane Xang Rd, 5 min walk from the Morning Market), ☎ . 11:00-23:00. Offers a good selection of Lao BBQ dishes and soups as well as the usual rice dishes. The restaurant is just off the main road next to a large fishing pond surrounded by colonial houses, a welcome change from the busy riverfront. Good selection of beers and beverages also available. Popular with locals. ~USD5-8 per person.
- Via Via (Opposite Riverside Hotel on Nokeo Kumman Rd). Excellent wood-fired Italian style pizza and homemade pastas priced from USD4. Good selection of Belgian beers.
- L'Adresse de Tinay (On a little street behind Wat Ongteu, parallel to Setthathirath Rd), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Arguably the best French restaurant in town. Very inventive and especially tasty cuisine cooked up by Tinay, a French chef trained in Michelin starred restaurants in France. Delphine, Tinay's wife, will make you feel at home from the moment you step in. Mains start at USD10 with set menus for less than USD20. Highly recommended.
- 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), ☎ . Tu-Su, 08:00-15:00 & 18:00-23:00. Traditional Yugoslav and Mediterranean homemade dishes, prepared by Montenegrin chef. From USD5-15.
- Le Central (On Setthathirat Rd). Good Western food. Main courses at USD8-15. Three-course set lunch for 75,000 kip (USD9.75).
- Le Nadao (Opposite Patuxai Park), ☎ . Excellent classical French fare. Booking is recommended. Main courses starting at USD8.
- Nam Phou (Around the Fountain (Nam Phu)). 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.
- La Scala Italian Restaurant, Lak 3, Thadeua Rd. Excellent Italian food. Romantic setting in a beautifully maintained colonial home. Offers a lunchtime buffet Monday-Friday. Tasty Neapolitan-style pizzas. Has an extensive wine list, and pasta mains are priced from USD8.
- Le Silapa (On Sihom Rd (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 USD15.
The massive influx in recent years of Chinese investment into Laos may be controversial, but one area in which it has had an undeniably positive impact is the vastly increased quality of Chinese restaurants in Vientiane. No reason anymore to settle for the ghastly Hong Kong Restaurant or uninspired banquet fare in the big hotels. Vientiane has a growing selection of authentic regional Chinese cuisine, particularly from the southwest.
- Classic Lao Di Fang (經典老地方) (ASEAN Rd (T2), near the Dihao Hunan Restaurant), ☎ +856 20 54011387, +856 20 56199938. Chinese vegetarian. The owner is Taiwanese, so this place seemed promising, as vegetarian cuisine is very popular in Taiwan, and done to an extraordinary standard. Unfortunately, that level of quality did not follow this owner into Laos. The food is lacklustre, and the management of the restaurant appears to suffer from neglect, most likely because the owner is rarely in Laos.
- Dihao Hunan Restaurant (帝豪酒店) (On T2 Rd not far from Patuxai), ☎ . If you are craving spicy Hunan fare, Dihao serves up some of the best you'll find this side of Changsha. Hunanese-owned and operated (the Hunan Chamber of Commerce is on the 4th floor), Dihao is likely the finest and most authentic Chinese restaurant in Vientiane at the moment. Staff speak Chinese and Lao, and the menu is same, but every dish has its own photo. Order anything containing chilies, and you can't go wrong.
- Fu Man Lou (福滿樓) (Luang Prabang Rd), ☎ . This restaurant is so successful it now has two locations. The one on the road to the airport is the best by far. It is the most established of the better Chinese restaurants in the city, and the Chinese diplomats posted to Laos often dine here. Food selection is multi-regional, but the Sichuan dishes are well done.
- Hong Kong Restaurant (Opposite Lao Plaza Hotel). Lackadaisical Cantonese dishes (USD2-9) and a small selection of dim sum (USD1 per plate). There have been reports of them padding the bill. Check the bill carefully before paying, which is something you should do everywhere: in a country where they use a calculator to subtract 7 from 10 it comes as no surprise that their counting of beers consumed is not always accurate, although to be fair the mistakes are not always to the disadvantage of the customer.
- Jiu-Jiu Restaurant (久玖酒家) (Luang Prabang Rd (almost directly opposite the Marina Nightclub), ☎ +856 21 213059; mobile: +856 20 55333419. An unheralded gem, this restaurant offers fantastic southwestern Chinese cuisine. The chef hails from Qujing 曲靖 in Yunnan Province. The food is best described as Yunnan-Sichuan fusion. Helps if you know Chinese, but the staff can speak Lao as well. Menu contains plenty of photographs, so if all else fails, just point.
- Restaurant Chengdu (成都食府) (Luang Prabang Rd). Formerly the 東北美食館 (Manchuria Gourmet), this restaurant opened with new name and management in Jan 2011. The owner/manager claims the chef is from Chengdu, but the heavily Manchurian-influenced food from the kitchen clearly puts the lie to that claim. It is obvious they have changed the menu to Sichuan fare, but kept a Manchurian chef who doesn't know how to properly prepare it.
- Fathima (On the Mekong on Fa Ngum Rd, just around the corner from Mixay Guesthouse). A Malaysian-Indian restaurant. Numerous vegetarian options for 6,000-50,000 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.
- Happy Golden Age (It's where Rue Saylom curves behind the Vientiane Plaza). A reasonably-priced vegan restaurant. Seems to be Vietnamese-centric with assortment of mock meats and dishes. Staff nice, place clean, they speak some English. 15,000 kip for noodle soup.
- Nirvana (Simuang Rd, a small road connecting Sethattirat Rd to Khou Vieng Rd in Ban Simuang, Muang Sisattanak, close to the famous Wat Simuang), ☎ . Closed Su. Delicious Lao traditional vegetarian/vegan food with some Western-style options. Nice change from the mostly Chinese-style offerings of other buffets. High diversity and rotation rates. In the evening, ask for the menu (they have two: one basic with pictures and another, much larger). 20,000 kip buffet at lunch hours. Family-managed, very clean. Some English spoken.
- Vegan Food Stall at Sao Market Food Court (At the top level of Sao Market shopping mall). Buffet plates, excellent spring rolls and noodle soups available. All plates at 10,000 kip each.
- Vegan Restaurant at Khuadin Market (Inside the market opposite Sao Market. Pass the big basket shop and you will see a wooden sign pointing you down an alley. You can also get there from Mahosot Rd: 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.). 10:00-14:30. Offers a lunch time buffet serving Laotian vegan food. 20,000 kip.
Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, but there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline has long been the epicentre of low-key nightlife, although a massive construction project to build a flood management levee system and a riverside park has seen most of the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens here disappear.
- Bor Pen Nyang (Fa Ngum Rd, the river promenade), ☎ . Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Tourists, locals, expats, working girls, and ladyboys in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive range of whiskies in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors. Special daily cocktail for 20,000 kip. Pool and snooker tables on the 2nd floor. At the back of the bar there is a winner stays/loser pays pool competition every night.
- CCC Bar (Supanvong Rd, Ban Haai Sok). The second of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane, next to Silapa Restaurant and diagonally across from Vat Inpeng. Friendly atmosphere and staff with good dance beats. Mixed drinks average around 30,000 kip, with happy hour from 19:00-21:00. Second floor has a pool table.
- Champa. Vietnamese-owned "super" club. Place to go for loud techno music.
- Deja Vu (Next to L'Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square). Closed Sundays. A very classy and cosy bar, owned and run by Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Great drinks. Approximately 50,000 kip per cocktail.
- Don Chan Palace Hotel Nightclub. Till 04:00 weekends. Everything is supposed to close down before midnight, before the start of the unofficial curfew, although clubs generally stay open until 01:00-01:.30. The most notable exception is this extremely popular spot which is open until 04:00 weekends. It's an after-hours club popular with working girls among others.
- GQ Bar and Massage (Off Rue Chao Anou (the same street as the Inter City and Orchid Hotels, off Fa Ngum Rd, along the river)). Till ~01:00. One of two gay bars in downtown Vientiane. Friendly staff, cheap drinks and occasional cabaret shows around 23:00.
- Jazzy-Brick (Setthathirat Rd nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu). A classy and expensive bar. The sign out front states "no shorts, no flip-flops allowed".
- Khop Chai Deu (Setthathirat Rd next to the fountain square). The name means "thank you very much". Popular with tourists, expats and Lao hi-so types. OK food, mid-range prices, large selection of Western, Thai, and recently introduced classic Lao dishes. Great place to drink beer in the centre of town.
- 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.
- Martini Lounge (Nokeo Kummane Rd, just a block from the Mekong and next door to Croissant d'Or Bakery.). 18:00-past 23:30 curfew. Movies shown M-W at 20:00. Thursdays are Salsa nights and most Fridays a DJ is spinning. Possibly plays the most eclectic music in Vientiane.
- Red Mekong Bar and Restaurant, ☎ . Happy hour from 18:00-20:00. Its large red illuminated name sign can be easily seen from nearby Bor Pen Nyang.
- Samlo Pub (Setthathirat Rd opposite Wat Onteu). Once this was one of only a few bars in town, and was packed every evening, especially between 23:00-02:00 after other bars around town are closed. Perhaps quieter now that there is more competition. Has pool table and shows sports, but the background music often drowns the TV commentary. Drinkers from Bor Pen Nyang often come here when it closes, then move on again to the Don Chan Palace nightclub once Samlo closes.
- Wind West. Different cover bands play throughout the night. Maybe the only country-western bar in Laos. A sit and listen to live band place, not a dance club.
There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, but there are few budget accommodations. Most options are mid- to high-range and can go up to astronomic prices, which are impossible to pay in local currency, and exceed the yearly salaries of most Laotians. In recent years many new establishments have opened, but in mid-2007 the government announced plans to restrict the number of new permits: they wish to concentrate on quality rather than quantity (read: to increase prices). The days that anyone could convert their home into a guest house and get a share of the cake may be over.
Normally, just get into the town centre (for instance, Nam Phu Square) and start looking around along Setthathirat Rd and its side streets. You’ll find something within minutes except in "peak season" (Jan), when it will be really difficult to find a room. Book in advance.
High season is roughly Oct-Apr or May; low season, Jun-Sep.
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 doorman who sleeps near the main entrance doors and can be awakened up to get in, but it's wise to check the system they have in place for getting back in during the wee hours.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Budget||Under 120,000 kip|
|Splurge||Over 400,000 kip|
- Benacam Guest House (Ban Watchan). Check-out: 11:00. Clean, nice rooms, great value. Nice baths with great water pressure, real shower, clean linens. Rooms can be small, but have fridge and cable TV. Wi-Fi, but signal can be weak in areas. 100,000 kip, double room with fan, low season (Jun 2012).
- Mimi Guest House, Francois Ngin Rd, ☎ . 50,000 kip.
- Mixay Guesthouse, 54 Nokeo Koummane Rd. A simple room with fan and shared bath. 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 Wi-Fi, but only between 09:00-23:00. 50,000-100,000 kip. Add 5,000 kip for a breakfast (Oct 2011).
- Mixay Paradise, Francois Ngin Rd. Partner to Mixay Guesthouse and just one block away. Prices are the same, but this is a clean, new guesthouse. Same for the Wi-Fi as well, but only between 11:00-23:30. Staff are friendly, you can add breakfast for USD1. Besides the Wi-Fi issue, highly recommended.
- RD Guesthouse, Norkeokoummane Rd. 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. 50,000 kip for a dorm bed.
- Sabaidy Guest House, 203 Settathirat Rd. Check-out: 11:00. Has lockers to keep your belongings. Close to the centre. Good Internet, but no Wi-Fi throughout. Mainly in the restaurant downstairs. Friendly stuff, shared toilets. Laundry for 9,000 kip/kg. Warning: bedbugs (May 2013). Dormitories with no doors or sheets on a bed for 25,000 kip, doubles for 60,000 kip.
- Saysouly Guesthouse. Nice, atmospheric. Family suite upstairs is huge, clean, very comfortable, and an excellent value. Warning: bedbugs (Apr 2012). 40,000 kip.
- Seng Lao Hotel (On Chao Anou Rd around 3 blocks up from Fa Ngum Rd), e-mail: senglaohotel@Yahoo.com. Clean rooms with air-con and TV. Very helpful staff can let you know where to find more local stuff in addition to normal tourist things. 115,000-260,000 kip.
- Soutchai Travel (Formerly aYa Guest House), Nokeo Koummane Rd (Across from Mixay Guesthouse), ☎ . Clean dorm rooms, moderately fast 24-hour Wi-Fi, small balcony, fan and air-con, lamp, locker/cabinet, towel, and water refill for 40,000 kip. Two common rooms, one with TV. Discounted travel fares for guests. Friendly staff. 110,000 kip.
- Youth Inn, Francois Ngin Rd, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: 12:00. A nice cafe with couches downstairs, friendly staff. If you insist, they might offer you an improvised dormitory, which is a three-bed room with window, fan, and a closet. Air-con available in some rooms. Free Wi-Fi of questionable quality. Internet stations are 8,000 kip/hour. Pay attention, bedbugs. Dorm 25,000 kip, rooms 60,000+ kip.
- Youth Inn 2, Francois Ngin Rd, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very clean, rooms with air-con, fan, en suite bath. Helpful and friendly staff. Free drinking water in room, bicycle hires 10,000 kip. 12 hr free Wi-Fi with captive portal or Cyberia Hotspot Wi-Fi at 6,000 kip/hour. The original older Youth Inn is on the other end of the same road near to the river and has slightly cheaper rooms, but of a lower quality. Avoid the 4th floor in cool season. 80,000 kip or 300 baht.
- Asian Pavilion Hotel (Formerly known as Hotel Constellation, as recorded in John le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy, and Hotel Vieng Vilay), 379 Samsenthai Rd. A good if not quite their self-proclaimed "fascinating" mid-range choice. USD26+ with air-con, hot water, cable TV, breakfast and airport transfer.
- Baan Champa Lao Heritage Hotel, 125 Phnompehn Rd (Anou Village, 2 blocks from the National Museum and Cultural Centre), ☎ +856 20 5023782, +856 20 5505840, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: PM, check-out: 12:00. Clean, modest and relatively new hotel in a quiet area. It's family-run. Can book bus to Luang Prabang, and train tickets to Bangkok. They are extremely kind and helpful. USD15-25, including breakfast (toast, fruit, tea, coffee).
- Beau Rivage Mekong Hotel, Fa Ngum Rd (On the river road but at the shady tree-lined stretch that has not yet been "developed", a few hundred metres upriver from where the road has been asphalted). New, very nice. All rooms have Wi-Fi, courtesy of the HBRM Spirit House next door. USD40-70.
- Chanthapanya Hotel, Nokeo Kummane Rd (Opposite Culture Hall). Owned and operated by the Chanthapanya family, the hotel offers the charm of a family guest house while providing the comfort of a hotel. All rooms have air-con, Wi-Fi, personal safe, cable TV, 24 hr 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 rather than a view of the neighbours' wall. They lock up early, check with reception. USD35+.
- D'Rose Hotel, No. 339 Pangkham Rd, Sisakhet Village (Next to the Lao Plaza Hotel and walking distance to Nam Phou Fountain), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mid-size boutique hotel with the warmth of Laotian hospitality. Laundry service, free Wi-Fi, airport transfer and it also accepts credit card with secure facilities.
- Douang Deuane Hotel, Norkeokoummane Rd. Has rooms with air-con, TV, and minibar. There have been reports of guests being presented with larger than agreed bills at check-out. USD15+.
- iHouse Residence Hotel, Pangkham Rd (near Namphu Fountain) (Just N of Namphu Fountain), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A new and modern hotel in the centre. Its rooms are designed for comfort with most all of the conveniences nearby. There are specials and promotions when reserving a room through their website. USD25+.
- Inter City Hotel, 24-25 Fa Ngum Rd (Quai Fa Ngum, riverside). Ask for a room with a view of the river. Has rooms and corridors filled with countless statues with fierce faces, which generates a spooky feeling for some. Rooms are equally spooky with creaking floorboards, so check out the room before you check-in. Wi-Fi is free and there are also two free computers in the lobby. Restaurant has well-prepared Szechuan food, about USD3 per dish. The hotel also runs the Inter Stone House in the same building round the corner. About the same or a slightly higher price range. Western and Thai/Lao food. Their specialty is the sizzling steak on a stone platter. Offers little for vegetarians. 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). USD35-61.
- Lani Guest House, Setthathirat Rd (Next to Wat Haisok). An old, French colonial-style house in a small garden set back from the main road. A quiet place to relax, yet right in the centre. USD27.50-38.50.
- Lane Xang Hotel (Fa Ngum Rd). 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 Lao are spoken. The restaurant has traditional Lao music and dance performances every evening from about 19:00, 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 USD30-50, including breakfast.
- Leuxay Hotel, 189/19 Ban Hongkhatay, Chanthabouly District, ☎ . Decent hotel in a slightly out of the way location. Free Wi-Fi in rooms plus computers for guest use in lobby. Small but pleasant garden that is mostly occupied by a clean swimming pool. Quiet environment, also not much noise between rooms. On-site restaurant is reasonable but by no means the best. Breakfast options are limited but make reasonable start to the day. Friendly staff. Air-ticket and tour booking service. Most expensive rooms have large balconies overlooking swimming pool. Good business hotel or for tourists who don't mind being a little out of the way.
- Mali Namphu Guest House (60 m from Nam Phu (the fountain)). Great central location near the fountain. Clean rooms with air-con and private bath. A simple breakfast is included and is different every day, served in a nice garden setting. Wi-Fi. Their laundry service is good for neither your clothes nor your budget. USD29-35.
- Mixok Guest House / Mixok Inn, 188 Setthathirate Rd, ☎ . Check-out: 11:00 am. Mixok Guest House and Mixok Inn are next to each other in city centre. All rooms are equipped with cable TV, private bath with hot shower, free Wi-Fi in the room and free breakfast. Can also help you to book transfer to airport or bus station, as well as bus and train tickets. 110,000-200,000 kip.
- New Lao Paris Hotel, 118 Samsenthai Rd (Sieng Ngeun Village, close to the National Museum, Cultural Centre and the American Embassy), ☎ , fax: +856 21 216382, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: PM, check-out: 12:00. Renovated, very clean hotel with quiet spacious rooms. Rate includes cable TV, free bottled water, free Internet cafe, and Wi-Fi, breakfast (eggs, toast and coffee). 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 all staff are kind and helpful. 1,000+ baht.
- Orchid Guest House, Fa Ngum Rd. Large rooms that face the river, with en suite baths and air-con are USD20. Friendly staff and nice location on the river. USD12 (single)-USD15 (double).
- Sinnakhone Hotel (Near Thai-Pan Hotel). Clean with air-con, private bath, free Wi-Fi. 150,000-170,000 kip.
- Soupanphone Guesthouse (Soupanphone Guesthouse), 145, Ban Wat Chan (~300 m from the Mekong promenade on the river), ☎ , fax: +856 21 262094, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: 12:00. Clean guesthouse. Free Wi-Fi, TV, air-con, warm water. Possibility of breakfast, but not included as standard. Nice large rooms with en-suite bath. Doubles 170,000 kip.
- Vayakorn Guest House, 91 Nokeo Kumman Rd (Just off Setthathirat Rd). Check-out: 12:00. Very clean, rooms with wooden floors, air-con, hot water. Helpful and friendly staff. Free Wi-Fi, but only reaches first floor rooms and lobby. Singles, USD22; doubles, USD32 (Dec 2011).
- Villa Lao (Villa Nongduang or Thong Bay Guesthouse) (Ban Nong Nuang), ☎ . Comfortable two building hotel in a quiet area. The garden with nice seating area and hammocks make for a relaxing stay. Rooms are traditional Lao-style and unique, although a bit dark. Rooms have fan and air-con. Breakfast not included. Wi-Fi costs USD1.50 a day. Overall a wonderful place for a good price. 170,000 kip.
- Don Chan Palace (Far out at the eastern end of the river promenade). This hotel was completed in 2004, almost complying with the municipality's 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, although this comes at a cost--this monstrosity has singlehandedly ruined the Vientiane skyline. It has a swimming pool overlooking the Mekong and a popular open-air beer garden overlooking the Mekong which gets crowded late in the evening. Rooms are showing their age, and often smell of stale cigarettes. Slightly far from the centre, but hotel provides shuttle service to city centre. Careful when shopping for jewellery in the shops in the lobby. USD68+.
- Green Park Boutique Hotel and Resort, Ku Vieng Rd (About 1 km east of the Morning Market). A newer hotel built in Lao style, several buildings in a garden setting. Nice pool. It is somewhat away from the centre, but ideal to get away from the bustle. Recent guest complaints about lost or stolen items have been verified by local authorities. Be careful with your belongings at this hotel. Shuttle bus to the city centre every hour until 22:00. USD100-130.
- Mercure Vientiane, Unit 10 Samsenthai Rd (150 m west of the Fa Ngum Park), ☎ , fax: +856 21 213572-3, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The former Novotel in new premises. Friendly staff with surprisingly good English, a peaceful courtyard with spotless pool, fitness centre, and steam bath. Family friendly. Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) at 130,000 kip including use of pool and fitness centre. Saturday and Sunday poolside BBQ (15:00-18:00). Despite the prices, Wi-Fi costs extra (starting from 20,000 kip per hour). USD49+.
- Salana Boutique Hotel, Chao Anou Rd, 112 Ban Wat Chan, Chanthabouly District (2 min walk from the Mekong River and Chao Anou Park), ☎ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Named by Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine as one of the best boutique hotels in the world. Salana is the old Xaysana Hotel revamped. With 41 rooms, Salana has an excellent location in the centre of the city near the river and Chao Anou Park. The hotel is well-known to business travellers and tourists, and has received many positive reviews. Has a restaurant/cafe offering a good selection of Western dishes. Known for employing Lao chefs from famous hotels in Laos, is in a very good location. Good selection of beers & beverages available. USD76+.
- Settha Palace Hotel, 6 Pang Kham St (At the end of the street, north of Nam Phu past Lao Plaza and Day Inn Hotels). Built circa 1932, the luxurious hotel has been restored to its former charm. Re-opened in 1999, the French colonial architecture, its period furniture, and its landscaped gardens with a free-form pool, complemented by modern facilities, are some of the features of this historical landmark in the heart of Vientiane. If you see a London taxicab cruising the streets, it is theirs. It's used to ferry guests around. Has an excellent restaurant, "La Belle Epoque", and an open-air pavement café. USD105+.
Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Samsenthai Rd and the east end of Setthathirat Rd. The going rate is 100 kip per minute, usually charged in 10-minute increments. Charged by the hour from 5,000-6,000 kip.
- FastestNet, Samsenthai Rd (Between Lao Plaza and Asian Pavilion). Lives up to its name fairly well. No firewalls or program-install restrictions. 100 kip per minute.
Wi-Fi and GPRS
If you have a laptop and Thai SIM card, 3G GPRS access via Thai networks is a good option. Thailand's TrueMove coverage is better in Vientiane than over the border in Nong Khai!
They can be vicious, whether they are strays 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 well lighted, busy streets at night.
If you are bitten, see a doctor. Even if you have had a rabies vaccination before your trip you will still need a booster jab.
- Sengdara Gym (Rue Dongpaina). Most popular gym among the expat community. Expressionless reception staff and many under-employed young male staff standing around staring at you, but excellent equipment and a nice pool. Be especially watchful at the pool with children or the infirm. Daily rates, 30,000-50,000 kip.
- Vientiane Gym, 15 Savang St (Near the Russian Circus). For the more adventurous/frugal gym-goer. Daily rates, 5,000-10,000 kip..
Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in the West or even in Thailand. Mahosot and Setthathirat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Thailand where there are good private hospitals with European and US 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 who work in the hospital itself). Setthathirat Hospital is away from city centre on the T4 Road.
- Australian Embassy Clinic (km4 on Thadeua Rd), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F, 08:30-12:30, 13:30-17:00. 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 mean that citizens from certain other countries may also access the service. There is no after-hours service. USD75 per consultation.
- Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France, ☎ , fax: +856 21 214150, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. With the support of the French Embassy in Vientiane, the opened its doors to the foreign community in Laos in Apr 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.) USD36 per consultation.
- 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. +856 21 351156) can also cross the border. The bridge is open from 06:00-22:00. Outside these hours the gates are only opened for emergencies upon telephone request from the hospital.
- Aek Udon International Hospital, ☎ From Laos 0066-42-342555. In Udon Thani. Has more facilities.
- Wattana Hospital, ☎ From Laos 0066-42-465201. In Nong Khai, good for treating simpler cases.
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.
Taxi drivers will offer ladies as partners for single men as part of their all-out sales pitch. These drivers may be Thais (to a non-expert eye they look and sound the same) since they operate from unmarked vans and they always mistakenly quote prices in baht, not in kip, as if they were in Thailand.
Don't follow the example of the locals who will bathe in anything that looks like water. There is a real risk of picking up parasites. Swimming in public pools is okay. There is one-of-a-kind garden setting on Sok Paluang Rd, and another, not in such a nice setting, on the road by the stadium.
Hotel pools are also safe. Some hotels with pools that you can use for a fee if you are not staying there: Mercure, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace, and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) in the Mercure at 130,000 kip (+10% service charge +10% taxes) including use of pool and fitness centre.
The city's waterworks are called Nam PaPaa, which some may joke means "water without fishes". Yes, the fish 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 preference for clear plastic bottles.
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.
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.
To prevent the development of a sex trade industry, so prevalent in neighbouring Thailand, Laotian law bans foreigners from having sexual relations with Laotian nationals other than their spouses. This law is enforced by the village chief and, given the fines, the incentive to enforce is high. The penalty is USD500 for the first offence, though as the text of the law is not available, the fine could be much more (the US Embassy says USD5,000); the foreign offender can face prison or deportation and the Lao woman prison. A Laotian prison is the last place anyone would want to be. If you take a girl to your room and she robs you, this law makes it almost impossible to obtain police assistance. Foreign women should note that, while rare, Laotian police enforce this law on both sexes. Bartenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls at the same bars they picked up the night before. Most hotels do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms as it is officially prohibited.
Homosexuality is legal and there is a fairly open gay scene in Vientiane. Since the Pathet Lao took over in 1975, the Lao government has been completely silent on LGBT rights and homosexuality itself. Female homosexuality is relatively frowned upon for Lao women while male homosexuality is widely tolerated. A growing acceptance of homosexuality in Laos continues. Gay and lesbian travellers should be aware though that some hotels will impose the same restrictions as for straight people and not allow a Lao national into your room.
Illegal drugs are a problem throughout Laos and certainly so in Vientiane where even very young children can try to peddle "happy pills" to tourists. After declaring victory in the "war on opium" in 2005, it is not so much opium and heroin these days as methamphetamine that incurs the wrath of the authorities. Penalties are extremely harsh. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or police impersonators to "shake down" unsuspecting tourists.
As of 2006, the Lao PDR criminal code for drug trafficking or possession carries the following penalties:
- Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip (USD1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
- Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment, 50 million kip (USD6,578) fine.
- Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip (USD921) fine.
- Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip (USD3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg.
- Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip (USD2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kg.
Long trousers and sleeves are recommended when visiting a temple or official offices. Foreign women adopting the traditional long sarong (siin) are appreciated.
- China, Wat Nak Rd, Sisattanak (Motorbike, tuk-tuk (~15, 000 kip from Centre 1 Way), jumbo, small white bus from capital bus station to engineering faculty (2,000 kip) + 5min walk), ☎ , fax: +856 21 315104, e-mail: email@example.com. M-F, 09:00-11:30. To apply for Chinese visa, pay only in U.S. dollars, valid for 90 days, duration of stay 1month maximum, but extendable. Standard fee USD32 (USA USD140) in 4 days, express extra fee USD30/20 in 1 day or 2-3 days. French nationals need to provide one return air ticket, one hotel booking.
- Thailand, Kaysone Phomvihane Ave, Xaysettha, ☎ +856 21 214581–2, fax: +856 21 214580, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F, 08:30-12:00 & 13:00-16:30.
- Consular Office, 15 Ban Ponesinuan, Bourichane Rd (Near Lao-Singapore Business College), ☎ +856 21 453916, +856 21 415337, fax: +856 21 415336. You can apply for visa from 08:30-11:30 and pick up your passport the next day from 13:30-15:30. Visa fee is 800 baht for transit visitor, 1,000 baht for tourist visitor and 2,000 baht for non-immigrant (5,000 baht for multiple entries.) The visa fee must be paid in cash and in Thai baht only.
- Vietnam, No 85, 23 Singha Rd, Ban Phonxay, Saysettha District (Go to Patuxai and continue road from town centre), ☎ , fax: +856-21 416720, e-mail: email@example.com. M 10:00-11:30 & 13:30-16:30, Tu-F, 08:30-11:30 & 13:30-16:30. To get visa, pay only in U.S dollars. need to complete a form, 1 photo, next day delivery USD50, 2 days delivery USD45, 1 month duration, 1 day wait for visa.
For bus schedules, see the images taken at the various bus stations at Hobo Maps. 
Buses go everywhere in Laos. Minibuses operate from here to around the town suburbs itself, though there is nothing to see around the town that you need a bus to get to, and tuk-tuks will be more direct, convenient, and relatively cheap if you bargain.
- Luang Prabang a supremely charming city in the north of the country.
- Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area for wonderful elephants and waterfalls and fresh highland scenery.
- Vang Vieng for a party atmosphere head three hours north to the beautiful town of Vang Vieng. Buses from Talat Sao cost 35,000 kip, but can get a little crowded.
Buses to Thailand operate regularly from Talat Sao bus station. There are 6 buses to Nong Khai and Udon Thani during the day. Avoid the tuk-tuk/songthaew drivers insisting it is late/slow/gone and wanting 50,000 kip to drive you to the border before dumping you there at the mercy of their Thai equivalents on the other side. Your driver will provide Thai Arrival/Departure cards for you to fill out on the way to speed the process; be sure to have a Thai multiple entry visa or pre-arranged visa ready so that you don't delay the bus. They 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 17:30 according to the timetable, but it may run later. Don't believe anyone who tells you the last bus has gone. Just ask the bus driver.
There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the bridge, except on weekends when a token 9,000 kip or 40 baht (Aug 2010) "overtime charge" might apply. Just walk past the exit fee booth. If no one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.
Tickets from Vientiane to Udon Thani can only be bought from the Talat Sao bus station on the day itself for 22,000 kip.
Central bus station
Some buses are available from there at the same price as the south bus station, most notably Tha Khek/Pakse.
South bus station
Take Bus 29 (3,000 kip, ~20 min) to go there. Typical destinations are Tha Khek (60,000 kip) and Pakse.
North Bus Station
The northern Bus station is located about 10 km from the city centre.
A tuk-tuk will probably try to charge you about 50,000 kip. Don't pay more than 10,000 kip. One person including baggage costs 20,000 kip (Feb 2012).
|To||Departs at||Price (kip)||Duration (Hours)||Comments||Updated|
|Luang Prabang (Local)||06:30,07:30,08:30,11:00,13:30,16:00,18:00||110,000||11-12||Jun 2011|
|Luang Prabang (Vip)||08:00,10:00 (via Vang Vieng), 20:00||145,000||Jul 2013|
|Vang Vieng (VIP)||10:00 and others||?||Jul 2013|
|Oudom Xay (Local)||06:45,13:45||130,000||Jun 2011|
|Oudom Xay (VIP)||16:00||170,000||Jun 2011|
|Oudom Xay(Local ?)||17:00||150,000||Jun 2011|
|Luang Namtha (Local)||08:30,17:00||180,000||Jun 2011|
|Phongsaly (Local)||07:00||190,000||Jun 2011|
|Xam Neua (Local)||07:00,09:30,12:00||170,000||Jun 2011|
|Xam Neua (Local ?)||14:00||190,000||Jun 2011|
|Xien Khung (Phonsavan) (Local)||06:30,07:30,09:30,16:00,18:40||110,000||Jun 2011|
|Xien Khung (Phonsavan) (VIP)||20:00||130,000||Jun 2011|
|Nong Hat (Local)||11:00||150,000||Jun 2011|
|Xaysomboun (Local)||07:30||80,000||Jun 2011|
|Sayabouly (Local)||09:00,16:00||110,000||Jun 2011|
|Sayabouly (Local ?)||18:00||130,000||Jun 2011|
|Pak Lay (Local)||08:00||90,000||6-7||Jun 2011|
|KenetHao (Local)||10:00||100,000||Jun 2011|
|Sana Kham (Local)||06:30,07:30||70,000||Jun 2011|
|Bokeo (Houay Xai) (Local)||17:30||230,000||Jun 2011|
There is no rail terminal in Vientiane; the only train station in Laos itself is 20 km away at Tha Naleng, beside the Friendship Bridge. Built with enthusiasm by the Australian government wishing for improved connections between Laos and Thailand, the Vientiane government has simply left it hanging as a useless station in the middle of nowhere with no plans to connect it to the town.
If you do wish to travel by train (e.g., for decent sleeping quarters), the most convenient bus for rail travel to Bangkok leaves at 14:30 for 15,000 kip. This allows you to breeze through the border during a less busy time and on to the quiet charm of Nong Khai with an hour or two to spare before the "Rapid" train heads for BKK at 18:30, arriving supposedly at 07:00 but often closer to 08:00. Cost of this journey: 15,000 kip for bus to Nong Khai, 680 baht for 2nd class sleeping berths to Bangkok.
There are plans to build a high-speed railway from Kunming (China) to Vientiane, and extend it to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Wattay International Airport is close to town but direct flights only operate to/from Laos' four more developed neighbours, Thailand, China, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as AirAsia's direct service to Kuala Lumpur. Note that flights to Cambodia go via Pakse, meaning that there are no currency exchange facilities, so make sure you change your kip in town before you leave as it's not exchangeable outside of Laos. If you only have a small amount of kip, some shops at the airport may be able to give you change in US dollars if you buy something. When travelling long distance to Laos, aim for Bangkok and travel on from there. It is often cheap and relatively painless to travel to Vientiane over land rather than by air from its neighbours.
Vientiane may be 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. A new levee is being built that will separate the town from the river by 100 m of parkland. As such, boat travel from Vientiane on the Mekong is extremely rare, slow, and expensive, especially travelling upstream.