Vientiane

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Vientiane is the capital of Laos.

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  • Metropolis over 100 hotels
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  • Casino Casino
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Points of Interest in Vientiane

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, in 1992. 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 forced to walk through the shop (items look like they have been on sale since the revolution in 1975). A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young Western visitors on the 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 of those 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. There have been dog attacks here at night, so be careful.
  • 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. (The image is now housed in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew). Then the Thais came back in 1828 to raze the temple for good measure. The present structure is a 1942 reconstruction of dubious provenance. Today, the temple no longer operates and the interior has been turned into a small jumbled museum housing Buddha images. Look 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.

Nearby

  • 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.

That Dam

Haw Phra Kaew

Wat Si Saket

Talat Sao

Pha That Luang

Lao National Museum

Patuxay

Wat Si Muang

Laos National Stadium

Buddha Park

National University of Laos

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About Vientiane

History

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.

Activities

  • 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),  +856 20 56632835. 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),  +856 20 55812337. 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.

Food

Budget

  • 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.
  • Name Unknown 1 (On a nameless street, which can't be located on a map either, across from the end of Rue Saylom next to a green Fuji Film store and developing studio with the sign "Delicious Noodle"). 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 2 (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),  +856 20 77516084. 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.

Mid-range

  • 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),  +856 21 5705. 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),  +856 20 6711784. 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.

Splurge

  • L'Adresse de Tinay (On a little street behind Wat Ongteu, parallel to Setthathirath Rd),  +856 20 56913434, e-mail: ladressedetinay@gmail.com. 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),  +856 20 7709729. 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),  +856 21 213174. 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.

Chinese

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),  +856 21 262799. 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),  +856 21 262249. 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.

Vegetarian/vegan

  • 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),  +856 21 217385. 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.

Drinks

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).),  +856 20 7873965. 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 +856 20 2222513. 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.

Shopping

Alcohol

  • 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.

Banking

  • 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

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.

Bicycles

  • 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.

Books

  • Monument Books, Nokeo Kumman Rd (Next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse). Offers a good selection of English and French language books and magazines.

DVDs

  • 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.

Handicrafts

  • 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).
  • Mixay Boutic (sic) (On Nokeo Kumman Rd (with a branch 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.
  • 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.
  • 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,  +856 21 223178. 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.

Supermarkets

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.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Vientiane on Wikivoyage.

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