Vientiane

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

Wat Si Muang monastery in Vientiane
Haw Pha Kaeo in Vientiane

Understand

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. 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.

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.

Orientation

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.

Get in

By plane

International flights

There are flights from:

It is often cheaper and relatively painless to travel to Vientiane over land rather than by air from its neighboring countries.

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 airport.

Domestic flights

  Vientiane's Wattay Airport (IATA: VTE) (3 km west of the city).

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 for $7. 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.

By train

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. Also prepare 11,000 kip to pay at the border for a departure tax. It is better to exit bus at the border, rather than continue to Nong Khai, because train station is much closer to the border (1.5 km), than to the city bus station (5-6 km).

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).

By bus

Bus tickets can be bought from various travel agents in Vientiane. Transport by songthaew to designated bus terminal is invariably included in the price. It may happen that instead of going to the bus terminal the songthaew will stop at the roadside near the bus terminal and you will wait there until the bus departures and comes to pick you up. Due to this arrangement you will get to choose the last available seats. According to the songthaew driver it's because the bus station is too crowded and it's more comfortable to wait at the roadside.

From Thailand

The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot or by bicycle (however, people have been seen strolling the bridge), but there are frequent 20 baht shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.

When exiting Laos via the bridge, there are no immigration fees, except on weekends when a token 9,000 kip or 40 baht (2010) "overtime charge" might apply. Just walk past the exit fee booth. If no one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.

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, 6,000 kip, 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. In the opposite direction the last bus 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.

When going to the Friendship Bridge 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.

Bridge immigration shuts quite late, around 22:00. But check with the locals if you are unsure.

Khon Kaen-Vientiane direct bus, 185 baht, 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.

From Vietnam

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.

From Cambodia

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 company 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.

From Luang Prabang you can catch an overnight VIP bus for around 130,000 kip. 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.

  Bus Stop for Vang Vieng. Both large VIP buses and mini buses leave to Vang Vieng from here. Mini vans will pick up passengers from hotels and bring them to this point. Avoid being picked up too early by walking to this location that's near to many guest houses and hotels.

Central bus station

Some buses are available from there at the same price as the south bus station, most notably Tha Khaek and Pakse.

South bus station

This terminal is used by all buses coming from the south. Typical destinations are Tha Khaek (60,000 kip) and Pakse.

Southern Bus Terminal, Kaisone Phomvihane Rd, the first stretch of Rte 13 South (10 km northeast of the centre). It's quite far from town which leaves 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. Bus 29 goes to the center (3,000 kip, ~20 min).

North Bus Station

The northern Bus station is located about 10 km from the city centre on the T2 Road (now officially named Asiane Road), is where all buses to the north arrive and depart.

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

For bus schedules, see the images taken at the various bus stations at Hobo Maps.

By Boat

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.

Get around

Tuk-tuk taxi in Vientiane
Hino buses in Vientiane

Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signs are rather lacking, although 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 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 shopfronts 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 pavements, 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 city.

By taxi

Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around 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 300 m thereafter.

By tuk-tuk or jumbo

A typical jumbo (tuk-tuk) in Vientiane

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.

By bus

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

By bike

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.

On foot

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.

By car

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.

See

Prime Minister's Office, Vientiane
The National Cultural Centre

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.

Patuxai, the Victory Gate

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.

Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane

Nearby

Buddha Park

Do

Buy

Alcohol

Banking

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.

Bicycles

Books

DVDs

Handicrafts

Markets and shops

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.

Eat

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

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.

Vegetarian/vegan

Drink

Sunset and Beerlao by the Mekong

Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, but there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline 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.

Sleep

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. 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 woken 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
Mid-range 120,000-400,000 kip
Splurge Over 400,000 kip

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Internet

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. Many hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars etc have free wifi but it's often quite slow.

Post Office

Wi-Fi and GPRS

Laos network SIM cards such as Unitel, can be bought at the airport, together with credit and data package if required. Thai SIM cards will work here if you are near and have a clear view across the Mekong river to Thailand on the other side.

Stay Healthy

Dogs

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.

Gyms

Healthcare providers

In Vientiane

Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in the West or even in Thailand. Mahosot and Setthathirat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Thailand 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.

In Thailand

Mosquito-borne diseases

Vientiane is free from malaria, but dengue is a real threat, especially during the rainy season. Take the necessary precautions against mosquito bites by wearing DEET repellent, available to purchase at any minimart. It is common practice to request a mosquito coil at dusk at outdoor venues.

Pimps

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.

Swimming

Don't follow the example of the locals who will bathe in anything that looks like water. There is a real risk of picking up parasites. Swimming in public pools is okay. There is one-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.

Water

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.

Stay Safe

Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime. However, bag snatching from guests sitting in front of cafes is becoming more common. Bags in the baskets of (rented) bicycles or mopeds, even when moving along, are also far from safe. Do not leave a bag in an accessible position. If your bag is snatched, immediately start shouting: the perpetrators rely on tourists reacting by silently trying to chase them without alerting the numerous police boxes.

Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on pavements. Additionally, there are many loose pavement 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:

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

Cope

Embassies

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.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 25, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.