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Vientiane

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

Understand

Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asia countries, Vientiane's deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you've done the round of temples, the best thing to do here has always been to wander down to one of the riverside beer gardens, kick back with a cold Beerlao - the Lao national beer - and watch the sun set over the Mekong. However, a long stretch of the Mekong river bank is presently a construction site as the authorities are building a flood management levee system and a riverside park. The project is the result of a grant from the government of South Korea. Work should be complete by October 2010; hopefully the beer bars will then be allowed back.

History

Settled since at least 1000 AD, Vientiane became the capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane sprung back in time to be again named the capital of the protectorate of Laos by the French, a position it kept after independence (1953) and after the communists took over in 1975. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 210,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.

Orientation

Vientiane is stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the river bank inland, the main roads running parallel to the river are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthathirat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chanthabuli, contains most of Vientiane's government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lane Xang, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for government offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.

Get in

A visa on arrival is available at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and Tha Naleng train station. Bring US$30-40 in cash (depending on your nationality) and a passport photo; see Laos#Get in for details. You can also get a visa in advance at the Lao Embassy in Bangkok; the only real advantages of doing this are that you need to spend less time queuing when you get to Laos and if you are traveling by through-bus from Udon Thani in Thailand to Vientiane the bus may not wait for visas on arrival to be processed.

By plane

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

International flights

There are direct flights to/from:

There is a US$10 departure tax for international flights, but this is being incorporated into the ticket cost so is not now payable in cash for most flights.

From Bangkok many visitors choose to fly into Udon Thani in Thailand, and cross the border by bus, as this domestic flight is considerably cheaper than a direct international flight to Vientiane. There is a direct shuttle from Udon Thani airport to the Thai/Lao border at Nong Khai (about 50km away) for 200baht, and there are also direct cross-border bus services from Udon Thani (the city, not the airport!) to Vientiane. This option (flight plus bus transfers and immigration clearance at 2 points) takes at least 2 hours longer than a direct Bangkok to Vientiane flight. Be aware that you may have difficulty getting an international bus to Laos if you do not already hold a visa. Ticket officers for the buses sometimes check for this as the buses do not wait at the border long enough for the painfully slow visa on arrival process. If you are flying to Udon Thani you should also make sure you go to the correct departure airport. Nok Air flies from Don Muang, the old Bangkok airport, Thai Airways and Thai Air Asia from Suvarnabhumi [2], the new Bangkok airport.

Domestic flights

Transfer to the city

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

By train

The railway link across the Mekong finally opened in March 2009, and there are now four shuttle services daily from Nong Khai to Tha Naleng, some 13 km away from Vientiane and reachable by shuttle bus from the Morning Market. The shuttle trains are timed to connect with overnight trains to and from Bangkok, with around 90 minutes buffer time at the Thai side of the border for buying tickets and Immigration. It's thus possible to hop aboard express #69 at 8 PM in Bangkok, arrive at Nong Khai at 9:30 AM and reach Tha Naleng around 10:30 AM. The train has first and second class A/C sleepers, which cost around 1200/800 baht respectively. Check State Railway of Thailand [3] for the the up-to-date time tables and fares, as well as online ticket booking. A Lao visa on arrival is now available at Tha Naleng station, though you need to arrange your own onward transport to get into the city. This is a major drawback, as the station (unlike Friendship bridge) is located in the middle of nowhere, and songthaew drivers asked as much as 100 baht/person (even from Thai/Lao people) for a shared ride to Vientiane.

The other option is to get off the train at Nong Khai and cross the border by bus via the Friendship Bridge. The Nong Khai station is just 1.5 km from the bridge, so if you take a tuk-tuk it should cost no more than 30-40 baht for all, after bargaining of course. Outside the station there's an information board listing the official prices to the nearby destinations. Most tuk-tuk drivers will stop at a travel agent just outside the station and try to coerce you to buy both a Lao visa and shuttle bus to Vientiane. Don't listen to them: you can get a visa and shuttle easily at the Lao border.

For those, who already have a Lao visa, or do not need one for a short visit (citizens of ASEAN countries, Russia, and a few others), getting off the train in Udon Thani then taking direct cross-border bus to Vientiane bus is a good option. See below for details.

By road

From Thailand

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

Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (55 baht) and Udon Thani (80 baht) arrive and depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal. These are cheap, comfortable, hassle-free and popular, so book ahead or arrive early. Schedules change often, currently the buses start at 8AM and leave every 2 hours or so, until 6PM. Note: these buses are not an option if you plan to obtain a Lao visa on arrival at the bridge - the bus will not wait long enough. To get from the Udon airport to the Friendship Bridge, a 200 Baht minibus fare can be purchased in the airport and will drop you off on the Thai side of the bridge.

Visas on arrival are available at the bridge. If you forgot your passport photo, they'll photocopy your passport for an extra US$1/40 baht (or do it on the Thai side for just 2 baht). When you get a visa on arrival, you get the entry stamp at the same time, so you don't have to wait in line afterwards. A 10 baht "entry fee" is sometimes charged once through. Just walk past the entry fee booth. If no-one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.

Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 250 baht, easy to bargain down to 100 baht or less for immediate departure with only one passenger) or taxi (300 baht) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper. You should be able to negotiate to a good deal less than 50 baht/person if you're prepared to share (and possibly wait).

The local bus (usually #14) to Talat Sao (the Morning Market) is the cheapest of all, 5,000 kip or 20 baht, but signage is nonexistent and you may be in for a wait (up to 20 minutes). The bus runs until at least 6:45PM or so.

It's about 20km from the bridge to Vientiane; allow at least 30 minutes.

When arriving via the Friendship Bridge, you might like to visit the Buddha Park sculpture garden before going on to Vientiane, and save yourself a return trip back past the border crossing later. The same local bus (usually #14) that connects Talat Sao (the Morning Market) and the Friendship Bridge checkpoint also continues on to Buddha Park. Ask the driver which way it's going, just in case.

Going the opposite way, asking around the bus station for "Friendship Bridge" or "border" is effective. The last bus #14 leaves Talat Sao for the bridge and Buddha Park at 5:30PM according to the timetable, but it may run later. Don't believe anyone who tells you the bus is finished - just ask the bus driver.

There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the Bridge, except at weekends when a token 2500 kip "overtime charge" might apply. Just walk past the exit fee booth. If no-one stops you, you haven't done anything wrong.

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

The bridge immigration shuts quite late, around 10PM. (Ambulances can go through at any hour, in an emergency.) But check with the locals if you are unsure. Although note that the Thai clock is very different to the western one, so using 24 hour time may be a better way to ask.

Khon Kaen - Vientiane direct bus, 180 THB per way, departs from Khon Kaen Aircon Terminal (Prabargat) at 0745 and 1515 daily.

From Vietnam

A direct bus from Hanoi takes at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say, avg 24 hrs) and should cost about US$15-20. There is a twice a week VIP bus (better seats) and a local bus that departs every day. For the local bus: apparently you're not always certain of a seat and Vietnamese people tend to sit and never get up again until you've arrived. The journey from Hue is 16hrs and should cost 16 US$

From elsewhere in Laos

Buses to and from destinations in Vientiane Prefecture depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus piers painted on the central building, which is where you can also buy tickets.

The Southern Bus Terminal, used by all buses coming from the south (including VIP), is on Thanon Kaisone Phomvihane (that is the first stretch of the "Route 13 South"), quite far from town leaving you at the mercy of the tuk-tuk bullies. Note that if you buy a ticket in town you should be able to get a free ride to the terminal.

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

Get around

Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signage is, however, rather lacking though in the center more and more signs are appearing. Where there are signs displaying street names these are bilingual Lao and French. The Lao word "thanon" on these signs is translated by "rue", "avenue" or "boulevard", in many cases without any apparent logic. Therefore the Lao word "thanon" is used throughout this article.

The map on the right, which is fully to scale, covers the center only. Maps covering a larger area are available at bookshops and some mini-marts, but are not as detailed and not always to scale. Many storefronts feature addresses in Roman letters, and these are often the best way to determine the street one is walking. People navigate using landmarks, so name the nearest embassy, hotel or temple to where you want to go.

Since 2006 a major road upgrading project has been going on in the town center and out of it up to way past the airport in the west and the Friendship Bridge in the east, financed by the Japanese government and planned and overseen by Japanese engineers. Largely gone are the hazards presented by missing drainage gully covers and sidewalks upturned by tree roots. Almost no trees have been cut - amazing! In downtown Vientiane the through roads Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai and the side roads connecting them and down to the river now have sealed surfaces and sidewalks, and there is decent street lighting. A one-way traffic regime is in place (but the police are not enforcing it), and parking regulations have also been introduced. Markings for pedestrian crossings have been painted on the new roads, but the local drivers regard them as decoration. Don't rely on them!

Vientiane's rainwater drainage system, which also takes care of "grey water" from baths, sinks, laundry, etc. consists of gullies on the roadside, usually covered by concrete slabs. These slabs are sometimes damaged and very precariously balanced, or even missing altogether; people rapidly learn to take care before stepping on anything that looks like a slab! Waste from toilets is or should be collected in septic tanks (at every house), but those gullies can nevertheless smell abominably. In the center things have improved markedly as a result of the road upgrading. The smell from the gullies is now no longer very noticeable.

Note: do not rely on the Google Earth view of Vientiane for locating the sights: many locations put there by well-meaning users (the "Google Earth Community") are clearly in the wrong place, not just a block or so away but some even in a wrong part of the town!

By taxi

Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around US$0.50 per km or US$20-40 to hire one for the day, depending on car type and distance.

Taxi Vientiane Capital Lao Group Co. Ltd. (21-454168, 21-454088, 90 Th Nongbone) advertises 20,000 kip for the 1st km, then 2,000 kip every 300m.

By tuk-tuk or jumbo

Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins jumbos are ubiquitous in Vientiane. To charter a tuk-tuk/jumbo, agree on the fare in advance (do not pay more than 40K Kip per hour); short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 10,000 kip per person, although as a tourist you may have difficulty bargaining to less than that. All the tuk-tuk drivers carry a fare card for popular destinations but these fares are ridiculously inflated. Do not pay these bogus, published fares. Walking away can make the fare drop quickly. Also do not insult them with ridiculous offers such as 10,000 Kip for four people no matter how short the distance. Share jumbos running on set routes, eg. Th Lan Xang to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 10,000 Kip. Tuk-tuks lined in front the Mekong bank restaurants or other busy areas will try to charge you 30-50K even for short trips. It's not worth trying to bargain as they won't go anywhere with a normal (10K) fare. Walk a few blocks and you can cut a deal much closer to the local price.

By bus

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

By bike

Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guest houses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around 10,000 kip per day. (The cheapest is apparently Douang Deuane Hotel, 8,000 kip, though their bikes aren't the best.) Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify. You can usually choose to leave your passport, your driver's license, about 1,000 baht, or a comparable amount of kip or dollars as a deposit.

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

On foot

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

By Car

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

See

Vientiane is best viewed as a comfortable transit point for other places in Laos, or as a recuperative stop on the way out. It's a pleasant enough place, but generally, there is little reason to spend more than a couple of days here.

Temples and Stupas

Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee of 2,000/5,000K for Lao nationals and foreigners and are open 8AM-4PM, with a Noon-1PM lunch break. The monks of those that don’t charge a fee will be grateful for a small donation in the box.


There are many more temples all over the town, but it must be said that if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.

Other

Nearby

Do

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

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

A reputable agency organising adventure tours and eco-tourism is Green Discovery Laos [4] in Thanon Setthathirat next to Kop Chei Deu.

The local people love to go picnicking at some of the rivers or on the shores of Nam Ngum Lake, about 90km from Vientiane. There are floating restaurants along the lake shore; their specialty is fish fresh from the lake. Cruises among the lake's islands can be booked here, which makes for a relaxing couple of hours. Just inquire at your guest house/hotel or at any travel agency (where they will then try to sell their tours).

Hurting legs and backs from a day roaming the city? Go for a traditional Lao massage. There are lots of massage places all over the town, from "holes in the wall" to upscale establishments. Prices range from US$3-6/hour, more for the truly luxurious spa-like places where you will really be pampered (for instance Papaya Spa [5] (which has had mixed reviews), on a road parallel to the river facing Xieng Veh temple about 2km from the city center).

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

Your masseur or masseuse will be grateful for a tip. The staff will be happy if you have the decency to take a shower before you go there. They won't say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant.

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

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

Buy

Banks and exchange offices are located throughout the city center. Phongsavanh Bank on Thanon Samsenthai is Vientiane's newest and privately owned bank and operates a currency exchange until about 20:30 on weekdays, and for shorter hours on weekends. BCEL's main foreign exchange counter is on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade) and Thanon Pang Kham, charges no commission, gives better conversion rate and has longer opening hours than most local banks. In addition, BCEL has an exchange counter just as you walk out of the immigration check in line. The rates offered are the same as those of BCEL branches in the city, including two or three booths of BCEL within Talat Sao. BCEL also has an exchange counter at the Friendship Bridge, just past the visa on arrival pick-up window. Good USD to Lao Kip conversion rate can be found at the Chinese owned Home Ideal store (see conversion rate on sign at check out counter), a 2 minute walk on the next street over from Phongsavanh bank, where all of the night food action is.

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

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

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

Markets

The old buildings are being replaced by modern structures - at present (December 2007) one of these is completed: the Talat Sao Mall. See below under department stores.

Handicraft shops

Above all, silk and cotton weavings are for sale in the Morning Market and in many shops along Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai, and in several of their side roads. In the Morning Market you should bargain; in the other shops you may try to get a discount but don't count on it. Some of the better shops are:


Look for the "Stay Another Day: Laos" [7] booklet for a guide to non-profit handicraft shops, sustainable manufacturing and other NGO stuff in Vientiane and elsewhere in Laos.

Supermarkets and Department Stores

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

All of these offer groceries from Europe, wines from all over the world (thanks to the low taxation in Laos these are astonishingly low-priced considering the long transport routes); dairy products from Laos itself and Thailand (milk, yoghurt), butter and cheese from Europe and New Zealand, and everything else one may need.

Books

Bicycle

Alcohol

Eat

There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex. More restaurants are opened all the time, but many are there for just a few months before they go under; a few are successful and stay and may even flourish. It’s a question of offering something special, either in the way of the food served, or the atmosphere, or the friendly and competent service. The following is only a small selection. Note: where prices are given, these may no longer be up-to-date (inflation, exchange rate dollar/kip)

Budget

A selection of more "sophisticated" eateries follows:

Vegetarian/vegan:

Mid-range


Splurge

Drink

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

There are two clubs near the Novotel hotel:

Other clubs:

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

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

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

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

Wind West: Different cover bands play throughout the night. Maybe the only country western bar in Laos. A sit and listen to live band place, not a dance club.

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

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

Sleep

There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, from very basic guest houses with dormitory-type rooms to comfortable upscale boutique hotels, with prices from very moderate to mid-range and higher. In recent years many new establishments have opened, but mid-2007 the Government announced plans to restrict the number of new permits: they wish to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The days that anyone could convert their home to a guest house and partake of the boom seem to be over.

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

Room rates may vary depending on the season: high season is something like October through April or May; low season June through September.

Some places insist on an early nightly curfew and lock the front door without giving you a key. If you wish to enjoy the nightlife (what there is of it), make sure that you will be able to stay out and, more importantly, get in again. Often there will be a door man who sleeps near to the main entrance doors and can be woken up to get in, but its wise to check what system they have in place for getting back in during the small hours of the morning.

The Lao Hotel and Restaurant Association [12] has an extensive list of hotels in Vientiane. The following is just a small selection.


Budget

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

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

Mid-range

Splurge

Respect

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

Contact

Post and Telephone: see the section on "Contact" in the article about Laos

Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Thanon Samsenthai and the east end of Thanon Setthathirat. The going rate as of September 2007 is 100K/minute, usually charged in 10 minute increments.

If you have a laptop and Thai SIM card, GPRS access via Thai network is a good option - if there is a signal in the place where you stay, of course.

Stay healthy

Water

The city's waterworks are called Nam PaPaa, which some may joke means "water without fishes". Yes, the fishes have been removed but not everything else. Don't drink the tap water, no matter how long it's been boiled (it tastes very industrial) - stick to the bottled water available everywhere, though even that varies in quality. Some people have a major preference for clear plastic bottles.

Mosquito-borne diseases

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

Dogs

They can be vicious, whether they're stray or just owned by irresponsible people who don't bother closing their gates. You don't need to be out in the suburbs to be attacked. Avoid anything but the most well-lit/busy streets at night.

If you're bitten see a doctor. Even if you've had a rabies vaccination before your trip: you will still need a booster jab.

Swimming

Don't follow the example of the locals who will bathe in anything that looks like water. There is a real risk of picking up parasites! Swimming in public pools is okay. There is one in a kind of garden setting on Thanon Sok Paluang, and another, not in such a nice setting, on the road by the Stadium.

Hotel pools are also safe. Some hotels with pools that you can use for a fee if you're not staying there: Novotel, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace - and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch at the Novotel at c. US$ 10 including use of the pool.

Hospitals

In Vientiane

Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in the West or even in Thailand. Mahosot and Setthathirat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Thailand (see below) where there are good private hospitals with American or European trained doctors.

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

Mahosot Hospital is on the river (go to their "International Clinic" where you pay more and get more personal service, but from the same doctors that work in the hospital itself); Setthathirat Hospital is away from downtown on the T4 Road.

Medical Center : Centre Médical de l’Ambassade de France Medical. With the support of the French Embassy in Vientiane, the “Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France” opened its doors to the foreign community in Laos in April 2007. The medical centre provides primary health care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, along with paramedical services, including dental care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy, to all the expatriates and tourists in Vientiane. Practice Dr. Jean Marie HOSPIED; Bvd Kouvieng . Simuang BP 7168.Vientiane. Laos Tel / Fax: 856 21 214150 cmaflao@gmail.com

Australian Embassy Clinic. The Australian Embassy Clinic provides limited general practice services with a small pharmacy and pathology department. Although the clinic is primarily for diplomatic staff and their families, Australian citizens may access its services on a fee for service basis. Reciprocal arrangements with other embassies means that citizens from certain other countries may also access the service. The clinic is located at the Australian Embassy at Km4 on Thadeua Road. Phone number: +856 [0] 21353840. Clinic Hours: 8.30-12.30 and 13.30-17.00 Monday to Friday. There is no after hours service. Email:Chittakone.keochanla@dfat.gov.au

In Thailand

Recommended hospitals close to Vientiane are:

Stay safe

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

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

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

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

Illegal drugs are a problem throughout Laos and certainly so in Vientiane where even very young children can try to peddle "happy pills" to tourists. After declaring victory in the "war on opium" in 2005, it is not so much opium and heroin these days as methamphetamine that incurs the wrath of the authorities. Penalties are extremely harsh.

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

Get out

Related Information




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