The North of Laos

VIENTIANE

Global Mark : 12.14 (up)

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
3 2 2 4 3 5 3 5 1 12.44

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
25 76% (19) 48% (12) 76% (19) 5 to 20 11.84


Description :
The rather laid-back and under-developped capital of Laos

Comments : This place is not the backpackers' favorite and certainly does not look like a Country's Capital but it is not an unpleasant stopover and some sights are worth checking out.

What to do ? Go straight for a guesthouse as the popular ones fill up fast / Consider spending a few more bucks for better accomodations / Walk around the town center and check out the (not so great) temples & not so numerous old Colonial villas / See old cars / Do administrative work : visa (extension or new), email (the cheapest rate in the country) or money exchange (the best rate in the country) / Collect some tourism info at the rather deserted Tourist Office (NTAL) / In the area north of the museum, swim, shoot pistol or play bowling ($3 per game after 5pm) / Talk with students at the night stalls area along the Mekong. As you are there, sip a drink while watching the sun disappear / Climb to the top of Patuxai (Victory Monument) for a good view of the city / Visit the Great Sacred Stupa, the (rather plain) symbol of Laos / Spend some weird hours at Buddha Park, 24 km away / Shop at big & ugly markets

What you may not like ? The "So this is The Capital of Laos ?" feeling / Having to pay for a dorm's bed what you usually pay for a room / The cost of food / Not having much to do / The sight of destitutes & the begging / The dust & traffic in some streets / 

How long ? Half a day for the Center on foot. One more day for the nearby attractions on bike & bus. 


Where to stay ? 

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online and save money !

- The dormitories "cheapies" :

bulletSabaidy GH (213929, mixay@laotel.com), 203 Setthathirat Rd, just west of the internet place / Dorm $2 or K16.000 / Go there early to fit into the 3 beds or 4 beds' dorm. After, you wil find yourself in the huge 12 beds (on two level) room. A very quiet night in perspective... / Vietnam visa $55 (same cost in Embassy) in 4 w. days / The lobby is relaxing with satellite TV & movies and it is clean / HW outside
bulletMIC GH, 67 Manthatulat Rd, off the main street near the above / Trpl w. cold shower $6 (K45.000) but it should be easy to get a bed only (K15.000) / No HW outside / Go there to see the rooms if you arrive at the right time...
bulletPhantavong GH, just north of the above / Dorm (3) downstairs $2 (K15.000), Dorm (4) upstairs K20.000, Room K38.000, w. cold shower K45.000 / No HW outside / Vietnam Visa for $55 (same cost in Embassy) in 4 w. days / The rooms are huge but basic, quite decrepit & quite dirty. Some also have no windows...

For a few dollars more (or a lot of Kips more), you might consider the comfort of the followings : 

- On the west of the museum, 5mn walk from the dorm places :

bullet® Vannasinh GH (218707), 51 Phnom Penh Rd / Small Sgl w. or without cold shower $8, Dbl w. HW shower $10 / Go there for the very nice & clean rooms 
bulletHaysoke GH (218844), Heng Boun Street, two streets south of the above / Clean room w. satellite TV, tel & fridge $13, same plus HW shower $15, Trpl $25 / HW outside / Nice & well equipped but a bit expensive.
bullet® Thawee GH (217903), 64 Ban Anu, two streets north of the above, Sgl (but the bed is big enough for two) w. satellite TV $7 (or K53500), Dbl w. AC, TV & HW shower $14 / HW outside / Little extra (water, soap,etc) / Bike K9000 (girl), K12000 (boys) / Go there for the best deal in town for very nice, clean & cosy (great beds) Sgl with balcony in a spotless charming house.
bullet® Syri 1 GH (212682, dronk@laonet.net), continue north / Room without shower 8(1) or 10(2), Sgl w. HW shower $10, Dbl w. HW shower 10(1) or 12 (2 or 3), quad w. AC, satellite TV & fridge $20 / Go there for the huge wood rooms with lots of charm, the superb old colonial house (reading rooms, kitchen, etc.) / What you may not like : the old look, the noisy garage nearby
bullet® Santisouk GH (215303), 77/79 Nokeo Khumman Rd / Huge wood rooms w. AC $8, w. HW bathtube $10 / HW outside / Not so fresh but lots of charm. Also the cheapest (old) AC in town
bulletPraseuth GH (2179320, corner of Nokeo Khumman Rd & Samsenthai Rd / OK rooms $7, w. AC $8 / HW outside / Go there for the cheap AC but it is not as nice as the aboves & quite basic.

- In the Chinese district :

bulletHua Guo GH (216612), 359 Samsenthai Rd / Sgl w. AC & satellite TV $7, Dbl w. above $10, w. HW shower $12, Trpl $12 or $15 / Chinese management / Claim to have the best rates in town. True for Sgl AC but they certainly do not have the best looking & cleanest rooms... 

- Near the morning market & Bus station :

bulletBoulichanh GH (223475), Lan Xang Avenue / Room w. cold shower $6, w. HW shower $8, w. window outside $10, w. balcony $12 / Go there if you are lazy to walk & the cheapest OK rooms w. cold shower / What you may not like : the lack of freshness & ugly environment

- Mekong Area, south of Setthathirat Rd :

bullet® Lao Sakomh GH (216571), Francois Nginn Rd / Sgl w. cold shower $6, Dbl without shower $8, Dbl w. HW or cold water but window $10 / Little extra (water, soap,etc) / Go there for the cheapest Sgl with shower & the OK clean rooms / What you may not like : the lack of charm
bullet® Saysouly GH (223757, saysouly@hotmail.com), 23 Manthatulat Rd / Sgl $8, Huge dbl w. AC & HW bathtube $10, w. satellite TV $12 / HW outside / Little extra (water, soap,etc) / Go there for the cheapest good clean Dbl with AC & HW. The bathtube is a bonus !
bullet® Khamvongsa GH (216725), Khun Bulom Rd, street on the west of Wat In Paeng / Sgl or Dbl in the wood house in the back $4 or $5, Dbl in front house $6 / HW outside / Go there for the cheapest Sgl in town, the OK rooms, the wood back house / What you may not like : the heat inside the small rooms


Backpacker's Tips : Ton Elias (August 05)
« Thawee guest house Vientiane: The service was very low, many other (and cheaper) guesthouses in Vientiane offer much better service. They were very unfriendly at the desk. No room cleaning. Closed at 9.00 PM. After 9.00 you had to go to the other side of Vientiane to get a key to your own room!!! » Note from Passplanet: An accident maybe ?

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« P-P GH (dbl,sb,hw,clean,very friendly,internet café on the ground floor) 4 $ excellent value. Best way to discover the city is renting a bicycle. Friendly city but not too much to do, two days should be enough.
Bus to Pakse 11h ,9$ very good road (one bus in the morning, one bus in the evening, recommend taking the day bus, safer, lots of village life to see
along the way, no sleeping seats) »

Backpacker's Tips : Alex (Dec 03)
« Lane Xang hotel in Vientiane is 20 dollars but must be the best in town, with a view over the Mekong.»

Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker, Australia (April 03)  
« Phormtip? GH near the Night vendor stalls on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane was good value (5 USD). No where to change money in Vientiane on a weekend except at the morning market. It must be one of the few capitals that has no ATMs. Excellent sleeper bus to Pakse left at 8p.m. (75k KIP) and took 10 hours on excellent paved roads. All the roads I used in Laos from LP in north to Cambodian border at Veunkhan were good.»

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Heuan Lao GH, beside Simuang Minimart (ask de tuk-tuk driver to bring you to Wat Simuang) is recommended ! 50.000 Kip for a room with bathroom and fan, 8$ for room with aircond. Elsewhere in Vientiane, they ask 40.000 Kip and more for a dirty room ! 
Around the central fountain there are a lot of possibilities to go to eat (f.i. Scandinavian Bakery en “L’Opera”). But very very very expensive ! Just buy the delicious baguettes and La Vache qui Rit in the supermarket ! »

Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium (March 02)
« Soradith Guesthouse : 11 USD (1 USD= 9500 kip) : very nice, clean and friendly place; a bit out of the city center, but very quiet / Visits : most visits 2000 kip (Buddha park in Xieng Khuan is interesting) »

Where to eat ? Food stalls are scattered around town. Some good ones can be found south of the fountain on Pangkham Rd (good naem K500 a piece). At night, go to the river bank where Lao food shops set up tables in the open air. Not so cheap (nothing seem to be in Vientiane) but good atmosphere.

Internet ? The cheapest rates in Laos : K300 /mn at Planet Online (planet@laonet.net ), near the dorms. The rates even goes down to K250 after 30mn and K200 after 1 hour (the same rate as in Bangkok). In addition, free coffee & tea, CNN TV, comfortable sofa & reading materials makes you wish you have to wait for a free computer... Open daily 8:30 to 23 (20 on Sunday)

Bikes ? K12.000 next to MIC GH / $1 opposite Syri GH / Also at Thawee GH & Santisouk GH

Change money ? In Vientiane, there should be no commission on TC converted into Kips (1.5% if converted to US$) and it is the best rates of the country. Some banks can also cash credit cards against 3.5% US$ or 2.5% kips. Banks south (BCEL) or north the fountain are the most convenient but you have plenty...

Visa for Vietnam ? $50 for 1 month visa, 4 working days, 2 photos / Embassy on That Luang Rd, tel : 413400 / Both Sabaidy GH & Phantavong GH take care of this business for US$55 in 4 working days.

Visa for China ? $35 for 1 month visa, 3 working days, 1 photo / Embassy on Vatnak Rd, tel : 315100

Visa for Cambodia ?

Telephone ? It is much cheaper to call home from the Lao Telecom Co on Setthathirat Rd than from the Post Office. 

Tourist Office ? National Tourism Authority of Lao / PO Box 3556, Lane Xang Avenue, Vientiane / Tel : (856-21) 212 148, 212 251 / Fax :212 769


Backpacker's Tips : Andrew Curtis, New Zealand (Oct 08)
« Yes the place does not OOZE lots to do…but once you are stuck there… say because you had your passport stolen, you can soon find quite a bit to do…. Hire a bike… ride to the main monuments and talk to the young apprentice monks…they love practicing their English and are a wealth of knowledge. In fact just talk with the monks anywhere if you find them and they look interested…they are a little shy so a quiet hello on your part can be all that is needed.
Near the main bus station/morning markets (you can see it from there) there is a water park with some pretty bad ass water slides…. No more than 3USD an so worth an afternoon of fun and relaxing by the pool if hot.
Out by the Olympic area there is the gun range people talk about just look around a little and you will find it, across the road and 100m further up the street there is a sweet and cheap bowling alley.
Find the booklet ‘stay another day’ and visit some of the charities in it, just read about what is being down and buy some stuff, or donate time or money… go on stay another day… a little does mean a lot!!!!
» 

Backpacker's Tips :  Tristan, France (August 05)
« If you re coming from Thailand dont stay there its the most boring city I visited in South East Asia, head to the public bus station and take a bus (15 000 kip) to Vang Vieng. Stayed at the Mali Namphou guest house (12 USD, Hot water, A/C, TV) pretty neat, nice garden, nice staff, next to the fountainin the city center » 

Backpacker's Tips : Chayut Pihakaendr, Thailand (Jan 04)
« I exchanged my money in morning market where gives you a better rate than the bank but check the bank’s rate and then bargain at the market.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos I think the place is O.K. for a few days to explore some site and arrange visa and plan or transit to your destination . »

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
« I found Vientiane quite boring. It is not really how you expect a capital to be, it is more like a village with no atmosphere. There are hardly interesting sights, shops and bars. There are quite some restaurants but most of them are too western (French), too organized and too expensive. Vientiane The restaurants along the Mekong ((towards the west) a little outside of the centre deserve more credit. There is no traffic (which is absolutely good!) and you have a nice view overlooking the Mekong. Good atmosphere! / The best way to go round is by bicycle. We paid 1 dollar per bicycle for a whole day. / Every Saturday at 16.00 hrs. you can do (for free) a sitting and walking meditation in Wat Sok Pa Luang! This is really good! Two monks were leading the session. Most visitors were foreigners (unfortunately). / If you are longing for a swim, go to the public Sokpaluang swimming pool (Thanon Sok Pa Luang)! Clean pool, many local children and some foreigners. More fun and cheaper then when you use the pool from one of the more luxurious hotels. Entrance fee: around 50 dollar cents. / You can buy all kind of bus tickets in the guesthouses but this will always be around 5.000 kip more expensive than when you buy them at the bus station itself.»

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
« For India visa,5 working days and 3 photos, USD46 will do for a 6 months visa. For Cambodia visa (1 month), 1 working day and 3 photos, USD20 »

Backpacker's Tips : Paco Panconcelli, Germany (Feb 01)
« Bookshops: Raintrees has moved its main branch to 54/1 Thanon Pankam. The National Library has some books in English and French. As a tourist you cannot check them out, but the staff will happily make photocopies and bind them for 100 Kip per page. Great service!
Airline Booking Office : There is a Royal Air Cambodge and Vietnam Airlines booking office at Lao Hotel Plaza.
Santisouk GH has the hottest showers in Laos! Room rates here -as in many other places- dropped to USD 8/10.
»

    Official Web Site

 

A few things to visit ?

You can walk most of the attractions of the town center in about half a day. Except if indicated, they are open from 8 to 12 & from 14 to 16 Tuesday to Sunday and cost K1000. Those include :

bulletThe Lao National (or Revolutionary Museum), if you are interested by the history of Laos or the government's propaganda (open 8-12 & 13-17 daily, K2000)
bulletContinue east along Chinatown and turn left to the unimpressive Black Stupa (That Dam, free as outside)
bulletIf interested by busy market, head north toward the Morning Market (operating all day long). Otherwise head south to Wat Si Saket, the most original & oldest Temple in Vientiane, which also houses bats (can only smell them). You will also see the rather ugly Residential Palace.
bulletIf interested by buddhas or wish to see a jar from the intriguing (but tricky to reach) plain of Jars, head east to Haw Pha Kaew, a temple converted into a small museum. Then head south and walk west along the Mekong. 
bulletTurn right at Chantha Khumman to see old colonial houses, then left at the Tel Co to reach the nice Fountain Circle. 
bulletContinue East on Setthathirat Rd toward a few rather kistch temples, incl. Wat Ong Teu and its 10 tonnes buddha image. And that's about it. 
bulletWith a bike, tuk-tuk or good legs, you could visit Patuxai or Victory Monument (climb to the top for a good view) and Pha That Luang, the Great Sacred (and quite unimpressive) Stupa, about 2km away. 

24km away, Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park may be worth a look. It is small and quite busy with local tourists but original & striking nethertheless with its about 50 something Buddhist & Hindu cement sculptures, including a huge reclining Buddha. Take a bus from near the Morning market to Tha Deua (K500, 40mn) and get off before arriving (tell the driver where you go). There is supposed to be an additional charge for cameras but if you are discreet... Note that there is another such park in North-East Thailand near Nong Khai that is arguably better...

 << Discover a few sights of the Capital

 
Leave Vientiane ?

The airport is only 10mn away with tuk-tuk (K3000 to 5000). Departure tax is $10 for international flights : Bangkok (daily, $80), Chiangmai (Thurs & Sund, $70), Hanoi (daily except Monday, $108), Saigon (Frid, $140), Phnom Penh (Mond & Frid, $125), Kunming (Sund, $100).

The ferry pier is about 8km away in Ban Kao Liaw. Slow & speed boats leave unregularly in the morning to Luang Prabang. It is slower (2 days or 10 hours) & more expensive (K105.000 or K189.000) than the bus so few people now use them. It is also possible to go to Savannakhet once a week (contact the Laksi Harbour Tel : 313 083)

To Savannakhet, a private Company (Sensabay) has got buses departing daily from the evening market area (office next to the Vientiane Theatre) at 7am for K20.000. It advertises a 8 hours trip.

Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous (Dec 01)
« The trip from Vientiane to Hanoi via Cau Treo is now possible with a rather comfortable air cond minibus. The trip takes 24 hours, with many stops, and cost around US$25. It however leaves only on Monday & Friday at 7pm. We had no problems at the border and found the road paved most of the way.»

Backpacker's Tips : Paco Panconcelli, Germany (Feb 01)
« Laos to Vietnam overland via Cau Treo : Take a bus from Vientiane to Paksan (7am and 2pm from Talaat Sao, 3500 Kip, 3 hours). Spend the night there. Phonxay GH does not exist any more. Manolom GH and Restaurant (9000 Kip for a double with attached bathroom) is opposite of where it used to be. Take the bus to Laksao (also known as Kham Keut) the next morning (6am from Paksan Phattana Hotel or the bus station, 12.000 Kip, 4 hours). From Laksao you take a tuk-tuk to the border (10.000 Kip per person). Spend your last Kip in one of the noodle soup shops, then head to the Lao Immigration and walk 500 meters to the Vietnamese border. From there you have to charter a taxi to Vinh (USD 30, 2 hours). Traffic on either side of the border is still very erratic, so start early in case you have to wait somewhere on the way. There are also direct buses from Vientiane to Laksao (4,5 and 6am) which you could also catch in Paksan. Or you can take an international bus from Vientiane to Vinh. Tickets (USD 35, 10 hours) are sold in a little shop near the PVO Restaurant. They sell little things wrapped in dirty paper (couldn't classify that stuff) and have a sign "Vietnam Bus Can" outside. Vietnamese visas are available at the embassy in Vientiane. They are cheaper than in Bangkok (USD 50, 4-6 days, 2 photos).»

Bus Schedules : 

To Price Road Duration Time Nb Freq.
Tha Khaek K12000 good 6 4,5,6 3 na
Savannakhet K20000 good 8 7:30,10 2 na
Pakse K26000 bad 15 8,11,14:30 3 na
Vang Vieng K5000 good 4 7,10:30,13:30 3 na
Luang Prabang K40000 good 10 6,7,8,9:30,11,13:30,17 7 na

Notes : To Luang Prabang from evening market

The trip to Savannakhet : SS / L&R / B100 / 9 hrs / Bus
I had read some info in a guide book (no, I won't tell you which one !) about this company (Sensabay) : that it was running air cond buses with assigned seats, snack services and, above all, two stops on the way only. This sounded great indeed. Once at the office, things started to change a bit : it would be a fan bus tomorrow and I would better show up half an hour before departure as there was no reserved seats. 
So here I am the next day, 45mn before departure time. It was indeed better to show up early as it departed 10mn in advance. But the fear of scarce seats was unjustified as it left more than half empty. Such a scenario being science fiction, I was not surprised when the bus stopped along the way to get more passengers. I started however to be slightly annoyed when it continued to stop even so no more seats were available. Plastic chairs were disposed in the central alley and, soon, people were fighting their way to get in. Indeed, being the first bus to leave, it collected quite a few passengers...
We also got snacks all right : we stopped at food stalls to be charged ridiculous prices for tasteless food or were offered barbecued bugs (yummy !) from the windows by young salesgirls.
We arrived 9 hours later, after a 20mn delivery service a bit outside the way. We did not get off at the bus station but about 1.5 km closer to the city center, on the road going to the airport, 500 m north of Phonepaseut Hotel (about 1 km away from other guesthouses, tuk-tuk 1500K).
So that's it for this Company. Nothing advertised was true but it still leave from the evening market (15mn walk only from the guesthouses, closer than the other buses), arrives a bit closer to the city center in Savannakhet and was (maybe) slightly more comfortable than "normal" buses... So not a bad deal if you do not expect more...


See also the trip from Vang Vieng

 

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