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Overland Laos,Unlock The True Secrets of Laos
   
Tour Code: STS-LA-001 Price per person from: From RMB
Departure Date: On Click for Price Details
   
 
Summary:

Discover the unparalled charm and rustic beauty of Laos in this adventure travel through the kingdom formerly known as Lang Xang, the Land of Million Elephants. Staying in Indochina's most elegant hotels, you will have the opportunity to experience the uniqueness of this Buddhist country as you traverse south from Luang Prabang to Vientiane via Vang Vieng.

As one of Asia's most tranquil towns, Luang Prabang is a well-preserved heritage town famed for its unique blend of golden temples and colonial buildings set amidst the lush green mountains. Learn about Buddhism and its central role in Lao life as you explore the glided temples, saffron-clad monks and sedate riverine lifestyle. You will have the opportunity to capture the spectacular sunset at Mount Phou Si before wandering through the bustling hill tribe market in the evening.

From Luang Prabang, a scenic drive southwards will bring you to Vang Vieng. Surrounded by dramatic karst scenery lining a gently flowing Nam Song River, this town will prove an extraordinary sight to behold as you trek and explore its numerous limestone caves and caverns. Revel in the natural beauty of Nam Ngum Lake, an immense artificially dammed lake that powers hydroelectricity for Laos and her neighbors.

Rounding up your Laos travel in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos still maintains the handsome majesty and grandeur of its colonial yesteryears with its numerous popular and historical landmarks. You also have the chance to learn the finer aspects of Lao culture heritage through its fine cuisine and traditional crafts besides enjoying an aromatic brew of the local coffee by the riverbanks of Mekong River.

 

 

Summary Itinetary Prices Features Notes Customize This Trip

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Tour Dates Destinations Today's Activities Meals Include

Overland Laos-Unlock The True Secrets of Laos
10 Days/ 9 Nights Private Tour
Departure date: October Holiday


Tour Highlights

* Experiencing the beauty and serenity of Luang Prabang, spiritual centre and former capital of Laos
* Witnessing an ancient Buddhist offering to hundred of orange-robed monks as
the sun rises over the mountains beyond Luang Prabang
* Enjoying the nature at Kuangsi waterfalls
* Cruising on the Mekong River to the mysterious Pak Ou caves and its mass of Buddha statues
* Having a look over the stunning limestone landscapes of Vang Vieng from the Nam Song river
* Discovering the hidden charms of Vientiane
* Tasting one of the most famous coffee of the World

 

Flight schedule ( Fly with Vietnam Airlines)
Date  Flight No.  Dep. City/ Time   Arrival City / Time        Duration
Day01  VN 901   Beijing / 1545     Hanoi / 1820      3 hr 35 mins
Day02
  VN 869   Hanoi / 0900      Luang Prabang / 0955  55 mins
Day09   
 VN 824   Vientiane / 1500    Hanoi / 1550      50 mins
Day10
  VN 900   Hanoi / 1010      Beijing / 1445      3 hr 35 mins

 

Tour Itinerary-
Day 01 Beijing- Hanoi
Take Vietnam Airlines flight depart Beijing for Hanoi. Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport, and transfer to the hotel by private car.
Overnight in
Hanoi
.

 

Day02 Hanoi- Luang Prabang (B)
After breakfast, transfer to airport by private car for flight depart for Luang Prabang. Arrival in Luang Prabang. Welcome to the spiritual capital of
Laos. Once arrived in Luang Prabang and met your guide, you will be transferred to your hotel.
At the end of the day, climb the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside and get back to your hotel by the evening hilltribe market where you may find plenty of local souvenirs to buy such as handicraft, textile.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.

 

Day03 Pak Ou Cave and Luang Prabang (B)
After breakfast, transfer to pier for a cruise up along the Mekong. Located 2 hours upstream of Luang Prabang, Pak Ou Caves count thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues crammed into the two caves carved out of a towering limestone cliff. They range in size from a few centimeters to the size of a human. The caves are as well a destination for local pilgrimages.

On the way to the caves and on the way back, do not miss that Laos has several waterways that has been used in the past and continue to be a way for transportation actually in some area. To use a local boat to cruise a river is probably one of the most rewarding mean to discover the life along the rivers, to observe the daily activities of fishermen and how they live with the river, how they throw their nets in a elegant arm gesture. Return to Luang Prabang.

The city tour begins in the afternoon with your guide who will enable you to learn more about this town registered on the World Heritage Patrimony List since 1995. Your tour starts at the former RoyalPalace, now the NationalMuseum. Your walk continue to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief. During Pimai, the lao new year, the Prabang normally housed in the RoyalPalaceMuseum is brought and put on public display in this temple. Then, our walk will conduct us to Wat Sensoukarahm, build in 1718 with its beautiful dazzling golden facade. Finish with the morning visit by the most photographed temple: Wat Xieng Thong. Located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong, this temple has been erected in 1560 by King Setthathirat while the library has been added in 1828.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.

 

Day04 Luang Prabang and Kuangsi (B)
For early-risers, there is a very special dawn visit to witness the long lines of orange-robed monks leaving their pagodas to receive offerings of food from Luang Prabang residents. Return to the hotel for breakfast.In the morning, Wat Visoun, the holiest temple of the city, entirely rebuilt after being destroyed in 1887 by the invading Black Flags from Southern China. In the courtyard of Wat Visoun stands the Watermelon Stupa shaped like the fruit it takes its name from. You will continue by Wat Aham where we can find the altar of the 2 genius of Luang Prabang and then go to Wat That where the ashes of King Sisavang Vong are interred inside the large central stupa.

During the afternoon, you will visit Kuangsi Waterfalls, located at 32 km from Luang Prabang. These waterfalls run through a multilevel limestone formations in the jungle into a series of turquoise blue pools where you may bathing at the foot of the falls if the weather is nice (please wear a sarong, no naked bodies).
Overnight in Luang Prabang.

 

Day05 Luang Prabang- Vang Vieng (B)
After breakfast, morning depart for a drive down spectacular Route 13 towards Vang Vieng. Stop in Kasi, the center of a fruit-growing area. Continue to Vang Vieng, nestled along the NamSongRiver and framed by spectacular karst formations housing numerous caves. Visit of ThamJamCave in the afternoon and stroll through town along the NamSongRiver.
Vang Vieng is a famous place between
Vientiane and Luang Prabang, surrounding by an amazing limestone relief where you may visit some caves. If the town losts a part of its soul, do not hesitate to move a little bit away to enjoy the local daily life. Besides the banks of the NamSongRiver
, you may have a lot of opportunities for trekking and caving as well to learn about the local mythology regarding the name of the caves. Do not forget your sunset upon the river!
Overnight in Vang Vieng.

 

Day06 Vang Vieng (B)
Free at leisure in Vang Vieng. A place where you can lose yourself relaxing by the river, riding a bike through incredible scenery, exploring remote caves or simply lazing in old opium dens watching the latest bootleg Hollywood release.
Overnight in Vang Vieng.

 

Day07 Vang Vieng- Vientiane (B)
After Breakfast, drive about 2 hours to Nam Gum lake. It is the largest lake in Laos and you can enjoy there great sceneries. This artificial lake was built to produce electricity and was indeed the first hydroelectric dam ever built in Laos: the dam generates 160 Mega Watts of electric power (Electricity being one of the most significant source of income in Laos).

Lunch by the lakeside (not included). We advise you have the fresh and grilled fish from the lake. Then take a boat cruise on the lake and enjoy the scenery of mountains, hills, beautiful forests and islands. Fishing is also a significant activity on the lake and you will have the opportunity to see the fishermen on their boats, fishing with hoop nets, nets and lines. After your cruise, transfer to Vientiane with a visit at the salt mine of Ban Kheune and at the typical local market of Kilometer 15.
Overnight in
Vientiane.

 

Day08 Vientiane (B)
After breakfast, the day will be used to discover the hidden charm of Vientiane which means the city of ''sandal wood''. Vientiane is one of the quietest capital in the world, far away from the usual bustle and hustle Asian capitals, far from the real-estate frenzy of the regional megalopolis. Wat Sisaket: the only temple left intact after the Siamese invasion in 1828. One of the most beautiful temple of the capital with its thousands of miniature Buddha statues.

Continue with Wat Phra Keo, used as a religious museum where are displayed Lao and Khmer works of art. Just besides, have a look to the Presidential Palace (former French governor Palace. No visit). The next place is Wat Simuang, the most popular and venerated temple in Vientiane which is the guardian of the spirit of the city. Among this location, you will find an angkorian pillar. It is said that, you should turn around 3 times by formulating a wish. If that one becomes true, you have to bring back some offerings.

Afternoon will be used to visit the Patuxay monument (the Lao Arc de Triomphe), also called Anousavari. From its roof enjoy a panoramic sight over the city. Then, pursue to the That Luang constructed by King Setthethirat, the holiest place in Laos where you may enjoy the sunlight on the golden structure.Then, you will discover another speciality of Laos: coffee. Laos has one of the most famous coffees of the world that grown in the Boloven Plateau in Southern Laos. Here, you will learn and see how it is roasted and blended.
Overnight in
Vientiane

Day09 Vientiane- Hanoi (B)
After breakfast, free at leisure until your transfer to the airport for flight depart for Hanoi. Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport, and transfer to the hotel by private car.
The rest time is free for
Hanoi. Options include enjoying the many charms that this city has to offer from the many boutique shops, enjoying a traditional 'Water Puppet' show at the Old Quarter, or simply taking a coffee at one of the charming street side coffee shop and watching the world go by.
Overnight in
Hanoi
.

 

Day 10 Hanoi- Beijing (B)
After breakfast in the morning, free at leisure till transfer to the airport by private car for flight depart for Beijing.

 

 

  Price Inclusions and Exclusions

 

Vientiane Luang Prabang

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.

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.

Wat Si Saket now signposted as Sisaket Museum. Entrance fee. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat. 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 center 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.

Haw Pha Kaew. Entrance fee. Thanon Setthathirat (opposite Wat Si Saket). 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 - and 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 out for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down "calling for rain" pose.

Black Stupa (That Dam). Thanon Bartholomie (off Thanon Samsenthai 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 vegetation. Warning: there have been dog attacks here at night.

*  Pha That Luang. Entrance fee. Thanon That Luang (2 km east from Patuxai). 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. Closed Mondays. You have to pay a few thousand kip to access the inner courtyard, which 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 November on the night of the full moon.

*  There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua to the north(ish) and Wat That Luang Tai to the south(ish), both presently being renovated.

*  Wat Si Muang. Between Thanons Setthatirat and Samsenthai, about 1km east of the center. Despite its small size, the temple is very active and houses the city pillar. Followers believe that lifting the small buddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered.

*  Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok are along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town center, and therefore the most likely temples to be visited by travelers.

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

Patuxai ("Victory Gate"). A local rendition of Paris ' Arc de Triomphe. Besides the 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 - and the concrete in question 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 day time, and for three thousand kip you can climb up to the 7th story (stairs only) for a nice view of downtown Vientiane. Those with Asian features may be able to get away with paying the two thousand kip Lao price.

Lao National Museum. Thanon Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum by name, 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 us with a great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Loatians didn't 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 subject of communism. Most exhibits are labeled in English, though some French labelling remains, occasionally to the exclusion of English. Entry 10,000K (for foreigners), open daily from 08:00 to 16:00. Bags must be checked in at the front desk. No cameras are allowed.

COPE Visitor Centre. Ku Wieng Road at the Waterpark near Green Park Hotel. Open 9AM-6PM every day, the centre explains Lao's legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and the National Rehabilitation Centre's efforts to expand prosthetic services across the country. There are a number of hands-on 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, off-beat souvenirs that support a good cause. Free entry and free parking (do not confuse with the paid parking lot).

Nearby

Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is 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. Located some 24 km from the city, it's about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge - hence it's well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you're crossing the Friendship Bridge, thereby saving you an extra 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane. 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 the bus. No. 14 leaves Talat Sao station to Xieng Khuan for 5,000K oneway, and it is no problem to flag down a bus on the way back or to the Friendship Bridge.

*  On the main road (Thanon Thadeua), just before the access road to the Bridge branches off, is the National Ethnic Cultural Park where 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 be eager to 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. Well, to have it in their brochures may serve to make those more impressive. It is not a place to go out of your way for, not as long as it is not made more attractive.

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 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 (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.

ANZV: Allows withdrawals of up to 2,000,000 kip per transaction (around 230 USD) 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 is also a single ANZV ATM on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum and Rue Chao Anou.

BCEL: Withdrawals are limited to 700,000 kip per transaction (a bit more than 80 USD); however, you may make up to ten of these in one day. Mastercard and Maestro are readily accepted; Visa is currently not. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction.

Other local banks: Maximum withdrawal 1,000,000 kip per withdrawal, maximum 3 withdrawals/day.

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

Morning Market (Talat Sao - corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Khu Vieng) - a large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics, and watches; the second floor has clothing, gold, and jewelery. Depending on the product, you should negotiate, discounts can vary from 10% to 33%. Despite the name it is still struggling into operation at 9AM and remains open until around 4PM.

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:

Mixay Boutic (yes, that's how they write it) in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (with a branch in Thanon Setthathirat) - they have some women weaving fabrics of the shop's own design on the premises, who you are welcome to watch. Beautiful wall hangingsԌEԌ but well worth the price. Also on sale are shirts and skirts, scarves, cushion covers and anything made of textiles.

Laha Boutique, Thanon Francois Ngin: naturally dyed textiles (mainly cotton) from the south (Savannakhet).

Kanchana: the Beauty of Lao Silk: traditional Lao silk weavings, hand-woven fabrics, textiles and clothing using natural dyes. Just off Thanon Samsenthai on Thanon Chantha Kumman, the road to That Dam.

Lao Textiles, Thanon Nokeo Kumman. 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. Prices reflect this but if you can afford them you will get something to be proud of and of the very highest quality. Not the usual backpacker's souvenirs.

The Art of Silk, Thanon Manthatulat, run by the Lao Women's Union. Silk and cotton weavings in both traditional and modern designs.

Mulberries Lao Sericulture Company, Thanon Nokeo Kumman. 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 Street, 856 (21) 22 31 78, 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 marginalized people to receive an apprenticeship.

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.

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

Phimphone Minimart on Thanon Setthathirat next to JoMa. Opened again after renovations end December 2007, it is no longer merely a "minimart" but almost a full-grown supermarket. This place will surprise you in 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. Here it pays to pay in kip! A second shop with the same name (the owners are related, the shops are not) is on Thanon Samsenthai / corner of Thanon Chantha Kumman. Excellent, European-style bread is usually available (on Setthathirat), though the delivery schedule is a bit erratic.

M-Point Mart is a relatively new convenience store chain, with at least five locations in Vientiane. Much like a 7-11.

V-Shop on Thanon Khun Bulom netween Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai. Outside in front is a small express café where they serve some of the best coffee specialties in town (Lao Mountain Coffee), shakes, fruit juices, waffles, donuts – good for people watching on the edge of the chinese quarter.

Riverside Minimart on Thanon Fa Ngum, the Mekong promenade.

City Minimart on Thanon Samsenthai opposite Wat Si Muang - maybe the shop with the most extensive range of merchandise in the town, and somewhat cheaper than the shops more in the center.

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.

Vientiane Department Store was at the center of the Lane Xang side of the Morning Market and is now (end 2007) being torn down to be replaced by a second new building. Many of the shops that were here have been relocated to the Talat Sao Mall. This has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with an indoor parking. At 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 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.

Home Ideal (Samsenthai Road) large one stop shop for assorted products from stationery to housewares, clothing to luggage. Prices are fixed and reasonable.

Books

*  There is a real book store, Monument Books on Thanon Nokeo Kumman next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse with a good selection of English and French language books and magazines.
Several stores around town offer book buy/sell/exchange services; some of the tomes on the shelves look as if they have been on a long, long trip in a back pack, but you can find interesting stuff here.

Bicycle

*  Simple 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 50$, Mountainbikes at about 80$.

*  Top Cycle Zone, 47 Dong Palan, is the place to go if you want to buy a decent western style bicycle - or spare parts for one. Prices for a Mountain Bike start at about 350$.

Alcohol

*  Vientiane State Import/Export Enterprises on Samsenthai Road next to Phongsavanh Bank, a duty free, state owned liquor store. Limited selection but the cheapest price in town for popular brand name liquor by the bottle. Watch out for fake brand name alcohol in Laos. This place is pretty good in terms of product authenticity but nothing is 100% guaranteed.

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

Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve Vietnamese-type noodle soups (pho), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate: around 1 USD for a large bowl or plate. There really is no need to go hungry in this town, but it is advisable to eat in places where there are many customers: there the food is likely to be good and fresh. Avoid empty places where the only guests are the flies buzzing around the food on display.

Ban Anou Night Market is only about 1 block long and starts setting up at sundown, but it has some of the best cheap eats in town. There's a wide range of street snacks available, including pho made with handpulled noodles, little lettuce wrapped snacks with peanut filling (miang), all types of grilled skewered meats, grilled sticky rice and more....

A selection of more "sophisticated" eateries follows:

Along the river: dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens, from opposite the BCEL bank strung along the Mekong for approximately 2km upriver (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 for down under there is nothing to distinguish it from the other places left and right. All serve inexpensive (but not really cheap for Laos - in fact, the prices for most foods are much like in Thailand) 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, they are hugely popular.
In 2005 one of the eateries along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan "tables" (ka toke); 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.

Sunset Bar (Sala Sunset) at the very western end of the Mekong river road. Popular with expats and tourists. The main things to recommend it are the sunsets (and those are not of their doing) and the rickety construction of wood apparently salvaged from demolished buildings. When the river is really high parts of the terrace sometimes wash away. Truly romantic! The beer is cold and whiling away an hour or so under the tree canopy with a bottle or two and some snacks can be very relaxing indeed. 100% falang now. Similar offerings exist along the same road.

Nazim Indian Restaurant on the Mekong river road: decent Indian food. Their washroom is not the cleanest in the country, perhaps because the patrons of some of the eateries on the river bank are directed here for certain needs (when they are not simply sent down to the reeds at the water's edge). Nazim has opened a branch in Thanon Pang Kham, opposite the offices of Lao Airlines. (No reports on their washroom yet). At least 4 other Indian restaurants in the city centre, all quite equivalent.

Taj Mahal Restaurant, just south of the National Culture Hall, has good Indian food at good prices, if you don't mind listening to American pop music.

Vegetarian/vegan:

Nirvana Simuang Rd. (small road connecting Sethattirat Rd. to Khou Vieng Rd. in Ban Simuang, Muang Sisattanak). Delicious Lao traditional vegetarian/vegan food with some Western-style options. Nice change from the mostly Chinese-style offer of other buffets. High diversity and rotation rates. In the evening, ask for the menu (they have two - one basic one with pictures and another, much larger). 17,000 kip buffet at lunch hours. Open every day of the week (Sunday as a test for the time being). Tends to close early, don't arrive after 8pm. Family-managed, very clean. Some English spoken.

Vegan food stall Inside the market opposite the Talat Sao. Pass the big basket shop and you will see a wooden sign pointing you down an alley. Offers a lunch time buffet serving vegan Laotian food. You can also get there from Th Mahosot: 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. The buffet runs from 11AM to 2PM (?) for 17,000 kip per person.

Fathima An Indian restaurant along the Mekong, just aound the corner from Mixay guesthouse. Ridiculously tasty vegetarian options for 9-10,000 kip. Friendly staff and excellent service.

Mid-range

Lao Garden, 2km East on Tha Deua Road. 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. Mains cost between 30,000 - 100,000K ($4-$12). 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 local Lao youth after dinner.

Café des Arts, in Thanon Hengboun, near the Cultural Hall,  Excellent home made pasta (try the noodles al pesto!) and pizzas (around $6 - $7), as well as a good selection of wines, also by the glass.

Up 2 U just off of Thanon Lane Xang. Call Nok for English reservations/directions on (+856)206711784 11AM-11PM . 5 mins walk from the Morning Market this restuarant offers a good selection of Lao 'BBQ' dishes and soups as well as the usual rice dishes. The restuarant is situated 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 & beverages also avaliable. Approx $5 -$8 per person. Popular with locals - Highly recommended.

Café Indochine, Thanon Setthathirat. Authentic Vietnamese food - particularly recommended: the set meals at about 4 to 5 USD. When there are more than just a few guests the kitchen crew may loose sight of their priorities.

Le Provençal at Nam Phu (the Fountain) - French fare, excellent pizzas but the steaks sometimes leave much to the imagination. Main courses from about 4 to 10 USD.

Lotus Restaurant, next to Cultural Hall. Serves traditional Lao and Western food, 08:30AM - 11:30PM. Price range: 2-4 USD.

The Pizza Company/Swensen's, next to the National Culture Hall on Samsenthai Road, is the first international fast food chain to open in Laos. It features a similar menu to its Thai parent operation, though prices are 10-15% higher, since practically everything is imported from Thailand.

Khop Chai Deu, near the fountain. Inside (2 floors) and outside seating. Very good Lao, Thai, Indian and Western food. Competent and friendly service. Open until late evening. Price range: 1-4 USD. Try the “Lao Discovery” menu at 6.5 USD (but check with the waiter how spicy it all is…). Noisy low-quality bands play Western popular music some evenings. Also a bar (see below). Buffet at lunchtime.

Hong Kong Restaurant, opposite Lao Plaza Hotel. Excellent Cantonese dishes (2 USD - approx. 9 USD) and a small selection of dim sum (1 USD per plate). There have been reports of them padding the bill. Check the bill carefully before paying! (That, by the way, 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. To be fair, the mistakes are not always to the disadvantage of the customer.)

Inter Hotel Restaurant - Quai Fa Ngum, riverside, well prepared Szechuan food, about 3 USD/dish. The hotel also runs the Inter Stone House in the same building round the corner; about the same or a slightly higher price range. Western and Thai/Lao food; their specialty is the sizzling steak on a stone platter, which however is not recommended (rather leathery meat with maltreated french fries and tasteless vegs).

JoMa, Thanon Setthathirat, and Scandinavian Bakery in the fountain square, extremely popular air-conditioned cafés and bakeries with simple lunches and excellent cakes and coffee. Free Wifi internet at JoMa. TV showing CNN upstairs at the Scandinavian.

Le Croissant d'Or and Banneton Café, almost next to each other in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (running from the river to Thanon Setthathirat) have croissants and pastries and serve 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. The owners of Le Croissant d'Or also run the Vista café in Thanon François Ngin (free wifi internet when you spend 30,000 kip on food and drink).

Mekong Deck: a new place on the river, near PVO. This one stands out from the competition upriver because of the way it's laid out; it is a very nice place to nurse a beer and enjoy the company of friends. Extensive food menu, including many vegetarian items. Note: Mekong Deck has now closed due to the massive flood management levee construction project on the Mekong River. It is unknown at this time when/if it will reopen.

Sticky Fingers - Thanon François Ngin opposite the Tai Pan Hotel. Quality western style food at reasonable prices. Good selection of vegetarian options. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, including half price cocktails. Closed Mondays.

Full Moon Café, almost next to Sticky Fingers, nice interior with comfortable seating arrangements. Serves what they call fusion fare. Reasonable prices. As in some other Vientiane restaurants, the kitchen crew may loose track of their priorities when more than just a few guests have placed orders.

Via Via Opposite Riverside Hotel on Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Excellent wood-fired Italian style pizza and homemade pastas (From US 4-8). Good selection of Belgian beers.

La Terrasse, Thanon Nokeo Kumman, is 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 5 US$). Set three-course lunch is 5.50 USD, main dishes up to 10 USD. Closed Sundays.

Khao Nieow in Thanon Nokeo Kumman, almost next to La Terrasse. Set three-course meals at 4.50 USD. Steaks in two qualities: Lao beef at around 4 or 5 USD; New Zealand lamb and beef at about 8 USD and above. To be tried on a cool evening: the fondue bourguignonne at 26 USD for two and, a surprise in a place whose name means "Sticky Rice", excellent cheese fondue at 28 USD for two - not something for the hottest months of the year, but nice around the year's end when temperatures drop.

The restaurant in the Lane Xang Hotel on Thanon Fa Ngum has traditional Lao music and dance performances every evening from about 7PM, which you watch while eating your dinner of (recommended) Lao food. Get there early to secure a table with a good view of the stage. A meal for four, consisting of 5 or 6 dishes including drinks, will come at about 30 USD.

Kua Lao at Thanon Samsenthai. Authentic Lao food with a good selection of vegetarian dishes; traditional Lao music and dance performances in the evening. Main dishes from 6 to about 12 USD; set meals (recommended!) at 15 USD. Expensive for Lao food.

Le Côte d’Azur on Thanon Fa Ngum: a favourite of the expat community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.

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 0.3km 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 waiters jump the puddles in the rainy season when you've chosen to sit outside on the terrace across the potholed road.

Moon the Night Restaurant. Another 0.5km farther upstream from the Spirit House and somewhat difficult to find: the river promenade ends a few hundred meters before – best to take a tuk-tuk. (Directions: from the Novotel 0.5km west, direction airport, past the FORD showroom, then turn into a soi on the left which after 200 meters takes you to the river. There ask around). 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 comes at 15 to 20 US$ including drinks.

Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant, Thanon Sailom opposite the Lao Telecom Service Center. 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 lunch time with office workers and students.

Kop Kap, across from Tat Luang Temple. A favorite among ex-pats living nearby, if you crave Thai food. Packed during lunch time, the restaurant is known for its excellent Penang curry. Closed Sundays.

Evening Dinner Cruises on the river – two different companies, on boat moored opposite Wat Chan and one 300 metres upriver. Not very impressive, neither the boat trip (1 hour, departure around 7PM: 1 km upstream then 2 downstream and back - only when the water level is high enough) nor the food. But very relaxing. This Lao maritime experience will cost you only slightly more than the same meal in one of the beer gardens on the river bank.

Splurge

Nam Phou. The first and arguably the best of the restaurants around the Fountain (Nam Phu), with 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.

Le Central on Thanon Setthathirat: good western food, main courses at 8 to 15 USD.

Le Silapa on Thanon Sihom (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 6 USD.

Le Nadao opposite the Patuxai park, excellent classical French fare, main courses starting at 8 USD. Probably the best restauarnt in Vientiane and booking is recommended (tel: 021-213174).

La Belle Epoque in the Settha Palace Hotel - excellent food in an atmosphere of colonial elegance. Main courses starting at 8 USD.

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 side), 020 7709 729. Tue-Sun 8AM-3PM & 6PM-11PM. Traditional Yugoslav and Mediterranean homemade dishes, prepared by Montenegrin chef. From US$5-15.  

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.

Bor Pen Nyang, Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade), tel. +856-20-7873965,  Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Travellers, locals, ex-pats, working girls, and ladyboys in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive Fine Whisky Range in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors. Special daily cocktail for 20.000 KIP. Pool & Snooker Tables on the 2nd Floor. At the back of the bar there is a winner stays/loser pays pool competition every night.

Red Mekong Bar and Restaurant tel. +856-20-2222513,  Happy hour between 6pm and 8pm. It's large red illuminated name sign can be easily seen from nearby Bor Pen Nyang.

Martini Lounge, Thanon Nokeo Kummane, just a block from the Mekong and next door to Croissant d'Or Bakery. Opens at 6:00PM and closes well past the normal 11:30 curfew. Movies shown Monday-Wednesday 8:00PM. Thursdays are Salsa nights and most Fridays a DJ is spinning. Don't forget to checkout the chill'n second floor AND the Mango Martini. The place in Vientiane to find the most eclectic music mix.

Jazzy-Brick, Thanon Setthathirat nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu. The classiest and most expensive bar in town. The sign out front states "no shorts, no flip-flops allowed".

Samlo Pub, Thanon Setthathirat opposite Wat Onteu. It has long been one of only a few bars in town, and was packed every evening, especially between 11pm and 1am. Perhaps quieter now that there is more competition. Has pool table and shows sports, but the "background" music often drowns the TV commentary. Tends to stay open later than other bars listed here. Drinkers from Bor Pen Nyang often come here when it closes, then move on again to the Don Chan Palace night club once Samlo closes.

Khop Chai Deu Thanon Setthathirat next to the fountain square. The name means "thank you very much". Popular with tourists, expats, and Lao hi-so type. OK food; mid-range prices; large selection of Western, Thai, and recently introduced classic Lao dishes. Great place to drink beer in the center of town.

Deja Vu, next to L'Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square (Fountain), a very classy and cozy bar, owned and run by Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Great drinks. Approx. 50K kip per cocktail. Closed Sundays.

There are two clubs near the Novotel hotel:

DTech, in the hotel grounds. Mainly techno.

Future, just outside. 80s and 90s songs with a big video screen.

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.

GQ Bar and Massage. Popular, though small, gay bar on Rue Chao Anou (the same street as the Inter City and Orchid hotels, off Thanon Fa Ngum, along the river). Busy after 10PM or so, packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Closes between midnight and 1AM, when many head off to the Don Chan Palace hotel nightclub. Friendly staff, cheap drinks, cabaret shows around 11PM. Also offers massages, starting in the afternoon.

 

Get In

By plane

The airport is just north of town and has scheduled flights from/to Vientiane, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi and Siem Reap.

Bangkok Airways offer flights from Bangkok and Siem Reap.

Visa-on-Arrival is available at the airport - price is variable based upon your nationality. You need a passport picture to obtain a visa. If you don't have one, they'll scan your picture from your passport and charge you an additional $1.

ASEAN nationals do not need a Visa to enter Laos for stays not exceeding 30 days.

Taxis into town cost about $6, whether you are by yourself or with 3 other people. There is a taxi counter just outside the arrival hall.

By road

Highway 13 connects Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane in the south and via Highway 1 to the north. Highway 13 is sealed and in good shape all the way to Vientiane. Though there have been incidents of violence along this stretch of road in the past, presently it is safe.

There are three bus stations, each a little bit out of town, which serve different directions. Tickets can be bought at every travel agent in town, at the bus station, or when boarding the bus (if there's space). Booking bus tickets through travel agents usually incurs hefty surcharges compared to doing it yourself. Just plan to arrive at the bus station between 30-45 minutes before your departure, and you should have plenty of time to make your purchases before you bus leaves. Tuk-tuk drivers know which bus station to go to for which destination. Ask around for bus schedules.

Vang Vieng- The air-conditioned so-called VIP bus costs 90,000 kip. Mini-buses leave from Vang Vieng at 9 AM and cost 100,000 kip. The trip takes 6-7 hours (on a VERY windy road). The mini-bus station is just north of town.

Vientiane- Air-con VIP bus costs 115,000, more if booked through an agent. It should be noted that tickets purchased in Vientiane to Luang Prabang are more expensive than those purchased in Luang Prabang. Travelers have reported that the VIP bus can been a bit of bumpy ride, but is generally more reliable than the public bus. Those prone to motion sickness should know that this trip travels a winding, mountainous road.

Muang Xay- Takes about 5 hours. Costs 40,000 kip and points onwards, such as Luang Namtha, is done by public minibus only. Big backpacks are carried on the roof. Reservations are usually not necessary, just take care to go early in order to secure a good seat.

Luang Namtha- Takes 8-9 hours. Parts of the road leading from Oudomxay (inermediate stop between Luang Prabang and Luang Namtha) are still under construction and are quite bumpy (as of Nov 09). Direct local bus via Muang Xay at 09.00. Otherwise take bus to Muang Xay and switch there.

Nong Khiaw- 3 hours away by public bus from the Northern Bus Station or 8-10 hrs by boat for about 110,000 kip. From there boats connect to scenic Muang Ngoi Neua.

Huay Xai- Up to 15 hours away. Public buses leave at 09.00 (arrive 12 midnight) or 17.00 (arrive 08.00, normal sleeping bus, not sleeper). Costs 135,000 kip. VIP buses leave on alternating days, tickets purchased at the Northern Bus Station will cost 35,000 kip less than those purchased at an agent in town.

Phonsavan - Bus takes about 8 hours and costs 100,000 Kip leaves Southern Bus Station around 8.00am. Minibus takes around 6 hours and leaves at 9.00am. You should be able to buy your ticket at your guesthouse and arrange to be picked up and taken to the minibus station. You can stay on the minibus until it unloads the local people in the centre of Luang Prabang though tuk-tuk drivers may try to make you get off earlier at the bus station.

By boat

Boats ply the Mekong to and from Huay Xai at the Thai border, stopping in Pakbeng where you can catch overland connections towards the northeast and the border with China. The trip takes 2 days (6h + 8h) by slow boat, or 6 bone-rattling hours by speedboat. There are also operators now offering 2-day "luxury" cruises.

If you have the opportunity, purchase a pillow from a local market before embarking on any boat ride that lasts longer than 2 hours. Expect to spend the night in Pakbeng if you're taking a slow boat (the safest option), or to arrive in Luang Prabang deaf, shaken and either exhausted or exhilarated from six hours in a speedboat. There is also a twice-weekly "one day comfortable boat" between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, but the cost is significantly higher.

Slow boats leave every day, usually around 8-9AM. The trip to Luang Prabang costs 200,000 kip (July. 2010). If you can, just purchase your tickets at the boat landing because all the tour agencies in town charge a commission, and agents usually don't have reliable information about the quality of the boats. It is not uncommon to have to switch to a new boat in Pakbeng, so you may end up in a boat of higher or lower quality for the second half of the journey.

The slow-boat is generally packed - so much so that there may not enough seats to go round. Arriving early will mean a longer day, but most likely a better seat, towards the front and away from the engine. Earplugs are recommended, regardless of where you end up sitting. Travelers report that those who show up better-dressed may end up with better seats.

The slow boat trip proceeds in a pleasant 20-30km/h and offers nice views to the nature and village life on the banks of the Mekong river. Most of the passengers are foreign tourists. Occasional locals take the boat only for short hops between the river side villages, but prefer to take the bus for the full distance from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. So you won't be able to observe any local boat travelers, as the boat ride offers just the usual sight of tourists drinking Beerlao.

If you choose to travel on the speedboat (a light canoe with a very powerful engine), a crash helmet and life-jacket should be provided - it is not recommended to travel in a speedboat without this essential safety equipment. It is also recommended that you make your bags as waterproof/water-resistant as possible and wear a rainjacket - the boat can generate quite a bit of spray, plus any small showers you might encounter along the way will sting like needles against any exposed skin. On sunny days, sunscreen is invaluable as there is no roof/shade on these speed machines. The journey to Huay Xai can be reduced to as few as 4 hours in the wet season, with a lunch stop at Pakbeng. However, some consider this means of transportation less safe, especially in the dry season. Earplugs are strongly recommended. Travelers who are concerned about creating as little environmental impact as possible may want avoid speedboats, as they are heavier polluters than the slower options. Travel agents in LP will sell the tickets for 320-370,000 Kip, you will need a minivan to take you the 10km north to the fast boat pier.

The third option is to take a "luxury" cruise. The major operators are Luang Say and Nagi of Mekong. As of 2009, both operate two-day cruises to Hauy Xai that stop in Pak Beng for the night. Although the journey takes as long as taking the slow boat, both operators offer vastly superior facilities and equipment than public slow boats, and you should be prepared to pay a premium for it.

There is no public boat service to Vientiane, but it may be possible to do the trip by private tourist boat when the water levels are high enough. Read more about fast and slow boats in the Laos country guide.

See

Alms ceremony — Monks at dawn collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers (and early-rising tourists). Ask your guesthouse host to assist you the day before in preparing if you'd like to get up and give alms in the morning. Please note that the alms giving ceremony is one which, while picturesque, is not without its detractors. Unscrupulous local merchants have used the eagerness of tourists to participate in a local tradition as a means of making easy money, and sometimes sell unsuitable, stale and even unsafe food. This has resulted in monks falling ill after having consumed the offerings, and resistance to continuing the tradition. However, the government has made it clear that the monks have to continue the tourist pageant or risk being replaced with lay people clothed in saffron robes in order to keep up appearances and thereby keep the tourist dollars rolling in. So if you wish to participate in this ceremony, prepare the food or fruit yourself, and avoid giving food of unknown quality. Strongly consider only watching this old tradition from a distance instead of using it as a tourist attraction, as this may detract from the beauty of the ritual - both for locals and tourists alike. Bear Rescue Center — Located adjacent to the way to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, the Bear Rescue Center has a enclosure for endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been rescued from poachers. There was also an Indo-Chinese tiger, but sadly, the tiger had passed away as of May 2009.

Haw Kham — The former royal palace. There's also sometimes local drama or dance performances in the adjacent theatre. Presently under renovation so closed to public review. Also Haw Kham visitation has specific opening and closing hours, with lunch break closure from 11.30AM to 1.30p. It is important to check the timings and plan the visit accordingly. Kuang Si Falls — 29 km south of Luang Prabang. A large multi-stage waterfall, accessible by boat or truck hire. You can also rent a motorbike to transport yourself there. There are food and tourist stalls outside the waterfalls. It is worth putting a whole day aside (or more) for seeing these because they are a great place to relax and meet other travelers. There are multiple pools at different levels, all of which are reportedly safe to bathe in, and are extremely picturesque.

Night market — The night market features vendors selling all the typical Lao arts and crafts, some more touristy than others, and is set up every day along the main street parallel to the river. Be warned that it closes down around 9PM, unlike the similar markets in Thailand that go on well into the early hours. Please note that there may be some souvenirs available made from endangered animals. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (starfish, etc.), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products. This is the best place to buy lower end souvenirs and hone your bargaining skills.

Pak Ou Caves — The famous "Buddha caves" are north of town on the Mekong and can be reached by road (approx 1 hr) or river boat (around 1.5 hrs). Alternatively, you can hire canoes and a guide for the day, which would allow you to view the beautiful scenery and visit the caves without throngs of other tourists. It's also possible to finish the trip at the 'whisky village' where the local Laolao (lao rice spirit) is made. There are two caves - one on the entry level and another - the upper caves - on top of the hill. A very steep climb, but worth the efforts. A candle or torch recommended to see the upper cave, as it is dark.

Phou Si — The main hill in the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a very steep climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. Entrance fee 20,000 kip.

Vat Xieng Toung — The oldest monastery in town and one of the most beautiful. Opens from 6AM - 6PM. Entry fee 20,000 kip. One entrance on the road along Mekhong river, the other on the by-lane off the main road.

Do

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre — This small but perfectly formed museum is dedicated to the ethnic cultures of Laos, find out more about the groups that make Laos so unique and enrich your visit to Luang Prabang. Sometimes closed for Exhibitions, so please check in advance.

Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre — Situated on the banks of the Mekong just 2 km south of Luang Prabang town, this artisans oasis offers an informative free tour to all visitors. Operating as a fairtrade traditional weaving centre you can take classes in bamboo / textile weaving, dye your own silk, draw your own batik or just relax at the Mekong garden cafe. Free Tuk Tuk departs daily from both Ock Pop Tok Shops in town: 10am - 12 noon - 2pm.

Cooking class — One of the best ways to experience the local foods. The best bet is at the Tamnak Lao restaurant. The cost is 250,000 kip for the day class (10AM-5PM) and 200,000 kip for the evening class (5:30PM-8:30PM). The day class includes a visit to a vibrant local market, 2 English-speaking Lao teachers, and fully-equipped cooking stations. Participants cook 6 dishes (which are eaten for lunch and dinner) and take home a recipe book highlighting 12 recipes and sections about local and essential Lao ingredients. The evening class teaches 3 dishes (which are eaten for dinner) and participants also take home a recipe book. Both classes include sticky rice and jeowbong.

Lao Red Cross — A traditional Lao sauna and massage, very popular with locals in the afternoon. Th Wisunarat, in front of Wat Wisunalat. 1 hour massage 40,000 kip, sauna 10,000 kip.

Rent a Motorbike — Although prices are astronomical by Southeast Asia standards ($17-$20 per day as of September 2009), riding around the surrounding areas of Luang Prabang is a fantastic way to see the countryside. It is recommeded to hire from the Government Tourist information centre, although there are several vendors around. Tank up with gasoline worth 10,000 kip (a little more then US$ 1) for the whole day. As usual practise, they will keep your passport, so make sure they know when you leave and how to recover your passport, as saturdays and sundays they are fully closed and other days they have specific working hours.

Vipassana temple and park — This golden temple, highly visible from Phou Si, is a shrine for Buddhists who practice Vipassana meditation.

Bowling — There's a perfectly decent bowling alley a few kilometers away from the city center that is open until 3AM. After 10PM it gets crowded with Westerners who generally seem more interested in partying than bowling. Whatever your interest, this place is worth a visit if you want to have a break from the usual tourist stuff. Tuk-tuk drivers will know how to get there. The price of a game is 15,000 kip per person until midnight when it goes up to 20,000, though they may try to charge you more.

Sunset on the waterfront — Take a walk along the Mekong, or sit and enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants and watch the sun sink into the horizon.

Fair Trek Project. People who love activities and treks may find some interesting interactive tours which are designed to support villages outside of Luang Prabang which is probably the only community based tourism initiative that really brings money into the funds. More info on the website or at Tiger Trail Tour Company shop.

Dinner at Lenou's Library. Lenou is a law student who recently opened a lending library for the local kids. For a few bucks he'll organize a home-cooked meal at the library, complete with drinks and a tuk tuk to get you there/back. All proceeds benefit the library.

Buy

Before you can buy anything in Luang Prabang you will need some money. US$ and Thai baht are widely accepted but the exchange rates vary. As of May 2009, there are a small number of ATM's accepting Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and Eurocards. These ATM's are situated mostly in Sisavangvong Rd just near the end of the Night Market. The ATM's dispense currency in Lao Kip and generally allow a maximum withdrawal of 700,000 kip with a charge of 20,000 kip. Multiple withdrawals are allowed to a daily maximum of 5,000,000 kip. If you arrive by plane, there is an ATM and a money changer at the airport which is open for a few hours of the day, so don't count on changing there. Also, their rates are significantly worse than the banks in town.

There are a growing number of money changers, located on Sisavangvong Rd or in the permanent markets further East. One is next to the ATM near the Night Markets, another is about 50m further North along the street, located out the front of one of the first restaurants (looks like a little tollbooth/shack). The rates offered may vary, so shop around before you change. Better maybe to stick with official money changing services at a bank which are easily found.

A night market (on Sisavangvong Road) caters for tourists with every kind of souvenir you could want and closes at about 10 PM. Particularly good are the duvet covers, cushion covers and pillow sets. They can even make one up to the dimensions you require in one next day. Very good are hanging lamps, which are foldable to bring back. It is well worth a look and the hawkers are very pleasant to deal with and amazingly non-pushy by the standard elsewhere in Asia. Traders range from young kids to the elderly who usually made crafts, arts and goods by themselves for sale. Good natured bargaining is the go but don't obsess over this and ruin your experience as well as giving the trader a bad day. It should be understood that the quality and design of goods is lower in the market than in the legions of increasingly chic stores in the town.

Laotian asthetic sense is quite evolved in its own way. For instance check out some of the higher end higher stores:

Caruso Lao, 60 Sakaline Rd, Luang Prabang, +856 71 254574, A fabulous gallery store showcasing the very best quality Lao silk and other handicrafts.

Erawan Arts — This two floor showroom is in a traditionally renovated historic house that dates back over 100 years. Displaying the finest 100% hand-woven and naturally dyed Lao silk and exotic wood products from throughout Laos, a share of the profits go directly to supporting Lao communities in need through several initiatives from installing fresh water systems to villages, providing books for schools, and running medical trips to remote areas. The owner is very informative and approachable, and happy to answer questions on Laos and give a tour on the architecture of this beautiful building.

Ock Pop Tok, 73/5 Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang, plus 2 other stores in town, +856 71 253219, An ethical trading company with superb galleries. Also run classes and visits to village weaving faciltiies.  

Miscellany:

Weird cast-off Chinese goods at the local market.
Laos t-shirts, various local handicrafts, sewable flags, and scrapbooks for your tickets and other items are also available here.
Paintings on Lao handmade paper
Notebooks made with Lao handmade paper Books can be a travelers home away from home and a way to escape heat/boredom/long bus rides. However, several book stores operating in and around the area that sell photocopies to unsuspecting travelers. For photocopies, if you do buy them, insist on checking them as many times pages are missing or pages are basically unreadable.

Book Exchange – If you want to exchange or buy a book (or books) go to the Tamnak Lao Restaurant Book Exchange. They have the best selection of books in Luang Prabang. The book exchange operates on a “one for one” basis plus 20,000 kip, and all books are available for purchase as well. All of the money raised by the book exchange goes to buying provisions for the Luang Prabang Government Orphanages and Ethnic High Schools. The Book Exchange is in the laneway next to the restaurant.

Eat

Restaurants line Sisavangvong Road and the road along the Mekong. Food runs the line from standard Southeast Asian backpacker fare to more traditional Lao dishes, including buffalo sausage right up to very high quality French cuisine.

Local specialities include:
French baguettes and other bakery items. Extremely well done here.
Local watercress which is very peppery.
Fried dried seaweed with sesame seeds dipped in a chili sauce.
Buffalo steaks and sausages.

For more upscale options, try near the end of Sisavangvong Road (end of the Night Market) in a little alley (local buffet for 5000 kip). There are several boutique restaurants which serve quite nice fusion Asian food.

Blue Lagoon Restaurant - A balanced mix of eastern and western delicacies are awaiting you at Blue Lagoon Restaurant. You will find Luang Prabang, Lao highlights and Swiss classics as well as tender local beef and a large variety of delicious snacks and fresh salad creations. The generously compiled drink list provides an exquisite selection of wine, fruit juice, cocktails, mocktails, beer and coffee. Located at the road to the Mekong river who start at the end of the night market, next to the national museum.

Boulevard Restaurant - A new Al Fresco style restaurant under the same wing of New Daraphet Villa behing JoMa Bakery. Owner has recently brought in sound equipment and a new acoustic guitar for music enthusiasts to jam. The restaurant has 2 sides for both proper dining and casual drinking. serves decent draft tiger beer and a great atmosphere for meeting new friends from the guesthouses along the street.

Cafe 5/6 - A nice two-floors cafe to relax and enjoy great tapas (10000 to 20000 Kiep) and shakes. They have chill background music and WiFi internet access. Located on Chao Fa Ngnum (about 150m West of the Post Office (La Poste).

Hmong Night Market (Vegetarian + Vegan) - One food stall says vegetarian and the other "végétalien" (vegan). Approximately 5000 K for a plate. Cash only. Market is open 5PM-10PM.

"The House" Belgium's only Restaurant & Bar in Luang Prabang. Excellent price-quality cuisine. It has an appealing range of Belgian Beers, Cocktails and Word Wines. Well known for it's Lasagna, Beef Stews, Asian Curries, French Fries and also Belgian Chocolate desserts. Highly recommended for vegetarians. Conveniently situated at the Nam Khan riverside of Mount Phousie, only a few minutes away from main street and night market. A green bamboo garden with fairy lights : very popular and good ambience. For the experienced in search of comforts. www.thehouse-laos.com +856(0)71.255.021 thehouselaos@gmail.com

Indochina Spirit- Excellent Lao and Thai cuisine. Great value. Everything is tasty but try the minced fish and aubergines. Has old, stuffy, and not so pleasant odor in the interior tables, so be warned.

L'Elephant- Around the corner from Saffron Caffe. A lovely restaurant with a unique mix of Laotian and French cuisine. The food is extremely good, but has its price. It is directly in front of a small guesthouse, and not far away from Les 3 Nagas hotel and Villa Santi hotel. The ingredients are of the highest quality, ranging from French camambert to Laotian lemongrass and river weeds. The soups are very good, along with the tender and juicy local and french meat. The desserts are mouthwatering, and most of them have chocolate. Be warned though that the menu is both pricey and some items do not justify their price tag. This has a great ambience.

Sala Café-Nice place with a view on the Nam Khan river. This restaurant-bar offers an open air terrace where you can relax while trying homemade Vietnamese,French and Lao specialities. Menu regulars are pastries, Bourdaloue tart,Mango crumble,Chocolate mousse and cocktails including Mojito and Martini dry. Some people think it is a little bit expensive, but the quality has a price...

Scandinavian Bakery- Serves western quality breakfasts, burgers and pizzas. Food must be paid for before eating. Staff seemed a little unreliable.

Shakes & Crepes- a no name place serving delicious shakes for 5000 kip and fantastic sweet crepes starting from 7000 kip. In front of Croissant d'Or on the main street.

Tamarind - Near the famous restaurant l'Elephant. This is a part of the Stay Another Day organization. The food is all Laos traditional food. The waitstaff explains the menu to you and you have many options to choose from to experience a vast array of Laos food including platter combinations of dips, salads, etc. The waitstaff explains your meal to you when you get it so that you know how Lao people would eat it. In addition to the tasty food, they sell organic and fair trade food products, recipe books, and more. You can also book tours to markets, cooking courses, and more through the restaurant.

Tamnak Lao Restaurant - A great place for traditional Lao food at reasonable prices. Located in the main road opposite the Villa Santi Hotel, it has a fabulous upstairs balcony with a view over Villa Santi and down the main road. If you want to eat on the balcony you might have to book a table. Make sure when you order your food, to order to entree first, and the main course after the entree has been served. Otherwise, it is possible that your salad will come after your chicken main course, and you are expected to eat all together. So if you are in a habit of eating course by course, make sure you order such.

Utopia -Sports Bar & Restaurant in a spectacular garden setting on the Nam Khan riverbank. Attractions include a full size beach volleyball court (with floodlights); rope ladder climb 30 ft to a palm tree top crow's nest; the longest bar in Luang Prabang, serving a wide variety of drinks; 20 meter deck frontage with loungers and a million dollar view. The restaurant menu is basic but the food good & well presented; the staff invariably courteous & thoughtful. Although a little difficult to locate (Ban Aphay, opposite Wat Visoun, follow the UNESCO brick paths to the river),those who persevere invariably come away well satisfied. No TV, soccer videos & etc.! But plenty other opportunities to meet & interact with all ages and sorts. Unpretentious and a thoroughly enjoyable hang out (9AM to curfew).

Drink

There are a number of places to drink around Luang Prabang, although the club scene isn't really existent. Most restaurants have tables outside where you can sit back with a beer or two.

Books and Tea L'Etranger - downstairs is a book shop/swap and upstairs there is a bar selling drinks and cake in a room covered in cushions for lazing around and reading. Movies everyday at 7PM. A tad greedy and unfriendly on the book exchange business.

"The Hive Bar" or the "Lao Lao Beer Garden" are the places to go at night and to meet people, if everything closes (at about 12PM) you can go to the "Vietnam Bar". This is invariably reached by all the remaining people at The Hive and Laos Beer Garden clubbing together and getting one or two tuktuks together. Lao residents are beginning to complain about the Hive and Laos Beer garden because of roudy foreigners and offers of drugs and prostitution. The Lao Lao Beer Garden also shows live sports in the day (unlike the 'Sports Bar' next to the night market, as we found out despite an earlier promise that it would!).

Mekong Sunset Beach Bar - The place to go to watch the sunset. Located at the river mouth of Nam Khan and Mekong, you have to cross the bamboo bridge behind Wat Xieng Thong and walk 3 min. Very simple but unbelievable. Floods in the wet season.

Morning Glory Cafe - On the quiet end of the main street, after 3 Nagas. Run by a laid-back couple. Thai and western food, Good wine, by the glass. Garden seating. Temple in front and street life can be seen.

Saffron Caffè - (around the corner from L'Elephant restaurant in Wat Nong village) - The Best coffee in Luang Prabang, if not in all of Laos! Fresh roasted coffee from the mountains of Luang Prabang itself, and an array of hot espresso drinks (we like the Caramel Macchiato) and iced coffees, including some Luang Prabang original recipes. Try the Banana Shake Macchiato for the most delicious drink experience in Luang Prabang! Delicious fresh baked goods such as their Cinnamon Swirls and Banana muffins go quickly. Granola and salad wraps are good. Saffron has now begun selling their coffee in gold foil bags again.

Tamarind - Kind of hard to find, but worth the effort of getting the tuk tuk driver to ask around where it is. This is a part of the Stay Another Day organization. They offer a variety of traditional Laos drinks including local fruits and tea. Also the cooking classes and local products such as creams, jam and so on are worth checking out!