Lao Nightlife, Bars & Girls?
Vientiane Bars & Clubs Vientiane Girls & Freelance Prostitutes
So the good news first. Beerlao, the national beer of Laos (also available in a strong dark version) is not only extremely cheap but also very tasty. Beer Lao usually comes in large 0.66-l bottles and, depending on whether you drink in a small food stall or riverside beer garden, or an upscale pub or discotheque, prices vary from 8,000 to roughly 15,000 Lao Kip only. This is about 30 to 60 Thai Baht, US$1-2, or just around £1.
There's no shortage of places in Vientiane where stressed and thirsty travelers can enjoy a quiet local beer. Especially the Mekhong shoreline is packed with bamboo-and-thatch "beer gardens" where you can enjoy the sunset over the river, have an ice-cold Beerlao and a snack.
But here are the bad news: Vientiane is neither Pattaya nor Phuket or Bangkok. Indeed, nightlife in most Thai small-towns in Isaan, e.g. Udon Thani, is probably more exciting than the handful of bars, pubs and discos awaiting "night owls" in Vientiane.
Nightlife in the Lao capital is actually limited to around half a dozen night spots and, except for Lao-style nightclubs, none of these places employs professional ("bar-fine-able") hostesses as in Pattaya or Bangkok. The simple reason: Prostitution is illegal in Laos.
Lao ladies who want to meet foreigners, instead ply their trade on a freelance basis and can be found all over Vientiane, in discos, bars and beer gardens, which they visit as paying customers. But now don't you expect the girls to be overly pushy, or shout at you "Hello sexy man!" as in Pattaya. Vientiane's inofficial sex trade is lively, but much more discrete than in Thailand.
A second drawback of Vientiane's "nightlife" is the extremely early curfew. Most places will close before midnight. While some clubs and discos stay open until past 1am, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a halfway entertaining watering hole after 2am ... The most notable exception is probably the extremely popular disco and outside bar at the Don Chan Palace hotel which stays open until 4am on weekends, and some other nightclubs located in bigger hotels.
Also, most tuktuk drivers know which places (if any) are still open after the official curfew and will readily take you to the best place for a late-night booze or party. Usually, some weird places will always be open till the early morning hours; this might be a Lao-style "disco" on 30 dimly lit square metres, or a "nightclub" in the basement of a private suburban villa?
So, having said there are only a handful of bars and pubs in Vientiane, which often close before midnight and do not employ "professional" bar girls à la Pattaya, this doesn't mean that you can't have fun in Vientiane. Aside from whatever discotheques might be the flavour of the month (which frequently changes!) and dozens of cosy "beer gardens" along the Mekhong River promenade, I'd personally recommend you to stick to one of the following three places for a cool Beerlao, a game of pool, decent music and - Buddha knows? - pleasant female company. Vientiane Map
Khop Chai Deu Restaurant & Bar
The long-established Khop Chai Deu Bar and restaurant is set in an old French colonial villa near the Nam Phou Fountain on Setthathirat Road and offers international food, cool drinks, cocktails, live music, an American pool table, and has an extremely popular outdoor bar, which is regularly packed during the evening hours.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2008, Khop Chai Deu has been the prime place to go for many years and is a popular meeting point for locals, backpackers and expats alike.
If you are primarily looking for freelance Lao girls, Bor Pen Nyang has probably outstripped Khop Chai Deu but it's still a cool place to start a night out in Vientiane. Open daily from 9h to 23.30h. Happy hours all day till 20.00h.
Bor Pen Nyang Bar & Restaurant
Bor Pen Nyang on Thanon Fa Ngum (Mekong riverside road) is a breezy 4th-floor rooftop bar/pub and restaurant, overlooking the Mekong River and offering awesome sunset views.
The second floor of the complex features a pool and snooker hall. The huge semi-open-air rooftop pub offers Lao food, international cuisine, cool drinks, draft beer and cocktails, and the allegedly "most extensive choice of liquors and whiskey" all over Laos. Two pool tables and traditional Lao show performances cater for your entertainment.
Since its opening in 2005, Bor Pen Nyang has kind of outdone the longer established Khop Chai Deu and quickly established itself as the ultimate meeting point for locals, expats and travellers. Open until before midnight, the popular rooftop pub also attracts a large number of freelance Lao girls, who usually hang about with a group of friends and party the early night away before moving on to the nearby Samlor Pub or any other nightclub which ignores the official early curfew. If you are looking for female company, this is definitely the place to go.
Samlor Pub on Setthathirat Road, not far from Bor Pen Nyang and right opposite the temple, has long been one of only a few bars in Vientiane and was packed every night. Now that there's more competition, the pub doesn't seem to get really busy anymore before other bars prepare to close, but in return stays open longer than its competitors, usually until 1am. Samlor Pub features live sports on TV, loud but excellent music, and a rather worn out American pool table.
Many of Vientiane's freelance "ladies of the night" hang about in the rather small and, later in the evening, often overcrowded bar for an hour or two after other places have switched off their lights, and before moving on to a disco or a party. If you haven't been lucky at Bor Pen Nyang, but are desperate for some company, you should try your luck here.
Lao prostitutes who want to meet foreigners ply their trade on a freelance basis and can be found all over Vientiane, in discos, bars, street-side cafés or - not at all! Indeed, you might need a bit of good luck sometimes to find female company for the night, and have to be much more persistent and proactive than in Thailand where the bar girls literally drag you in and offer their services quite frankly. If the easiness of finding a sex partner in Thailand has already spoilt you, this may seem a bit strange in the beginning; but you can be assured that all single girls you meet in one of the notorious pick-up joints listed above are freelance hookers, just waiting for the right chat-up line. The main difference to Thai bar girls is that you might have to make the first step.
In addition, most Lao girls who work as freelance prostitutes speak decent English, and are often more interesting and fun to talk with than most professional bar hostesses in Thailand with their silly "Hello sexy man!" approach. Many Lao girls also have their own motorbikes and may readily invite you for a joyride to a disco, or offer to take you back home to your room?
For some odd reason, on certain days, there's an abundance of single Lao girls hanging about at the notorious places, whereas on other days, there are hardly any girls around, or those you see might not be interested in you? The reason for this unpredictability is obvious: Working freelance in Vientiane's inofficial sex trade, it's basically "up to them" when they want to make a few extra Kip. Many women also have regular jobs during the day and "sell pussy" only when they're short of money. Or they simply have a night out with friends and prostitute themselves only when they happen to come across a potential client, by accidence rather than by professional courting.
Other Lao girls have foreign boyfriends who regularly send them money from abroad, while some girls frequently cross the border to Thailand to work for a few months in the bars and karaokes of Udon Thani or even Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. As said above, other than in Thailand's nightlife districts, where girls literally chase you, in Vientiane you might need a bit of good luck?
To sum it up, you can be lucky and bump into an extremely nice Lao girl just within minutes after taking seat on a bar stool, or simply waste your evening in search of the nonexisting, get pissed on cheap Beerlao and finally stagger back to your room alone (although even then, on your way back home through the dimly lit streets, you may still come across a "needy" lady standing by the roadside, ready to make your day by spending the night with you?? Vientiane is simply unpredictable.)
If you eventually manage to find a girl that is ready to accompany you back to your room, expect to pay, roughly, the same prices for sexual services as across the border in Thailand. Since visa regulations for Laotians who want to visit Thailand, have become much easier than a decade ago, many girls have plied their trade in Thai bars and got used to more than just a couple of drinks or a cheap meal in return for sexual favours.
Most Lao girls will be satisfied with anything between 500 and 1,500 Baht, while some stunners (and there are a quite a few in Vientiane!) may ask for even more. As in Thailand, it's up to you to negotiate.
Please note that, according to a "secret" Lao law, in most guesthouses and hotels, you won't be allowed to entertain female Lao guests in your room, i.e. unless you are legally married to them. The reason for this puritan policy: Sexual relationships between foreigners and local women (who are not their legal wives) are prohibited by Lao law.
Penalties, if "caught in the act", may be severe, and the foreigner may be jailed and deported, on top of paying a hefty fine. Or how about getting married quickly, just in order to belatedly legalize your "dirty deeds"? Police raids may not be very common but, if you take a girl to your room and the lady should rob you during your sleep, this unwritten law makes it virtually impossible to obtain assistance from the police and your landlord, i.e. if he decided to bend the rules in your case. Therefore (namely to avoid legal hassle or trouble with the authorities) most guesthouses will not allow foreigners to take Lao girls back to their rooms.
Upscale hotels will categorically not allow you to enjoy company overnight. So, if you cannot live without "it" for a night or two, you're advised to ask at the reception, before checking in, whether guests are allowed in your room or not.
Probably because of this unpleasant law, most Lao ladies will prefer to stay with you only "short time" (i.e. for one hour or so) rather than spend the whole night with you. Another reason for this short-time mentality is that many Lao freelancers have regular daytime jobs and have to be back at work in the morning.
As with freelance prostitutes across the border in Thailand, due diligence is a must when picking up freelance Lao hookers; some girls may develop "long fingers" during your sleep and, same as in Thailand, your chances of finding the same girl again are virtually as low as zero.
This applies even more to a bunch of ladyboys, who usually hang about at the Mekhong riverside promenade during the late evening or early morning hours. These Lao katoeys might rob you in the middle of the street while chatting with you and grabbing for your private parts ...
Thailand Tourist Visa - Why Vientiane is (was?) the Place to Go
Since the 2006 changes to Thai immigration law and increasingly stricter visa regulations, e.g in Penang/Malaysia, Vientiane, the quiet Lao capitol, stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River directly opposite Nongkhai province, has become increasingly popular with "visa runners" from Thailand - especially those who do not qualify for a "Non-Immigrant visa" of either type, but wish to stay in Thailand for longer than three months without travelling back to their home countries.
Unless you're legally married to a Thai citizen, run your own business or legally work in Thailand, and you can submit the appropriate documentation, your best chances to stay in Thailand "long- term" are with an easy-to-obtain (or formerly easy-to-obtain?) regular tourist visa.
Due to the bad reputation of the embassies in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Manila (Philippines, Vientiane has in recent years emerged as the "place to go" for those tourists who wish to stay in Thailand "long-term" on the basis of an ordinary tourist visa. Why? Simple answer.
Because, at least before October 2009, there had been no problems whatsoever with applying for as many back-to-back tourist visas from the Thai consulate in Vientiane as you like. Even better: Since 2007 double-entry tourist visa became available, too. This meant, you could apply for a Thai tourist visa in Vientiane at a fee of 1,000 Baht (single-entry), stay in Thailand for 60 days (or 90 if extended at your local immigration office), then go back to Laos, get another tourist visa, travel back to Thailand and so on ... (in theory, or before October 2009, at least.)
Double-entry tourist visas (meaning that after your first 60 or 90 days of stay, a one-day visa run to the nearby Cambodian border - second entry - will entitle you to stay in Thailand for another 60 or 90 days) are available at a fee of 2,000 baht and are a good option for those staying in Pattaya for longer than a couple of weeks only.
A stern WARNING, however, for those "tourists" who virtually "live" in Pattaya, or plan to do so, on the basis of back-to-back tourist visas!
In September 2009, ThaiVisa reported that, in a crackdown on 60-days tourist visas, several Thai Embassies and Consulates in neighboring Southeast Asian countries (possibly around the world) were going to get tough on issuing back-to-back 60-day tourist visas. Applicants would now face stricter screening measures to make sure they were actually "tourists" and use the tourist visa not as a way to work in Thailand illegally. Applicants with "too many" back-to back tourist visa stamps or stickers in their passports might have a new tourist visa application refused.
The original announcement by the Immigration Bureau stated that tourist visa applications by foreigners who have "misused tourist visas" to illegally "work" in Thailand, were now "subject to rejection" as such visa applications were not "based on tourism but on continuing their illegal employment."
Since October 2009, this strict regulation is apparently being enforced by Thai Embassies in the Southeast Asian region, including the popular Thai Embassy in Vientiane. Visa applicants report that Thai Embassies around Southeast Asia, including Laos, have started placing red stamps in applicant's passports. While tourist visas are still being issued to some applicants with "several" back-to-back tourist visas (sometimes with a red warning stamp!) others have their applications completely rejected, or are given only single- instead of double-entry visa. (The remark on the red stamps reads: "The holder has travelled to Thailand with Tourist Visa _ times. The embassy may not accept the application next time.")
While in 2013 it still remains unclear how many back-to-back tourist visas are okay and how many result in a red warning stamp or a complete rejection of your visa application (their criteria seem kind of random, but visa touts and agents may reportedly be helpful) the Immigration Bureau has advised foreigners living in Thailand to apply for a regular Non-Immigrant visa of either type. For more details on this controversial issue, please see our special Visa News page.
Please also note that since August 2011, Thai embassies worldwide have been instructed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enforce stricter requirements for tourist visa applicants.
From now on, when applying for a tourist visa, Thai embassies would reportedly also require a "confirmed airline ticket with flight numbers and date of entry/exit" into/out of Thailand, "plus confirmed hotel reservations" at your prospective destinations in Thailand. These new official requirements were reportedly in effect immediately; however, it seems, the consulates in the SEA region, including Vientiane, do not require an outbound flight ticket or hotel reservations.
While it still remains to be seen how these new official regulations will affect tourist visa applicants in the future, living in the Land of Smiles has certainly become more difficult visa-wise for unmarried farangs under 50 who do not (need to) work legally in Thailand ...
Visa Run to Vientiane, Laos
Due to the "farang-friendly" policy of the Thai embassy in Vientiane, and increasingly stricter visa regulations at other consulates in Southeast Asia, Laos has become exceedingly popular with "visa runners" from Thailand, and the embassy in Vientiane accordingly busy! Please scroll down on this page to find everything you need to know about a visa run to Laos.
Disclaimer: As your webmaster hasn't visited Laos for a couple of years now, this page was last updated completely in late 2011. Some details, fares etc. may no longer be quite up-to-date.
Thai Tourist Visa? Why Vientiane is the Place to Go
How To Get to Vientiane? By Air By Railway By Public Bus
Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge Lao Visa on Arrival Transfer to Vientiane City
Thai Embassy Vientiane - Visa Application, Visa Fees & Procedure Map of Vientiane
Where to Stay? Vientiane Hotels Basic Guide to Vientiane Lao Nightlife, Bars & Girls
How To Get To Vientiane, Laos?
When traveling from Pattaya, there are three main options for getting to Vientiane, i.e. aside from traveling in your own or a rented car, hiring a taxi, or booking an organized "Laos visa run" tour package (available at some tour agencies in Pattaya):
By Air - Fast and comfortable but relatively expensive. Flights leave only from Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok.
By Train - Relatively comfortable and inexpensive but slow. Trains leave only from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong railway station.
By Coach - Uncomfortable and slow but cheap. VIP buses leave directly from Central Pattaya.
From Bangkok to Vientiane and Udon Thani By Air
No doubt, a smooth one-hour flight from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport is the most comfortable and fastest way of getting to Vientiane. On the downside, it's the most expensive alternative, too. From Pattaya To Suvarnabhumi Airport
Vientiane's Wattay Airport, four kilometres from the city centre, provides only limited services between Thailand and Laos. Direct flights to Vientiane also come at at fairly expensive fares.
THAI Airways operates two daily flights from Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) to Vientiane - departing at 11.45h and 19.55h and arriving in Vientiane at 12.55 and 21.05h.
Lao Airlines, national airline of Laos and formerly known as Lao Aviation, operates several flights a day from Suvarnabhumi to Vientiane. For up-to-date timetables, please check their websites.
A cheaper and therefore more popular alternative is a domestic flight to Udon Thani. Udon Thani's airport is located about 50 kilometres from the Thai border post in Nong Khai only. Direct shuttle service by bus or minivan from the airport (exit door) to Friendship Bridge costs 150-200 Baht.
There's half a dozen of daily flights between Bangkok and Udon Thani. Apart from Thai Airways, you have the choice between the two low-cost carriers Thai AirAsia and Nok Air.
As with all low-cost airlines, the earlier you book, the cheaper is your flight - with rates starting at less than 1,000 Baht. Please note, however, that the advertising fare, due to additional taxes and surcharges, is just a fraction of the price you will actually have to pay for the flight.
Thai AirAsia departs from Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport several times a day and arrives in Udon Thani about an hour later.
Nok Air also departs from Bangkok's old Don Mueang Airport several times a day. Flight duration to Udon Thani is one hour five minutes.
THAI Airways departs three times per day (morning, early afternoon, evening) from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Flight duration is one hour five minutes.
Please check their websites for up-to-date information, flight schedules and fares.
From Bangkok (Pattaya) to Nongkhai By Railway
A train ride from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong railway station to the northeastern city of Nongkhai at the Lao border is an inexpensive and, depending on which class you choose to travel, a relatively comfortable alternative for those who don't enjoy flying. Nongkhai's railway station is conveniently located within five-minutes driving or 10-minutes walking distance from the Thai border post which can be easily reached by Tuktuk.
However, as Thai trains are rather slow - regardless of whether you use a "rapid" or "express" train - it will take a minimum of 11 hours to get to Nongkhai, provided your train arrives in time?
Passengers can choose between 3rd-class coaches (no air-con), 2nd-class (with several options available: air-con, fan, sleeper berth, upper bed, lower bed) and 1st-class travel.
2nd class fares approximate 400 to 750 Baht for a one-way ride (air-conditioned coach, lower bed 758 Baht, upper bed 658 Baht).
It's advisable to book a ticket in advance to secure a seat and sleeper berth in the desired class. Advance booking is also possible at Pattaya's little railway station on Soi Siam Country Club (off Sukhumvit Road).
There are three daily trains from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong station to Nongkhai:
- 18.30h (arrival in Nongkhai at 5.05h)
- 20.00h (scheduled arrival at 8.25h)
- 20.45h (scheduled arrival time 9.45h)
For details, fares and timetables (Northeastern Line) which may change from time to time, please visit the State Railway Of Thailand website, or simply ask the friendly guy at Pattaya's little railway station.
When traveling from Pattaya, Hua Lamphong Railway Station can be reached most conveniently by public bus from Pattaya's bus terminal on North Pattaya Road (Sukhumvit end).
A bus ride to Bangkok's Ekamai bus terminal on Sukhumvit road takes approximately two hours and costs around 130 Baht. Coaches leave every 30 minutes from around 4.30am in the morning till the late evening hours.
From Ekamai, you can reach Hua Lamphong station conveniently by Skytrain (BTS) and subway (MRT) in less than 30 minutes.
From Ekamai BTS Station on Sukhumvit Road (you really can't miss it!) just take the Skytrain to Asok Station (interchange with MRT; stations will be announced in both Thai and English). There simply follow the exit signs to MRT Sukhumvit Station (just underground Asok BTS station) and take the subway to Hua Lamphong, which is the last stop. From there, simply follow the exit signs to the railway station.
From Nongkhai railway station, it's a less than five-minutes Tuktuk ride (about 30-40 Baht) to the Thai border post at Friendship bridge. Nongkhai Map
From 2009, there's also a connecting international shuttle train via the new Mekhong river rail link from Nongkhai straight to the new rail terminal at Thanaleng in Laos, some 13 kilometres short of Vientiane. Visa-on-arrival for Laos are now also issued at Thanaleng station. The arrival time, however, is rather late (about 10h). Source: Seat61
From Pattaya to Nongkhai By Bus
Regardless of whether you catch an air-conditioned VIP coach or not, the minimum 11-hours bus ride from Pattaya to Nong Khai is definitely the least comfortable transport option for a visa run to Vientiane, especially for XXL-sized Farangs. On the other hand, a bus ride is cheap, and you won't have to travel via Bangkok first as coaches leave directly from Central Pattaya.
Public bus service, with "relatively" comfortable and air-conditioned VIP coaches, from Pattaya to the northeastern provinces of Isaan (Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Nongkhai) is provided by the 407 Pattana bus company.
407 Pattana, serving the busy Rayong-Udon Thani (Nongkhai) route, operates a little bus stop at the Petronas gas station on Sukhumvit Road, just around the corner from Pattaya Klang (Central Pattaya Road.) The bus stop also has a ticket office and a waiting hall.
Air-conditioned VIP buses depart a dozen times daily and stop only at major bus terminals along the way (including an approx. 20-minutes stop in Khorat where, upon leaving the bus, you should be handed over a voucher worth 20 Baht that may be used for purchasing a meal in the terminal's food court.) If there should not be enough passengers on board, who continue their journey to Nong Khai, you might be required to change the bus in Udon Thani.
A few coaches leave in the morning hours. From afternoon till the late evening hours (22.30h) VIP coaches leave around every 30 minutes. If you plan on visiting the Thai consulate in Vientiane the following morning (visa application before 12.00h) a night trip is recommended anway.
The 11 to 12-hours bus ride costs around 500-600 Baht (rates change frequently). Advance booking is highly recommended especially when traveling on public holidays.
For exact departure times and fares, please call their Pattaya office at 038-421 535.
If you travel from or via Bangkok, buses to Nong Khai province depart frequently from the Morchit bus terminal in the north of the capital.
From Nong Khai's bus terminal to the Thai border post at Friendship bridge it is just a 10-minutes Tuktuk ride (approx. 60 Baht). Nong Khai Map
Note: If you do not have a visa for Laos yet, many Tuktuk chauffeurs will try to take you to a "visa office" halfway between the bus station and Friendship bridge, where they say your visa would be arranged at a "cheaper" fee than at the Lao immigration post.
While having a visa in advance speeds up the process at the Lao border, this service, however, in reality is slightly more expensive than the regular visa fee. Therefore, if you don't wish to use this "cheap" visa service, just insist that your Tuktuk driver takes you straight to the bridge; a visa-on- arrival, as the name says, is easily available upon arrival at the Lao border post.
Where to Stay in Vientiane? Hotels & Guesthouses
Aside from a limited number of upscale hotels, Vientiane has numerous cheap guesthouses and budget hotels, catering maily to backpackers and "visa-runners" from Thailand.
Most guesthouses are concentrated in the areas along the Mekhong river and its side-streets, or around the nearby "Nam Phou" fountain. Due to the density of low-budget accomodation in these areas, with dozens of cheap guesthouses and smaller hotels, it should be easy for you to find an inexpensive room within minutes. If you're coming straight from the border or the Thai consulate, just take a Tuk-tuk to the Mekhong River (Mae Nam Kong) or the "Nam Phou" fountain and start your search from there.
Room rates, depending on the room standard, range from less than to 200 Baht to approximately 800 Thai Baht. You can choose between dormitory-type rooms, fan rooms of different standards, and air-conditioned rooms with TV, fridge, warm water etc.
Travelers can basically expect to spend around 500 Baht for a clean and decent (though usually rather tiny) room in a central location near the Mekhong river. Payment is possible and accepted in Lao Kip, Thai Baht and US dollars. Vientiane Hotel & Guesthouse Directory
During the last couple of years, responding to the needs of growing tourism, a number of upscale hotels, which correspond to the taste and demands of sophisticated travelers, too, have also been built around Vientiane.
The most notable of these new constructions - completed in 2004 - is the Don Chan Palace hotel right at the Mekhong riverside. With its 14 floors - overlooking the Mekhong valley and Vientiane, and home to a popular discotheque which is open until 4.00 am on weekends - the Don Chan Palace is the tallest building not only in the capital but all over the Lao PDR.
Rates for mid-class hotels and guesthouses of a decent quality standard start at around US$15 (~500 Baht) up to more than US$100 for a luxury suite in a posh five-star hotel. As in guesthouses, payment is possible in Lao Kip, Thai Baht, and US dollars.) TIP: Online booking at discount internet rates is usually a lot cheaper than the "walk in" rate. Vientiane Hotel Directory
Please note that, according to a "secret" Lao law, in most guesthouses and hotels, you won't be allowed to entertain female Lao guests in your room - i.e. unless you are legally married to them. The reason for this puritan policy: Sexual relationships between foreigners and local women (who are not their legal wives) are prohibited by Lao law.
Penalties, if "caught in the act", may be severe, and the foreigner may be jailed and deported, on top of paying a hefty fine. Or how about getting married quickly, just in order to belatedly legalize your "dirty deeds"? Police raids may not be very common but, if you take a girl to your room and the lady should rob you during your sleep, this unwritten Lao law makes it virtually impossible to obtain assistance from the police and your landlord - if he decided to bend the rules in your case. Therefore, i.e. to avoid legal hassle or trouble with the authorities, most hotels and guesthouses will not allow foreigners to take Lao girls back to their rooms.
Upscale hotels will categorically not allow you to enjoy company overnight. So, if you cannot live without "it" for a night or two, you're advised to ask at the reception before checking in whether guests are allowed in your room or not.
Also note that some guesthouses insist on an early nightly curfew and might lock the front door without giving you a key; others employ night clerks. So if you fancy late-night activities (though there aren't many options for night revellers as most of the few bars there are in Vientiane close around midnight anyway) make sure you'll be able to get back in.
Two budget guesthouses on Sai Lom Yen - roughly between the "Morning Market" and the Nam Phou fountain - will kindly ignore guests of whatever sex might accompany you to your room. So if you don't mind sleazy guesthouses with rather poor room standards, ask a taxi or tuktuk driver to drop you off at the "Sailom Yen Guesthouse" or "Nita Guesthouse," both located on the same side-street (Sai Lom Yen). Room rates start at less than 200 Thai Baht (fan room, cold water) up to approx. 500 Baht for an air-con room.
Staff at the "Orchid Guesthouse" - centrally located on the Mekhong riverside, and with rooms of a more reasonable quality - will also allow Lao visitors in your room overnight, but they may advise you to "take care." Room rates approx. 350-650 Baht.
Your best choice if you consider entertaining female guests in your room is probably the popular "Wonderland 2 Guesthouse" at the "That Dam" roundabout, not far from the Nam Phou fountain and roughly between the "Morning Market" and the Mekhong riverside. Clean air-con rooms with double bed, television, fridge, bathroom etc. are available from approx. 400 Baht. Fan and single rooms are available at lower rates.
Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge
The Thai-Lao Friendship bridge (Saparn Mittaparp in Thai) between the northeastern Thai province of Nong Khai and Laos (Vientiane province) was the first bridge to cross the lower Mekhong River and to link the communist Lao People's Democrat Republic (PDR) with Thailand. With a length of 1,170 meters, the bridge has two road lanes, two footpaths and a railway line in the middle.
Opened in 1994, the bridge has significantly boosted tourism and trade between the neighbouring countries. The construction of a 35-km rail link crossing Friendship bridge and linking Nongkhai's railway station with Thanaleng Station in Laos (some 13 kilometres short of Vientiane) has been completed in 2008 and is open for public service since May 2009.
From the Lao border post, depending on the means of transport, it's only a 30-45 minutes drive to Vientiane.
The Thai border post opens at 6am (make sure that you wait in the right queu - there are different queus for Thai, Lao nationals and foreign visitors.) Please also note that you should have at least 1½ blank pages left in your passport, required for the Lao visa sticker and exit and entry stamps, as otherwise Thai immigration wouldn't be allowed to let you leave the Kingdom. If you should be on an overstay, Thai immigration will charge you a 500-Baht "overstay fine" per day, to be paid in the main building left of the immigration booths.
Upon receiving your exit stamp on the Thai side of the border, a shuttle bus will take you across the bridge to the Lao border post. The ticket costs around 20 Baht. It is not allowed to cross the bridge on foot. Note that, although the Thai border post opens at 6am, the first shuttle bus won't depart before around 6.30am - before which time only private vehicles and tour buses may cross the bridge. From 7am on, shuttle buses should leave every 10 to 20 minutes.
Direct buses from Nong Khai (approx. 30 Baht one-way) and Udon Thani (80 Baht) arrive at - and depart from - Vientiane's main bus terminal right in the city centre, opposite the famous Morning Market (or Talaat Sao; advance booking recommended!). A trip on these comfortable coaches is not an option, however, if you plan to obtain a Lao visa on arrival at Friendship Bridge as the bus won't wait long enough for you to arrange your visa.
Lao Visa on Arrival & Visa Fees
Unless you've used the service of a "visa office" in Nongkhai to arrange your Lao visa in advance, a visa-on-arrival can be obtained conveniently from the Lao border post at Friendship bridge.
You only have to fill an application form - usually available from the immigration officer at the right counter behind the dark glass front of the immigration building - submit the form, and pay the visa fee at the left counter. After 10 to 20 minutes usually, the visa, a one-page sticker or stamp, will be issued.
Since October 2008, all visa applicants will receive their visa complete with an entry stamp, so don't forget to fill your arrival/departure card together with your application form and submit them both at the main office.
The Lao visa-on-arrival fee for visitors from most Western countries is US$30. Payment in Thai Baht is also accepted but slightly more costly than payment in dollars; e.g. when paying the visa fee in Thai Baht, you'll get charged around 1,300 Baht instead of US$30 (~1000 Baht). Therefore, exchanging a few Baht to US dollars in advance may save you a couple of hundred Baht. There is also a small money exchange booth just around the corner from the visa-on-arrival counter.
From 6am to 8am and after 4pm, visa applicants will be charged an "overtime fee" of 40 Baht or US$1. In addition, an "entry fee" (20 Baht or so) may be charged.
Visa-on-arrival fees for international visitors are as follows.
From Friendship Bridge to Vientiane City
There are three options for getting to Vientiane's city centre, about 20 kilometres from Friendship bridge: by taxi or minibus, tuktuk and public bus.
After you've crossed the Lao border officially, you will automatically bump into dozens of taxi and tuktuk drivers, all offering their services at what you may find stunningly high fares. Rip-off?
Not necessarily. As fuel prices in Laos are significantly higher than in Thailand, means of transport, and especially tuk-tuks, are relatively expensive. Therefore, if you want to reduce your transfer costs, just ask some other visa-runners (many of whom also head straight to the Thai embassy) if they want to join your taxi or tuk-tuk ride and share the cost.
If you plan to stay in Vientiane for only one night and wish to obtain your new Thai visa the next day, please note that you'll have to apply for the visa at the Thai embassy before 12pm. If so, and it should be past 9am already, it is recommended to drive straight to the embassy before looking for a room. Depending on how busy it is, especially on Mondays or following public holidays, the Thai embassy may close its gate as early as 10.30am or so.
All tuktuk and taxi drivers, used to the daily flood of visa-runners from Thailand, understand some basic English or at least the words "Thai embassy". Most of them will also offer to wait for you in front of the embassy to take you to a guesthouse or a hotel afterwards (where they might receive a small commission.) Payment in Baht, as nearly anywhere in Laos, is okay and often preferred.
Tuktuks, the most traditional and least comfortable means of transport, are available from roughly 150 Baht up.
As there are no fixed rates (there are actually but they are rather high) fares will basically depend on what you are willing to pay for the approx. 30 to 45-minutes ride into Vientiane and the driver's readiness to accept your offer.
If you should manage to find a tuktuk driver, who promises to charge you just a fraction, you can be sure you won't be his only passenger, but he'll pick up and drop off other (Lao) passengers all along the way - which may extremely retard your arrival at the embassy or your hotel room. So unless you travel with a group of friends anyway, it significantly reduces your costs of transport if you share the tuktuk with other visa-runners you may have met at the border.
Taxis are available from approx. 200 Baht up. Even though many taxis are old retired models from Bangkok whose heydays date back to the 1970s, and the air-conditioning (if existing!) often doesn't work properly, these "vintage" taxis are still a fairly comfortable, relatively fast and cheap alternative to the slow and noisy tuktuks - especially when sharing the costs with other travelers heading straight to the embassy.
Modern air-conditioned minibuses are available at around 300 Baht. These minivans are definitely the most comfortable means of transport to Vientiane, especially when you're traveling with a group of friends or other visa-runners, and you can share the costs.
A taxi or minibus ride to Vientiane should not take longer than 30 minutes.
Public bus service (tiny overcrowded microbuses without air-conditioning and relatively slow) from the border to Vientiane's main bus terminal opposite the Morning Market (Talaat sao) is available from a "bus stop" on the main road, just behind the car park at Friendship bridge. As signage is nonexistent, however, you may be in for a lengthy wait.
I've used this local bus only once - back in 2001, when the fare was just 10 Baht and for the sake of an "adventure." The fare might be 20 Baht now (?) but I'm sure this bus ride is still as much of an "adventure" as it was during my first visit to Vientiane.
Therefore, unless you are really on a budget or fancy a "third-world experience," I'd advise you to stick to taxis or minibuses: slightly more expensive but definitely worth it. Also, if you're going straight to the embassy, you would still need a Tuktuk to get there from Morning Market.
(A rail link between Nongkhai and Thanaleng station near Friendship bridge, some 13 kilometres short of Vientiane, has opened for public service in 2009. Reportedly, a plan to extend the line to Vientiane's city centre is under way. If this plan will ever be put into action, it should be possible some day in the future to take a train straight from Bangkok to Vientiane, but I'd expect "several years" to pass by before this project will be completed.)
Basic Guide to Vientiane: Things to Do and See?
Laos, or the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) was established in 1975 and is one of the poorest and least developed nations in Southeast Asia - third world basically - as opposed to its "wealthy" neighbour Thailand. However, in the capital Vientiane, you'll probably notice as little of this poverty as of the official communist doctrine. Surprisingly, on the streets of Vientiane, you won't see any more police or military than on the streets of Thailand.
The official language is Lao - a tonal language closely related to Thailand's Isaan dialect. Despite minor differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, Laotians all understand Thai fairly well.
The local currency is the Lao Kip (LAK) which is inconvertable outside Laos and comes in notes of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. Coins are not in use.
In Vientiane and areas near the border, Thai Baht and US dollars are readily accepted, so unless you want to feel like a "millionaire" for a while (in Laos you can be a "kip millionaire" for less than US$1,200!) there's no real need to exchange to Lao kip.
As of September 2011, the Lao kip exchange rate is about 8,000 kip to the US dollar and 10,000 kip to the Euro. For one Baht, one normally gets between around 260 Lao kip. For up-to-date exchange rates, please visit the website of the Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao.
ATMs can be found throughout Vientiane. But, depending on the bank operating the ATM, not all accept international credit cards. In addition, many ATM's occasionally run out of money as their stock of Lao kip gets exhausted in the course of the day. Compared to Thailand, transaction fees are relatively expensive, so using Lao ATM's on a regular basis definitely can't be recommended. The same restrictions as for international cards also apply to Thai ATM (debit) cards; look out for ATMs with international card logos if you should really need one.
International phone calls can be made at dozens of internet cafés on Thanon Setthathirat.
Thai mobile phones, with Thai sim cards, can be used throughout Vientiane. But as the rates for "roaming" are relatively high (30 Baht or so a minute!) it's recommended to switch your phone off after crossing Friendship Bridge or buy a Lao sim card.
TIP: You can receive the Thai signal right on the Mekhong riverside - the closer to the waterfront the better the signal - and make phone calls to Thailand at the regular Thai rates.
Vientiane (speak: Wiang-Chan) has been the Lao capital since the 19th century and the times of French colonialism, a position it kept after the country's independence from France (in 1953) and the communists took over during the 1975 revolution. It's the largest city in the Lao PDR, with an estimated population of only 200,000.
Compared to the hectic, bustling streetlife of Bangkok, Vientiane's relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it essentially is. Little traffic, little people and - to tell the truth - little to do and see. After you've done some sightseeing and perhaps some shopping in the Morning Market, the best thing you can do in Vientiane is wander down to one of the beer gardens at the Mekong riverside, kick back with an ice-cold Beerlao - the tasty Lao national beer - and watch the sunset over the Mekong.
Around the "Nam Phou" fountain, along the riverside road (Thanon Fa Ngum) and its side-streets, you can also find dozens of restaurants serving anything from traditional Lao cuisine and French- style baguettes, to international cuisine at very reasonable prices. From grasshoppers to pizzas, from steaks and Indian curries to Tex-Mex food - anything is available here.
Dozens of unpretentious eateries and beer gardens line the Mekhong riverside. Whereas seating might not be the most comfortable, these are great places to enjoy the sunset and a cheap Beer Lao. There is also a number of traditional massage parlours, providing relaxing massage services in clean air-conditioned surroundings. "Extra" services as you may know them from Pattaya, are not available though.
Getting around in Vientiane is fairly easy. As the city centre itself is small, and areas of "touristic significance" are concentrated within a radius of a few kilometres only, most destinations can be reached on foot. Vientiane Map
The ubiquitous Tuktuks can be chartered from nearly every street corner. Most Tuktuk drivers will chat you up anyway as soon as you pass by, ask "Where you go?" or, if you aren't interested in a Tuktuk ride, possibly try to sell you marihuana?! As there are no fixed tuktuk routes, it's highly recommened to agree on a fare with the driver in advance to avoid an argument upon arrival.
Most tuktuk drivers carry a fare card for popular destinations around Vientiane but, as these fares are slightly inflated, a little negotiation is recommended. (As stated above, fuel prices in Laos are higher than in Thailand, so don't expect Lao tuktuks at Thai prices. For less than 100 Baht, or an absolute minimum of 20,000 Lao kip, no tuktuk will take you anywhere.)
Taxis, mostly old models retired from Bangkok, can be chartered from Wattay Airport, Friendship Bridge, near the Morning market, or at larger hotels. Fares are set by bargaining.
So what to do do, where to go and what to see in Vientiane?
To be honest, apart from visiting local Buddhist temples or the unimpressive Patuxay Monument (the so-called "Victory gate" which an English-language sign inside the monument surprisingly frankly labels a "monster of concrete") and perhaps a trip into the surrounding countryside, there isn't actually so much to discover in the area of Vientiane.
Shopping? Vientiane is definitely not Bangkok, so apart from a number of handicrafts, textile and souvenir shops in the Nam Phou Fountain and Mekhong riverside areas, Thailand-spoilt shopping fanatics will not find a lot of interest. Cheap Lao cigarettes or liquors? No problem. Or how about a shopping spree at Talaat Sao ("Morning Market" in English) opposite the main bus terminal?
Morning Market - despite its name open from 9am through late afternoon - is a large collection of indoor shops selling textiles, clothes, watches, jewellery, electronics, counterfeit mobile phones (imports into Thailand illegal) and pretty much of anything. Unlike Thailand's impressive shopping malls, however, the two floors of Talaat Sao are mainly not air-conditioned, so shopping here can be pretty exhausting here. - What else?? Well ...
Honestly, and before going into details about all the things you could do if you weren't here on a visa run primarily (but as a backpacker traveling the whole of South-East Asia, keen on local Buddhist culture, temples and the Lao rain forest!) I'd rather cut a long story short: There actually is not so much to discover in the Lao capital. Of course, if you're here for the first time, you'll probably find Vientiane worth a longer stay, and why not? If you are looking for a quiet retreat from the bustling nightlife of Pattaya and Bangkok, Vientiane with its smalltown ambiance is surely enjoyable enough for a while, though maybe a bit boring in the long run. And if you should decide to stay a bit longer than just to renew your Thai visa, please have a look at the See, Do and Buy sections in the Wikitravel - Vientiane Travel Guide, which has all the info you need if you wish to extend your visa run to a holiday of a week or two, and want to indulge in some "serious" sightseeing.
However, in my opinion (and to tell you the truth), the best things about a visa run to Vientiane are: 1) the Thai Embassy, 2) cheap and yummy Beer Lao, and 3) getting back to Thailand ...
Thai Embassy Vientiane: Visa Application & Procedure
In 2009, the Consular Office of the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane moved to a new location on Bourichane Road, not far from the old location. Here's the new address:
Unit 15, Bourichane Road, Ban Phosinaun, Muang Si Sattanak, Vientiane
Tel. (856-21) 214581-3 Ext. 600 - 601 or (856-21) 453916, 415337
The website of the Royal Thai Embassy Vientiane also has useful information about office hours and national holidays, visa application forms to download, and a location map.
The Consular Office is open from 8.30-12h in the morning and again from 13-16h in the afternoon. Except for Thai and Lao holidays, the embassy opens daily from Monday to Friday.
Visa application is from 8.30h-12h only (no visa application in the afternoon.) It takes one working day to issue the visa, and you can pick up your passport the following day after 13h.
(Since the Thai consulate in Vientiane, due to a daily flood of visa-runners, has become exceedingly busy in recent years, especially following weekends and holidays, it's recommended to turn up as early as possible to make sure your visa application gets approved before noon.)
The visa application process consists of two easy steps. Once the Thai embassy opens at 8.30h in the morning, each visa applicant receives - or has to pick - a card with a number. You will then have to wait on the plastic benches outside the smaller open-front building, on the right-hand side of the embassy compound, for your number to be called to submit your documents.
Apart from a fully filled visa application form, you will need two recent photographs, and a copy of your passport (further documents depend on which specific visa you apply for.) Application forms are available from embassy staff behind the counter, or may be downloaded from their website.
After you've submitted your paperwork, you take the same number card to the main building next door to wait to pay the visa fee and get your receipt. You can pick up your passport - including a fresh visa sticker - on the next day at 13h.
(There is a copy machine for use on the first floor of the smaller building where you apply for your visa first. If you arrive before 8.30am, passport copies, at a fee of 50 Baht, and application forms are also available from "freelance embassy officials" outside the embassy compound. At a fee of 100 Baht, they will also fill the application form for you.)
Visa fees are as follows (payment exclusively in Thai Baht):
Tourist Visa - 1,000 Baht per entry (double-entry 2,000 Baht)
Non-Immigrant Visa - 2,000 Baht per entry
One Year Non-Immigrant Visa - 5,000 Baht (multiple-entry)
Tourist Visa applicants! In September 2009, Thai embassies have announced a new crackdown on back-to-back tourist visa applications.
Tourist visa applicants will face stricter "screening measures" to make sure that they are genuine tourists and use their visas not as a way to work illegally in Thailand. Applicants with "too many" back-to-back tourist visa stamps may have a new application refused. Thailand Visa News
In August 2011, Thai embassies and consulates abroad have also been instructed to be "stricter with requirements when applicants are applying for 60-day tourist visas for Thailand."
From now on, Thai embassies will officially also require a "confirmed airline ticket with flight numbers and date of entry/exit" when applying for 60-day tourist visas, "plus confirmed hotel reservations with name and dates of checking in/out." If one of the required documents is missing, an explanation letter must be provided. However, it still remains to be seen how the new rules will affect visa applicants, not only in Vientiane. (ThaiVisa)
Visa touts and agents outside the embassy may reportedly be helpful if you think you might have a problem with obtaining a new tourist visa, or desperately wish to have your visa issued on the same day. If you require their assistance, however, do expect to pay a bit more for the extra service ...
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