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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in vientiane
Free Travel guide Ooaj.com A free travel guide for holidays. Hotels in vientiane, Bed and Breakfast!
Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ Wieng Chan) is the capital of Laos.
Compared to the other bustling capitals in Southeast Asia, Vientiane feels like the small town it is. After you're done the round of temples, the best thing to do here is wander down to one of the riverside beer gardens, kick back with a cold Beerlao and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
Incidentally, the name is a very French spelling and should be pronounced the way the Lao say it, ie. "Wieng Chan", not "Ween-tee-an" or some such.
Settled since at least 1000 AD, Vientiane became the capital of Lan Xang in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane sprung back in time to be again named the capital of the protectorate of Laos by the French, a position it kept under communist rule. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 200,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.
Vientiane is stretched out on the eastern bank of the Mekong River. From shore inland, the main roads are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthatilat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chantabuli, contains most of Vientiane's government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lan Xang, leads from here to the northeast through Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the most important temple in Laos.
Vientiane's Wattay Airport is just to the west of the city. Most hotels offer a pickup service, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for US$6. (Rides to the airport should be cheaper.)
Easiest way to get to Lao from other continent via Bangkok (Thailand) or Hanoi (Vientnam) Lao Airlines (http://www.laoairlines.com/) and Thai Airways (http://www.thaiair.com/) operating on these routes.
Visas on arrival are available at the airport (US$30 for 14days). There is also a US$10 departure tax for international flights.
Many visitors choose to fly into Thailand's Udon Thani instead and cross the border by bus, which is considerably cheaper than direct flights. There is a direct shuttle from the airport to the Thai border at Nong Khai.
Plans to connect Vientiane to the Thai railway network remain just plans, so the railhead remains on the Thai side at Nong Khai, just across the Friendship Bridge.
The Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. You cannot cross the bridge on foot, but there are frequent 20B shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.
Visas on arrival are available, just bring US$30 (plus $1 outside working hours and on weekends) and a passport photo. An additional 10B "Entry Fee" is charged once through, though walking straight past this desk seems not to be difficult.
Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 150B) or taxi (200B) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper and local buses to Talat Sao cheapest of all, but signage is nonexistent and you may be in for a wait. Going the opposite way, asking around the bus station for Friendship Bridge is effective.
Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (30B) and Udon Thani (80B) arrive and depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal four times a day each. These are cheap, comfortable, hassle-free and popular, so book ahead or arrive early. Exiting Laos via the Bridge is free, except on weekends when a token 2500K "Overtime Charge" applies.
From elsewhere in Laos
Buses to all provinces in Laos depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus piers painted on the central building, which is where you can also buy in tickets.
Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Saigon. Street signage is, however, rather lacking so a good map comes in handy. Many storefronts feature full mailing addresses in Roman letters, and these are often the best way to determine the street one is walking.
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.
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; short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 5000K, although as a tourist you may have difficulty bargaining to less than US$1 (10000K). Share jumbos running on set routes, eg. Th Lan Xang to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 1000K.
Minibuses connect the center to the suburban districts, but are not particularly useful for tourists, with the possible exception of the bus to the Friendship Bridge. The main terminal is on the east side of Talat Sao.
Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guesthouses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around US$2 per day. Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify.
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.
Unless otherwise noted, all temples below charge 2000/5000K for Lao/foreigners and are open from 8 AM to 4 PM, with a one-hour lunch break between 12 and 1 PM.
Banks and exchange offices are located through the city center. You can find Vientiane's first ATMs opposite the Lao Plaza Hotel (Th Samsenthai) and just west of the Lane Xang Hotel (Th Pangkham).
Vientiane doesn't have much in the way of nightlife, 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.
Note that everything closes down before midnight before the start of the unofficial curfew. You are likely to be escorted back to your lodgings by police or military if spotted out after this.
Accommodation options in the Lao capital are plentiful. At the very top end international operators have been slow to arrive though, the only branded name around being the Novotel by the airport.
Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Th Samsenthai. The going rate as of January 2005 is 100K/min, usually charged in 10-min increments.
Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in Thailand. Mahasot and Setthithalat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Udon Thani or Bangkok.
Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime, although there are occasional cases of snatch theft by men on bikes. But unlike Saigon's motorized muggings, there usually involve just grabbing stuff from a bike's front basket. Probably a bigger hazard is the missing sewer covers on sidewalks, so watch your step carefully, especially at night.