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Vientiane Travel Guide
Life in Vientiane, the modest capital of Laos, flows along as languidly as the Mekong River on the banks of which the city is situated. Resembling more a sprawling series of villages than an inter-connected urban metropolis, Vientiane is a sleepy place dotted with a mix of Laotian temples and French colonial buildings, most of them crumbling into decay. Paddy fields still dot the outlying suburbs and even intrude into the city centre in places. Downtown is characterised by narrow lanes that run off the main streets, where bakeries sell croissants alongside vendors touting noodle soup and sticky rice.
Most of the city's places of interest are concentrated in a small area in the commercial district, easy to explore on foot, between the bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens on the riverbank and Talaat Sao, the morning market. Tourists to Vientiane will find that there are some fine Wats (temples) to visit, like Wat Si Saket, one of the city's oldest, surrounded by a lush tranquil garden. Other grand buildings are the unfinished Patuxai Monument, resembling the Arc de Triomphe, and the new Chinese-financed Cultural Centre. The Lao Revolutionary Museum is worth a visit simply because it is a surviving example of a communist propaganda collection, while the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum is dedicated to Laos' famous post-war leader.
National Tourism Authority of Laos, Vientiane: +856 (0)21 222
Laos Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 332 6416.
Laos Embassy, Paris, France (also responsible for United Kingdom): +33 (0)1 4553 0298.
Laos Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 4595.
American Embassy, Vientiane: +856 (0)21 267 000.
British Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible for Laos): +66 (0)2 305 8333.
Canadian Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible for Laos): +66 (0)2 646 4300.
Australian Embassy, Vientiane: +856 (0)21 353 800.
South African Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible for Laos): +66 (0)2 254 2530.
Irish Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible for Laos): +66 (0)2 632 6720.
New Zealand Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible for Laos): +66 (0)2 254 2530.
191 (police), 190 (ambulance).
Skimpy or revealing clothes are generally not acceptable. Public displays of affection are taboo in Lao society. Avoid touching anyone on the head or using your feet to point at anything. Appropriate dress and behaviour when entering places of worship is essential. The Laos government prohibits any sexual contact or relationships between Lao nationals and foreigners, unless married under Lao law; penalties may involve heavy fines or imprisonment. It is illegal not to carry an identity document. Photographing military sites is prohibited.
Most foreign passengers to Laos can obtain a visa on arrival, provided that: (i) they are arriving at one of the following airports: Vientiane International, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Warray; (ii) they are holding a return/onward ticket and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination; (iii) they have a confirmed hotel reservation in Laos; and (iv) they are in possession of three photographs, size 3 x 4 cm. These tourist visas are valid for 30 days (with one extension possible), and cost USD 30. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Laos, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.