Vientiane is no longer the illicit pleasure it was when Paul Theroux described it, in his 1975 book The Great Railway Bazaar, as a place in which “the brothels are cleaner than the hotels, marijuana is cheaper than pipe tobacco and opium easier to find than a cold glass of beer”. Nowadays, brothels are strictly prohibited, Talat Sao’s marijuana stands have been removed from prominent display and cold Beerlao has definitely replaced opium as the nightly drug of choice. Most of the bars, restaurants and discos close by 11.30pm or midnight.
Vins de France
Tel: 217 700 – Add: 354 Th Samsenthai. Opening hours: 8.30 am – 8 pm, Mon-Sat
Vins de France is one of the best French wine cellars in Southeast Asia. Even if you don’t like wine, it’s worth popping in for a look at a place so completely out of character with its surrounds. If you do like wine, the US$6.90 degustation might be a wise investment.
A growing number of cafes serve food and shakes along with a range of Lao and foreign coffees. Several more are listed under Bakeries and Delis in the Eating section
Maison du Café
Tel: 214781; Add: 70 Th Pang Kham. Opening hours: 7 am- 6pm
This welcoming place brews up a dizzying array of coffees (US$1 to US$2) and serves them with fresh sandwiches or baguettes (US$1.50), plus great shakes. There’s plenty af reading matter around and the owner offers a range of tourist services.
Tel: 312836; Add: Th Lan Xang. Opening hours: 8am- 8.30 pm Mon-Sat.
In the grounds of the Centre Culturel et de Cooperation Linguistique, this airy, comfortable bar and café is, understandably, popular with Francophone expats and serves cheap coffee (from US$0.30), sandwiches and simple meals.
Delight House of Fruit Shakes
Tel: 212200; Add: Th Samsenthai; Opening hours: 7am – 9pm
One of two places here that make incredible fruit shakes. Understandably popular.
As the sun goes down, the banks of the Mekong River become one long beer garden, with tables and chairs set out under the stars and the “Full Taste of Happiness” (Beerlao) flowing freely – it’s a great way to finish a day. There’s plenty of choice, from the more impromptu vendors lined along the river between PVO and Th Khun Bulom, where it’s more beer than garden, to the more established structures overhanging the water as far west as the original of the species, Sala Sunset Khounta.
Several restaurants, such as 7 Plus Korean Food are also wildly popular local beer gardens. They tend to be found down non-descript side streets and typically involve a big sala (open-sided shelter), lots of staff and large groups of Vientiane youngsters.
Sala Sunset Khounta
Tel: 1251079; Snacks US$ 0.50-1.50. Opening hours: 11 am – 11 pm
At the west end of the dirt road along the riverfront, the “Sunset Bar” is a Vientiane institution. The rustic wooden platform made of old boat timbers has been serving Beerlao at sunset for years, and was the only such bar to survive the government’s riverfront-bar demolition a few years ago. The friendly and enterprising proprietors also offer local food and interesting snacks.
Bars open and close at a remarkable rate in Vientiane, though the recent trend has been leaning more heavily on the opening side. If you’re looking for something cheaper and more local than the expat bars, look for nondescript bia sot (draught beer) bar plastic jugs of beer on the tables.
Bor Pen Nyang
Tel: 020-7873965. Add: Th Fa Ngum. Opening hours: 10 am – midnight.
The rooftop bar in this four storey building was the place to be when we were researching. And it was easy to see why. With expansive views over the Mekong, a reliable range of music (if a little Aussie-centric ) decent food and a generally ‘up’ atmosphere, it was a lot of fun. If you want to avoid back packers, however, go elsewhere.
Tel: 020-5526452. Add: Th Nokheo Khumman. Opening hours: 7pm – late:
The Chicago is a sort of cocktail-cum-lounge bar a leaning towards jazz and blues. It is fun especially as it tends to stay open at most Vientiane bars. Upstairs is a g cinema with regular events.
Tel: 262530. Add: 105 Th Fa ngum. Opening hours: 7am-midnight
Popular with expats, this classy place in a quiet position of river specializes in cocktails, but also serves tasty tapas and burgers.
Tel: 020-244931. Website: www.jazzybrid.com. Opening hours: 11 am – midnight
It’s ostensibly a cocktails bar, and the cocktails are well mixed, but the prices (US$4 to US$5, or US$2 a small Beerlao) are difficult to justify a town as cheap as Vientiane.
Tel: 216368. Add: corner Th Setthathirat & Th Chao Anou. Opening hours: 8am-10pm.
Blue Sky is a four- storey backpacker with the seemingly obligatory Hollywood movies on screen. Better is the rooftop bar, which is ideal for sundowners – when it is open.
Tel: 222308 Add: Th Sethathirat. Opening hours: 4 am-11.30 pm.
This dark, smokey dive is good for live sport.