Vice in Vientiane: A Slightly Darker Guide To The Capital Of Laos

Vientiane by mypuffin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  mypuffin 

 

Why am I writing about illicit activities in Laos? If you’ve traveled around SE Asia then you already know the reputation of the countries. Thailand is the best: anything you want to experience can be had in Thailand. Malaysia kind of sucks but Kuala Lumpur is awesome. Singapore is very nice and high end, also quite expensive. Cambodia is on the rise. Vietnam has a lot of great stuff to explore, good mix of activity, great food.

Laos, however, is that boring, sleepy, landlocked country where there is not much going on. As far as travelers that love it, they are all the hippie stoners (weed is very cheap and easy to get here). It’s the poorest country in SE Asia. No night life. Maybe a nice break from the craziness that Thailand can be, but all in all, best to make it a short trip.

I’ve been to Vientiane on three separate trips now. The first two occasions were bad experiences. I was just here to get a new visa for Thailand so I could get back to the fun country. On both previous trips I’d heard that “Vang Vieng is fun” and always just flew into Vientiane, dropped my passport off with a visa agent (someone who will go to the consulate for you and get you a new visa – AKA sweet deal), stayed one night in some lame hotel and caught the dawn bus to Vang Vieng. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a bad routine. However, before coming back for the third time I decided I was going to try and do an in-and-out within a few days and skip Vang Vieng.

In deciding this I asked myself, “What if there is actually some cool stuff to do in Vientiane? I’ve never actually checked.” Just having the idea that there might some fun to be had, led me to decide to explore this slow-paced little city.

I know a few things about people and cities. First, no matter what “the law states,” vice and corruption will always find a way to exist. Second, in a city of more than 50,000 people there will always be drugs and hookers.

Believing that to be the case, I touched down in Vientiane, checked into my hotel and set about work on what would prove to be a fun and fruitful adventure. What I discovered did not disappoint me.

Disclaimer: Insert all the normal warnings people would insert. These things are against the law in Laos, you can be arrested, fined, deported. Sex between foreigners and locals is illegal and strictly enforced. Obey the law no matter what. Everything I’m about to write is fiction. I’ve never had sex or taken drugs before in my life… etc. I am not liable for you getting in trouble. Don’t trust anyone, especially not me. 

Vice In Vientiane

First Principles: Things You Should Know That Might Save Your Life Or Wallet

#1. The average salary for a Laos PDR Policeman is about $50 US per month. This doesn’t mean that they are easy to bribe or dishonest (or does it?). It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them very seriously. As is always the case when you’re breaking the law, you should just avoid the police. However, if worse comes to worse, do your very best to NOT GET ARRESTED. If you get caught doing something bad, offer him a lot of money. Like $150-200 US. It’s important not to get arrested. Because once you get arrested you end up being fined a much larger amount since everyone has to get their cut. $500-$5,000 fines and deportation are not unheard of.

Don’t read this and think that things are super dangerous – they don’t appear to be from my experience. There aren’t a lot of cops around and the ones that are tend to just be sitting there doing nothing. But if you think they have a problem setting up sex tourists, making you look bad, and collecting money in return, you’re naive. Hence the advice: cut a deal with the one or two cops that stop you if it should ever come to that. I don’t like doing this as I feel it reinforces bad behavior from cops in poor countries. But I also don’t want to go to prison in a poor country. So… it’s a good idea to have a backup plan.

#2. Tuk-tuk and taxi drivers always know the lay of the land. I don’t mean lay of the land as in how to get around town or where popular destinations are. Some of them know that. But almost all of them know where to take you to get drugs or hookers. There is an ongoing debate about whether these guys can be trusted or if they will set you up to get busted by the cops. I’ve never had the “getting setup issue”. If you’re super worried about that, then understand that they’ll get a few dollars from the cops. Ask them up front not to set you up and pay them extra. But as far as finding underground brothels and sex shops, tuk-tuks can help you out anywhere in the world. (For you Westerners reading this, a tuk-tuk is moped powered transportation device common all over Asia).

#3. Many guest houses/hotels play by the rules. That means a lot of them enforce a curfew and most do not allow guests. Nicer hotels absolutely will not let you bring a Lao girl back to your hotel. The easiest way is to just ask. They’ll all tell you. Or… read on…

Logistics: Establish Basecamp

You want to stay as close as you possibly can to Nam Phu Fountain. Nam Phu Fountain is lame, but it is the main landmark in the main tourist area and is a good reference point for getting around. There are lots of little guest houses right around Nam Phu, but I haven’t stayed at any of them.  A general rule is that the real dive places may let you bring guests back. You literally have to ask and make sure they don’t have a curfew.

You probably don’t want to arrive and then search around in the hot Lao sun for a room. So being the tireless work-whores (pronounced horse) that I am, I did all the legwork for you. The below list has been vetted and will accommodate that which you might be after if you’ve read this far into this post.

Best Option: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293950-d2390665-Reviews-La_Ong_Dao_Hotel_1-Vientiane_Vientiane_Province.html (~800 baht)

EDIT: The original version of this post linked to the hotel website which is no longer active, I have updated it to link to the Trip Advisor page. The recent reviews are quite brutal, but having read through them I’d say “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Don’t let the semi-nice website and inflated room rates fool you. This place is a real dump! I advise you not to eat the food at the hotel if you care for your health. That being said… I love this place! Negotiate your room rate upon arrival; don’t book in advance. Ensure you get A/C that is working. Guests are allowed and there are even some working girls that hang out in and around the hotel. Great find!

Runners-Up:

Wonderland 2 Guesthouse(400 baht) or Nita Guesthouse(400 baht; better to stay at Wonderland 2 – it’s nicer)

Far backup: Actually stay somewhere nice like Salana Boutique Hotel and just use a room at a dive short-time for sex. This is my preferred option but I am also of the opinion that the “kind of nice” hotels in Vientiane are way overpriced. Salana, for example, costs more than Aloft Bangkok on Sukhumvit 11 does and isn’t 1/4 of the room. It’s much better to do Laos on the cheap and not pay more than 500 THB for a room. So you might as well just stay at one of the dives. You’ll live.

If none of these work out, just get to Nam Phu Fountain, find a tuk-tuk and ask him if he knows of a “guest house that I can have Lao lady friend at” (speak slowly) and if that doesn’t work say “brothel”. More on this later.

Food Caveat: There is actually some really great food in Vientiane. Like surprisingly good food. Here’s a quick list of places I ate at and liked:

  • Hungry Burger (streetside burger shack that makes awesome burgers)
  • Joma Cafe (for breakfast or lunch this place is a great option)
  • Kop Chai Dee Restaurant (lunch and beyond a great option, across the street from Joma, both by the fountain)
  • Aria Mixay (more upscale Italian joint. Very good. Lunch/dinner)
  • Le Silapia (French/Asian fusion. Creative and delicious. Lunch/dinner)

That’s a short list. Explore this during the day while you wait for your next bang-a-thon. There’s plenty of cool little places. There’s also a food market at night on the riverfront that has some good Lao food to go.

To get around, just use tuk-tuks. Agree on a price first and if you know you’re going to be bouncing from place to place a lot arrange with one tuk-tuk driver to take you and wait for you (or join you for a beer if you’re feeling generous, but I don’t recommend it) and chauffeur you around. This will make things easier if you do some repeat work over a few days.

Honestly, if you’re a sex tourist and that’s what you’re here for, you could probably hire a tuk-tuk for $10-20 per day for a multi-hour tour around. If you use one to find a “guest friendly” place to crash and he seems cool, he might be worth keeping in touch with.

Drugs: I don’t really do drugs. But here’s some info on Laos. Weed, opium, and mushrooms are easy to get and very cheap. In Vang Vieng you can buy all of them from bars. I never found any bars in Vientiane that offered them so blatantly. But… our old friends the tuk-tuk drivers tend to have it all. I didn’t ask about mushrooms, but opium and weed (they’ll say “kanja” or “mari wana” for weed) are readily available. They literally have it on them and will sell it to you straight up. Maybe there are better sources, or safer ways to score, I don’t know. This isn’t my hustle so that’s the best I can do…. or is it?

No, it’s not. Of course I can do better!

If you find a brothel (sometimes this is the basement of a hotel car park, mind you, and never the nice fishbowls you find in Bangkok), talk to the pimp/mama-san, whoever is in charge of brokering the transactions. Most of these can/will arrange drugs for you. Don’t just walk in and ask. Be fun/friendly, smile, if it’s a bar buy a drink. Then just ask privately. (This works well in any brothel, anywhere in the world).

There aren’t really “brothels” that I’ve discovered in Laos. And I’ve looked. There aren’t go-go bars. This is why I advise more to rely on tuk-tuk drivers. But well-connected locals always know where to get stuff. I advise pimps/brothels rather than bartenders or bar managers because pimps are already operating outside the law and are criminals. The underground is a well connected syndicate in every city, people know each other, and don’t mind cross-promoting. Bartenders are legally employed individuals who don’t necessarily have any connection to vice.

The saga continues…

GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS

The real focus of this article!

I had heard that it’s super hard to get laid in Vientiane. Turns out that rumor is total bullshit.

I have to quickly comment on just how many hot foreign girls there seem to be in Vientiane. I can’t walk down the street without finding them. So guys like me, don’t overlook this fact (it’s also not illegal to fuck them). A lot of times they’re solo backpackers, which from my experience are some of the coolest girls in the world.

Back to the professionals for now…

It’s actually pretty straightforward. Lao freelance girls work in bars, discos, and clubs all over the city. They aren’t hard to spot. Look for girls in nice dresses in bars, often by themselves.

If you’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand or somewhere similar, you should note that the working girl scene in Laos is completely different. There are no girly bars where you can pay the bar fine for a girl and take her home. The entire trade is much more discrete and quiet. You won’t have loud girls yelling at you to come into their bar, as these places don’t exist.

What you will have is gorgeous Lao women sipping Beer Lao quietly and smiling at you if you happen to make eye contact. It’s not so bad actually.

Where to go for girls in Vientiane?

  1. Kop Chai Deu restaurant/bar (right by the fountain)
  2. Marina night club (bigger venue, club style, bad music)
  3. Samlo Pub
  4. Wind West
  5. Blue Star

Backup: Walk around the street in the city center and you’ll find girls on most blocks, especially near the clubs. This is one city where it’s actually easier/better sometimes to pick up a girl off the street.

Far backup: Just ask any tuk-tuk driver to take you to some “ladies” and they’ll probably take you to some cool underground brothel.

It is actually quite easy, just keep your head about you. Also, if you’re into katoeys (ladyboys), Vientiane will not disappoint. If, like me, you only like girls… well… it’s usually best to just ask up front if you’re unsure.

Safe travels!

18 Replies to “Vice in Vientiane: A Slightly Darker Guide To The Capital Of Laos”

  1. Love this right up. I have been to Vientiane 3 times (am now writing this from Vientiane). I am learning as I go but this post was helpful!

  2. I am O.k. with all the written…only the Laos prices do not make sense with the “poverty” that seems to exist there..those hotel prices or daily tuk.tuk ..i can find better in Pattaya or Bkk… ok i been here 6 years now and very in touch with Thais so it help..but still…being an average Laos wage in the order of 4000 Bht . it seems not in tune to me..I am not saying you’r wrong ..only it surprise me..still would be nice to know the price of a beer or food..or a month room with a.c.

    1. It’s entirely possible that I was getting painfully overcharged for the entire trip. I spent most of the time being a lost tourist and wasn’t a very talented negotiator at the time. I was also spending all of my time around the one section of the town that is touristy (nam phu fountain) in other parts of Vientiane, or definitely in other parts of the country I have no doubts that you could get a month room for significantly less than what I was paying.

      I estimated that I could stay in Vang Vieng, eating out every meal and drinking plenty of beer for about $500-600/month.

      1. Great Post. Will be in Philippines shortly, then traveling on to Thailand. Thinking of going to Laos for my 1s trip. Heard so much about the tubing scene and shoom milk shakes. As a newbie and always a solo traveler, could do with all the heads up. One thing though, I always like to stay in an upmarket Hotel, especially on 1sr trip.

      2. No, I don’t think you were being painfully overcharged. I’ve lived in Thailand for 12 years and made around 5-6 trips to Vientiane during that time. The most fun times were when I hooked up with a local who knew the best places to visit but whether I was alone or with a friend, I found hotels to be very bad value for money, and the tuk-tuk drivers not very keen to lower their prices. If you got one for $10-$20 for the whole day, I’d say you were doing really well.

        They know they are dealing with a captive market and walking away if you don’t like the price quite often doesn’t work . The best deals I got were on the trip when I messed up the exchange rates in my head and thought everything was around 25% more expensive that it was. I think the locals thought I was a real tight-ass on that trip!

        Visiting again at the end of the month, and probably staying from Thursday night to Monday afternoon, hence my checking out your blog. I’ve normally been so trashed on previous visits that the only places I can remember afterwards are the Don Chan Palace Hotel disco and Por Pen Yang (surprised you didn’t mention either of those actually – freelancers at both venues and the hotel disco used to be open much later than anywhere else.

        1. I was going meet a Laotian girl and stay at the Leuxay hotel would it be a problem to bring her to the hotel. Do they arrest you if they find a Laotian girl in your room?

  3. Nice article. I was in Vientiane in early May for 3 nights. Found a nice little hotel called Mix Ok near Wat Mixay. I had a look at half a dozen dives before agreeing to upon 700 baht per night for a room here. The room was ok (clean with a/c and en suite) but the concierge – Chang he said his name was – made be laugh, he offered to include two girls if I wanted and I don’t think he was joking. A real Del Boy character, he offered to take me somewhere to meet ladies and informed me he could get anything I wanted. I didn’t take him up on his offer but I did go to both Bar Pen Nyang and later at night @Home Club where it’s pretty easy to find girls. Also when I returned to my hotel there were quite a few ladyboys – some real pretty ones too, not hags – hanging round the Wat Mixay area looking for business.

  4. Good article……………..Great place…..lived there for 4 years & loved it. Taking a trip up tomorrow & really looking forward to chill time with the family. BeerLao’s still only 10000-12000kip for the 640ml bottles, which is about 43-52thb ….. bargain!
    Also plenty of inexpensive places to eat….. Agree about hotels being very poor & overpriced. Cheers!

  5. Is it possible to rent a motorbike and do the country that way? Prices for week/month would be great, thanks. How’s the driving there – worse than Indonesia?

    1. Hey Markit,

      I’m sure that’s an option (not something I’ve done though). There were motorbikes all over, so there’s definitely places to rent them.

      Sorry, don’t have the info on any prices. My guess would be that like most things in the region the price is either “very affordable” or “very negotiable”.

      Thanks.

  6. I’ve been in VTE for 6 months now, yet I still found this post helpful. Staying outside the downtown area has been great fun (and good for the wallet), but it’s caused me to overlook the usefulness of tuk tuk drivers. Now I no better and plan to round up some fun.

  7. Hey I am so excited I found your blog, I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Bing for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a tremendous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don have time to read it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *