Explore the mighty Mekong on the Bounmi, a private, retrofitted Lao slow boat strewn with plush beanbags and cushions. On board, you’ll be supplied with plenty of alcohol, along with tales about the historic waterway. Private itineraries can be tailored, too.
SEE & DO
COPE Visitor Centre
This essential stop provides insight into the issue of unexploded ordnance (UXO) – an ongoing problem in Laos. There’s a permanent exhibition, a cinema screening a short documentary, a café and a shop. Entry is free.
Discover Luang Prabang’s tales of yore at this intimate theatre venue, tucked along a small street. The octogenarian khaen (traditional Lao instrument) player is a real character.
Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre
Located 7km from downtown Vientiane, this centre trains disadvantaged women in weaving, dyeing and tailoring while also helping to revive traditional Lao craft. Take a workshop to learn how to weave or dye your own silk scarf.
This quirky little space, dedicated to promoting the works of artists born or based in Laos, is where you can rub shoulders with the local creative community. Opening hours are irregular, so phone ahead to confirm.
Kua Din Market
Get a taste of daily life in Vientiane at this bustling market. Get there early though, as it tends to wind down by 8am.
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens
Laced around the base of the Pha Tad Ke cliffs, this botanical complex and organic farm is the first of its kind in Laos. Check out its ethno-botanic gardens that highlight how flora are used in local medicine, handicrafts and spiritual ceremonies.
The Living Land’s Rice Experience
Life in Laos revolves around sticky rice. At this organic community farm, follow over a dozen steps required to get rice from the paddy field to the dinner table. Getting muddy has never been so fun or so educational.
Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre
The centre’s new exhibition, Seeds of Culture: From Living Plants to Handicrafts, showcases traditional headdresses and costumes decorated with mak dueay (Job’s Tears) seeds. Discover how nature has always been intertwined with culture, and how cultural practices have changed over time.
It takes some effort to get to this Buddha park located 25km south of the city, but it’s worth the trip. Created in 1958 by a shaman priest called Bounleua Sulilat, it’s full of massive, surreal sculptures that combine elements of Buddhism and Hinduism.
EAT & DRINK
3 Nagas Restaurant & Bar
This charming venue is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in town. Dine al fresco in the courtyard, where you can feast on authentic Lao fare like mee gouy phan (eggplant puree wrapped with fresh rice noodles and vegetables) under the canopy of trees.
Tucked away on a quiet back street, this bar is arguably the town’s most sophisticated cocktail spot. The lantern-filled garden leads into a dimly-lit interior, where black and white photos are hung on its walls. The chatty staff are happy to talk you through the imaginative drinks menu, which feature Asian riffs on cocktail standards. Try the Lao Lover, a fragrant blend of vodka, honey, ginger, lemongrass and egg white.
Located on Ban That Luang’s leafy streets, this watering hole is housed in a restored mid-century bungalow. With its leather banquettes and art-covered walls, it’s a stylish spot to sip concoctions like the lychee-and-cranberry-infused Pink Lotus.
The latest addition to the town’s buzzing culinary scene, this good-looking eatery does double duty as a watering hole. Drinks like house-made sangria with local tropical fruit and spritz pair well with the eclectic fusion dishes.
Café de Laos
Housed in a charming heritage inn, this quaint café whips up hot and cold brews using local coffee beans and vintage machines. You can even try your hand at making your own cup of joe with its new Siphon Coffee Experience.
The biggest quirk of this unpretentious cocktail bar is its unpredictable opening hours. However, if mixologist-owner Say is back from one of his jaunts to Japan, where he trained, you’ll get delicious cocktails tailor-made just for you.
Doi Ka Noi
Situated in a rustic 1960s house, this colourful restaurant offers a small menu of Lao food that changes daily, depending on the result of the chef’s morning visit to the market.
Housed in a striking colonial building, this elegant resto is best known for its refined degustation menus. Recently, it has also been putting its own spin on the raw food movement, featuring native herbs and flowers in new dishes.
Le Trio Coffee
This café is the first in the city to source, roast and brew coffee grown in the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. You’ll find a huge mechanical roaster at the rear of the open-fronted shophouse and an incredible aroma of coffee in the air.
Manda De Laos
This is one of the prettiest outdoor restaurants in the city, with decks, patios and paths laced around striking gardens and lotus ponds. The kitchen team whips up traditional Laotian cuisine with a twist, such as wok-fried buffalo flambéed and served with a shot of lao-lao rice whisky.
PVO Vietnamese Food
This year saw the Vientiane institution outgrew its bustling shop and have to move to bigger digs around the corner. But the legendary banh mi – fresh crusty baguette packed with savoury ingredients – remains the same, as does the zesty rice noodle salad with lemongrass beef.
With its Hollywood theme and Laotian-Western fusion menu, this café is popular with the well-heeled of Vientiane. The owner used to run the city’s first – now defunct – cinema, which explains the proliferation of movie memorabilia. Dine in air-conditioned comfort or out in the garden.
With its colourful, kitsch, Indochine-inspired design, this French bistro is a popular spot. Vivid red walls and a hipster soundtrack are the backdrop to a simple menu, which blends French classics like pork medallions and fish en papillote with Asian offerings like bun cha (pork on rice noodles).
The Great House
Sample the subtle flavours of Royal Laos cuisine at this restaurant within the charming Rosewood hotel. Helmed by French chef Sebastian Rubis, who is committed to reviving lost recipes, you can try rare dishes like the lon som (pork and eggplant curry with sour fish eggs) and nem thadeua (crunchy rice with sour pork).
Tuk Tuk Safari
Run by local guide Ere, these tours take foodies to lesser-known restaurants, street food stalls, vibrant markets and more, traveling from place to place via tuk tuk.
Artisans experiment with traditional Lao patterns at this screen-printing studio. Akka, Lanten and Hmong influences are evident on bags, scarves and sarongs. the dainty hemp and leather clutch bags adorned with Hmong motifs are especially popular.
This fair-trade boutique supports the livelihoods of rural villagers making handicrafts. Find finely woven bamboo basketry, cotton textiles in striking ikat (a type of dyeing technique) and handcrafted silver jewellery here.
Check out the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre’s (TAEC) boutique for village-made clothing and accessories. The fair trade enterprise aims to promote handicraft techniques from Laos’ diverse ethnic groups.
Vientiane Organic Market
If you’re in town on a Wednesday or a Saturday, head to the city’s lovely little organic market, where Lao farmers sell a wide range of fresh and processed foods, rice, coffee and much more. Open from 6am to 12pm.
3 Nagas Luang Prabang MGallery by Sofitel
Set across three restored heritage houses, this elegant boutique hotel melds French architecture with Lao design seamlessly. Its 15 rooms feature dark wood furnishings and four-poster beds, while its address in the heart of town makes it the perfect base from which to explore the charms of Luang Prabang.
This swanky resort lies in the heart of Luang Prabang, with the sacred Mount Phousi as its backdrop. While conveniently located within walking distance from all the action – the Mekong River, boutiques, restaurants and the town’s bustling night market – Amantaka remains a haven of serenity with beautifully manicured gardens, airy suites with four-poster beds, private pools and a luxurious spa.
Tucked away on a quiet side street in downtown Vientiane, the 24 rooms and four suites blend colonial-era elegance with contemporary chic. There’s also a swimming pool, a restaurant and a charming terrace.
Rebranded as Avani + this year, this property is only a couple of years old yet its sensitive design lets it blend seamlessly into its historic surroundings. Teak-clad buildings surround a calm-inducing central courtyard, which is also home to a striking pool, ideal for cooling off after a day touring the temples. The rooms mirror this sense of serenity, blending high-tech amenities with warm wood tones throughout. There’s a gym and spa on site, and you can sample a blend of local and international dishes at the Main Street Grill. Head upstairs and you can relax on the balcony overlooking main street to watch the traffic go by while enjoying a Beer Lao or cocktail. A particular highlight of this hotel has to be its excellent location sat at the end of the peninsular, at the start of the heritage zone and just across the road from the popular night market.
This bolthole on the banks of the Nam Khan River fuses the friendliness of a B&B with the polished service of a boutique hotel. Its chic guestrooms are decorated with artworks from the nearby Passa Paa gallery.
Lani's House by the Pond
A French colonial villa-turned-guesthouse, this is a hidden oasis in the heart of the city. Contemporary Lao artwork adds character to the 10 rooms, each boasting a unique design and view of the lush tropical garden.
Mandala Boutique Hotel
Dating back to the 1960s, this former private home and international school has been converted into a hotel. With just five stylish suites, it offers a genuine boutique experience. There’s also a casual restaurant and a lovely garden on site.
Pullman Luang Prabang
Situated 10 minutes from town in a mountain setting, this new resort sprawls over 16 hectares of landscaped gardens, complete with working padi fields. There are 123 spacious guest rooms, suites and two-bedroom villas, as well as three pools, a spa and a vast lakefront dining room.
Pullman Luang Prabang
Situated around 10 minutes from downtown in a charming mountain setting, this newly opened resort sprawls over a whopping 16 hectares of landscaped gardens, complete with their own pond and working padi fields. There are 123 spacious guest rooms, suites and two-bedroom villa, as well as three pools, a spa, fitness centre and a vast lakefront dining room that serves a mix of international and local dishes.
Sofitel Luang Prabang
This century-old French colonial mansion has 25 sublime suites with private terraces, outdoor bathtubs and grand canopy beds, set amid lush tropical gardens. Alfresco restaurant Governor’s Grill serves up lesser-known local dishes such as grilled buffalo meat.
Doi Ka Noi
I:CAT 画廊(I:CAT Gallery)
Le Trio Coffee
夸丁市场 (Kua Din Market)