Safety in Vientiane
Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime. However, bag snatching from guests sitting in front of cafes is becoming more common.
Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on pavements. Additionally, there are many loose pavement stones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.
To prevent the development of a sex trade industry, so prevalent in neighbouring Thailand, Laotian law bans foreigners from having sexual relations with Laotian nationals other than their spouses. This law is enforced by the village chief and, given the fines, the incentive to enforce is high. The penalty is USD500 for the first offence, though as the text of the law is not available, the fine could be much more (the US Embassy says USD5,000)
Homosexuality is legal and there is a fairly open gay scene in Vientiane. Since the Pathet Lao took over in 1975, the Lao government has been completely silent on LGBT rights and homosexuality itself. Female homosexuality is relatively frowned upon for Lao women while male homosexuality is widely tolerated. A growing acceptance of homosexuality in Laos continues. Gay and lesbian travellers should be aware though that some hotels will impose the same restrictions as for straight people and not allow a Lao national into your room.
Illegal drugs are a problem throughout Laos and certainly so in Vientiane where even very young children can try to peddle "happy pills" to tourists. After declaring victory in the "war on opium" in 2005, it is not so much opium and heroin these days as methamphetamine that incurs the wrath of the authorities. Penalties are extremely harsh. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or police impersonators to "shake down" unsuspecting tourists.
As of 2006, the Lao PDR criminal code for drug trafficking or possession carries the following penalties:
- Heroin: death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
- Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment
- Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment
- Opium: death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg.
- Marijuana: death penalty for quantities over 10 kg.
Long trousers and sleeves are recommended when visiting a temple or official offices. Foreign women adopting the traditional long sarong (siin) are appreciated.
They can be vicious, whether they are strays or just owned by irresponsible people who don't bother closing their gates. You don't need to be out in the suburbs to be attacked. Avoid anything but well lighted, busy streets at night.
If you are bitten, see a doctor. Even if you have had a rabies vaccination before your trip you will still need a booster jab.
Vientiane's hospitals are a far cry from those in the West or even in Thailand.Mahosot and Setthathirat Hospitals can treat common conditions but for anything more serious you're better off heading to Thailand where there are good private hospitals with European and US trained doctors.
For emergency dental treatment it's also best to go to Thailand; in Vientiane's dental clinics, they seem to resort to tooth extractions a bit too easily.
Mahosot Hospital is on the river (go to their "International Clinic" where you pay more and get more personal service, but from the same doctors who work in the hospital itself). Setthathirat Hospital is away from city centre on the T4 Road.
- Australian Embassy Clinic (km4 on Thadeua Rd), , e-mail:[email protected]. M-F, 08:30-12:30, 13:30-17:00. Provides limited general practice services with a small pharmacy and pathology department. Although the clinic is primarily for diplomatic staff and their families, Australian citizens may access its services on a fee for service basis. Reciprocal arrangements with other embassies mean that citizens from certain other countries may also access the service. There is no after-hours service. USD75 per consultation.
- Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France, , fax: , e-mail: [email protected]. With the support of the French Embassy in Vientiane, the opened its doors to the foreign community in Laos in Apr 2007. The medical centre provides primary health care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, along with paramedical services, including dental care, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and psychotherapy, to expatriates and tourists in Vientiane. (English-speaking.) USD36 per consultation.
- Ambulance services to Thailand. The ambulances of Wattana Hospital can cross the border to pick up patients in Vientiane. They can also take them to Aek Udon Hospital. Ambulances of Setthathirat Hospital (Tel. +856 21 351156) can also cross the border. The bridge is open from 06:00-22:00. Outside these hours the gates are only opened for emergencies upon telephone request from the hospital.
- Aek Udon International Hospital, From Laos 0066-42-342555. In Udon Thani. Has more facilities.
- Wattana Hospital, From Laos 0066-42-465201. In Nong Khai, good for treating simpler cases.
Vientiane is free from malaria, but dengue is a real threat, especially during the rainy season. Take the necessary precautions against mosquito bites by wearing DEET repellent, available to purchase at any minimart. It is common practice to request a mosquito coil at dusk at outdoor venues.
Taxi drivers will offer ladies as partners for single men as part of their all-out sales pitch. These drivers may be Thais (to a non-expert eye they look and sound the same) since they operate from unmarked vans and they always mistakenly quote prices in baht, not in kip, as if they were in Thailand.
Don't follow the example of the locals who will bathe in anything that looks like water. There is a real risk of picking up parasites. Swimming in public pools is okay. There is one-of-a-kind garden setting on Sok Paluang Rd, and another, not in such a nice setting, on the road by the stadium.
Hotel pools are also safe. Some hotels with pools that you can use for a fee if you are not staying there: Mercure, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace, and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch (11:00-15:00) in the Mercure at 130,000 kip (+10% service charge +10% taxes) including use of pool and fitness centre.