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!
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?
- Kop Chai Deu restaurant/bar (right by the fountain)
- Marina night club (bigger venue, club style, bad music)
- Samlo Pub
- Wind West
- 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.