Laos Nightlife - How to Stay Safe

While the nightlife may not be like Patong in Thailand, Laos still has plenty to offer. World Nomads contributor Sophia Pinheiro Vergara shares her tips on how to experience the nightlife safely.

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Photo © GettyImages/kampee patisena

Laos is Southeast Asia’s hidden gem, a place still mostly unaffected by tourism with fascinating sites and a leisurely nightlife. However, despite its easy-going vibe, there are scams and dangers. Here are our tips on nightlife safety in Laos.

Where to Go

UNESCO World Heritage site Luang Prabang is Laos’ most famous destination and has bars and restaurants for all budgets, but it is not known as a partying town unless it’s Pi Mai (Lao New Year). Between Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane, Vang Vieng has ditched its wild party reputation, but it still popular with young travelers, and has a few quieter spots on the riverside. There are cool bars in Vang Vieng in the central part of town for a fun night out, but nothing high-end.

Although Vientiane has a reputation for being a laidback capital, it has a few lively spots scattered around the Mekong area, especially around Walking Street, where at night you’ll find some open-air bars, restaurants and street food.

Markets

Night markets are a great way to get insight into a destination. In Vientiane, the night market along the Mekong has stalls selling traditional Lao bags, clothes and beautiful handmade textiles. The rest of the stalls, selling tech gadgets and t-shirts, is geared towards a local clientele. Nevertheless, it’s a nice place to walk around at night, located between the river and a wide choice of bars, cafes, and restaurants. It's also a good spot to chill and watch the world go by. Keep an eye on your bags, and avoid displaying money or valuables.

In Luang Prabang, there's a lovely night market every evening along the main road and it's a good spot buy some cheap souvenirs and handicrafts made by local ethnic groups. Check out the handmade jewelry, keyrings and can openers, made from unexploded ordnance of the Vietnam War, and handmade bags from traditional Lao clothes passed from mother to daughter. Prices are usually decent, but tourist-oriented so it never hurts to bargain a little bit, which is common in Laos.

Scams

Whilst most Lao people are genuine, beware of over-friendly locals inviting you into their home for dinner right after meeting you, which is not part of Lao culture. Unsuspecting travelers, looking for a genuine experience, have been conned this way into handing over money. They are invited into people’s homes, picked up at their hotel, given food (which is sometimes drugged) then asked to play a ‘harmless’ card game which eventually involves money. Next thing you know, you have ended up with a half-empty bank account; whether drugged into withdrawing money or forced after losing the game.

Another scam that regularly happens in Vientiane involves Tuk Tuk drivers selling weed to tourists or even making them feel like they must buy it, driving them to their hotel, then calling the police, as drugs are illegal in Laos.

Personal Safety Tips

Card games for money are illegal in Laos, so don’t play in public even if it is an innocent game. Beware of drunk drivers at night time, especially in Vientiane. This is especially important during Pi Mai, the Lao New Year, which takes place in April. People celebrate and drink, and it can be dangerous on the road with drunk pedestrians and drunk drivers. As in any other place, watch out for your drink and don't accept drinks from strangers.

Walk in groups if possible. Since Lao towns such as Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang are quite small, most places are within walking distance, but you can easily get a Tuk Tuk back to your accommodation after a night out. This is quite safe, but some drivers might ask travelers for a higher price than usual, so it’s always good to ask locals what the price should be. Vientiane now has taxi services which are safer and better value for money.

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