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Travel Guide > Asia > Laos > Viangchan Prefecture > Vientiane

Vientiane Health & Safety

  
 
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Water

The city's waterworks are called Nam PaPaa, which some may joke means "water without fishes". Yes, the fishes have been removed but not everything else. Don't drink the tap water, no matter how long it's been boiled (it tastes very industrial) - stick to the bottled water available everywhere, though even that varies in quality. Some people have a major preference for clear plastic bottles.

Mosquito-borne diseases

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.

Dogs

They can be vicious, whether they're stray 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 the most well-lit/busy streets at night.

If you're bitten see a doctor. Even if you've had a rabies vaccination before your trip: you will still need a booster jab.

Buddha Park, near Vientiane.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Swimming

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 in a kind of garden setting on Thanon Sok Paluang, 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're not staying there: Novotel, Lao Plaza, Don Chan Palace, Settha Palace - and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch at the Novotel at US$ 10 including use of the pool.

Gyms

The choices for gyms in Vientiane are limited, though good prices and adequate facilities are available. Most popular among the expat community is Sengdara Gym, located on Rue Dongpaina. 

Hospitals

In Vientiane

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 (see below) where there are good private hospitals with American or European 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 that work in the hospital itself); Setthathirat Hospital is away from downtown on the T4 Road.

Safety

Bag snatching

Vientiane is a fairly safe city in terms of crime. However, bag snatching from guests sitting in front of cafes is becoming more common. Bags in the baskets of (rented) bicycles or mopeds, even when moving along, are also far from safe. Do not leave a bag in an accessible position. If your bag is snatched, immediately start shouting: the perpetrators rely on tourists reacting by silently trying to chase them without alerting the numerous police boxes. The thieves are often drug addicts.

Hazard

Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on sidewalks. Additionally, there are many loose sidewalk stones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.

Sex trade industry

In an attempt to prevent the development of the sex trade industry which is so prevalent in neighbouring Thailand, Lao law says that foreigners cannot have sexual relations with Lao nationals other than their spouses. This law is enforced by the village chief and, given the amounts, the incentive to apply it is very high. The penalty, if caught, is US$500 for first time, though as the text of the law is not available, may be much more (the US embassy says $5000); the foreigner may be jailed or deported and the Lao woman may find herself in jail - and that is really the last place anyone would want to be.

If you take a girl to your room and she robs you this law makes it almost impossible to obtain assistance from the police. Foreign women should note that, while rare, there have been cases of the police enforcing this law on both genders. Bar tenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls in the same bars they picked them up the night before! Anyway, most hotels do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms, as it is officially prohibited.

Homosexuality

Homosexuality is technically illegal, although this does not seem to be widely enforced and there is a fairly open gay scene in Vientiane. Gay and lesbian travelers should be aware though that many hotels will impose the same restrictions as for straight people and not allow a Lao national to your room.

Drugs

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.





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