I took the 7.30am Nong Khai – Vientiane International Bus from the Nong Khai bus station. You need to already have your visa to Laos to take this bus if you require one, which wasn’t an issue for me since I didn’t require one. The ticket cost 55 baht, but there was an additional 5 baht fee for “Thai immigration” which was paid through the bus company. No further fees were required at the Thailand side of the border, but at the Laos side, there was a 5 baht / 1000 kip customs fee. This was paid for by buying a “one way ticket” at separate counters from immigration clearance. The instructions for this were not clearly indicated, but I eventually figured it out when I could not pass a gantry and had to backtrack for the “one way ticket”. Overall, the border crossing was smooth, and the bus driver did ensure everyone was back onboard before moving off. There was no baggage check at all for the crossing, and I left my big bag on the bus when I got down at both sides of the border. At about 9am, the bus arrived in Vientiane’s Talat Sao Bus Station which is located within Central Vientiane.
Prices in Vientiane feel generally higher than across the Thai-Laos border, and most budget accommodation only has shared bathrooms. There are several hostels offering a bed in air-con dormitories for 40000 kip (S$6.40), but I got a single room with fan for the same price at Douang Deuane 2, located just beside Mixay Guest House and opposite Douang Deuane Hotel on Th Nokèokoummane. There are shared bathrooms with hot water on every level in the same building (apparently not the case for others), and free wifi and drinking water at the lobby. The exchange rate is currently about 1 baht to 250 kip; changing at the banks or money changers generally give 247-248 kip per baht. The day receptionist at Douang Deuane 2 was quite happy to exchange between kip and baht at 250 kip per baht both ways.
Vientiane is supposed to be one of the best places in the region for French dining, so I decided to spoil myself with a set lunch at Le Vendôme. For 46000 kip (S$7.36), I had a Cream of Wild Asparagus soup, a main course of Grilled Beef Cubes with Fries, and a slice of Flan for dessert. The meal was truly satisfying, with the Flan deserving special mention because it was not too sweet and done at just the right consistency for me. I also “splurged” on a butter croissant (9000 kip, S$1.44) at Le Banneton, which reportedly has the best croissants in Laos. Not quite sure about the competition in Laos, but it certainly rivals Tiong Bahru Bakery’s on the palette, and wins hands down on the price.
Apart from the food, Vientiane has a handful of attractions, the most notable being the shiny gold Pha That Luang (5000 kip, S$0.80). It is about 40 min walking distance away from the heart of Central Vientiane, but most of the other sights are generally in between anyway. I also tried a herbal steam sauna at Herbal Sauna for 15000 kip (S$2.40). The steam is generated by boiling (or burning) an assortment of plants; the herbal smell is definitely present and not unpleasant. Wonder if it really does anything for the body though. Apart from towels, I was also given a metal mug to drink free-flow hot tea as I cooled off outside the steam/sauna room.