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Laos Shopping and nightlife

Shopping in Laos

The markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang are worth visiting. Silk, cotton fabrics, wood carvings, pottery, silver jewellery and handmade shirts are good buys. Lao sarongs (pha sin) and hill tribe bags are a popular souvenir. Although the majority of shops have fixed prices, bartering is still advisable for many items.

In Vientiane, it’s worth heading out to the weaving district of Ban Nong Bouathong, northeast of the city. Try the Phaeng Mai Gallery which sells beautiful Lao textiles. For something really smart, head to the American designer Carol Cassidy’s shop, Lao Textiles, which is well-known internationally. Here, you’ll find items that will fit in well at parties back home as well as on your travels. Lao weavers design the items and work in an attractive old French-Lao house. If buying clothes in Laos note that most fabrics are not machine washable as the dye runs. Nearby, opposite Talat Sao market, is the clumsily named Handicraft Products of Ethnic Groups- here you’ll find handicrafts from all across the family.

Luang Prabang is best known for its handicrafts, art, textiles and jewelry. In an old French mansion, Pathana Boupha Antique House is certainly worth a visit. There’s some beautiful silverwork and old photos for sale, mostly from the Lao owners’ private collection. It’s brilliant for browsing and for choosing an inspired, unusual gift. There are also plenty of small bookshops. L’Etranger Books & Tea is a lovely place to cool off or curl up with a book in. It sells both new and second-hand books mainly about Laos and Southeast Asi but head upstairs to the tea lounge and you can see local art displayed too.

Another great spot to combine retail with tea is the Baan Khily Gallery, which sells Lao crafts and mulberry bark paper (sǎa). The friendly owner is often on-site and there’s an upstairs terrace which lends itself to chill-out time.

Shopping hours

Times vary but generally Mon-Sat 0800-1700 with private shops open longer hours. Some also open on Sunday.

Nightlife in Laos

It is illegal for a nightclub or bar to stay open later than 2330 and therefore to expect Vientiane to be on a par with other Asian capitals in terms of nightlife would be a misstep. Generally, the Lao nightlife is quiet and laid-back, usually involving a Beer Lao, a stunning sunset firefly display and an early night. However, there are two nightclubs of note in Vientiane – Future Nightclub and Highwayman are both are fairly close to the airport and both often stay open later than they should.

Otherwise try the French Cultural Centre on Th Lan Xang in Vientiane which often shows movies, and has music performances. Elsewhere in the capital, there are plenty of bars along the river, most of which stay open until 2300 or so – expect plenty of classic rock, cocktails and cheap beer. In Luang Prabang it’s the same story, although the city has the country’s first openly gay bar – Khob Chai. Note that the streets empty out early in Laos and stumbling home drunk might not be a wise idea. Guesthouses close and bolt their doors accordingly too, so try not to get locked out.

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