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Adjacent sights to Thailand

Содержание
Siem Reap
Angkor
Vientiane
Kota Bharu
Alor Star
Статьи
Wikitravel. Sights adjacent to Thailand. 01.2008.

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Siem Reap
The town of Siem Reap [3], in northern Cambodia, is the primary access point for the Angkor Archaeological Park.
 Understand
Siem Reap, literally "Siam Defeated", commemorates a Khmer victory over the neighboring kingdom of Thailand. These days, however, the only rampaging hordes are the tourists heading to Angkor and this once quaint village has become the largest boomtown and construction site in Cambodia. It's quite laid-back and all in all a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. It's a nice compromise between observing Cambodian life and enjoying the amenities of modern services and entertainment, thanks to the large expatriate community in Siem Reap. As business has increased, so have the numbers of people wanting your custom. Expect to receive almost constant offers for motodop and tuk-tuk rides, along with everything else which drivers may be able to offer to you.
Be sure to pick up your free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide from your hotel/guesthouse. It contains lots of info on Siem Reap and Angkor, including hotel/bar/restaurant/shop info, travel info, maps, etc.
 Get in
 By plane
Siem Reap - Angkor International Airport (IATA: REP | ICAO: VDSR) has frequent flights from Phnom Penh and several flights weekly to Sihanoukville. Internationally, there are direct flights to/from Korea (Seoul), Laos (Pakse | Vientiane | Luang Prabang), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, Taiwan (Kaohsiung | Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok | U-Tapao/Pattaya) and Vietnam (Danang | Ho Chi Minh City). Low-cost carriers Air Asia and Jetstar Asia now fly to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively, but the popular route to Bangkok is still monopolized by Bangkok Airways, which charges accordingly.
The airport is less than 15 minutes from the town centre by car (US$5) or motodop (US$4 or less). If you have an advance booking in a hotel, you can ask them for a free airport pickup (in of their tuk-tuks). This way you can avoid the monopolistic taxi service in Siem Reap.
There are separate terminals for international and domestic flights. International departure tax is a steep US$25 (children US$13), payable after check-in and before clearing immigration. Often this can only be paid in cash, as the credit card facility is unreliable. Airport fee upon departure on national flights, to Phnom Penh, is US$6.
 By land
Cambodian highways have improved considerably in the last few years (although there's still plenty of room for further improvement) and some routes that were once epic adventures are now sealed roads. For most routes you have the basic options of chartering or sharing a Toyota Camry taxi, sharing a ride in a pickup truck, or if it's a sealed road, taking the bus.
 From Thailand
The most popular overland route from Thailand, and the most direct from Bangkok and Eastern Thailand, is via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.
To reach Aranyaprathet from elsewhere in Thailand, see the Aranyaprathet article.
Most of the Poipet - Sisophon - Siem Reap road is not sealed; the condition of the unsealed sections varies seasonally and depends on when it was last re-graded - for recent reports see Latest Road Conditions between Siem Reap and Poipet.
Whichever route you take, beware of scams, touts and pickpockets at the Poipet border crossing. See the Poipet article for information on the irritating Visa on Arrival process. Once you're through all of that, take the free shuttle bus from outside the entry stamp office in Poipet to the transportation depot about 1 km away. Tourist travel in Poipet is currently run by an unofficial monopoly, unfortunately, and you're not allowed to bargain directly with drivers.
The fastest and most comfortable way to get from Poipet to Siem Reap is by Toyota Camry share taxi - US$60 for the whole car (US$35 for the driver, US$10 for the government, US$15 for the monopoly) - in which case the entire trip from Poipet to Siem Reap could take less than 3.5 hours on an good day. The transport monopoly in Poipet will not allow more than four tourists in one of these cars, although they often carry 10 or more Khmers at a time.
If US$60 is too much, you can take the official bus for US$10/person. The bus leaves when full - and only then, even if it takes a few hours - and can take about 15 people, with all the bags on the back seat. Extra people will be squeezed onto the back seat if necessary, which might not be so comfortable. Two fold down seats in the centre aisle are also not so comfortable. The trip is advertised as taking 3-5 hours, but in reality it takes at least 6 hours when the road is not too bad. An enforced stop after 2 hours at a restaurant can add to the time of the trip, depending on how long the driver wants to stay. There is the possibility of additional delays (e.g. "mechanical faults") and these are almost certainly due to the same reasons as the Khao San scam-bus: getting you to Siem Reap late, tired and ready to take whatever guesthouse you're delivered to.
If even this is too much, you can try to hop on the back of a pick-up truck for a fraction of the price, but these are now hard to arrange from Poipet, due to the travel monopoly operating there. Also, the ride is a lot more uncomfortable, takes longer and may require a change of vehicle at Sisophon.
Alternatively, you could join the backpacking masses and pay a couple hundred baht for an uncomfortable bus ride directly from Khao San Road all the way to Siem Reap; any travel agent in Bangkok will be happy to sell you a ticket. Buses leave Khao San Road around 8am and arrive in Siem Reap between 5pm and 3am. How long it takes exactly does not really depend on road conditions, but on the mood of the driver. Because he can "sell" you to a guesthouse in Siem Reap he will try to arrive there as late as possible, because if you are tired and afraid of walking around in Siem Reap late at night, his chances increase that you will stay at the guesthouse of his choice. (There is no obligation to stay, regardless of what the guesthouse owners tell you.) Even if you start in Bangkok on a big aircon bus, you will almost certainly find yourself in the back of a pickup or stuffed minibus for the Cambodian part of the journey. For the return trip, expect to pay around US$11.
If you arrive in Poipet the Khao San Road buses, you'll be swarmed by offers of extra help and assurances that you're better off paying 1000 baht (US$30) or even more for the visa - which should cost US$20. Stand your ground - the bus won't leave without you, because the driver wants the guesthouse commission you represent.
 From Phnom Penh
There are several bus companies that you can take to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The most popular bus companies with tourists include Capitol Transport, GST, and Mekong Express. Each bus company leaves from a different location, although there are many located around the Central Market. Nearly all of the bus companies have buses leaving at 7:30am and 12:30pm, and the trip costs US$10. Expect to get to Siem Reap in 5-7 hours. In contrast to the Siem Reap-Poipet road, the entire road is paved, making for a much more comfortable ride. If you're driving yourself, watch out for the make-shift patrol pertol stations next to the road, selling petrol in old 2 litre Coke bottles. Much cheaper than the real thing, but who knows what the quality is...
 By boat
Fast, Soviet style Hydrofoils also make the journey from Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap lake. Asking price for a "foreigner" ticket is typically US$20-25, US$15 is a good price to pay. There are also services between Siem Reap and Battambang (asking price US$15, pay US$10).
These can be fantastic trips which give travellers the opportunity to view life on the lake, floating houses, fishermen going about their work, and to get a sun tan if you choose to sit on the roof of the boat. However if you travel on a windy day and you have not kept waterproofs and sunscreen out of your luggage you could be in trouble. These journeys take anywhere from five to eight hours and without waterproofs and sunscreen you will become incredibly cold and will be burned by the sun at the same time. As the boat is generally packed with travellers, those on the roof will have to stay up there, and once your bags are in the hold, they stay there.
If you are planning a week long trip in Siem Reap, the boat journey is fine, but if you are only planning two to three days, I would advise taking the bus. If you are specifically taking the boat to see the floating village, don't. The floating village is at the very end of the boat journey. You could ride the bus from Phnom Penh, get a guest house, take a tuk-tuk to the port, tour the floating village, and be back in Siem Reap before your friends arrive from Phnom Penh by boat.
A word of caution: If you find yourself taking the boat/bus and person asks for your name to have his friend pick you up, he is in actuality selling your name to a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. This is a fairly convenient way to get from the port to Siem Reap, just be prepared for an extremely hard sell to one of his select guest houses, restaurants, etc. If you just "roll with it" he will take you to a guest house and you will quoted US$10 for a normally priced US$6-8 room. Since the tuk-tuk driver has now pinned you for a "sucker", he will try to sell you on his services to the temples for about US$20-25 a day. Be firm, and negotiate, they will bend towards the market rate. You'll never really be ripped off, but keep in mind that if you are staying for longer than four days, that tuk-tuk surplus would be much better served through a charitable donation.
 Get around
 On foot
Most of the sights in Siem Reap can be seen on foot. For the foot-sore and sun-weary, you'll have plenty of offers from locals on motorbikes. Only the longest rides should be more than US$1 though prices go up at night. Simply agree a price and hop on the back.
 By bicycle
Many guesthouses provide bicycles free for "round town" use, or US$1/day (single speed) and from US$2/day (with gears). It's also a good way to see Angkor on your own - the terrain is flat and most roads are decent - but leave early to avoid the mid-day heat.
 By motorbike
You can hire a motodop (motorbike taxi with driver) for a full day for US$8-10 or so. Some motodops may be able to provide you with a helmet if you request one in advance.
The rental of motorbikes to tourists in Siem Reap is prohibited. However, foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (e.g. Phnom Penh).
 By tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuk drivers can be hired for US$10-15/day to take you wherever you like, they will arrange meeting places with you or wait where you tell them to. They are a great way of see the surrounds without the barrier of a car window! A word of advice, pay them for their services after everything you have arranged is completed. For example, if you arrange for a later trip to the airport and pay them, chances are that you will have to find another ride.
 By car
Guesthouses can usually arrange a driver and car for you; this works out at about US$20-25 per day and is a good way to visit the temples if time is short. Ask for Mith Bundy (Tel: 012 942 561) for a very friendly driver with basic (but workable) English skills.
An additional and very convenient way to get around the area, and also get to and from the airport, is to use an 'official taxi', which are available at the airport for the fee of US$7 to the city and payable to the counter at the airport. Whilst in the taxi you will be offered the services of the car and the driver for US$25/day, which is very good value if you want to visit several temples in one day. They also have the added luxury of air conditioning, which you will be craving after walking around temples for a couple of hours The US$25/day is payable directly to the driver, who will speak English, have had training, will have a proper driving license and also have knowledge of the temples and surrounding area. The Tourist Transport Association [4] also have an office just behind the tourist information office in Siem Reap, which you can contact if you have any questions or queries. All other services and prices are listed on the back of the receipt you receive when you pay the US$5 at the airport for the trip into town.
 By rickshaw
Unlike Phnom Penh, bicycle rickshaws are almost non-existent.
 See
The reason most people come to Siem Reap is the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is thoroughly covered on its own page. The town is worth strolling about for itself though and boasts quite a number of beautiful modern Buddhist temples.
Landmine Museum, [5], 6 km south of Banteay Srey (31 km from Siem Reap). This tiny museum was set up by local deminer Aki Ra to educate locals and tourists about the dangers of land mines. Piles of defused mines and UXO lie around the site and the guides are mostly teenagers who were orphaned or injured by mines, many of whom live on site. A very worthwhile trip that brings home the scale of the problem and shows you a slice of "real" Cambodia. US$1 entry, and donations very welcome — everything will be used to provide support for land mine relief initiatives, education and victim assistance. NB: The museum moved in 2007, so make sure your motodop doesn't try to take you to the old location in a village near Angkor Wat.
A short distance outside of the city center, there is a small bone stupa to mark the Khmer Rouge killing fields that were near Siem Reap. There is no cost to enter, but donations are requested, as the temple Wat Thmei that hosts the memorial is under expansion. For donations, use only the donation boxes in the temple altars or at the bone stupa. There are some cheaters standing at the temple entrance or on the graves on the right side, who will welcome you. After a short introduction they will ask you to give them directly donations/tips for their school in the temple. In fact they are not from the school and are trying to cheat on tourists.
An alternative trip when you are feeling 'templed out' is to visit the Tonle Sap lake a few miles from town and take a boat trip past the floating villages. The fast hydrofoil to Phnom Penh also passes this way.
The silk worm farm is worth the hike. Again, ask any tuk-tuk driver.
Kampong Phluck, off the Highway to Phnom Penh, is only reachable by motorbike and then boat, and is a much more authentic 'floating village experience' than the one close to the Tonlé Sap-ferry harbour. Enquire at your local hotel for a day trip to this fascinating village on stilts. This day trip should cost around US$30 and it takes about 2 hours to reach the village, depending on the road conditions and water level.
 Do
Apsara Theatre, tel. +855-63-963-363. [6]. The only air-con theater in town presents various traditional popular and classical dances and serves a set of local specialties. Booking recommended.
Army Shooting Range (near Banteay Srei and Kbeal Span) - an "alternative" solution to temple fatigue, with armament and explosives availability apparently only limited by how much you're willing to spend. Even a short round is pretty expensive (US$30 minimum, prices vary based on supply), but listening to the soldiers-turned-used car salesmen put the hard sell on a new machine gun is almost worth the trip. Grenades are sometimes offered for US$30 and this is a true game of Russian roulette - fancy pulling the pin of a 30+ year old grenade and possibly getting the faulty one? Make sure that whoever is supervising you is also willing to stand next to you!
Hidden Cambodia Dirt Bike Tours, tel. + 855 (0)12 934 412 or (0)12 655 201, [7]. Motorbike and 4x4 tours.
 Buy
As usual in Cambodia, dollars and even Thai baht are preferred over riel for all purchases except the very smallest. There are a number of large, flashy souvenir shops around town, complete with temple-style decorations and a surplus of staff, which happily charge 2-5x the going price elsewhere in town and are best avoided.
Despite what you may be told at the Thai border, international ATMs in Siem Reap are plentiful, and banks can do cash advances from credit cards.
Angkor Market, Sivatha Blvd. Siem Reap's closest thing to a supermarket, offering a good range of food, snacks, alcohol and even some souvenirs. Clearly marked, non-negotiable but reasonable prices.
Psar Chas (Old Market), to the south of town. Sells a reasonably attractive collection of artifacts and tourist junk. Please don't buy anything purporting to be antique; it probably isn't, but it's stolen if it is.
Central Market, at the corner of Sivatha Blvd and Achamean Street. Offers an eclectic collection of clothes and trinkets for good prices. Don't forget to bargain down the price. Most stalls carry the same selection so you can shop around and find the cheapest price. Many of the goods here cannot be found in Thailand.
 Eat
There are many hundreds of restaurants in Siem Reap, and you will have no trouble finding something which suits your tastes and your budget. If you don't want to go out, most guesthouses have a basic restaurant attached, and can quickly whip up a decent fried rice.
For something a bit more special, head into town. There are whole streets catering for the travellers tastes, with pizzas, hamburgers, or tasty westernised offerings such as Amok and 'Khmer curry'. Many of the most authentic Karaoke-style restaurants are hidden in the backstreets, though your moto or tuk-tuk driver will no doubt know where to take you. He will be happy to wait (or join you) if you are really out in the boonies.
 Budget
The street directly west of Pub Street is lined with lots of stalls offering simple yet filling meals for about a dollar apiece, though with not much more than a choice between several types of fried rice and fried noodles. The hawkers seem to have two menus with different prices and simply hesitating in front of a stall and tends to earn a like-it-or-get-your-money-back offer. The food seems to be fairly clean. The markets also offer local Khmer fare, but hygiene can be dubious.
Angkor Famous on the small alley parallel to pub street offers tasty Thai and Cambodian fare at reasonable prices. Two-for-one beer specials and friendly staff.
Chiang Mai and Chivat Thai 2 on Wat Bo Rd offer basic Thai fare. Lunch sets start at US$1.50, dinner costs a bit more.
 Mid-range
Pub Street is best known as a watering hole, but it has also many nice restaurants that won't break the bank. Nearby you'll also find a whole range of pizzerias, including the original Happy Herbs Pizza and newcomer "ecstatic pizza", which depending on how the police are feeling that day either may or may not sell you cannabis-laced "happy" pizza. Don't try the "extra happy" unless you know what you're doing, and note that they will not sell you any herb without the pizza.
Blue Pumpkin, Pub Street. Upscale, clean, air conditioned, wifi connection.
Kama Sutra, Pub Street (opposite D's book shop). Authentic, yet slightly upmarket Indian food. US$7.
Khmer Family (formerly The Temple). Tasty and cheap local grub, although it's rather toned down for the foreign palate and often tastes like Thai food without the chillis. Pleasant, breezy second-floor balcony. Mains US$2-4.
Khmer Kitchen, located in the alley behind bar street. Good value and very popular.
Red Piano, Pub St. It has a well-known "Tomb Raider" cocktail and a good selection of Khmer as well as international dishes for US$3-5.
Estatic Pizza, Opposite Province Hospital. Its "Estatic" pizza is not only delicious, but offers a great launch pad for the day's explorations. US$4-7
Viroth's Restaurant, Ph Wat Bo. Mains 2000-6000 KHR. Very good Khmer restaurant, always quite full with foreigners (be prepared to book or to wait to get yourself a table). A very extensive menu with Vegetarian options wherever possible.
Viva, Pub St. Siem Reap's first and only Mexican restaurant, with a menu containing just about everything you'd expect in your local TexMex restaurant. Good food, reasonable prices.
There are a few good options elsewhere in town. The numerous Karaoke restaurants offer a real authentic experience of modern Khmer dining. Try to sit far from the speakers, and prepare for mozzies. There is often no english menu, but one of the staff will no doubt be happy to help you order. Try phnom pleurng, a delicious cook-it-yourself beef barbecue. Another sensational dish, which is only available at these types of restaurants, is the trei bung gancheyt - a whole fish bubbling in a tasty peanuty sauce with green veggies.
Café Moi Moi, Angkor Rd (to the left, after Meridien, before ticket booth). An unpretentious alfresco restaurant with a delightful little garden, serving up Khmer dishes, some traditional, some with a Japanese twist. Their version of amok, the classic dish of fish stewed in coconut milk, is cheap and tasty (US$3.50), while more adventurous diners can opt for minced pork mixed with the pungent Cambodian fish sauce prahok (US$3) and served with sliced raw onion to ease the pain. Nibble some pickles and sweet peanuts, try their famous pumpkin pudding for dessert and wash it all down with a large beer.
Samapheap is a large and popular restaurant pleasantly located on the eastern riverbank a short hop down from Route 6, catering to both Khmers and tour groups. The menu is extensive, service is quick, prices are reasonable (most mains US$2-5) and the food is good.
 Drink
Most of Siem Reap's watering holes are concentrated in a few lanes north of Psar Chas (the old market), mainly on a street known appropiately as "Bar Street" or "Pub Street". Drinks usually US$2 and up, although most if not all bars have happy hours before 8 PM and draft Angkor often goes for as little as US$.50.
Angkor What?, Pub Street. The pub that started it all, still going strong after ten years and covered in years of scribbled notes from travellers to prove it.
FCC Angkor, (west river bank next to post office), [8]. Opened in October 2002, this is far and away Siem Reap's hippest place for a bite and a drink. A branch of the legendary Phnom Penh Foreign Correspondents' Club, the FCC offers food (~US$5) and drink (~US$3) in a marvelous blend of modern style and colonial architecture... if at a fairly steep price, at least by Cambodian standards.
Laundry Bar A popular French-owned expat hangout with a sophisticated setting and chilled atmosphere, this is definitely a late-night bar. It features a huge selection of music albums for sale at US$5 for 7 albums (on one MP3 disk). Free pool table.
Le Tigre du Papier, Pub Street. Free movies most evenings, a huge selection of used books upstairs and cheap shots of the aniseed liquor pastis. French-run.
Linga Bar, the only officially gay-friendly bar in the village that attracts gay and straights alike. In the words of the owner, your grandmother would feel comfortable here. Great drinks opposite the markets, parallel to the "bar" street.
Martini, a lively Khmer nightclub with great local music, some shows, and lots of activity. No entry charge, a token parking charge for bikes, and a flat rate of US$2 a beer.
Soup Dragon, Pub Street. A restaurant/bar on one of the corners of the "bar" street in the old part of town. Great sunset vista from their rooftop with the added bonus being it is the same time as happy hour - two for one cocktails, drinks range from US$2-4. The food is mostly Vietnamese, good and cheap plus they make their own ice cream.
Temple Club, Pub Street. A popular western-orienated (But Khmer owned) nightclub featuring Angkorian decor, three free pool tables, and a rocking dance floor, it's not uncommon for this place to be open until sunrise. Inexpensive drinks
Warehouse/The Art House. Two bars for the price of one: downstairs has an appropriately warehouse-y feel with lots of red brick and a "Service Entrance", while upstairs is a clean white art gallery that also happens to serve drinks. Free draft beer offered at various times on Friday, though courtesy dictates you have a drink or two before or afterwards or dine from the food menu.
 Sleep
Accommodation ranges from towering air-conditioned hotels by the airport (mostly for get-in-get-out all-inclusive tours) to local rooms-for-rent and a range of modest guesthouses in town, particular on and around Wat Bo road.
If you arrive with a tour bus or van you will be taken to a "suggested" guesthouse. Usually these are not too bad and you'll probably be too tired to argue.
If you arrive by plane, you may wish to contact a guest house in advance. They will then usually arrange for free transportation to their place. Otherwise just take a motorbike (US$1) or a taxi (US$2) to town. If you don't know any place to go to, they will ask for your budget and will then 'suggest' one.
 Budget
Earthwalkers, Sala Kanseng Village, 1.5km from city centre just off Highway 6, tel. + 855 (0) 12 967 901, [9]. Comfortable high quality budget rooms with fan or air-con and own bathroom from US$4-17.
Family Guest House, No. 019 Mondoul 2, Svay Dangkum, tel. +855 (0)12 841 864. Newly built concrete building with air-con and fan only rooms, TV and hot water available. Restaurant with good Khmer and Western food. From US$6 (high season).
Garden Village Guesthouse, 434 Group 4, Steng Thmey Village, Svaydangkum Commune, tel: 855 12 217 373, gardenvillage@asia.com, rooms from US$6, free Internet (very slow and always occupied), rooftop bar and restaurant. Not too clean and fairly noisy (prepare to sleep through some bad and loud music all night), the cheaper rooms are made from bamboo mats and thus quite cool and airy. Rather mass-scale hotel (some 80 rooms) than a guesthouse, staff not very friendly. Food for $2 and good location though.
Golden Temple Villa, (855) 12943459 (mailto:temple_angkor@hotmail.com), [10]. Nice guesthouse, friendly staff, free internet access.
Prince Mekong, Thapul Village, House 405, +855 (0) 12 437 972 (in the Northern part of town, quite close to the centre -- especially when using the free provided bike). http://www.princemekong.com/prices.htm], Internet booking available (although prices seems to be lower when going directly). From 6 USD a triple-bed room, with an included breakfast service starting at 0500hrs, free laundry, and bicycles included in the price tag. The owner is a sympathetic well-travelled German-Swiss with lots of good advice on how to visit the Angkor sites with the smallest crowds possible. Not in the guide books yet, but try booking a day in advance to be sure to get a room.
Jasmine, Moon rise and Hello guesthouses. there are many good and cheap ($5)guesthouses in the north Taphul/highway No.6 area - nice houses and friendly staff, usually free transport to the market area until midnight.
Home Sweet Home Guesthouse, No. 0111 Wat Bo, tel. 063 760 279, [11]. Rooms with fan and shower inside US$8, shared shower US$5.
LyLy Guest House, No. 547, Svay Dangkum, tel. 012705959, 012705959@mobitel.com.kh is run by a friendly French and English speaking family. Rooms US$3-6.
Phnom Bok Hotel, 0626 Road N°6, +855 (0) 12 821 183 (mailto:htb@free.fr), [12]. Siem Reap's cheapest hotel with swimming pool. Fan or air-con rooms with bathroom and hot shower. Wi-Fi Internet available. From US$10 with breakfast..
Queen House Villa, No. 0209 Wat Damnak Street, tel. 011221838, [13]. Big clean rooms with fan, hot water, air-con, from US$6. Free breakfast and bicycles. Conveniently located with just 2 minutes to walk to the Old Market and 3 minutes to the Pub-Street. The owner Michael is an Austrian and knows very good English and is very helpful. Although don't go for his recommended guides.
Rosy Guesthouse, Slar Kram Village, tel. 012 181 40 11, 012 415 293. [14]reservations@rosyguesthouse.com. Rooms with fan, air-con, satellite TV, and private bathroom with hot shower from US$12.
Two Dragons Guesthouse, Wat Bo, [15]. Clean rooms with air-con, hot water, cable TV, from US$7.
 Mid-range
Auberge Mont Royal d'Angkor, [16] Just off the main strip, this charming little hotel has brilliant staff, great service, beautiful air-con rooms, new pool and spa and a good restaurant. They will pick you up at the airport and will arrange day-trips, guides and anything you might need while in Siem Reap. US$25-50 per room. Wireless internet access US$2.
Golden Banana B&B, [17]. 5 minutes walk from market/bar area, quiet garden setting, swimming pool, gay-friendly. Free-standing a/c rooms with hot shower. Breakfast included, Khmer style lunch/dinner. Transport and temple guides can be arranged. US$23/25/28 for single/double/twin. Recently opened (08/2006) Golden Banana Boutique Hotel, [18]. Same owner, same location, better rooms. US$45/50/55 for single/double/twin.
Mandalay Inn (a few blocks from the Old Market), [19]. Has spacious, clean and comfortable air-con rooms with hot shower and cable TV.
Molly Malone's, [20]. Irish Bar and Restaurant has a number of air conditioned rooms, starting from US$20. Family-sized rooms available. Friendly staff and good food, located in the center of town.
Mom's Guesthouse, #0099, Phom Wat Bo, [21]. One of the longer-running guesthouses in Siem Reap, now in a new if somewhat characterless building. Mom will be happy to make all sorts of travel and transport arrangements. Rates US$15/20/30 for air-con singles/doubles/triples with breakfast, hot water and airport transfers included.
Preah Khan Hotel, National Road No.6 (Airport Road). Discover the perfect balance between modernity and enduring culture. Rates starts at $55.00+.
 Contact
Internet cafés abound in Siem Reap, prices being US$.75-1.50 per hour. Speed of connection, and speed of PC, very much depends from place to place.
E-Café, on Sivatha St north of Psar Chas, [30]. A cut above the rest in connection and service quality, as well as price at US$1.50/hour.
Figo's cafe's food is a bit more expensive, but offers free wireless internet to its customers.
 Stay safe
Generally the Siem Reap area and the temples of Angkor are relatively safe, however the usual cautions still apply as with any town or city. Whilst visiting the temples, however, beware of off duty police officers, who are in uniform, that start walking beside you and start showing you around the temples. At this point either say that you would like to see the temples yourself, or agree on a price at the start. Several people have been requested for a fee of over US$10 at the end of the temple tour and you are not going to argue with a member of the police force! The official wage for a police office is very low, so they can easily double their salary by being tourist guides.
Siem Reap and the Angkor temples have long since been thoroughly demined.
 Health
As Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals or medication are scarce, especially in rural areas.
Care / Treatment
However, in Siem Reap, the Royal Angkor International Hospital owned by the Bangkok Hospital Group has opened and caters specifically to tourists. The care is not cheap, but it is of a very high standard. There is a fully stocked pharmacy, General Surgeon, Orthopedic Surgeon, Pediatrician, etc. Fractures, intestinal problems, medicines, etc. shouldn't be a problem.
For more serious ailments it is very advisable to get to Bangkok, or to Saigon as more specialists are available and repatriation to your own country is easier. Make sure that you have travel insurance which covers flying you to a city where you can be treated.
Local hospitals and clinics in Siem Reap (and in the rest of Cambodia) can be in very poor condition and badly equipped and medicines are often past their sell-by date or made up of local mixtures of flour and sugar.
In local clinics, avoid getting an infusion to treat dehydration, as there is a risk of septicemia which is caused by bacteria entering their blood during infusions. The same goes for blood transfusions.
Precautions
Although no health certificates or vaccinations are required by visitors to Cambodia, it is recommended that you get vaccinations against tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, a polio booster and especially gamma globulin shots (against hepatitis A). In addition to this, you should take a course of malaria tablets, as well as a mosquito net. Take a medical kit including panadol, antihistamines, antibiotics, kaolin, oral rehydration solution (ORS), calamine lotion, bandages and band-aids, scissors, DEET insect repellent, etc.
The most common ailment for travelers is diarrhea, which can deteriorate into dysentery, resulting in dehydration. Avoid untreated water, ice made from untreated water and any raw fruit or vegetables that may have been washed in untreated water. Basically, the local water supply is not drinkable, so avoid. Bottled water is available everywhere and is very cheap and you should try to drink 3 liters a day if possible. Take water purification tablets with you or iodine crystals to sterilize water if you plan to go more rural areas.
If you do get severe diarrhea and become badly dehydrated, use an oral rehydration solution to help you overcome it as well as plenty bottled mineral water. However, if you have a lot of blood or mucus in your stools get to a doctor as you probably have dysentery and will need antibiotics.
In the hottest months, March and April, the temperature can rise to 35 degrees Celsius, so use sunscreen and always wear a hat to avoid sunstroke.
Consult your doctor a few weeks before you leave to get the most up to date advice on which inoculations you need and what to take with you.
Hospitals
Royal Angkor International Hospital, National Route 6, Phum Kasekam, Khum Sra Ngea, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Tel: +855 63 761 888. Website
 Get out
If you haven't seen enough temples yet, the ancient capital of Koh Ker and the commanding hilltop ruins of Preah Vihear next to the Thai border might be worth a trip.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Angkor Archaeological Park, located in northern Cambodia, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia.
 Understand
Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century CE. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
Angkor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 - the same year it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
Angkor itself has no accommodations and few facilities; the nearby town of Siem Reap is the tourist hub for the area.
 Symbolism
The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and topped by precisely five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The linga (phallus), representing the god Shiva, was also critical and while the lingas themselves have largely gone, linga stands (carved, table-like blocks of stone) can be found in many if not most rooms in the temples. There was also a political element to it all: most kings wanted to build their own state temples to symbolize their kingdom and their rule.
While early Angkor temples were built as Hindu temples, Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism c. 1200 and embarked on a prodigious building spree, building the new capital city of Angkor Thom including Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and many more as Buddhist structures. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and embarked on an equally massive spree of destruction, systematically defacing Buddhist images and even crudely altering some to be Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost out to Buddhism again, but the (few) Buddha images in the temples today are later Theraveda additions.
One element that continues to mystify archeaologists is the baray, or water reservoir, built in a grand scale around Angkor: for example, the West Baray is a mind-boggling 8 km by 2.3 km in size. While it has long been assumed that they were used for irrigation, some historians argue that their primary function was political or religious. Today, the moat around Angkor and the West Baray still contains water, but the rest have dried up.
 Motifs
As you tour the temples, you will see certain mythical figures and other motifs cropping up repeatedly.
Apsara. Celestial nymphs, always bare-breasted and usually dancing, representing an ideal of female beauty.
Kala. Monstrous face without a lower jaw, often found on temple gateways, meant to guard against evil.
Naga. Many-headed mythical serpent. The most famous nagas in Angkor can be found on the guardrails of each entrance to Angkor Thom.
Singha. Stylized lions, often guardians to temples. The beast is not native to Cambodia, and this shows in the depictions.
 Climate
Angkor is hot and sticky throughout the year, but the peak season is November to February, when the weather is dry and temperatures are coolest (25-30°C). The flip side is that the temples get packed, especially around Christmas/New Year's, and hotel rates are at their highest. March to May is brutally hot, with temperatures reaching 40°C. June to October is the rainy season, and outlying temples and the roads leading to them can turn into quagmires of mud. However, this is also when the temples are at their quietest, and it's still often possible to do a good half-day round of sightseeing before the rains start in the afternoon.
 Get in
Angkor is located about 20 minutes to the north, by car or motorbike, from central Siem Reap. See the Siem Reap article for details on getting there.
 Get around
Tour buses visit only the three or four most accessible sites. The guided, air-conditioned comfort may not make up for the hassle of crowds and lack of options. The cost is about US$30-$70/day including driver.
Cars with drivers can be hired for single or multiple days. Though the drivers are not expert guides, they can help you explore the ruins. The charge varies from US$20-US$25 per day. It is customary for the drivers to ask for US$5-US$10 for trips to further temples such as Bantaey Srei, and more for remote sites like Beng Melea. Don't be alarmed if you realize that your car does not have a number plate. None of them seem to!
Motorbikes (with drivers) can be arranged through any guesthouse for about US$6-$8/day. Again, drivers might ask for more to visit remote ruins. Some drivers can speak a bit of English, and can give you information about Angkor and Cambodian life. Drivers are required to be licensed and must wear their gray numbered vest while traveling within the confines of the Angkor park. The rental of motorbikes without a driver to foreigners in Siem Reap is prohibited; however foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (eg Phnom Penh).
Tuk tuks can be arranged through guesthouses, offering space for one or two travelers. Figure on US$10-12 for the main temples, and more for outlying temples. Like the motorbike drivers, they must be licensed, may speak some English, and must wear gray numbered vests while traveling within the park.
Bicycles are another option, though you will spend more time getting from place to place and will have a limited range. They are probably best for visitors planning on returning for several days. Bring sun screen, a good hat, lot of water and a scarf to keep the sun off your neck. The rental is around US$2-$3 per day, and quality does vary.
Horse carriages and even elephants are also available within the park, but only from specific points. For example, elephants travel the route between Bayon and the nearest gate of Angkor Thom.
Electric cars will take you to certain areas for a round-trip price of only $2. They can be found in front of Angkor Wat and the Terrace of the Elephants.
 See
Passes are required to enter the Angkor area. They are on sale at the front gate for 1 (US$20), 3 (US$40), or 7 (US$60) days, which must be used consecutively. (Cambodians can enter for free — you shouldn't need to buy a pass for your guide or your driver.) If you buy a pass on the evening before the first day of the pass, you can enter the park after 5PM to view the sunset, after which the park closes. The passes are non-transferable and include a photograph of the owner. The photograph is taken at the counter. Note that regular checks for the pass are performed at almost all sites within the park, so carry your pass with you at all times, and be certain to buy the passes only from the official Apsara Authority counters, not from other vendors and definitely not second-hand.
Guides can be hired for about US$20 a day and are available for most major languages. Hiring a guide for at least the first day can help you get orientated to the temples and are particularly useful for finding and explaining the bas-reliefs, which can otherwise be rather overwhelming and/or difficult to understand.
Be sure and get to the temples early — you can enter the park from 5 AM, and the temples themselves open at sunrise. There are fewer visitors early in the morning, and the sun isn't at full force. Arriving at the temples at 8 AM instead of 9 AM can make all the difference in staying one step ahead of the tour bus contingents.
The temples can broadly be categorized into four groups:
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the grandest temple of all and the ancient capital next to it
Little Circuit (Le Petit Circuit), taking in major sites to the east of Angkor Thom
Big Circuit (Le Grand Circuit), taking in major sites north and further out east
Roluos group, 15 km east from Siem Reap along National Highway 6
Outlying temples, located over 20 km for Angkor Wat
You can, of course, mix and match freely, but as distances are fairly long, it makes sense to plan ahead and pick sites connected by road. Most car, tuk-tuk or moto drivers will have an itinerary ready if you don't have one in mind, and their expertise may come in handy for arriving at sites a step ahead of the big tour groups.
 Angkor Wat
 History
Located six kilometers north of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is one of the largest of Khmer monuments. Built around the first half of 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple's balance, composition and beauty makes it one of the finest monuments in the world.
Though 'Wat' is the Khmer (Cambodian) word for temple, the westward orientation of the structure is atypical of temples. Scholars believe that the architecture and sculptures are that of a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped but it was also built as a mausoleum for the king after his death.
 How to explore
The size of the monuments makes it look overwhelming when one encounters it for the first time. The following is one of the suggested plan to explore Angkor Wat. Enter through the west entrance. When you reach the entry tower, walk to the right to get a glimpse of all the five towering gopuras.
Passing the tower and the libraries on both sides of the walkway, climb down the steps towards the left side and get to the water basin. You can catch a glimpse of the temple and its reflection in the water. Go past the basin and reach the left end of the temple.
You would by now have reached the starting point of the famous bas reliefs depicting scenes from various mythological stories and historic events. Walking from left to right you will come across scenes from battle of Ramayana, battle of Mahabharata, army of Suryavarman II, scenes from judgement by Yama (the supreme judge), churning of ocean by demons and gods to get Amrita — the nectar of immortality, Vishnu's victory over demons, victory of Krishna over Bana and other scenes of battle between gods and demons.
Climb the steps to reach the second tier. One can reach the third tier and the central courtyard within by climbing the steps oriented towards any of the four cardinal points. However, it is suggested that the steps on the south (right) be taken, as these have now been fitted with a handrail — particularly useful when descending.
 When to visit
The sight of the grand monument towering over the landscape is breath-taking at any time of day. However, to maximise the effect it is suggested that the first trip to Angkor Wat be made in optimal lighting conditions, usually around 1~2 PM. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a also great sight to witness. Hence most of the tourists tend to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, then explore other ruins in the morning and then return to Angkor Wat later in the afternoon. The sun rises behind Angkor Wat and the best colors are seen just before the sun climbs into view. As the position of the sun as it rises varies according to the time of year, do position yourself accordingly. For example, in November-December time when you are facing Angkor Wat, the sun rises on your right hand side. Hence grab a place to the extreme left of the entry tower to see the sunrise. Sunset at Angkor Wat is best viewed either on the top tier or outside the main temple structure.
 Bayon
 History
Built in the latter part of the 12th century by King Suryavarman VII, Bayon is one of the most widely recognised temples in Siem Reap because of the giant stone faces that adorn the towers of Bayon. There are 54 towers of four faces each, totaling 216 faces. There is still a debate as to who is being depicted in the faces. It could be Avalokiteshvara, Mahayana Buddhism's compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.
 How to explore
Bayon's plan can be divided into three levels — the first two are bas-reliefs and the uppermost consists of the central sanctuary. The outer gallery depicts scenes from everyday life and historical events, while the second inner gallery depicts mythical figures and stories. In total, there are more than 1km of bas-reliefs to be viewed in the Bayon.
Enter Bayon from the east. The outer gallery comes into view first. The second gallery is on the next higher level. The third level is where you will encounter many of the famous faces (and tourists). The fact that these stones are exposed to direct light makes it easy to shoot pictures throughout the day, though mid-day sun eliminates shadows. You will find fewer tourists too during this time of day. Elephants are also available to take you from the gate into Bayon for $10 per person (seats are limited and often already pre-booked by the tour groups, but still worth checking out!)
 When to visit
The surrounding and the tall towers makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for study and photography near sunrise and sunset. Hence, it is best to visit Bayon when there is plenty of light. 10 AM in the morning to around 4 PM in the evening is the stretch most people prefer.
 Baphuon
Located to the northwest of the Bayon, the Baphuon is supposed to represent Mount Meru (sacred to Hinduism), and was one of the largest and grandest structures in Angkor. Built into the western face of the Baphuon is a giant reclining Buddha, added in the 15th century after the region converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.
Archaeologists had dismantled the Baphuon to perform renovation when they were interrupted by the civil war; the records for piecing the temple back together were subsequently lost or destroyed. Today it is undergoing painstaking reconstruction work, so visitors can only walk across the long terrace leading up to the main structure and around the outside base. Completion is estimated for 2010.
 Other Angkor Thom
The Bayon and Baphuon temples form only part of what was formerly the giant city of Angkor Thom, once thought to hold a population of one million.
In addition to the Bayon and Baphuon temples, the ancient city of Angkor Thom holds a number of other sites of interest:
  • The Elephant Terrace.
  • The Terrace of the Leper King.
  • Five entrance gates, one at each ordinal compass point and the Victory Gate in the east wall. Each of the gates is topped by the face of Avalokitesvara.
  • Phnom Bakheng. The first temple-mountain constructed in Angkor, with a commanding hilltop location. Extremely popular (and crowded) spot for sunsets: allow half an hour for the sweaty hike to the top, and leave early or bring a flashlight for the way back. The final climb to the top of the temple is steep and dangerous at dark. Elephants will carry you to the hilltop for $15 per person, but you still have to climb the temple stairs on your own. Note that the sun does not set over Angkor if seen from here, and any visible temples are in fact quite far away. An elephant ride back down the hill will cost $10.
 Little Circuit
In clockwise order, exiting Angkor Thom by the Victory Gate:
Ta Keo. An incomplete, largely undecorated temple built by Jayavarman V. The stairs at the east side of the monument are least steep and the easiest way to reach the top level.
Ta Prohm. Built during the time of king Jayavarman VII and is best known as the temple where trees have been left intertwined with the stonework, much as it was uncovered from the jungle. It might be considered in a state of disrepair but there is a strange beauty in the marvelous strangler fig trees which provide a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork. This is one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat and the Bayon because of the beautiful combinations of wood and stone. Black and white film photographers especially love this site because of this and most of the stunning postcard shots of Angkor's trees come from here; pop culture fans, on the other hand, may recognize a few scenes from Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider. While the temple is very popular, most visitors follow a central route and the sides of the complex can be surprisingly quiet. Note that large sections of the temple are unstable rubble and have been cordoned off, as they are in real danger of collapse.
Banteay Kdei. Sprawling monastic complex in the style of Ta Prohm. In poor shape, but slowly being restored.
 Big Circuit
In clockwise order, exiting Angkor Thom by the North Gate:
Preah Khan. Jayavarman VII's first capital, before the completion of Angkor Wat. Large and atmospheric, yet somewhat overshadowed by Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, this temple is partly in disrepair with strangler figs crawling up the walls, but has some excellent carvings and less visitors, and is well worth a visit. The temple is some 3 kilometers north of Angkor Thom.
Neak Pean.
Ta Som.
East Mebon. Located on what was an island in the now dry East Baray, this is a large, three-story temple-mountain crowned by five towers, like a miniature Angkor Wat. Originally built by Rajendravarman II in the 10th century, many structures are in poor shape, but the temple is best known for its massive (restored) elephant statues.
Pre Rup. A temple-mountain close to and quite similar in style to East Mebon, and constructed only a decade later. A favorite spot for viewing the sun set into the jungles and rice paddies of the Cambodian countryside.
 Roluos group
The ruins here are from the ancient capital of Hariharalaya, dating from the late 9th century and thus predating Angkor itself.
Bakong. A five-terraced pyramid in the mountain-temple style.
Lolei. An island temple constructed in a baray, now dry.
Preah Ko. The first temple to be built here, dating from the 9th century.
 Outlying temples
Banteay Srei, 25 km north of Angkor Wat. This red colored temple is well known for its intricate carvings, and is worth a half day trip on its own, since it is a bit further from Siem Reap than the main Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat areas. Car and motorcycle drivers will charge a bit extra ($10 USD) to take you to the temple.
Kbal Spean. After the man-made monuments of the temples, it can be nice to get back to nature for a while at Kbal Spean. Although it is the site of numerous carvings made into the live rock of the river bed and surrounding areas, this lies at the end of a 1.5km walk through some Cambodian rainforest. There is a small but attractive waterfall that drops to a picturesque pool, all surrounded by precariously perched boulders and creeping vines. Best combined with a trip out to Banteay Srei, as this is a further 5km or so along a rough road. Expect to pay a few extra dollars to drivers who take you this far.
Beng Mealea, 80 km east of Siem Reap. Along with Ta Phrom and others, this is a temple which has been left to nature, but unlike Ta Phrom it has not been cleared at all. The result is the vistor clambering over ruined walls (exactly the sort of thing you are asked not to do at other ruins!) and through windows to get access to areas where nature is running riot. Lots of trees growing out of walls, and creepers hanging over ruined buildings, and consequently great for some atmospheric photos. Much of the standard walk is along wooden decking for those who don't want to clamber. This can be taken in as part of a trip to the Roluos Group, or a long day trip with Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean, though this will entail about 5 hours travelling in total on some very rough roads. There is a $5 entry fee to Beng Mealea, but a free guide is provided.
Phnom Krom, 12 km southwest of Siem Reap. This hilltop temple was built at the end of the 9th century, during the reign of King Yasovarman. The gloomy atmosphere of the temple and the view over the Tonle Sap lake make the climb to the hill worth while. A visit to the site can be conveniently combined with a boat trip to the lake. Obviously, the Angkor passport is needed to enter the temple so do not forget to bring your passport along when heading to Tonle Sap.
 Eat
Despite a ban on development or commercial zoning, dozens of small noodle and snack shops have sprung up near the major attractions of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. You'll also find some local people selling fresh pineapples and mangoes (beautifully cut) for about $1 a piece.
The modern Angkor Cafe lies just outside Angkor Wat's main entrance, and also doubles as a crafts shop, with fine works from the Artisans d'Angkor shop, where they train locals in the arts. Their prices are on the high side for Cambodia but very reasonable for Western pockets (mainly $3-5) with excellent food, nice decor and air conditioning.
 Drink
Soft drinks are hawked by stalls in front of practically every temple. As you might expect, prices are inflated: $1 for a can of soft drink or a cold 1L plastic bottle of water is more or less standard, although you can bargain this down to half or less if you're pinching pennies.
 Buy
Souvenirs are also sold in front of all temples. Bargain, but not too hard: many souvenir sellers live within the park and, being banned from farming on their own land, have to resort to this to make a living. Please do not encourage children who pester tourists in the temples themselves to give money or buy postcards.
 Sleep
The area has seen a large increase of hotels and guest houses in 2003, with many new 3 to 4 star places opening up on the road between the airport and Siem Reap. See Siem Reap for hotels and hostels. Camping is not allowed.
 Respect
Some of Angkor's sites were originally built as Hindu temples, while some were built as Buddhist temples, and yet others were converted over the years. Today, most of Angkor's major temples house at least a few Buddha statues (nearly all added later) and draw a steady stream of monks and worshippers. You may be approached for donations, but you are under no obligation to pay unless you actually choose to accept incense sticks or other offerings.
Because these are still holy spaces for the Khmers (Cambodian people), it is best to follow the dress code of "long pants/skirt and covered shoulders." This is the dress code that the Khmers follow when visiting any temple or holy space. Most Khmers are non-confrontational so this rule is not strictly enforced, but wearing inappropriate clothing sends a message of disrespect. A good rule of thumb is "Would I wear this to my own house of worship?" If not, it may be poor etiquette to wear it to someone else's holy site. As an added benefit, long pants and covered shoulders provide better protection from the sun, insects, and brambles when walking around and between the sites.
 Stay healthy
Touring the temples is a hot and sweaty job, so bring sunblock and keep yourself well hydrated. Some of the temples, notably the uppermost level of Angkor Wat, require climbs up very steep staircases and are best avoided if you suffer from vertigo or are not fully confident of being able to keep your footing.
Malaria is endemic in the areas around the temples, and has resistance to some medications. As always, seek medical advice before you travel.
Don't feed or approach the monkeys who lurk around some sites: many are ill-tempered and will bite at the slightest provocation.
 Stay safe
By local regulation, motorcycle and tuk-tuk drivers must at all times wear a numbered vest when on the job, which goes a long way towards preventing hassles and scams. However, a disturbing number of rapes continue to happen, especially after dark and in the more secluded temples, so it's unadvisable for women to travel alone.
Vientiane
Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ Wieng Chan) is the capital of Laos.
 Understand
Compared to the hectic, bustling capitals in other Southeast Asia countries, Vientiane's deliciously relaxing atmosphere makes it feel like the small town it is. After you're done the round of temples, the best thing to do here is wander down to one of the riverside beer gardens, kick back with a cold Beerlao - the Lao national beer - and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
 History
Settled since at least 1000 AD, Vientiane became the capital of the kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Siamese, Vientiane sprung back in time to be again named the capital of the protectorate of Laos by the French, a position it kept after independence (1953) and after the communists took over in 1975. Today Vientiane is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 200,000 in the city itself and some 700,000 in Vientiane Prefecture.
 Orientation
Vientiane is stretched out on the north-eastern bank of a bend in the Mekong River. From the river bank inland, the main roads running parallel to the river are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Setthathirat and Thanon Samsenthai. The central district, Chanthabuli, contains most of Vientiane's government offices, hotels and restaurants. Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lane Xang, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for government offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai, the Victory Gate, towards Pha That Luang, the That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos.
 Get in
 By plane
Vientiane's Wattay Airport is 4 km west of the city. International services are quite limited, but this is slowly changing.
 International flights
There are direct flights to/from:
  • Bangkok Suvarnabhumi: Thai Airways two flights daily and Lao Airlines one.
  • Hanoi (Vietnam): Lao Airlines three times weekly and Vietnam Airlines daily.
  • Kunming (Yunnan, West China): China Eastern Airlines operate four and Lao Airlines three flights weekly. Lao Airlines and the Lao Consulate both have offices in the Camellia Hotel
Visas are available on arrival at the airport, and the fee is US$30 to 35 (depends on nationality). Until recently these were only for 14 days, however, 30 day visas are now being issued on arrival. There is a US$10 departure tax for international flights.
From Bangkok many visitors choose to fly into Udon Thani in Thailand instead, and cross the border by bus, as this domestic flight is considerably cheaper than a direct international flight to Vientiane. There is a direct shuttle from Udon Thani airport to the Thai/Lao border at Nong Khai (about 50km away), and there are also direct cross-border bus services from Udon Thani (the city, not the airport!) to Vientiane. This option (flight plus bus transfers and immigration clearance at 2 points) takes at least 2 hours longer than a direct Bangkok to Vientiane flight. Attention: Thai Airways flies from Don Muang, the old Bangkok airport, and Thai Air Asia from Suvarnabhumi, the new Bangkok airport, to Udon Thani.
 Domestic flights
Lao Airlines flies to five domestic destinations (three to five flights daily to Luang Prabang; once or twice daily to Pakse, four times per week to Houei Sai and Oudomxay, and six times per week to Xieng Khuang (winter timetable 2007/08).
Lao Air, the second Lao airline, operates two flights weekly each between Vientiane and Phongsali, Samneua and Sayaboury (Sainyabuli) (aircraft: Cessna).
 Transfer to the city
Many hotels offer a pickup service from the airport, or you can take a jumbo or taxi for US$6. (Rides to the airport should be cheaper.)
 By train
Plans to connect Vientiane to the Thai railway network remained just plans for a long time, so for now the railhead remains at Nong Khai, on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge. However, early 2007 work was begun on the construction of an extension across the bridge to the Lao side of the bridge (to be completed 2008 or 2009) - ultimately the line will be extended to Vientiane itself.
Until the rail connection with Laos is completed rail travellers must take a tuk-tuk from Nong Khai station to the Thai border post at the bridge, cross the bridge by shuttle bus to the Lao border post, and from there make their way to Vientiane (some 16km) by taxi, tuk-tuk or bus.
 By road
 From Thailand
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mittaphap) from Nong Khai, Thailand is the most common means of entry. The bridge cannot be crossed on foot or by bicycle, but there are frequent 20 baht shuttle buses just past Thai immigration. Bicycles can be carried on buses in the cargo compartment.
Direct buses to/from Nong Khai (30 baht) and Udon Thani (80 baht) arrive and depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal. These are cheap, comfortable, hassle-free and popular, so book ahead or arrive early. Note: these buses are not an option if you plan to obtain a Lao visa on arrival at the bridge - the bus will not wait long enough.
Lao visas are available on arrival (until recently, only 15 day, but as of July 2006, this has increased to 30 days) and the official fee is US$35 for most EU or English speaking nations (India is US$40, Afghanistan US$42; countries not specially mentioned: US$30). There is a surcharge of US$1 outside working hours and on weekends. The fee is considerably higher if paid with Thai baht (about US$9 more at current exchange rates), so bring clean US$ notes. A passport photo is also required, however an extra 40 baht or US$1 can usually be paid if you're unable to provide one (they'll use a photocopy of your passport). A 10 baht "entry fee" is charged once through, though walking straight past this desk seems not to be difficult.
Once through immigration, you can take a jumbo (posted price 150 baht, easy to bargain down to 100 baht or less for immediate departure with only one passenger) or taxi (200 baht) to any destination in the city. Shared jumbos are cheaper and local buses to Talat Sao cheapest of all, but signage is nonexistent and you may be in for a wait. You should be able to negotiate to a good deal less than 50 baht/person if you're prepared to share (and possibly wait). It's about 20km from the bridge to Vientiane; allow at least 30 minutes.
When arriving via the Friendship Bridge, you might like to visit the Buddha Park sculpture garden before going on to Vientiane, and save yourself a return trip back past the border crossing later. The same local bus that connects the Morning Market and the Friendship Bridge checkpoint also continues on to Buddha Park.
Going the opposite way, asking around the bus station for Friendship Bridge is effective. There are no immigration fees when exiting Laos via the Bridge, except at weekends when a token 2500 kip "overtime charge" applies.
Tickets from Vientiane to Udon Thani can only be bought from the Talat Sao bus station on the day itself for 22,000 kip.
 From Vietnam
A direct bus from Hanoi will take at least 20 hours (despite what the travel agents might say) and should cost about US$15-20.
 From elsewhere in Laos
Buses to destinations in Vientiane Prefecture depart from the Talat Sao bus terminal, just east of the Morning Market. There is an informative schedule and schematic diagram of the bus piers painted on the central building, which is where you can also buy tickets.
The Southern Bus Terminal, used by all buses going south (including VIP), is on Thanon Kaisone Phomvihane (that is the first stretch of the "Route 13 South"), quite far from town leaving you at the mercy of the tuk-tuk bullies. Note that if you buy a ticket in town you should be able to get a free ride to the terminal.
The Northern Bus Terminal, somewhat north-west of the city center on the T2 road (now officially named Asiane Road), is where all buses to the north start.
 Get around
Getting around Vientiane is generally easy, as the traffic is far less murderous than in larger Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. Street signage is, however, rather lacking though in the center more and more signs are appearing. Where there are signs displaying street names these are bilingual Lao and French. The Lao word "thanon" on these signs is translated by "rue", "avenue" or "boulevard", in many cases without any apparent logic. Therefore the Lao word "thanon" is used throughout this article.
The map on the right, which is fully to scale, covers the center only. Maps covering a larger area are available at bookshops and some minimarts, but are not as detailed and not always to scale. Many storefronts feature addresses in Roman letters, and these are often the best way to determine the street one is walking. People navigate using landmarks, so name the nearest embassy, hotel or temple to where you want to go.
Since 2006 a major road upgrading project has been going on in the town center and out of it up to way past the airport in the west and the Friendship Bridge in the east. Financed by the Japanese government and planned and overseen by japanese engineers, the project is nearing completion (November 2007). Gone are the hazards presented by missing drainage gully covers and sidewalks upturned by tree roots. Almost no trees have been cut - amazing! In downtown Vientiane the through roads Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai and the side roads connecting them and down to the river now have sealed surfaces and sidewalks, and there is decent street lighting. A one-way traffic regime is in place (but not the police enforcing it), and parking regulations have also been introduced. Of course, it is still anarchy on the roads. Foreigners beware: markings for pedestrian crossings have been painted on the new roads, but the local drivers regard them as decoration. Don't rely on them!
Vientiane's rainwater drainage system, which also takes care of "grey water" from baths, sinks, laundry etc consists of gullies on the roadside, usually covered by concrete slabs. These slabs are sometimes damaged and very precariously balanced, or even missing altogether; people rapidly learn to take care before stepping on anything that looks like a slab! Waste from toilets is or should be collected in septic tanks (at every house), but those gullies can nevertheless smell abominably. In the center things have improved markedly as a result of the road upgrading. The smell from the gullies is now no longer very noticeable.
Note: do not rely on the Google Earth view of Vientiane for locating the sights: many locations put there by well-meaning users (the "Google Earth Community") are clearly in the wrong place, not just a block or so away but some even in a wrong part of the town!
 By taxi
Vientiane has a small fleet of genuine taxis retired from Bangkok, usually found lurking at the Friendship Bridge, the airport or in front of large hotels. Fares are set by bargaining, so figure on around US$0.50 per km or US$20-40 to hire one for the day, depending on car type and distance.
 By tuk-tuk or jumbo
Tuk-tuks and their bigger cousins jumbos are ubiquitous in Vientiane. To charter a tuk-tuk/jumbo, agree on the fare in advance; short hops within the city shouldn't cost more than 5000 kip, although as a tourist you may have difficulty bargaining to less than US$1 (10000K). All the tuk-tuk drivers carry a fare card for popular destinations but these fares are a bit inflated and a little negotiation is recommended. Share jumbos running on set routes, eg. Th Lan Xang to Pha That Luang, charge a fixed 1000K.
 By bus
Minibuses connect the center to the suburban districts, but are not particularly useful for tourists, with the possible exception of the bus to the Friendship Bridge. The main terminal is on the east side of Talat Sao.
 By bike
Bicycles are perhaps the best way to get around the city. Most guest houses and hotels can arrange bike rental for around US$2 per day. Although the city's flat terrain makes for good biking, one-way streets can be difficult to identify.
Despite the poor standard of local driving, cycling is fairly safe in the city because the traffic is quite slow (maybe because of the condition of the roads). But take extra care when the roads are wet, because many are unsurfaced (even in the city center), and they can be muddy and slippery - innocent-looking puddles sometimes conceal deep potholes.
 On foot
The city center can be quite comfortably covered on foot, at least in the cool season. Pha That Luang, however, is 4 km away from the center and thus a bit of a hike. Out of the city center there are few footpaths so walking can be uncomfortable.
 See
 Temples and Stupas
Some temples (indicated below) charge an entry fee of 2000/5000K for Lao/foreigners and are open 08:00-16:00, with a 12:00-13:00 lunch break. The monks of those that don’t charge a fee will be grateful for a small donation in the box.
Wat Si Saket now signposted as Sisaket Museum. Entrance fee. Corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat. Probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style and hence left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Now the oldest still standing temple in Vientiane. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the center of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim (ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives.
Haw Pha Kaew. Entrance fee. Thanon Setthathirat (opposite Wat Si Saket). King Setthathirat's former royal temple, which housed the magical Emerald Buddha (pha kaew) after it was taken from Lanna (Chiang Mai). The Siamese took it back in 1779 - the image is now housed in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew - and came back in 1828 to raze the temple for good measure. The present structure is a 1942 reconstruction of dubious provenance. Today, the temple no longer operates and the interior has been turned into a small jumbled museum housing Buddha images; look out for the beautiful tall, lithe, long-armed Buddha in the hands-down "calling for rain" pose.
Black Stupa (That Dam). Thanon Bartholomie (off Thanon Samsenthai near the US embassy). The mythical abode of a seven-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. It was renovated in 1995 but still has an attractive patina of age, and is slowly being overgrown again by vegetation.
Pha That Luang. Entrance fee. Thanon That Luang (2 km east from Patuxai). The national symbol and most important religious monument of the country, That Luang is a three-layered gilded stupa. The current version dates from 1566, although it has been ransacked and renovated numerous times since then. Closed Mondays.
Vientiane's most important festival, Bun That Luang, is held here in November on the night of the full moon.
There are two temples beside That Luang: Wat That Luang Neua to the north and Wat That Luang Tai to the south, both presently being renovated.
Wat Si Muang. Between Thanons Setthatirat and Samsenthai, about 1km east of the center. Despite its small size, the temple is very active and houses the city pillar. Followers believe that lifting the small buddha statue 3 times from its cushion means that your prayers or questions will be answered.
Wats Onteu, Inpeng, Mixay and Haisok are along Thanon Setthatirat right in the town center, and therefore the most likely temples to be visited by travelers.
There are many more temples all over the town, but it must be said that if you are out to admire temples Luang Prabang is the place to go, not Vientiane.
 Other
Patuxai ("Victory Gate"). A local rendition of Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Besides the elaborate Buddhist embellishment, it differs from the original in having four gates instead of two and being just a bit higher (to spite the French). Reasonably impressive from afar, a surprisingly frank English sign inside the monument labels it a "monster of concrete" when seen up close - and the concrete in question was donated by the US, although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead. The monument itself aside, the palm tree-lined park around it complete with fountains is quite pleasant though lacking of shade during the day time, and you can climb up to the 7th story (stairs only) for a view of downtown Vientiane.
Lao National Museum. Thanon Samsenthai (next to Lao Plaza Hotel). Formerly the Lao Revolutionary Museum by name, the historical exhibits on the first floor are modest though very interesting in depicting some of the early history. They include one of the original Jars from the Plain of Jars and various stone and bronze age implements. There has been some attempt to label in English, though it is sporadic. The second floor provides us with a great insight into the 18th Century Laotian Kingdom and the customs of the day. It would appear that the Loatians didn't treat their guests quite as well in those days, often keeping them from leaving the country for several months. The floor builds up to a fervently revolutionary pitch as it documents the heroic struggle of the Lao against the Siamese, French and American 'imperialists'. Exhibits include items such as socks worn by Politburo members when they escaped from prison and Kaysone Phomvihane's chest expander. The final rooms, on post-revolutionary Laos, are mostly a photo gallery of pressing topics such as the comrades of the 7th Plenary Session of the Laos People's Congress inspecting fertilizer production processes. The final rooms provide an insight into some of the modern advancements, though these are fairly dowdy and uninspiring. Visitors are forced to walk through the shop (items look like they have been on sale since the revolution in 1975). A guestbook regularly features amusing arguments between young western visitors on the subject of communism. Most exhibits patchily labeled in English and/or French. Entry 10,000K, open daily from 08:00 to 16:00. Bags must be checked in at the front desk. No cameras are allowed.
 Nearby
Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is a bizarre outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities and real and imaginary beasts. The reclining Buddha is especially impressive. Built in 1958 by mystic Luang Pa Bunleua Sulilat, who was more or less kicked out of the country in 1978 and went on to establish a nearly identical park (Sala Kaew Ku) across the river in Nong Khai, Thailand. Located some 24 km from the city, it's about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge - hence it's well worth visiting on the way into or out of Laos if you're crossing the Friendship Bridge, thereby saving you an extra 48 km round trip if you visit from and return to Vientiane. Getting transportation from the Buddha park can be difficult so it is best to hire a tuk-tuk for the entire Vientiane - buddha park - friendship bridge (or vice versa) trip.
On the main road (Thanon Thadeua), just before the access road to the Bridge branches off, is the National Ethnic Cultural Park where typical houses of various ethnic groups are on display, though only from the outside unless you happen to meet some kind of custodian who will be eager to unlock some of them and show the inside. There also are some statues of dinosaurs and a rather dismal looking small "zoo". Most times the only activity seems to be the kiosks where they sell soft drinks and chips, but there are said to be occasional cultural shows. Tour operators often take their guests here before or after a visit to the Buddha Park. Well, to have it in their brochures may serve to make those more impressive. It is not a place to go out of your way for, not as long as it is not made more attractive.
 Do
Apart from exploring the city itself there are several worthwile trips into the surrounding countryside on offer. Some can be done independently, some are offered by commercial agencies. Within one to two hours from Vientiane you can go kayaking, wild-water rafting, trekking through nature parks, etc.
A reputable agency organising adventure tours and eco-tourism is Green Discovery Laos in Thanon Setthathirat next to Kop Chei Deu.
The local people love to go picnicking at some of the rivers or on the shores of Nam Ngum Lake, about 90km from Vientiane. There are floating restaurants along the lake shore; their specialty is fish fresh from the lake. Cruises among the lake's islands can be booked here, which makes for a relaxing couple of hours. Just inquire at your guest house/hotel or at any travel agency (where they will then try to sell their tours).
Hurting legs and backs from a day roaming the city? Go for a traditional Lao massage. There are lots of massage places all over the town, from "holes in the wall" to upscale establishments. Prices range from US$3-6/hour, more for the truly luxurious spa-like places where you will really be pampered (for instance Papaya Spa, on a road parallel to the river facing Xieng Veh temple about 2km from the city center). There's also excellent massage and herbal sauna in Wat Sok Pa Luang (30.000kip 1h massage, 10.000kip sauna).
All these establishments are 100% aboveboard and legitimate: this is not Bangkok! Your masseur or masseuse will be grateful for a tip. The staff will be happy if you have the decency to take a shower before you go there. They won't say anything to your face, but smelly foreigners make their job less than pleasant.
 Buy
 Money
Currency and Exchange rates: The local currency is the kip (LAK) which comes in notes of 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 kip. The exchange rate is about 9500 kip to the US Dollar (November 2007). For exchange rates of all major currencies see the website of the BCEL] (Lao Bank for Foreign Trade).
Banks and exchange offices are located throughout the city center. Phongsavanh Bank on Thanon Samsenthai is Vientiane's newest and privately owned bank and operates a currency exchange until about 16:30 on weekdays, and for shorter hours on weekends. They charge a 1% fee. BCEL's main foreign exchange counter is located on the corner of Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade) and Thanon Pang Kham, charges no commission, and has longer opening hours than most local banks. Other banks in the city have exchange facilities too, including two or three booths of BCEL within Talat Sao.
ATMs can now be found throughout the city, but sometimes run out of money (their stock of kip gets exhausted in the course of the day). Furthermore, the range of international credit and debit cards accepted depends on the bank operating the ATM. If one does not work for you, try the next one, or come back later. As the maximum amount per withdrawal is about 100 USD the fees charged by the local bank and the one bank home may render cash withdrawal an expensive option. You might be better off with traveller cheques, dollars and Thai baht which are all readily accepted.
BCEL: Withdrawals are limited to 700,000 kip per transaction (a bit more than 70 USD); however, you may make up to ten of these in one day. Mastercard and Maestro are readily accepted; Visa is currently not. BCEL charges a fee of 20,000 kip per transaction.
Other local banks: Maximum withdrawal 1,000,000 kip per withdrawal, maximum 3 withdrawals/day.
Normally, no-one will want to withdraw large amounts of kip, because Thai baht and US$ are almost universally accepted at stores and restaurants; some places also accept Euros. In some restaurants the bill will state the amount in kip and US$, baht or Euro or any combination of these. The Government tries to persuade its people to always use only kip, but at the same time its own offices and institutions will gladly accept US$ or even bill their services in US$.
Credit cards are accepted by travel agencies and in better restaurants and shops, but many charge a 3% fee, take it or leave it.
 Markets
Morning Market (Talat Sao - corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Khu Vieng) - a large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics, and watches; the second floor has clothing, gold, and jewelery. Expect to pay about one third or one quarter of the first price you are offered. Despite the name it is still struggling into operation at 09:00 and remains open until around 16:00.
The old buildings are being replaced by modern structures - at present (December 2007) one of these is completed: the Talat Sao Mall. It has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with an indoor parking. At weekends folks from the countryside come and marvel at the escalators (which, in one local magazine article, were referred to in English as "electricity ladders"), and at the bravery of those who venture onto them. The Mall boasts two cafés and a thai-style food court.
 Handicraft Shops
Above all silk and cotton weavings, are for sale in the Morning Market and in many shops along Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai, and in several of their side roads. In the Morning Market you should bargain; in the other shops you may try to get a rebate but don't count on it. Some of the better shops are:
Mixay Boutic (yes, that's how they write it) in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (with a branch in Thanon Setthathirat) - they have some women weaving fabrics of the shop's own design on the premises, who you are welcome to watch. Beautiful wall hangings, not the cheapest in town but well worth the price. Also on sale are shirts and skirts, scarves, cushion covers and anything made of textiles.
Laha Boutique, Thanon Francois Ngin: naturally dyed textiles (mainly cotton) from the south (Savannakhet).
Kanchana: the Beauty of Lao Silk: traditional Lao silk weavings, hand-woven fabrics, textiles and clothing using natural dyes. Just off Thanon Samsenthai on Thanon Chantha Kumman, the road to That Dam.
Lao Textiles, Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Founded 1990 by an American woman (Carol Cassidy), who now employs some 40 artisans, this firm offers modern weavings using traditional motifs - some of their work has been exhibited in museums. Prices are accordingly, but if you can afford them you will get something to be proud of. Not the usual backpacker's souvenirs...
The Art of Silk, Thanon Manthatulat, run by the Lao Women's Union. Silk and cotton weavings in both traditional and modern designs.
Mulberries Lao Sericulture Company, Thanon Nokeo Kumman. The sales outlet of a not-for-profit organisation that operates in about five hundred villages in Northern Laos, seeking to create income generating opportunities. Naturally-dyed, handmade Lao silk products.
 Supermarkets and Department Stores
Need a toothbrush or nail clipper? Or just fed up with rice or noodle soup three times a day, and craving for a self-composed picnic? Visit one of the many “minimarts” where you may well find whatever you’re looking for. Some of the best-stocked of these are
Phimphone Minimart on Thanon Setthathirat next to JoMa. Opened again after renovations end December 2007, it is no longer merely a "minimart" but almost a full-grown supermarket. Not cheap, and the owners must make a nice profit on the exchange rate that they apply. Here it pays to pay in kip! A second shop with the same name (the owners are related, the shops are not) is located on Thanon Setthathirat / corner of Thanon Chantha Kumman.
V-Shop on Thanon Khun Bulom netween Thanons Setthathirat and Samsenthai. Outside in front is a small express café where they serve some of the best coffee specialties in town (Lao Mountain Coffee), shakes, fuit juices, waffles, donuts – good for people watching on the edge of the chinese quarter.
Riverside Minimart on Thanon Fa Ngum, the Mekong promenade.
City Minimart on Thanon Samsenthai opposite Wat Si Muang - maybe the shop with the most extensive range of merchandise in the town, and somewhat cheaper than the shops more in the center.
Vientiane Department Store was at the center of the Lane Xang side of the Morning Market and is now (end 2007) being torn down to be replaced by a second new building. Many of the shops that were here have been relocated to the "Talat Sao Mall".
All of these offer groceries from Europe, wines from all over the world (thanks to the low taxation in Laos these are astonishingly low-priced considering the long transport routes); dairy products from Laos itself and Thailand (milk, yoghurt), butter and cheese from Europe and New Zealand, and everything else one may need.
 Books
There is a real book store, Monument Books on Thanon Nokeo Kumman next to the Vayakorn Guesthouse. Good selection of english and french language books and magazines.
Several stores around town offer book buy/sell/exchange services; some of the tomes on the shelves look as if they have been on a long, long trip in a back pack, but you can find interesting stuff here.
 Bicycle
Simple Chinese bicycles and Mountain Bikes can be found in the Morning Market (Talat Sao) and in a few shops in the surrounding streets. Prices for a single gear bike start at about 50$, Mountainbikes at about 80$.
Top Cycle Zone, 47 Dong Palan, is the place to go if you want to buy a decent western style bicycle - or spare parts for one. Prices for a Mountain Bike start at about 350$.
 Eat
There are many restaurants in Vientiane. They offer a wide selection of cuisines, from Chinese specialities to Tex-Mex. More restaurants are opened all the time, but many are there for just a few months before they go under; a few are successful and stay and may even flourish. It’s a question of offering something special, either in the way of the food served, or the atmosphere, or the friendly and competent service. The following is only a small selection.
 Budget
Noodle shops can be found all over the town. They typically serve Vietnamese-type noodle soups (pho), often also fried rice and other rice or noodle-based dishes. Prices are very moderate: around 1 USD for a large bowl or plate. There really is no need to go hungry in this town, but it is advisable to eat in places where there are many customers: there the food is likely to be good and fresh. Avoid empty places where the only guests are the flies buzzing around the food on display.
A selection of more "sophisticated" eateries follows:
Just for Fun, Thanon Pangkham (the road running from the river at BCEL to the Fountain): simpe and comfortable, good Western, Thai and Lao food, also vegetarian dishes.
PVO, which used to be at Thanon Samsenthai, has moved to a location on the river road, opposite the BCEL bank. It serves excellent Vietnamese food and the pho isn't bad, but for many the best eats here are the stuffed baguettes (7000/14000K for half/full). English menu, open 08:00-20:00.
Along the river: dozens of unpretentious restaurants and beer gardens, from opposite the BCEL bank strung along the Mekong for approximately 2km upriver. All are pleasant places for a beer and a snack or a complete meal while the sun goes down over the river. One of these is one-time famous John's Restaurant, but since the owner married an Australian and left for down under there is nothing to distinguish it from the other places left and right. All serve inexpensive Lao and some Western food. Among the best is the grilled fish, served by many of them. Take care when you're in for boiled eggs: what you get here are incubated duck eggs. When you open them you're in for a surprise (but at least the little bird does not chirp). The Lao love them, they are hugely popular.
In 2005 one of the eateries along the river put Lao-style reed mats on the ground with low rattan "tables" (ka toke); diners sit cross-legged on the mat around the table. These became so popular that they can now be found at many of these establishments. They are much nicer than the rickety metal tables and plastic chairs that are the standard of all but the better restaurants in Laos.
Mekong Deck: a new place on the river, near PVO. This one stands out from the competition upriver because of the way it’s laid out; it is a very nice place to nurse a beer and enjoy the company of friends.
Sunset Bar (Sala Sunset) at the very western end of the Mekong river road. Popular with expats and tourists. The main things to recommend it are the sunsets (and those are not of their doing) and the rickety construction of wood apparently salvaged from demolished buildings. When the river is really high parts of the terrace sometimes wash away. Truly romantic! The beer is cold and whiling away an hour or so under the tree canopy with a bottle or two and some snacks can be very relaxing indeed.
 Mid-range
Café Indochine, Thanon Setthathirat. Authentic Vietnamese food - particularly recommended: the set meals at about 4 to 5 USD.
Le Provençal at Nam Phu (the Fountain) - good French fare, excellent pizzas. Main courses from about 4 to 10 USD.
Lotus Restaurant and Bar, next to Cultural Hall. Serves traditional Lao and Western food, 08:30 am - 11:30 pm. Price range: 2-4 USD, VISA and Master Card accepted. Free wireless internet available! The place is nicer than the picture would make you think!
Khop Chai Deu, near the fountain. Inside (2 floors) and outside seating. Very good Lao, Thai, Indian and Western food. Competent and friendly service. Open until late evening. Price range: 1-4 USD. Try the “Lao Discovery” menu at 6.5 USD (but check with the waiter how spicy it all is…). Good bands play Western popular music some evenings. Also a bar (see below). Buffet at lunchtime.
Hong Kong Restaurant, opposite Lao Plaza Hotel. Excellent Cantonese dishes (2 USD - approx. 9 USD) and a small selection of dim sum (1 USD per plate). There have been reports of them padding the bill. Check the bill carefully before paying! (That, by the way, is something you should do everywhere: in a country where they use a calculator to subtract 7 from 10 it comes as no surprise that their counting of beers consumed is not always accurate. To be fair, the mistakes are not always to the disadvantage of the customer.)
Inter Hotel Restaurant - Quai Fa Ngum, riverside, well prepared Szechuan food, about 3 USD/dish. The hotel also runs the Inter Stone House in the same building round the corner; about the same or a slightly higher price range. Their specialty is the sizzling steak on a stone platter.
JoMa, Thanon Setthathirat, and Scandinavian Bakery in the fountain square, extremely popular air-conditioned cafés and bakeries with simple lunches and excellent cakes and coffee. Wifi internet at JoMa for a modest fee. TV showing CNN upstairs at the Scandinavian. If you sit outside keep a close eye on your bag.
Le Croissant d'Or and Banneton Café, almost next to each other in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (running from the river to Thanon Setthathirat) have croissants and pastries and serve simple lunches. Banneton sells the best baguettes in town - tasty, not just something to chew. Their coffee is among the best in Vientiane. The owners of Le Croissant d'Or also run the Vista café in Thanon François Ngin (free wifi internet when you spend 15,000 kip on food and drink).
Sticky Fingers - Thanon François Ngin opposite the Tai Pan Hotel. Quality western style food at reasonable prices. There's happy hour on Wednesday and Friday nights, including half price cocktails.
Full Moon Café, almost next to Sticky Fingers, nice interior with comfortable seating arrangements. Serves what they call fusion fare. Reasonable prices.
La Terrasse, Thanon Nokeo Kumman, is popular with expats and tourists alike. It is one of the best French restaurants in Vientiane (very good pizzas, and excellent tender steaks at about 5 US$). Set three-course lunch is 5.50 USD, main dishes up to 10 USD.
Nazim Indian Restaurant on the Mekong river road: decent Indian food. Their washroom is not the cleanest in the country, perhaps because the patrons of some of the eateries on the river bank are directed here for certain needs (when they are not simply sent down to the reeds at the water's edge). Nazim has opened a branch in Thanon Pang Kham, opposite the offices of Lao Airlines. (No reports on their washroom yet).
Khao Nieow is a new place in Thanon Nokeo Kumman, almost next to La Terrasse. Set three-course meals at 4.50 USD. Steaks in two qualities: Lao beef at around 4 or 5 USD; New Zealand lamb and beef at about 8 USD and above. To be tried on a cool evening: the fondue bourguignonne at 26 USD for two and, a surprise in a place whose name means "Sticky Rice", excellent cheese fondue at 28 USD for two - not something for the hottest months of the year, but nice around the year's end when temperatures drop.
The restaurant in the Lane Xang Hotel on Thanon Fa Ngum has traditional Lao music and dance performances every evening from about 7pm, which you watch while eating your dinner of (recommended) Lao food. Get there early to secure a table with a good view of the stage. A meal for four, consisting of 5 or 6 dishes including drinks, will come at about 30 USD.
Kua Lao at Thanon Samsenthai. Authentic Lao food with a good selection of vegetarian dishes; traditional Lao music and dance performances in the evening. Main dishes from 3 to about 8 USD; set meals (recommended!) at 10 USD.
Le Côte d’Azur on Thanon Fa Ngum: a favourite of the expat community, serving generous helpings of mainly French food.
The Spirit House on that tree-shaded part of the river promenade that has not yet been "upgraded" to Lao-style sterile banality like the stretch downriver (there are plans for it, but fortunately the money seems to have run out). It is about 0.5km upstream from the end of the paved portion of the road. A restaurant-bar that offers various tasty meals and snacks at reasonable prices. Watch the waiters jump the puddles in the rainy season when you've chosen to sit outside on the terrace across the potholed road.
Moon the Night Restaurant. Another 0.5km farther upstream from the Spirit House and somewhat difficult to find: the river promenade ends a few hundred meters before – best to take a tuk-tuk. (Directions: from the Novotel 0.5km west, direction airport, past the FORD showroom, then turn into a soi on the left which after 200 meters takes you to the river. There ask around). A very pleasant spot to eat excellent Lao food. A large place, an extensive menu, competent and friendly service. Background music not too loud. Highly recommended. A meal of 6 to 8 dishes for 4 people comes at 15 to 20 US$ including drinks.
Phonethip Coca Suki Restaurant, Thanon Sailom opposite the Lao Telecom Service Center. Part of a chain that also has restaurants in Thailand and Indonesia. Good Lao, Thai, Chinese and Western food. Reasonable prices and good, attentive service. Very popular at lunch time with office workers and students.
Kop Kap, across from Tat Luang Temple. A favorite among ex-pats living nearby, if you crave Thai food. Packed during lunch time, the restaurant is known for its excellent Penang curry. Closed Sundays.
Evening Dinner Cruises on the river – two different companies, on boat moored opposite Wat Chan and one 300 metres upriver. Not very impressive, neither the boat trip (1 hour, departure around 7pm: 1 km upstream then 2 downstream and back - only when the water level is high enough) nor the food. But very relaxing. This Lao maritime experience will cost you only slightly more than the same meal in one of the beer gardens on the river bank.
 Drink
Vientiane has a few bars/clubs, but there's no shortage of places for a quiet Beerlao. In particular, the Mekong shoreline is packed with near-identical but pleasant bamboo-and-thatch beer gardens offering cold beer and spicy snacks.
Bor Pen Nyang, Thanon Fa Ngum (the river promenade), tel. +856-20-7873965, [1]. Breezy fourth-floor (no elevator) bar/restaurant which overlooks the Mekong. Live bands every night. Travellers, locals and ex-pats in seeming harmony. Claims the most extensive Fine Whisky Range in Laos and stocks a wide range of liquors, including absinthe on Thursdays for $2/shot. Pool & Snooker Tables on the 2nd Floor.
Martini Bar, Thanon Nokeo Kummane, just a block from the Mekong. Movies shown every night. Happy hour from 6-8pm.
Jazzy-Brick, Thanon Setthathirat nearly opposite Kop Chai Deu. The classiest and most expensive bar in town.
Samlor Pub, Thanon Setthathirat opposite Wat Onteu. It has long been one of only a few bars in town, and was packed every evening. A lot quieter now that there is more competition. Has pool table and shows sports, but the "background" music often drowns the TV commentary. Tends to stay open later than other bars listed here.
Khop Chai Deu, Thanon Setthathirat next to the fountain square. The name means "thank you very much", and despite the prices, this is usually the most active place in this part of town until action moves on to one of the discos.
Deja Vu, next to L'Opera Restaurant on Nam Phu Square (Fountain), a very classy and cozy bar, owned and run by Japanese-speaking Lao owner. Closed Sundays.
There are two clubs near the Novotel hotel:
DTech, in the hotel grounds. Mainly techno.
Future, just outside. 80s and 90s songs with a big video screen.
Note that everything is supposed to close down before midnight before the start of the unofficial curfew, although clubs generally stay open until 1-1.30am. The most notable exception is the extremely popular Don Chan Palace Hotel Nightclub which is open until 4am on the weekend.
Now that the closing time is more strictly enforced (December 2006), the popularity of the bowling alley has increased again, as it is open and serving customers for 24 hours a day.
 Sleep
There are numerous places to stay in Vientiane, from very basic guest houses with dormitory-type rooms to comfortable upscale boutique hotels, with prices from very moderate to mid-range and higher. In recent years many new establishments have opened, but mid-2007 the Government announced plans to restrict the number of new permits: they wish to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The days that anyone could convert their home to a guest house and partake of the boom seem to be over.
Normally, just get into the town center (for instance the Nam Phu square) and start looking around along Thanon Setthathirat and its side streets. You’ll find something within minutes except it's "high season" (January) where it will be really difficult to find room: book in advance!
Room rates may vary depending on the season: high season is something like October through April or May; low season June through September.
Some places insist on an early nightly curfew and lock the front door without giving you a key. If you wish to enjoy the nightlife (what there is of it), make sure that you will be able to stay out and, more importantly, get in again.
The Lao Hotel and Restaurant Association has an extensive list of hotels in Vientiane. The following is just a small selection.
 Budget
Sabaidy Guest House, 203 Thanon Settathirat. Has lockers to keep your belongings in. Close to downtown, it's a great place for the budget backpacker. cheap dorm beds and a few rooms.
Vayakorn Guest House, 91 Thanon Nokeo Kumman (just off Thanon Setthathirat). Opened in 2003. Very clean, well-appointed rooms with wood floors, air-con. Helpful and friendly staff. Rates: US$ 22.00 - US$ 25.00.
Auberge du Temple, Thanon Luang Prabang (next to Wat Khunta). A bit far from the city centre, but a very pleasant guest house owned by a French-Swiss gentleman
Many more guest houses all over downtown Vientiane - too many to even begin listing them all. Walk in and ask!
 Mid-range
Lane Xang Hotel, Thanon Fa Ngum. A majestic old hotel from decades ago, built 1960. It is one of the oldest hotels in Vientiane. Boasted the first elevator in the country. The charm of past glory - see the bathroom fittings! Hunter S. Thompson wrote dispatches from here after scrambling out of Saigon as it fell. They claim that English, French, Japanese, Thai, Russian, Vietnamese and (would you believe it?) Lao are spoken. Room rate 30 -50 US$ incl breakfast.
Asian Pavilion Hotel, 379 Thanon Samsenthai. A good if not quite their self-proclaimed "fascinating" mid-range choice formerly known as Hotel Constellation - as recorded in John le Carré's The Honourable Schoolboy - and Hotel Vieng Vilay. Rooms from US$26 with air-con, hot water, cable TV, breakfast and airport transfer..
Chanthapanya Hotel, Thanon Nokeo Kummane. Owned and operated by the Chanthapanya family the hotel offers the charm of a family guest house while providing the comfort of a hotel. All rooms have A/C, Wi-Fi access, personal safe (too small for a notebook PC), cable TV, 24hr hot water. Wi-Fi access points are on floors 2 and 4, and reception is best there. Beware unpleasant smells from air con in some top floor rooms, and ask for a room with a view (meaning not the view of the neighbors' wall). They lock up early - check with Reception! From US$35 per room per night.
Inter City Hotel, 24-25 Thanon Fa Ngum (the river road), [2]. Totally renovated in 2004, now a boutique hotel. Ask for a room with a view of the river. Room prices from 46 US$ (standard room) to 61 US$ (deluxe).
Beau Rivage Mekong Hotel, Thanon Fa Ngum (On the river road but at the shady tree-lined stretch that has not yet been “developed”, a few hundred meters upriver from where the road has been asphalted), [3]. New, very nice. All rooms have WiFi internet, courtesy of the HBRM spirit house next door. Room prices from 40 to 70 US$ depending on season and single or double occupancy.
Lani Guest House, Thanon Setthathirat (next to Wat Haisok), [4]. An old, French colonial-style house in a small garden set back from the main road. A quiet place to relax yet right in the center of downtown. Prices from 27.50 (single) to 38.50 US$ (double).
Orchid Guest House, Thanon Fa Ngum. Rooms from 12 (single) to 15 US$ (double)..
 Respect
The locals have only disdain for those (backpackers) that walk the street in almost beach attire. Please dress decently, however attractive a torso you (think you) have.
 Contact
Post and Telephone: see the section on "Contact" in the article about Laos
Internet cafes are ubiquitous in Vientiane, particularly along Thanon Samsenthai and the east end of Thanon Setthathirat. The going rate as of September 2007 is 100K/minute, usually charged in 10 minute increments.
FastestNet. Thanon Samsenthai (between Lao Plaza and Asian Pavilion). Lives up to its name fairly well and charges the standard 100K/min. No firewalls or program install restrictions.
 Stay healthy
 Water
The city's waterworks are called Nam PaPaa, which means "water without fishes". Yes, the fishes have been removed but not everything else. Don't drink the tap water - stick to the bottled water available everywhere.
 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.
 Stray dogs
Some of them can be vicious. 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.
 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, Lane Xang - and there are more. Recommended: the Sunday brunch at the Novotel at c. US$ 10 including use of the pool.
 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 USA or Europe 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.
Medical Center : Centre Médical de l’Ambassade de France Medical. With the support of the French Embassy in Vientiane, the “Centre Medical de l’Ambassade de France” opened its doors to the foreign community in Laos in April 2007. The medical centre provides primary health care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, along with paramedical services, including dental care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy, to all the expatriates and tourists in Vientiane. Practice Dr. Jean Marie HOSPIED; Bvd Kouvieng . Simuang BP 7168.Vientiane. Laos Tel / Fax: 856 21 214150 cmaflao@gmail.com
 In Thailand
Recommended hospitals close to Vientiane are:
Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, good for treating simpler cases. Tel. from Laos 0066-42-465201.
Aek Udon International Hospital in Udon Thani, has more facilities. Tel. from Laos 0066-42-342555.
Ambulance services to Thailand: The ambulances of Wattana Hospital can cross the border to pick up patients in Vientiane; they can also take them to Aek Udon Hospital. Ambulances of Setthathirat Hospital (Tel. 021-351156) can also cross the border.
The bridge is open from 06:00 am till 10:00 pm; outside these hours the gates are only opened for emergencies upon telephone request from the hospital.
 Stay safe
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.
Probably a bigger hazard than crime is the missing sewer covers on sidewalks. Additionally, there are many loose flagstones that will tip if stepped on. Tread carefully and exercise extreme caution at night.
A "secret" Lao law says that foreigners cannot have sexual relations with Lao women other than their spouses. 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 here. If you take a girl to your room and she robs you this law makes it almost impossible to obtain assistance from the police. Bar tenders are happy to provide stories of angry tourists confronting girls in the same bars they picked them up the night before! Anyway, many hotels do not allow foreigners to take girls to their rooms, as it is officially prohibited. Those that do allow it must have some financial arrangement with the local police - this is Laos where the only thing more powerful than the Law is money.
Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu (also Kota Bahru or Kota Baru) is the state capital of Kelantan, on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Many travellers simply pass through on their way to the Perhentian Islands, but those who spend a few days in KB have the chance to go to some of the museums mentioned below, eat some delicious food, look at a unique style of traditional architecture, and get a little bit of the feel of a city that has an interesting cultural identity all its own.
 Understand
Kota Bharu is a very socially conservative city in a state ruled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Be respectful of the cultural and religious sensibilities of its primarily Muslim inhabitants. There is no need for non-Muslim women to wear a tudung (kerchief over the hair), but both men and women should consider wearing clothing which covers their legs and torso completely, and if you are a woman, also consider covering your arms. Tourists dressed in shorts and skimpy shirts seem out of place on the East Coast of Malaysia. Also, be prepared for breaks to be taken in many places, including the Pasar Malam (Night Market) during Islamic prayer times.
 Get in
 By plane
Kota Bharu's small but new and efficient Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (KBR) in Pengkalan Chepa currently receives flights from Kuala Lumpur provided by Malaysia Airlines [1] and budget carrier AirAsia [2]. Advance bookings especially for AirAsia can be very cheap. Firefly [3], a subsidiary of Malaysia Airline which calls itself the country's first "community airline", flies Fokkers daily between Kota Bharu and Penang. Flights leave Kota Bharu at 12:45 and from Penang at 11:35. Flights take just under an hour and can cost from as low as RM29.99 before tax and surcharges.
Getting to/away: The airport is 15 minutes from the city centre by taxi. You can also catch an SKMK bus from the local bus station in the city centre.
Malaysia Airlines: Mezzanine Floor, Kompleks Yakin, Jalan Gajah Mati, 15050 Kota Bharu. Tel: +60-9-7483477 (ticketing), +60-9-7448066 (general)
 By train
The nearest railway station to Kota Bharu is at Wakaf Bahru, some 5 kilometers away from the city center. You can catch a public bus there or arrange for a transfer service from hotels at RM15.00/person (Call: +60-12-9885068 for reservation).
Trains run on the Jungle Railway to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. One attraction is the Jungle Train which stops at almost every station between Tumpat and Gemas, allowing you ro enjoy the jungle as the train travels through the heart of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially the Mail Train 91, it leaves at 05:21 from Wakaf Bharu station and reaches Gemas at 20:00, travelling via Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park). Gemas is located on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore trunk line and you can catch connecting trains there.
Other trains are:
To Kuala Lumpur: The Ekspres Wau departs at 18:40 daily.
To Singapore: The new Ekspres Lambaian Timur departs at 06:20 daily. This train allows you to see the jungles of Kelantan and Pahang as it covers that stretch during the day. The Express Timuran departs at 20:30 daily (around RM70 for an air-con 2nd-class sleeper).
To Thailand: There are no train services directly into Thailand. You will have to catch a bus to Rantau Panjang and cross the border into Sungai Kolok and proceed from there.
 By bus
Long-distance buses connect Kota Bharu to a variety of Malaysian towns. Most long distance buses leave from the southern Langgar terminal, while local and regional services converge on the Central terminal. The trip from Hentian Putra, Kuala Lumpur costs around RM 33 (prices vary by operator) and take around 9-10 hours. From Penang you can take bus (Transnasional, Mutiara or Etika) straight to Kota Bharu from either the new bus terminal in Sungai Nibong or Butterworth bus terminal. The journey would take 6-7 hours and costs around RM 27 or RM 24 from Butterworth.
 See
Kota Bharu itself offers many museums near Independence Square (Padang Merdeka). The most amazing building however is the central market. It is an octagonal building in the centre of town and houses a very colourful and active market every day. Nearby is a plain square which turns into the local food market in the evenings.
  • Great temples to visits in the nearby Kota Bharu Town: Wat Pothivihan (huge reclining Buddha), Wat Mai Suwan Khiri (dragon Boat & standing Buddha), Wat Machimarran Varran (sitting Buddha), and Wat Serova Buddhist Temples (Goddess of Mercy - Kuan Yin).
  • Cultural Show at Culture Centre 3 times a week @Saturday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.00pm-11.30pm, @Monday 3.00pm-4.45pm, @Wednesday 3.00pm-4.45pm & 8.80-12.00pm.
  • River cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong (2hours).
  • Caves Explorer at Gua Ikan,Dabong.
  • Stong Waterfall,reputed to be the highest in Southeast Asia, drops from a height of about 990 metres.
  • Mount Stong State Park,One of the main attractions at the state park is Gunung Stong@Mt.Stong (1,422 meters), a dome-shaped granite complex more than 500 million years old.
  • Nenggiri Rafting Adventure -The selected leg of the journey covers approximatedly about 50 km, departing from Kuala Betis / Gua Cha and ends up at Kampung Star.
 Do
  • Go to the day and night markets. Have Nasi Ulam for lunch at the day market and Ayam Percik at the night market, or get whatever else strikes your fancy.
  • Walk around the downtown area.
  • Bicycle around Pengkalan Chepa area (airport), see old WW2 British pillboxes near beach at Pantai Sabak. For history buffs only but no beach anymore due to erosion.
  • Go to the beach, either PCB Beach or Bachok Beach. PCB Beach has batik shop, best is Citra Batik about 500m from the beach. Also eat fried seafood at PCB Beach with coconut water.
 Buy
  • Batik - hand printed clothes, buy from Citra Batik at PCB Beach or at the KB Mall in town (higher prices but mor econvenient). By own designer.
  • Silverware - at the touristy museum in Kota Bharu town.
 Eat
Kota Bharu is full of delicious Kelantanese food, a unique cuisine influenced by Thai and Indian styles, among others. Lots of goodies are to be found in the pasars and in coffee shops throughout the city.
Among the local specialties are :
  • Ayam Percik, chicken which is roasted over a wood fire and combined with coconut/peanut sauce and delicious local herbs and greens. Yati Ayam Percik (847, Jalan Long Yunus)[4] has got to be the best around;
  • Nasi Ulam (locally called Nasi Kerabu), rice with fragrant, fresh-picked leaves and shoots, traditionally dipped into budu (fish sauce), sambal belacan (shrimp paste with hot pepper, et al.) or/and tempoyak (fermented durian sauce);
  • Murtabak, savory or sweet crêpes; and a wide variety of Kuih (little cakes). Murtabak Raja is the famous one on Jalan Bayam.
  • If you visit around Hari Raya time, don't miss the chance to try Tapai, which is sweet fermented cassava or rice, wrapped in tapioca leaves. If you like tea, wash everything down with Teh O (tea with sugar) or Teh Susu (tea with sweetened condensed milk).
  • Keropok Lekor Losong (the local version is Keropok Gote), originally from Losong village and considered by Kelantanese to be the benchmark of all fish paste sausages. Comes fried or boiled. Kelantan Keropok Gote is not like Terengganu Kerepok Lekor Losong; it is thicker, about 4cm.
  • Durian puffs (locally called Lepok Durian, or Gelembung Buaya, they are in 3 colors; red, yellow, and green), at Kubang Pasu wet market in the mornings - for durian lovers with strong stomachs only. These delicious pastries are sold at wet market surrounded by fish. Buy from the lady at the corner, not in the middle of wet market.
  • Morning Satay, same lady, but not so delicious. Just for the experience. It also can be found in various restaurants in town. There are a few famous Satay sellers like Satay Baung, Satay Suria, etc.
 Sleep
 Budget
Hostels can be found in the area near the Central Market.
Crystal Lodge, 124 Jalan Che Su +60 9-747-0888 crystlod@tm.net.my, [5]. 3 stars, RM89.00 onward.
KB Backpackers Lodge, 1872-D (above Azam Photo), Jalan Padang Garong, 012-988-5068. Rates RM10-35.
Lee Guesthouse, 263 Jalan KK1/9 (off Jalan Pasir Puteh) +60 9-747-9663, 017-980-6638 [6]. Rack rates from RM50.
Minora Lodge is a 20min walk from the night market. Clean, variety of rooms from dorm to doubles with air-con, RM20-60.
Safar Inn, Jalan Hilir Kota +60 9-747-8000. Rates from RM78.
 Mid-range
Dynasty Inn, 2865-D&E, Jalan Sultanah Zainab, +60 9-747-3000, dynasty@tm.net.my, [7]. Rack rates from RM100.
Grand Riverview Hotel, Section 9, Jalan Post Office Lama, +60 9-743-9988 sales@grh.com.my, [8]. RM150 onward.
 Get out
Malaysia:
From the airport, train station and city you can take a taxi to Kuala Besut for ferry connections to the Perhentian Islands (45-60 min; theoretically only RM25 but good luck paying much less than RM50). If you want to stick to public transport, there is also a direct bus service to Kuala Besut.
Thailand:
Tak Bai (via Ban Taba)
Alor Star
Alor Star is the state capital of Kedah, on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. It is the only city in west coast of Peninsular Malaysia which rich in Malay culture.
 Get in
 By road
Alor Star is easily (and most practically) accessible using the North-South Expressway. A bus trip from Kuala Lumpur should cost you around RM30 and will take about 6-7 hours of travelling time. Bus services from Bukit Kayu Hitam are also available for visitors from Thailand.
 By train
There is an inter-city train station located in the city that serves trains to all major stations.
 By plane
Being the capital state of Kedah, travel via air to Alor Star is as practical as via land. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia serve daily flights from Kuala Lumpur, with the period of 55 minutes of travel time. From the airport, travellers can take a taxi to the city centre, which is 13km away.
 Get around
Once you are in the city, taxis or cabs are available at the airport and throughout the city. Rental cars are available at the airport. Local bus services serve around the city and almost all towns in Kedah.
 See
Balai Seni Negeri (State Art Gallery) - The Kedah State Art Gallery was set up with the objective of fostering interest in and an appreciation of art in the state. Its collection includes paintings, photographs, musical instruments and handicrafts. Temporary exhibitions are held at regular intervals.
Mahathir Birthplace - The fouth Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad was born on 10 July 1925 at the house near ice factory at Kampung Seberang Perak.
Masjid Zahir (Zahir State Mosque) - The Zahir Mosque occupies a site of approximately 124,412 square feet. Its center hall (Prayer Hall) measures 62 x 62 square feet and surrounded by verandahs of 8 feet wide with 4 mezzanine areas of each has a dome. The main dome is located at the north-east of the mosque building. It is one of the grandest and oldest mosques in Malaysia.
Menara Alor Star (Alor Star Tower) - Located in the heart of Alor Setar, this tower, standing at 165.5 metres tall is a prominent and modern landmark that signifies the rapid development in the state of Kedah. It functions as both a telecommunications tower and a tourist attraction. The tower are a rotating restaurant named Restoran Sei Angkasa.
Muzium Padi - It is a museum about all you want to know about paddy. Paddy is what rice are come from.
Royal House At Lorong Shariff (Palace Beside Kedai Runcit)- 2km from city, display the most magnificent contemporary Malaysian housing architecture of the 1980's.
 Do
Car tour of Yan - only if you arrive by car from south, exit North-South Expressway at Sungai Petani (30 km to south), drive to Merbok to see archealogy museum, then to Tanjong Dawai fishing village, buy belacan (shrimp paste used for cooking), then to Yan town, proceed to Kuala Kedah fort then have dinner at Perindu, a seafood place. Then to downtown hotel. This tour takes leisurely 6 hours.
 Buy
General shopping can be made around the city. Alor Star offers a wide variety of goods, whether they are local or imported. Souvenirs can be purchase at Alor Star's main tourist destination.
Main shopping spots are:
Pekan Rabu - Located in front of Pekan Rabu's main bus stop. It offers local goods such including traditional food and crafts.
City Plaza - The major shopping complex in Alor Star. Sitting together with Holiday Villa Hotel, the complex offers entertainment, shopping and food. It has restaurants, bowling alleys, arcade center, cineplexes and shops that sell cloths, shoes, mobile phones and souvenirs.
Star Parade - Another major shopping spot in Alor Star. It has Malaysia's very own Pacific Departmental Store. The mall offers a wide variety of shops.
Alor Star Mall - The mall is located near the North-South Expressway EXIT Alor Star Selatan/South. It is one of the newest malls in Alor Star which has another Pacific Store. Alor Star Mall's Pacific Store offers a wide range of clothing for men, women and children. The brands include Levi's, Adidas and Diesel.
Souq Al-Bukhary - The newest mall and bazaar in Alor Star, in which Giant hypermarket, a local hypermarket establishment, is the anchor tenant. It is considered as the modern version of Pekan Rabu.
Persiaran Sultan Abdul Hamid (Sultan Abdul Hamid Drive) - Located in Jalan Pegawai, it is the best drive in Alor Star. The drive has spas, boutiques, restaurants, antique shop etc. Anything you can imagine.
 Eat
  • Fishermen's Ikan Kembong, famous warong (roadside eatery)on road to Kuala Kedah, at junction of road to Yan. Place only open from 11am and close at 1pm. Real fishermen's cuisine liked by the townfolks.
  • Laksa Telok Kechai, midway on the Alor Star - Kuala Kedah road. Famous local rice noodle in fish gravy. Inconspicuous shop, ask locals. Open from 7pm until midnight.
 Sleep
Choices of hotels in Alor Star is very small but you still can get some pleasant sleep in these modern hotels:
Grand Continental Hotel, in the middle of the city, beside Kedah Supermarket and near Pekan Rabu. The hotel is well-known for its food, especially during Ramadan (fasting) month.
Holiday Villa [1] - in the middle of the city, adjacent to City Plaza shopping center. This is the best hotel in the city with 4-star rating.
Hotel Seri Malaysia [2] - 10 minutes from the city centre, adjacent to Darulaman stadium (home to Kedah F.A. - a state football association). Seri Malaysia, a local hotel chain, is popular among budget travellers.
Seri Kedah Gardeniaa Resort [3] - 30 min from Alor Star town, 15 min away from Malaysian-Thailand border, and 20 min from Alor Setar airport. Cozy chalets, fantastic Indian and Malay food plus the best swimming pool in Kedah. 3 star rating, you can relax in total peace and quiet amidst natural surroundings.
There are other alternative to hotel: home stay houses. Located at major residential areas (taman in Malay) such as Taman Uda. Other relatively cheap hotels are:
  • Regency Hotel
  • Grand Crystal Hotel
  • Sentosa Hotel
© Wikitravel, 01.2008.
Текст взят с сайта Wikitravel.org


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