Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there - 03/21/23

Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos 03/21/23


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have lived in Asia and Europe.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Flights to and from Vientiane have been increasing since the reopening of borders, but it is still difficult to get in and out of the country. Most of the time, you will have to do a layover in Bangkok to catch your next flight. To get to the U.S. it can take anywhere between 30-60 hours depending on where you are going and the flight connections. To get to other countries in Southeast Asia is also difficult even if proximity would tell you otherwise.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year and 8 months

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Diplomatic housing varies from mission to mission and family size. Most of the diplomatic community is composed of families, so people live in stand alone houses. The houses are big 3-4bedrooms/3-4.5 bathrooms with yards. For single people, there are some apartments available and the amenities vary-- some have pools, gyms, restaurants, and massage parlors, while others are located in the center of downtown (great location, but no amenities). In short, there are options, and it depends on your budget or your mission's budget.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Cost of living in Laos is VERY cheap; however, I have found that the quality of food isn't that great. It is also very difficult to shop as there are 5 supermarkets total, but even so you find yourself having to buy things in multiple places. There is an organic market on Saturdays where you can get fresh veggies and fruits, and fruit stands throughout the city, but in terms of getting other items, I rely on consumable shipments or Amazon.

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3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Food delivery services are on the rise. The most popular are Food Panda and Chompa.

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4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

From time to time I have had the occasional roach in my apartment. In the standalone houses, cobras and other snakes, geckos, and rats have been an issue.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic Pouch; DHL is reliable, too.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Hiring household help is affordable. Most families have nannies and a housekeeper, some others also hire a driver, a cook and a gardener. I pay $100USD/month for someone to come twice a week for 4hrs each time. I will say people's satisfaction with their "mae bans" as they are locally called, varies. You might have to be explicit as to how you like your cleaning, laundry, and cooking done to get what you really want.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is only one "real" gym here, Sengdara, which has two facilities. Most expats and high class Lao go there. Tennis and golf are popular sports too, so there are plenty of opportunities for that. Cycling is picking up too although riding here can be a gamble on your life given the driving and road conditions. Prices are cheaper than the States, but compared to the average Lao income, they would be out of reach for locals.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

No! I carry a big envelope of cash everywhere. There are some "fancy" places and some hotels that will accept your cc, but they will charge you a fee for using it. ATMs can be found in downtown.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I know some people have found religious communities and services to attend on Sundays, but I don't know the details.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Knowing the basics is key! Especially for grocery shopping and getting around. You will find people that speak English (esp. in Vientiane and Luang Prabang), but it will be difficult to get around if you have no knowledge of the language. You will also have a hard time connecting with the local community. Classes and tutors are available at the French Institute or privately.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes! There are virtually no sidewalks and no accommodations for people with disabilities. Most places do not have elevators.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Public transport is non-existent. The Uber equivalent, "Loca" is getting more and more traction now, but prepare to rely on a car to get anywhere. If your work allows it, you can also use a motorbike (very popular, but also very risky as there are numerous accidents each day).

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

The roads in Laos are rough, definitely bring a 4W drive car; a mid-size or full on SUV are probably best. Prepare to pay for repairs as everything is imported!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

"High-speed" is relative, as sometimes it works, most times it doesn't. Getting it installed requires someone who can speak Lao and communicate your needs. You pre-pay internet for 6 or 12 months. The first few months it works well, after that, it becomes more spotty.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I use a local SIM, pre-pay and pay for a monthly plan of unlimited data. Most people use WhatsApp, so there is no need to have a calling number.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Laos is very conservative although the younger crowd is less so. If you go to government buildings or temples, expect to wear traditional Lao skirts and shirts that cover your shoulders if you are a woman. Lao people take pride in the way they dress, so you want to wear your best whenever conducting business.

Outside of work, you can wear shirts that show your shoulders and knees, but you will get stared at especially if you stand out as a foreigner. I would not bring clothes that is too tight or revealing to Laos. If you are part of the diplomatic community, there are occasional events where formal attire is required. I would bring options knowing how difficult it is to find clothes here!

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Overall, it is a safe country. I have felt safe traveling alone as a single woman. However, there have been some incidents that make you be cautious and I do carry pepper spray now. It's important to keep in mind that while Vientiane feels like a "large town" you should still use your common sense and not walk alone at night or in dark places.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The medical system here is terrible. Most things require you to go to Thailand to get it checked. MedEvacs are very common. I personally used my R+R to go to see all my doctors and dentist. If you have any kind of medical condition, you should really
reconsider coming here. If you plan to start a family, I would recommend you not come here.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is bad during the dry season (when the weather cools off and humidity is low) because of the slash and burn practices in Laos and neighboring countries. So, unfortunately being outdoors or opening your windows during the cooler months is difficult. I have developed a bad cough and have had to use an inhaler from time to time due to the poor air quality during the burning season.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and humid most of the year; when it cools off, the burning season begins.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

It is small. Almost everyone knows each other. For the most part people are friendly. As I mentioned before, this post attracts many families with kids.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There is not much to do in Vientiane other than going to cafes or out to drink, and the nightlife is not that impressive. I think most people meet others through their kids' school/activities.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I would not recommend this post for anyone single. At least not if you are a woman, as most Lao men are intimidated by you, so you won't find dating there. Most foreign men are married, so the dating pool is limited to the backpacker. If you are a single man attracted to Asian women, you will not have a problem dating. As mentioned before, activities in the city revolve around going to cafes or bars, and that's about it.

This post is great for families as it is safe, quiet and the international schools are good. So, it tends to attract more families with young children.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I don't think so. In my opinion, the Lao are not very open to this and there are no places where LGBTQ+ they can fully be themselves.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There are not many black people here; you will get stared at and touched by locals and your photo will be taken even if you don't want to. There is also still a believe that the lighter skin you have the more beautiful you are. You will see locals wearing sweaters, beanies, face mask and using umbrellas during the day to prevent from getting darker as they associate this with being "ugly".

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

1. Luang Prabang and Nong Khiew
2. The Rock View Point and Kong Lor Cave
3. The Gibbon Experience
4. Trekking in Luang Namtha
5. Boulevan Plateau (for coffee lovers) + Savannakhet

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Weaving and handicrafts are popular.
Some people get wooden furniture made. A lot of women get clothes made.

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Almost no traffic and the locals are extremely nice and kind.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

This is not Thailand. It is not easy to get to Thailand. It is very difficult and expensive to travel to neighboring countries due to connecting flights. It is difficult to find quality food or common products from home.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?


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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Tight, revealing clothes and your winter gear (unless you plan to travel somewhere cool).

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, hiking boots and sense of adventure!

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down to learn more about the Secret War and the Hmong community resettling in the U.S.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you are a city-lover, it is probably best you avoid coming here. Vientiane is a small town. Everything starts shutting down around 9 pm. Some bars/ and the 1 night club will stay open til later, but not much of a city vibe. There are lots of outdoor activities and untouched nature spots you can explore in the country, but you also have to be careful as to how much risk to take due to the poor quality of the medical system.

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