2014 – City Nightlife, Clubs, Sex and Lao Family Life
Even by 2014, there are
comparatively few social activities
in Vientiane that either Lao or foreigners can indulge in, besides drinking
Beer Lao or the local cheap but potent (and detrimental to health
over time) 'Lao whisky', a white spirit known
as lao kao. There are a few public swimming pools apart from those of the
hotels; there are some bowling alleys, numerous fitness centres, cinema complex
at Lao ITECC, Hash House Harriers and a few assorted
social and sports clubs including rugby. Football (soccer) is very popular
among young Lao people. The
Lane Xang Golf Club is at Km14 on the way to the Friendship Bridge and also the
Eagle driving range. The
Dansavanh Nam Ngum Resort, about
60 km north of Vientiane, has an international
standard golf course, 185-room hotel and casino with 150 slots
and 60 table games. English is spoken, but most of the customers are Chinese
Lao, Thai and Vietnamese.
Accommodation in Vientiane
is wide ranging. Check out and compare
Vientiane hotels and guest houses and learn more on our
is an English language daily newspaper owned (and censored) by the Lao government,
with mainly local events and announcements, and a smattering of regional and
international news; also details of local
club and organisation activities. It should not be confused with a dot com website
using the same name, and run by Lao-American residents (Hmong refugees,
dissidents?) with a strong anti-Lao-government bias.
Night clubs – fun for Lao youth and the young-at-heart
Vientiane’s night life is
lively but limited in scope. There are no raunchy live shows or titillating 'cabaret' such as in
neighbouring Thailand or the Philippines. There are some
excellent restaurants. Hotels
like Lao Plaza and Novotel, now renamed
have night clubs catering to the wealthy local 'elite' and foreigners. Beyond that, for the rest, there are
a few popular, tightly-packed pub/discos,
night clubs, music and karaoke pubs which play
a mix of Lao, Thai, Western and other Asian pop music, and where beer is still cheap
by any standards.
Popular spots include
Marina, Mercure Blue Note (Novotel) and Red Sun
with live music (opp BCEL) in the city. Romeo is a fairly high-tech venue the clock tower
roundabout on Thadeua Road. Meena (now closed) has been
superseded by Echo which is directly opposite on the same road but nearer the
small club at Soradith Hotel in Dong Palane caters
mainly to gays and ladyboys. All Lao night venues are mixed and gay-friendly
or at least tolerant; it's part of the culture.
Even with Lao's early closing times, most places
remain empty until 10 p.m., but by 11 they have filled up for the very short 'night out'.
Closing times vary around 1 a.m. Clubs in hotels like Novotel (Mercure) stay open
later, as can some clubs a little outside the city centre like Echo,
Dao Kham (Gold Star) and Marina.
Political decisions, Buddhist calendar
events, management whim and unknown factors affect the time a club or
restaurant will close on any
particular evening. When the white lights come up, then gradually get switched off, that's the time to
pay the bill, finish your drinks and leave. There is no point in asking why. It's 'Lao
style' to accept these things with a smile and without question.
There are several easy to find bar restaurants (close
by midnight) popular with tourists are Kop Chai Dur, Chess Cafe and Red Sun
(Tawen Daeng). The easiest way to
meet a pretty (poo sao ngam) Lao girl, handsome
(poo sai law) Lao man or 'katoey' is by
experiencing the Vientiane
night scene. Lao people still tend to label without malice anyone from
gay male or tom (lesbian) to transvestite or transgender 'shemale'
as kathoey. See more on the Buddhist third sex or third
gender topic below.
some of the above places and mixing with the local crowd.
As a foreign tourist travelling alone, you
will often be made a fuss of; you might be joined at or invited to share a table. Go along if you can with the singing, dancing,
arm-waving to the loud music,
while drinking copious quantities of Beer Lao (Johnnie Walker for the wealthier patrons). These are the places where
you can see
young Lao people enjoying themselves to the full. By contrast, family celebrations
(except for formal wedding receptions for the wealthy) are
almost always held at home with the extended family, friends and neighbours
and their friends, accompanied by extremely loud blasting pop and
traditional music, recorded and live. Karaoke is everywhere.
Sex with Lao ladies,
men and other 'night people' (free or paid)
before they go home to sleep, the Lao 'jet set' like to soak up the excess of
alcohol by stopping for a bowl of noodle or rice soup (Chinese dim sum
is also popular) at several late-opening outdoor shops which
also serve beer. Some of these people are looking for sex too. Vientiane
is quite different from the 'in your face' entertainment of
but it's easy to have a good time when you know where to go.
'Night people' and
club-goers are from teenagers to early 30s, a lot of them
college and university students
as well as the many unemployed being supported by the family (another strong
Lao tradition). Most will have money enough to buy a couple of drinks.
Richer friends take care of those without. Local families often rely on regular support from relatives living
overseas, mainly in the USA; this seems to give many young Vientiane people little incentive to work or even
consider looking for jobs. A high proportion of these go to clubs several
times per week – not only to enjoy the company
of their friends, but also in the hope of
finding customers for sex, preferably farang (foreigners) who are always expected to have money.
Famous in the sixties and
seventies, Vientiane brothels have long gone, prohibited by Lao law,
but places do exist if you have a local friend who 'knows the scene'. There
are many 'short time' guesthouses and hotels (they call them love
hotels in Japan) and hotels scattered around the country catering
primarily to this trade as well as 'normal' overnight guests.
The women who
frequent the clubs and 'lady bars' are
mainly ordinary girls who don't
think of themselves as
prostitutes; they are known as
(service women). Sadly, it's the easiest and most lucrative form of regular
income for young Lao (and Thai), and this is how many of them support their families. Babies and young children are often at home, being taken care of by
parents or grandparents.
Marriages seem to fail very rapidly nowadays. Like their parents (and school
teachers for that matter) are mostly badly educated, with few real skills. They are unlikely to find
Vientiane. If they do, the pay is very low. Living at home and going
out at night to sell their bodies
is an easy option, with far greater income potential and
little stigma among their peers. The families turn a blind eye, sex is never
discussed openly of course, and everyone 'saves face'.
Although virtually everyone has a mobile phone or tablet these days with
internet (and Facebook access), Internet shops
are still popular in
Vientiane, not only for tourists but many young
women and men
'video-chatting' with friends at home and overseas. Some are looking for
more than friendship with visiting foreigners. It's very easy to make
friends in Lao or elsewhere in Asia.
See more below.
Societies of Asia,
especially Buddhist, the 'third gender' is
recognised and accepted
In Laos, as in Thailand, there is no discrimination against
or transvestites (TGs –
clubs, pubs and night spots in Lao and other Asian countries like Thailand
and the Philippines.
They are not always easy to
recognise as they just of the Lao urban scene. Born biologically male, they
are referred to by Lao and Thai people as katoey (gatoey,
kathoey), lady-boys or she-males'
(read more below).
'butch' or 'fem' are known as 'tom'. Some young Lao men behave as boys
by day, but become girls by night. Some appear wholly male, while transvestites appear
sometimes in ostentatious drag,
often outdoing their 'sisters' by looking far more attractive and feminine than the real thing! This is
commonplace in many Asian
cities and capitals including Vientiane, Bangkok, Manila and other
Asian capitals. A beer-filled farang
looking for a real woman sobers up quickly when he discovers what lies beneath layers of
make-up, jewellery, wigs, panties and padded bras! Many foreigners in
Asia prefer and search
for just that. There's no accounting for taste in today's modern world. Basically, everyone is in search of fun and sex – both
free and for money.
Some of the 'gender-confused' take things further. With the
help of relatively cheap cosmetic surgery available in nearby Thailand,
young men can be transformed into the women they
already feel they are 'inside' and wanted to be
from an early age. After cosmetic enhancement and the final step of sexual
or gender reassignment surgery, they can live as women (although not recognised as
such officially by Lao or Thai authorities).
Some trans-sexuals find husbands or permanent partners and live in Europe, where
this is more generally acceptable. With the right connections, a transformed
katoey can have his passport gender changed to her,
avoiding potential problems when applying for a visa or entering a different
It is believed that a future kathoey is
predetermined by the 'powers that be' at birth; a young boy who is
effeminate will be discussed by the family as a possible kathoey. Parents do
not feel shame or hostility toward the child. These beliefs are still
respected and even reinforced under the influence of Buddhism – in fact the
Buddhist version of the story of creation refers to them: "in the beginning
there was man, woman and kathoey." Each gender has its individual role and
unique sufferings. The dogma further maintains that everyone may experience
masculine and feminine forms in different 'lifetimes' or even during the
same one. Traditional 'logic of invisibility' allows any kind of social
behaviour as long as it neither hurts nor offends anyone else.
Sexual acts, however, are treated differently.
Sexual behaviour and
Brothels in Laos are now prohibited as mentioned above. Regarding
sex with minors, there is apparently little in Lao law relating to children and
under-age sex. The penal
code states that adults who have sexual intercourse with children under 15 are liable
to penalties. Lao family law establishes 18 as the age of sexual
and a desired minimum age for marriage. However, since among certain ethnic
groups marriage was traditionally contracted as young as 12, an average of
15 is accepted, but not encouraged as the age of sexual freedom. While
homosexuality is officially illegal, the law relating to sexual acts in private between
consenting same-sex adults is unclear, according to Amnesty
International's findings. Gay couples, same or mixed race e.g. Lao
and farang, as long as they are discreet in public, rarely have
problems with the police.
and Lao social issues
In Laos it is officially against the law for an unmarried or even
previously married Lao woman to have sex or sleep under the same roof as a
man who is not her husband or close family member. While this is usually
casual liaisons in city hotels and guest houses, it is quite strictly adhered to elsewhere.
Longer term residents (more than tourists) need to be aware of this;
aggrieved families can cause problems or expect marriage or financial compensation for the 'de-flowering' of a daughter. Local officials will take action if
requested. On the other hand, males sharing rented rooms for economical or
'other' reasons is common and quite acceptable. What goes on discreetly behind
closed doors is of little interest
The Lao people as a rule are tolerant and accepting by their
Buddhist-influenced nature, and
have quite open attitudes to sexual and gender preference. They find
katoeys (gays) amusing company.
Thailand promotes this noticeably with live TV shows. Lao TV is much more
conservative, but Vientiane is within range of Thai television.
In this part of Asia at least, it's not uncommon for a self-perceived normal
heterosexual male to have fun and even sex with someone
who appears to be (or wants to be seen and treated as) 'female', whether born that way or
not. The concept of 'man and man' i.e. two basically
'normal' males having
sex also exists in Asian society, but as long
as liaisons are discreet no one seems to mind.
MSM (Men-Sex-Men) is
a term now used for this
A survey of the
sexual behaviour of
men in Vientiane
reveals that a significant percentage of Lao
(heterosexual in their own eyes) experience sex with other men, usually gays
or katoey, for fun or for money, and more likely after drinking a lot of
facilities in Laos
Conventional male-female sexual encounters are available all around Vientiane, primarily
for Lao men. The city was once famous for its brothels, but things
have quietened down since the 70's. The only alternatives are dimly-lit
small beer shops also selling food, that have 'ladies' in attendance. These
are not paid by the establishment, but 'take care' of the patrons – serving drinks and acting as table
company; more by mutual arrangement, and always off-premises in a guesthouse
(Japanese-style 'love hotel'). Prices are probably lower than
Thailand for similar facilities. Foreigners are not unwelcome, but
they don't usually frequent this type of place without be able to
communicate in Lao or Thai; they are likely to be
accompanied by Lao male friends.
Very few locals, except in the city bars and clubs speak much English
or other foreign language. City pubs, night clubs and karaoke bars are the best
places for foreigners looking for company. Cruising takes place near
the Mekong River in Vientiane and possibly other towns and cities along the
river that traverses the whole of Laos.
Lao family celebrations and ceremonies
Lao people are socialists by nature and they socialise –
frequently! Usually in their homes or those of neighbours. Anyone is
welcome to drop in at any time unannounced, and will automatically be
expected (even forced) to share any food that is being eaten – and this can be at any hour
of the day or night. These little get-togethers may develop into a game of
petanque or boule
or a card
game which later will evolve into a party when the first crate of beer (available
everywhere) appears, and it will! It
quickly develops into a raucous affair with plenty of food and lots of beer lao or
being consumed. There may be loud music, spontaneous shrieking and singing,
clapping, and 'Lao dancing'. Unplanned parties like this can occur on any day
of the week and can go long into the night. There are also many family events
which require a 'baci' (Buddhist blessing ceremony) followed by a party.
These are pre-planned and often the whole extended
family and friends are expected to attend.
popular now among families with babies and young children. This is not a Lao or Buddhist tradition; birthday parties and celebrations used
to be looked down upon by the monks.
Nevertheless due to Western influences and TV in particular, young people in
Vientiane especially, celebrate their birthdays more and more as they see
parties are held (and presents given) almost everywhere else. Parents and friends
have them and they copy them. The Lao love parties and birthdays are another
excellent excuse! Valentine's Day, Halloween, Christmas, other nations' New
Year celebrations have been added to the 'party calendar' together with the many
traditional ones. A child's birthday party in Vientiane, apart from a token
cake with candles, and a local version of "Happy Birthday to You", is just
another excuse for a party for the 'grown-ups' and copious quantities of
beer (and a few soft drinks for the 'real' guests) are consumed.
family members usually prefer to go
out for their fun. There are large and small beer shops and garden
restaurants in the 'suburbs' and villages, offering food and drink with music,
sometimes from a live group. Closing times vary on the whim of the government. Sometimes up to 1.30 a.m. unless there is an international
delegation in town or arriving soon. Then all bars and restaurants may have to close as early as 10.30 p.m.
Locals are only mildly irritated by this. As with all things in Lao, apparent acceptance without complaint
is the norm.
In the home, though, there are celebrations and ceremonies
which must be performed in accordance with Buddhist ritual, and which all
family, friends and others are invited to. It is expected that everyone
contributes something (cash followed by food and drink) to these affairs.
Parties can become large and very noisy, with a band or DJ providing music and
commentary, often running into the early hours of the next morning. Again
there is benign acceptance from neighbours who are not part of the family. They
will probably 'get their own back' at some point, by attempting to have a bigger,
noisier one. It's a bit of a status thing and seems to be part of life, certainly in and around Vientiane, where
most of the wealth is.
Lao New Year
The dates depend on full moon in mid-April (often coinciding with the West's
Easter). See all Lao Public Holidays
this page. Pi Mai is a unique experience in itself. Often a whole week of celebrations,
parties and public holidays beginning with the three official New Year days of Songkran, similar to Thailand, with
water (often iced) being poured or thrown over everyone in sight. Over
pedestrians and motorcyclists on the roads or near shops and houses. Most
activity in Vientiane city centre. This is followed by
two more official New Year Holidays. Not a good time to visit unless you know the scene and
don't mind spending time being soaking wet. If you know Lao people, you will
be invited to a party somewhere new every day, and they start in the morning,
going sometimes throughout the night. Very loud amplified music, karaoke
singing, dancing and
beer and whisky consumed in amazing quantities.
and quiet basically reign supreme in this still laid-back,
almost sleepy capital, but
sometimes the authorities tend to be over-zealous in their attempts
to show off Vientiane as a well-behaved even sterile city with nobody on the streets at
night. This seems to be for the benefit of visiting foreign dignitaries and
promoted by the old, traditional 'die-hards' still in government. It may be worth mentioning here that a few days before a major international conference or
political event takes place in Vientiane, there will be a sort of curfew
imposed by the early closing of entertainment venues. Occasionally,
the visa-on-arrival service
has been suspended for several days, sending casual tourists back across the bridge into Thailand. The
official reason is the lack of suitable or sufficient accommodation in the city, but it
seems more of an attempt to secure the streets around the city with road
blocks and inspections of vehicles, thus preventing possible
incidents by dissidents from outside the city during these international events. The Lao Embassy in Bangkok's website should publish warnings of this nature, so you might check before you leave your previous destination. Visitors
arriving with visas already have no problems with entry.
In spite of a few strange quirks for resident foreigners,
part of that 'culture shock' we have
mentioned, there is an increasing number of people who decide
that the Lao PDR can be a sublimely pleasant
and relaxing place to live cheaply, away from the rat race and hustle and bustle of the ‘real world’. Living as a expatriate in Vientiane is by no means for everybody
– it is unsophisticated and far less western-influenced compared to
say Thailand. Some
prefer living a slightly 'retro' existence across the river for that reason alone,
hoping that the slow almost serene pace of life remains and the worst effects of consumerism don't
smother it too quickly, as it has done in many parts of the region. See also
Retiring in Vientiane.
Why not make Lao friends before you arrive in the Lao PDR? Or perhaps you are already there but
haven't met anyone yet. There are plenty of singles waiting to meet you in
Vientiane and other cities in Asia.
online adult and dating sites are free to join.