Laos is an excellent destination for those interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts and Vientiane is the best place to do so. Hill tribe silk, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewelry and couture-quality textiles are all readily available within the city.
There are quite a few markets taking place around Vientiane where fresh produce, as well as crafts and ornaments, can be picked up. The city’s main shopping streets are Samsenthai and Setthathirat, around the Nam Phu Fountain area and the Morning Market, where you can find the best deals on local silks.
Visitors should note that any antique items that have been purchased in another country must be declared at customs upon arrival in Laos.
The majority of books that are found in Vientiane are second-hand French and English novels, maps, travel guides and the occasional Japanese comic book. Here are the names of a few bookstores around Vientiane: Lao Plaza Hotel Book Shop, Kosila Bookshop 1 & 2, Bookshop Sapasin Tha.
The Carol Cassidy store is a workshop and gallery specialising in traditional Lao textile weaving with a strong emphasis on patterns and motifs. Using age-old techniques, this American designer works alongside local artisans to produce beautiful pieces of woven art. Items have been displayed in museums across the USA including at The New York Fashion Institute. Her wall hangings are renowned, but with a price tag to match her notoriety.
Opening Hours: Monday - Friday: 08:00 –12:00, 14:00 –17:00, Saturday: 08:00 -12:00
Location: Ban Mixay
Great quality silk and cotton tailoring from suits and shirts to skirts and dresses, bespoke pieces are fashioned by a young Laotian designer at The Elegant Boutique. Items include clothing made to Western tastes to fit all sizes and intricate hill tribe jewellery made from silver. Garments are made using local silk and cotton with the option to order more online once you’ve been measured in store.
Opening Hours: Daily from 09:30 – 20:00
Location: on Pangkham Street, near the fountain, Lao Plaza Hotel and Lao Development Bank
Tel: +856 (0)21 215 437
Finer Things is a fantastic place to purchase genuine local handicrafts made by a variety of Laos’s ethnic groups. Products to look out for include woven silk and cotton goods as well as superb local organic coffee. Many of the woven products are made on the premises which offer a glimpse into the weaving process whilst you sample the coffee which arrives fresh daily from the mountains in the south.
Opening Hours: 09:00-18:30
Location: 34/03 Francois Ngin Street, Mixay
La Cave Wine Shop wouldn’t seem to out of place of on the boulevards of Paris, with its dim lighting, wooden interior and most importantly – its huge selection of European wines.
Whilst La Cave Wine Shop generally specialises in French reds, you can also find some quality white and sparkling wine alongside some more unusual liquors and spirits. As with most other wine shops, you get what you pay for (unless you strike lucky in their bargain bin), with prices starting from around $US10-15 a pop. Not a wine connoisseur? Then don’t worry – the English speaking staff can advise you as to which wine might suite your budget and tastes.
Opening Hours: 8.30 - 20:00, Monday - Saturday
Location: 354 Th Samsenthai.
Unique and elegant jewellery made from wood, coconut and silver are crafted into one-off pieces at Lao Fine Art Handicrafts Jewellery. Contemporary and traditional jewellery items offer a chance to buy something that is unlike anything you will find elsewhere in Asia. 92.5% silver is used along with natural materials such as coconut wood to make distinctive items of jewellery.
Opening Hours: 09:30-17:30
Location: 550/01 Thatluang Tai Village, Xaysettha District, Vientiane (the shop is not far from the fountain and right next to the Mandarina Antiques Shop and a travel agency.)
Tel: +856 20 5542 6993
As the sun sets, head along the Mekong River bank to the night market for bargains including silk scarves, bags and T-shirts. Start your bargaining price at 50% lower than the asking rate and be prepared to barter hard as you’ll be quoted a very high price to start. Take your time and make sure you really want the goods before entering into a negotiation.
Opening Hours: 17:00-22:00
Location: Fa Ngum Road
Displaying an assortment of antiques from across Southeast Asia, silver ornaments, handicrafts and paintings, Oot Ni Gallery is well worth a look at for a distinctive piece of art to take home. Paintings include watercolours and oils, and antique goods such as ancient artefacts are also available along with stone sculptures and one-off eclectic handcrafted items.
Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00 – 20:00
Location: 306 Samsenthai Street, Vientiane, not far from the National Cultural Hall
Tel: +856 (0)21 214 359
Take a tuk-tuk for the short drive out of town to the weaving district of Muang Chanthabuli, there you’ll find the Phaeng Mai Gallery which is a great place to purchase Lao textiles. Silk fabrics are dyed before being hand woven on traditional looms with finished products once supplied direct to the royal family. Take your time to watch the craft masters in action before purchasing a few souvenirs.
Opening Hours: 08:30-18:30
Location: 117 Nongbouathong Tai Village, Sikhottabong District, Vientiane
The place to come for western goods, Phimpone Market stocks imported magazines, wine and personal hygiene goods. There are plenty of home comforts here from a range of western countries including a very good selection of beer from Belgium and some fine French wine.
Opening Hours: 07:30-21:00
Location: 94/6 Thanon Setthathirat
Some of the finest craftsmen in Laos sell their wares at Saoban Village which was started by community leader and award-winner Sombath Somphone as a place for villagers to sell their art under fair trade principles. Whatever you purchase here your proceeds will go directly back to the artist. Choices on offer include bamboo keepsakes, silver jewellery and plenty of textiles made from silk and cotton.
Opening Hours: 13:00-20:00, closed Sundays
Location: 97/1 Rue Chao Anou Road, Ban Watchan
Tel: + 856 (20) 7783 9152
A farmer’s style market selling tobacco, flowers, fresh fruit and vegetable plus meat; it’s a good place to browse and watch the locals go about their daily business and also to catch a glimpse of local produce. Head east of the morning market and past the bus station to get to Talat Khua Din.
Opening Hours: 08:00-16:00
Location: Boulevard Khouvieng
Talat Sao is split into two distinct sections: The air-conditioned shopping mall (the only one in Laos) is the best place to find electronics, sports equipment and jewellery, while the cavernous original Morning Market is fairly overflowing with mass-produced silks, cheap T-shirts, trinkets and other souvenir type items. Talat Sao is the market to visit if you are looking for something in particular – although bear in mind that the catwalks of Paris and Milan are a long way from Vientiane. Read More...
Opening Hours: 7:00-17:00 (Market stalls tend to close earlier)
Address: Talat Sao Mall, Lane Xang Avenue, Vientiane
Tel: +856 (0)21 285 001
T’Shop Lai Gallery is a delightful arts and crafts store selling a mixture of natural products including handmade soap, lotions and potions, plus spices, furniture and other locally crafted goods. The shop is a treasure trove of ethically made items all of which are fair trade and adhere to strict environmental controls. Good gifts to purchase include body lotion made from virgin coconut oil and wood carved trinket boxes.
Opening Hours: 08:00-18:00
Location: Vat Impeng Street
The Vientiane Night Market is aimed primarily towards tourists, with clean, orderly stalls, and all manner of merchandise that make great souvenirs or mementos. It all begins around sunset when a small army of sellers begin setting up their red-roofed stalls directly on the riverside promenade.
You can’t fail to see it. The whole riverside area is alive at this time with joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of the cooling breezes and stunning backdrop of the sun lazily sinking into the Mekong river. Read More...
Opening Hours: 18:00 – 24:00
Location: On the promenade next to Chao Anouvong Park