Vientiane is a pleasant city to explore on foot or by bicycle, because virtually all the sites are in a fairly compact area. Add to that the fact that the streets are wide and often leafy and there is no shortage of cafes and restaurants to keep refreshed, and a few days pottering among the monuments becomes a pleasure. In a couple of days, you can cover most of the sights and intersperse your explorations with the occasional riverside respite.

Swimming

There are a number of places to cool off and get wet in Vientiane, ranging from the luxurious to the municipal.

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The beautiful pool at the Settha Palace charges $9 a day. It is pleasantly surrounded by French colonial architecture and landscaped gardens. The Tai Pan swimming pool and fitness center is open to the public for a slightly cheaper $7.50 a day and the excellent Novotel charges $8 a day.

The large municipal pool on Ky Houng Road (btw. the National Museum and the Lao Plaza Hotel) is open daily from 8am to 7pm. At $1, it is satisfyingly cheap for doing laps, but it's less good for lounging. There is also the newly opened Nong Chan Water Park with huge slides for the kids. It is situated on Khouvieng Boulevard, near the central bus station.

Massage/Sauna

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There are excellent massage places all over town ranging from small shop fronts to luxury hotels. The quality is very good indeed.

There is traditional massage and herbal sauna at Wat Sok Pa Luang (Sok Pa Luang Rd.; open daily 1-7pm; sauna 10,000 kip; massage 20,000 kip).

Meditation

There are meditation classes every Saturday led by monks at Wat Sok Pa Luang. They take place between 4 and 5:30pm in the gardens of the wat. The instruction is free and there is a translator to answer your questions.

Golf

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The 18-hole Youth Garden Golf Course (Km 14 on Rte. 13 heading south) was the first one in Vientiane. It is not far from the Friendship Bridge. Nonmembers pay $16 on weekdays and slightly more on weekends. This gets you a caddy but not clubs. You have to either bring your own set or arrange a rental. There is also the quiet 9-hole course (Km 6 on Rte. 13 heading south), which hosts expat tournaments although on the weekend it's very quiet.

Bowling

Ten-pin bowling is now a very popular activity in Vientiane and there is a good choice of places to try and clatter the pins.

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Lao Bowling Centre -- On the corner of Ky Houng Road and Khou Boulom Road just past the swimming pool is the Lao Bowling Centre near the Novotel. One game costs 10,000 kip per person up until 7pm, and 12,000 kip after that. Shoes are supplied, and socks available for 8,000 kip. The bowling center is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am until midnight. Khun Bulom Rd. tel. 021/218-661.

Vientiane Bowling Centre -- This is at the Lao-ITECC shopping center (about 4km/2 1/2 miles out of town on the northern ring road toward the Friendship Bridge). It's a bit smarter than the one in town, and costs only 6,000 kip a game till 6pm and 10,000 kip after that. Daily 9am-11pm. Chanthaburi District. tel. 021/218-66.

Organized Tours

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Most hotels, guesthouses, and local travel agents will be able to organize a city tour or put you in touch with a company that can.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.