American Express -- Vientiane's Amex representative is Diethelm Travel, Namphu Square, Setthathirath Road (tel. 021/213-833; www.diethelmtravel.com).

ATMs -- There are ATMs all over the center of the city, but they are not your best bet for getting cash from home. They only issue kip (with a limit of 700,000 kip). They also levy quite a hefty charge on top of any charges your own bank might levy. If you see a crowd of men in military fatigues carrying AK47 assault rifles milling around an ATM, don't be alarmed. They are hired to top up the cash supply. There's a Banque Pour Le Commerce Extérieur Lao (BCEL) ATM on Setthathirath Road (across the street from Joma Café), maximum withdrawal is 700,000 kip. The newly opened Australia New Zealand Bank Vientiane (ANZV) has two ATMs at their Lang Xang Avenue branch near the Victory Monument (at Blvd. Khounboulan intersection).

Banks & Currency Exchange -- Banque Pour Le Commerce Extérieur Lao (BCEL) is on Pangkham Street down by the river, just west of the Lane Xang Hotel (tel. 021/213-200). At BCEL and most other banks, you can exchange money in all major currencies, change traveler's checks to U.S. dollars, and get cash advances on Visa and MasterCard; commission rates start at 3%. The nearby Joint Development Bank (75/1 Lan Xang; tel. 021/213-535) also exchanges cash and traveler's checks. You can also exchange money at Banque Setthathirat, near Wat Mixay. All banks are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Other banks line Lane Xang Avenue; exchange counters dot the city.

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Business Hours -- Generally shops are open from around 9am to 8pm on weekdays with slightly reduced hours on weekends. Cafes tend to run from about 8:30am to 9pm or 10pm. Many restaurants open for lunch and dinner only and will be closed between 2 and 5pm. Government offices generally open Monday to Friday at 8:30am, close for lunch from noon until 1pm and close again at 5pm. Even with the fast-changing nightlife scene in Vientiane, most bars are closed by 11pm or midnight. There are quite a number of clubs and music venues that stay open unofficially past this time. Many businesses are closed on Sunday.

Doctors & Hospitals -- Medical facilities in Laos are very basic indeed. Most foreigners living in Laos go to Thailand for treatment of all but the most trivial of ailments. The Friendship Bridge connecting Vientiane to Nong Khai in Thailand is open daily from 6am to 10pm. If there is a real medical emergency then crossing outside of these hours is allowed. Many travelers go to AEK International Hospital (tel. +66-42/342-555) or the North Eastern Wattana General Hospital (tel. +66-1/833-4262), both of which are in Udon Thani about 55km (34 miles) from the border. Both hospitals have English-speaking staff. For less complex medical procedures, Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel. +66-1/833-4262) is also an option.

Within Laos the International Medical Clinic operated by Mahosot Hospital is situated on the banks of the Mekong on Fa Ngum Road (tel. 021/214-022; open 24 hr.). The Australian Embassy also operates a modern medical clinic. It is situated at Km 4 on Thadeua Road in Watnak Village. (tel. 021/353-840; fax 021/353-841; open Mon-Fri 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-5pm). Most doctors and hospitals in Laos require payment in cash, regardless of whether you have health insurance. The Australian Embassy Clinic accepts both MasterCard and Visa.

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Emergencies -- For police, dial tel. 991; for fire, dial tel. 190; and for an ambulance, dial tel. 195. For medical evacuation, call Lao Westcoast Helicopter Company (tel. 021/512-023).

Internet Access -- There are Internet cafes all over the center of town. The ones we found to have the best speeds and biggest monitors were opposite the Joma Café on Setthathirath. Beware of using your own thumb drives to save data though, since virus protection is patchy. Many cafes and restaurants now have free Wi-Fi. Both Sticky Fingers and Full Moon Café two doors up have good connections. Full Moon Café functions as a daytime office for many, largely because of its very comfortable seating; comfortable benches lined with lots of big cushions. More and more places are installing Wi-Fi and it's getting much easier to find a connection in town.

Newspapers & Magazines -- Laos is still very much Communist and this means that media is most definitely not free. The Vientiane Times is turgid and fairly pointless. You can buy the Bangkok Post in some bookshops or find copies to read in cafes and bakeries. You will have to line up to get your hands on them, since many people will be catching up on the outside world with the single newspaper available. Bookshops also sell international magazines such as Time and Newsweek for a fairly hefty price.

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Pharmacies -- Laos, like Vietnam and Cambodia, largely replaces proper medicine with self-diagnosis. As a result, there are many pharmacies around town selling antibiotics and other drugs using diagnosis methods that lack rigor or, in fact, any process of diagnosis whatsoever. If you get sick, head to a clinic. If you need something simple, the better pharmacies are to be found on Nong Bon Road near Talat Sao. Try and avoid Chinese-made drugs if you can and go for European and Thai imports and check the expiration date. The Australian Embassy Clinic also runs a fully equipped modern pharmacy.

Post Office -- The general post office is at the corner of Khou Vieng Road and Lane Xang Avenue, opposite the Morning Market. Hours are Monday to Friday 8am to noon and 1 to 5pm, Saturday 8am to noon. EMS and FedEx services are just next door. For international calls, you are better off using one of the many Internet cafes.

Safety -- Vientiane is a safer city than most, but it's still a good idea to take all the usual precautions, especially at night. There have been reported cases of bag snatching, so it's best not to leave things lying about or dangling invitingly from your shoulder. Also be aware that some of your fellow travelers might be the ones with light fingers. One aspect where the city can be difficult is on the road on a motorbike or car. Belying the gentle reputation of the country, Lao drivers can be downright aggressive. Keep space about you and take extra care at night when there will be a fair number of drunks behind the wheel.

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Telephone -- The city code for Vientiane is 021. For international calls, go to an Internet cafe. It is cheaper, quicker, and more efficient. You can also buy a Lao sim card for your mobile for approximately $5, if you want to make local calls. Calls are cheap and refill cards can be found everywhere.

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.