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French is very big in the Lao capital, and good international restaurants of this ilk actually outnumber those serving Lao fare. You'll find some great, affordable fine dining. A few local specialties to watch out for are khao poun, rice vermicelli with vegetables, meat, or chilies, in coconut milk; laap, minced meat, chicken, or fish tossed with fresh mint leaves; or a tasty Lao-style pâté. Try sticky rice, eaten with the hands, as an accompaniment to most Lao dishes (it's a thrice-a-day staple for Laotians). Note: Restaurants are cash only unless specified.

Snacks & Cafes

Joma Bakery Café, across from the fountain on Setthathirath Road (tel. 021/215-265), is renovated and spruced up, with fine breads and good coffee, as well as wireless Internet access. Next door is the newly opened Dao-Fa (tel. 021/215-651), offering the same fine crepes and pastas as its sister branch in Luang Prabang. Nice toasted baguette sandwiches can be had at Le Banneton (Nokeokumman Rd.; tel. 021/217-321). The Scandinavian Bakery (tel. 021/215-199), off Nam Phu Fountain Circle, has good fresh bread and is always packed with travelers. It's a good place to pick up a foreign newspaper and people-watch on the terrace. The Swedish Pizza & Baking House (Chou Anou; tel. 021/215-705) is another tasty European option that also serves decent pizza. Xayoh Café, just across from the Lao National Culture Hall (tel. 020/612-051), serves pub grub of all sorts and is a good place to relax and have a beer or a coffee anytime. For excellent desserts, including a chocolate and wine sampler, try Le Central .

Vientiane's Street Fare

The busy area of Ban Haysok on the western edge of the town center is Vientiane's small Chinatown and an excellent place for an evening stroll and some great snacks. One-dish meals of rice or noodles, Lao/Chinese desserts, and supersweet banana pancakes are sold by street vendors. It's an area that stays up late for sleepy Vientiane, and its charm is in the clamorous chaos. Don't miss it.

The many storefronts along riverside Fa Ngum Road are popular gathering spots for travelers, and across the street, on the riverside, is a row of thatched-roof eateries serving all the basics. This is a great spot for viewing the Mekong and neighboring Thailand at sunset.

On the north end of Chou Anou is the Ban Anou night market with vendors selling steaming bowls of noodles to hungry locals. It is a real urban Lao experience and can also be quite sociable if you are near a bunch that want to practice their English, of whom there are often quite a few. It's open daily from 8pm to midnight.

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.