Pharmacies

Vientiane's better pharmacies are on Th Nong Bon near Talat Sao.

Pharmacie Kamsaat (Map p92; s 212940; Th Nong Bon; S 8.30am-5.30pm) English and French spoken. Pharmacie Sengthong Osoth (Map p92; @ 213732; Th Nong Bon; S 8am-8pm) English, French, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai spoken.

Money

For cash, licensed moneychanging booths can be found in Talat Sao and a few other locations around town. You can also change at various shops, hotels or markets for no commission but at poor rates. The unofficial moneychangers hanging out near Talat Sao have particularly good rates but count your money carefully. See p310 for more information.

Banks listed here change cash and travellers cheques and issue cash advances against Visa and MasterCard. A couple also have ATMs that work with foreign cards, but it's often cheaper to get a cash advance manually; see p309 for the low-down. All are open 8.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday unless otherwise stated.

Bank of flyudhya (Map p92; @ 214575; 79/6 Th Lan Xang)

Banque pour le Commerce Extérieur Lao (BCEL; Map p92; § 213200; cnrTh Pangkham & Th Fa Ngum; S 8.30am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun) Best rates. Longest hours. Exchange booth on Th Fa Ngum and ATM attached to the main building. Joint Development Bank (Map p92; s 213535; 75/1-5 Th Lan Xang) Usually charges the lowest commission on cash advances. Also has an ATM. Lao-Viet Bank (Map p92; @ 214377; Th Lan Xang) Siam Commercial Bank (Map p92; s 227306; 117 Th Lan Xang)

Thai Military Bank (Map p92; @ 216486; cnrTh Samsenthai & Th Khun Bulom)

Post

Post, Telephone & Telegraph (PTT; Map p92; cnrTh Lan Xang & Th Khu Vieng; S 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, to noon Sat & Sun) Come here for post restante.

Telephone & Fax

International calls can be made from most internet cafés (see left). Local calls can be made from any hotel lobby, often for free.

LaoTelecom Numphu Centre (Map p92; "S 214470; Th Setthathirat; S 9am-7pm) Has fax and international-call facilities. Competition from internet cafés has seen rates slashed to US$0.20 a minute, or

US$0.10 for domestic calls. When we went staff suggested the office might soon be closed on weekends due to lack of interest.

Tourist Information

Between Talat Sao and Patuxai, the ground-floor office of the Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA; Map p92; §§ 212251; www.tourismlaos .gov.la, www.ecotourismlaos.com; Th Lan Xang; S 8.30am-4.30pm) has finally become a place that is really worth a visit. The disorganised chaos of the past has been replaced by an attractive, easy-to-use room with descriptions of each province and what you'll find there. When we visited staff spoke English and were able to answer most of our questions. You can pick up brochures and some regional maps (US$ 1, though not always in stock), and staff can arrange trips to Phu Khao Khuay NPA for you (no charge).

Travel Agencies

For a list of reputable agencies able to organise tours, see p330. Central Vientiane has plenty of agencies that can book air tickets and in some cases Thai train tickets, including the following:

A-Rasa Tours (Map p92; §§ 213633; www.laos-info .com; Th Setthathirat; S 8.30am-5pm Mon-Sat) Happy to answer questions, runs some tours. Beside Lao Travellers Café.

Green Discovery (Map p92; @ 251564,223022; www.greendiscoverylaos.com; Th Setthathirat) Large range of tours offered as well as normal travel agent services. Good reputation.

DANGERS & ANNOYANCES

By international standards Vientiane has a very low crime rate, but readers' reports and local anecdotes suggest there's an increasing risk of getting mugged. Be especially careful around the BCEL Bank on the riverfront where bag-snatchers, usually a two-man team with a motorbike, have been known to strike; common sense should be an adequate defence. Violent crime against visitors is extremely rare.

The repaving of most streets in the centre of town has improved the situation, but manhole covers seem to be given less importance here than you might be used to and at the time of writing there were still more than enough stormwater drains and open sewers big enough to swallow you - a thoroughly shitty end to any day.

All businesses in Vientiane are supposed to close by 11,30pm, though some stay open an extra hour or so. It's not dangerous to be out beyond midnight but you could be annoyed by military types if you're away from central Vientiane in an area where falang (Westerners) are seldom seen. If you are somewhere you shouldn't be (around the airport, for example) you might be escorted back to your hotel.

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