STAY. The leafy avenues that spread back from the Mekong play host to Vientiane’s grande dame, the Settha Palace Hotel (6 Th. Pang Kham; 856-21/217-5812; setthapalace.com; doubles from US$140), which has been keeping guests in colonial splendor since the early 1930’s. The brand-new Ansara Hotel (Quai Fa Ngum, Ban Vat Chan Tha, Hom No 5; ansarahotel.com; 856-21/213-5148; doubles from US$90) is a worthy addition to the city’s boutique stays. Rooms are simple yet stylish, with in-room laptops and a free (non-alcoholic) mini-bar. We love the lush tropical garden at Lani Guesthouse (281 Th. Setthathirat, Ban Haysok; 856-21/215-639; lani-guesthouse. com; doubles from US$35), as well as the clean rooms, traditional Lao architecture and wallet-friendly rates. Away from the city center, the Green Park Boutique Hotel (248 Th. Khouvieng; 856-21/263- 0623; greenparkvientiane.com; doubles from US$125) draws guests with chic, wood-floored interiors and romantic private balconies.
SHOP.Showcasing the work of Lao Coco, an association of home-grown artists and artisans, T’Shop Laï Gallery (Th. Wat Inpeng; 856-21/223-178; laococo. com) is a great place to pick up contemporary furniture and handicrafts by an emerging generation of creatives. Don’t miss the regularly changing art and photography exhibitions. • Wine lovers will be at home in Laos, where top pours are available at reasonable prices. The ultra-chic Van Som Wine Shop (110/01 Th. Samsenthai; 856-21/212-196; vansom-wineshop. com) offers an extensive selection of bottles as well as regular tasting events. • Designers and art collectors from around the world visit American Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles (Ban Mixay; 856-21/212-123; laotextiles. com) for the artisan-produced wall hangings, scarves, shawls and furnishing fabrics. • For a quintessential Lao market experience, head to Talat Khua Din (Th. Khua Vieng), tucked behind the refurbished Talat Sao. This sprawling collection of stalls has food, fabrics and jewelry.