I only spent one night in Vientiane, but it seemed like a much longer stay. I don’t mean that in a negative way. Vientiane is a small and very manageable city, and although my time there was rather brief, I felt like I got well acclimated and synched with life of the city.
After the relatively meager accommodations at Villa Nam Song, I thought I would “splurge” on my one night in Vientiane. I had narrowed my choices to the Settha Palace Hotel and the Ansara Hotel. I pored over the reviews and pictures of each. The Settha Palace is in a colonial era building, and it seemed to be the established luxury choice in Vientiane. However, I thought that frankly the pictures of the Ansara looked nicer, and the testimonials seemed to support the Ansara as well. The Settha Palace has a nice pool area, but the largest suite at the Ansara (of which there is only one of its kind), was roughly the same price as the entry level room at the Settha Palace.
I went with my gut and booked the Ansara, and it was a choice I would turn out to be very happy with. I bid adieu to the staff at the Villa Nam Song, mentally made plans to return to Vang Vieng sometime in 2013 (I have since booked a trip back there for April ’13) and hopped into my minibus for another torturous ride down Highway 13.
My driver easily found the Ansara which is tucked into a small street about 1/2 a block from the quay along the Mekong. I was greeted with a cold beverage and once I handed my passport over, check-in was seamless. To get to my suite, I was escorted out the back of the main house, across a courtyard and to the rear of the building in the back. There are no elevators, so I walked up the two flights of stairs to my room (#15) on the 3rd (top) floor.
When I opened the door I couldn’t help but laugh. I was paying (I believe) $199 USD/night for this room and it was embarrassingly large. Through the doorway there was a desk and a work area, then a large seating area around the flatscreen TV with chairs and a couch. In between the living room and work area there was a doorway leading to the bedroom, which contained a large, comfortable bed with decorative mosquito netting (no malaria in Vientiane and I didn’t see a mosquito in my room during my stay). Adjoining the bedroom was a spacious bathroom with a separate bathtub and shower, both of which were large and of excellent quality. An enormous balcony stretched outside from the bedroom past the living room. If this room could be transplanted to a more well trafficked (aka expensive) destination, I am confident it would be pricing out well over $1,000USD/night. Excellent value.
I spent the day wandering around Vientiane by foot, taking in all the “must see” tourist sights before retiring to a terraced bar along the Mekong to drink cold BeerLao and watch the sun set. I had dinner at the Ansara’s restaurant. It was on par with the cuisine you would expect at a 1-Michelin Star restaurant:
After dinner, I went back to my room and watched a movie on my laptop before turning in. My flight the next day wasn’t until the afternoon, and I wanted to wake up early and tick a few more touristic boxes before heading to the airport.
In the morning, since I felt I now had a basic familiarity with the city, I set off to find the Morning Market, without the aid of a map. Since I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for, I walked past the building that houses the market once or twice before someone explained to me that it was inside…I was picturing something open air.
I did the requisite t-shirt and knick-knack shopping for friends back home (who doesn’t want a BeerLao t-shirt?), then made my way back along the river towards the Ansara. While the food at Le Signature had been superlative, I wanted to try some Lao food, since I had heard it was extremely spicy (I love spicy food). Vang Vieng was light on authentic Lao cuisine as it was heavy on poor renditions of western comfort food targeted towards hungover backpackers, so this lunch in Vientiane was really my only shot. The desk directed me to a restaurant a few streets away.
I wasn’t that hungry, but I ordered a starter and a main to pick at. I consulted with the waitress who told me these were the spiciest items on the menu, but I didn’t find them to be particularly spicy, or delicious:
After lunch I popped back to the hotel, grabbed my bags and negotiated a transfer to VTE via the hotel car…I think I got them to do it for like $8 USD.
Ansara Report Card
Pros: Great prices, fantastic onsite restaurant, top notch rooms, convenient and central location, free wifi, tv, safe, minibar and room service.
Cons: No swimming pool.
Verdict: The Ansara and specifically room #15 are my only choice for future visits to Vientiane. I don’t have a bad word to say about the hotel and in fact I would say it was one of the top-5 properties I stayed at on this trip, which is impressive considering some of the other rooms I was in cost 5x to 8x more than a night at the Ansara.