The markets in Vientiane, the capital city, and the tourist town of Luang Prabang are good places to shop conveniently. The main tourist areas are convenient, but you'll get better prices and bargains if you go outside the main tourist areas to shop.
You'll find that each city, town, and even each market might have a different variety of products and unique products that might be works of skilled art. Part of the fun of browsing village markets is surveying what is available.
Generally, don't look for mass-produced products you could find anywhere else, but find the inspired work of artisans of dozens of ethnic groups that you'll really appreciate for their uniqueness and meaning to you.
Here's what to buy, where to buy it, and some shopping tips for traveling in Laos.
The Best Things to Buy
When you go to Laos, the best bargains and also the best products to take back with you are their handmade crafts articles and their natural products. Laotians have continued their traditional handicrafts. It makes them a little money to survive in a country without much other work to do.
- Laotian-style clothes: Women have a traditional style of skirt, top, and matching sash called the sinh. It isn't something you'd wear either at home or outside back in your country probably.
- Handmade silk: Silk is still made by hand in Laos. They might be intricately dyed and quite artistic, depending on the skills of the maker.
- Native coffee: The country has famed coffee growing regions. There are plantations as well as thousands of individual family plots. Both Arabica and Robusta are grown. Some of it is labelled organic, and much of it is organic or almost organic even if it isn't so labeled.
The silk traditional textiles made in Laos are intricately dyed and woven by hand. Around the wealthier towns such as Luang Prabang, you can shop for well-crafted artistic silks because they have had a cottage industry of silk handicrafts.
Around Luang Prabang, you could go to Ok Pop Tok shop or Ban Xang Khongf Village to watch them make silk and silk fabrics and buy their products. You can ask them to tailor-make something for you. A private driver is very helpful for both convenience and mobility as you shop around the towns and small villages. An expert guide can help with communication and information.
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The Top Places to Shop in Laos
The markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang are touristy, but worth visiting because they are convenient and collect products regionally. But the best place for bargains and unique crafts are out in the countryside in towns and villages. It would be really helpful to have an expert local guide to help you discover what you want and a private driver to take you around Laos for shopping.
Vientiane is where to go for malls and international brand names. Luang Prabang's street markets are much better than Vientiane's since Luang Prabang has much more locally made products, and Vientiane's street markets have mostly Chinese-made manufactures that you can buy anywhere.
Luang Prabang Night Market
Luang Prabang's night market is abundantly stocked with locally made crafts and some local manufactures. The selection of items is actually pretty amazing and is fairly representative of the art, craftsmanship and cottage industry production of Laos. Dried food, organic coffee, bamboo straws, baskets, weavings, and of course silk are just a few of the types of things you can get at good prices considering it is one of Laos' main travel destinations.
After visiting street markets in other places such as Thailand, you might be surprised by the easy bargaining and laid-back attitudes of the sellers in Luang Prabang. They have years of experience selling to international browsers and buyers, and you'll enjoy your time browsing, eating the locals snacks such as mango shakes and river fish, and maybe chatting with the locals.
Customized goods: What makes shopping more fun is that you can watch many people making products in the market, and you can ask them to custom-make or customize products for you. It is a good place for souvenirs and gifts. It is a good place to have a local guide such as ours with you because among the gems of the buys, there is an abundance of are poorly made and overly priced things. Our private guide can guide you to the better sellers and help you find what you'll like.
Location and hours: The stalls and tents of this market extend down the main street in a long line. The sellers open around about 4:00 or 5:00 pm depending on the weather, and it tends end about 9:30.
What to eat: A part of enjoyable shopping at the market is eating there. Prices are reasonable. You can have a buffet for 20,000 kip a plate (2.80 USD). Meat skewers vary in price, and big skewers of chicken wings can cost about 2.80 USD. A tofu sandwich costs 10,000 kip (1.20 USD) and a tuna sandwich costs 1.70 USD.
Luang Prabang Morning Market
You'll have to make an effort to get there about 5:30 or 6:00 am if you really want the best buys and shop alongside the locals. It is a way to learn about the local daily way of life. Getting fresh food every morning is essential for many in Lulang Prabang since they don't have refrigerators.
It is also a way for you to get very fresh tropical produce and find things to eat you didn't think people ate and didn't even know existed. You might really be surprised at finding fruits that you didn't know existed and that are extremely delicious and nutritious too.
It is basically just one long street selling all types of food, dry goods, sea foods, and etc. It isn't touristy. You might be able to get local craft bargains. At one end, the market ends in little alleys that are bordered by flowering bushes and small boutique hotels.
Vientiane Night Market
In Vientiane, the Night Market is the favorite tourist place. But it is much different than markets you'll find in the countryside. Instead of local crafts, you find mostly Chinese-made manufactures.
Stalls with red coverings run for about a kilometer parallel to the Mekong. Next to them, there is a newer section of regular stores. The stalls mostly sell the same kinds of products such as clothing, bags, sports equipment, electronics paraphernalia and accessories, and souvenirs. Bargaining is expected, so price compare on the same products.
There are few tents where they serve food or drinks, but you can go to the adjoining street along side the market called Quai Fa Ngum, and there, you will find a myriad of food stalls that sell authentic Laotian food including everything from seafood to roasted chicken.
Go with caution: Generally, watch out for fake and defective products, and as you walk along, watch for people passing through on their bikes and motorcycles and dogs.
Location and hours: Chao Anuvong Park along the Mekong River and Quai Fa Ngum Area in Vientiane City Center. The night market opens from 6:00 to 10:00 pm every night of the year except if it is raining heavily when few sellers open. May to September is the heaviest monsoon season.
Vientiane Morning Market (Talaat Sao)
Like Luang Prabang's Morning Market, you can find farm produce with lots of fresh meat, fruit and other stuff. Unlike the Luang Prabang Morning Market, there is also an air-conditioned mall and rows upon rows of manufactured products from China. You can also find Laotian handicrafts too. Like Luang Prabang's market, it is best early in the morning.
However, unlike Luang Prabang, the street market isn't as sanitary and pleasant. In general, we don't recommend it unless you really want to see how the city people shop.
The mall has 4 floors. The fourth floor is unused. The third floor has many gold jewelery shops. The first and second floors have clothes and bags.
Location: Lane Xang Avenue, Vientiane
Vientiane Ban Nong Bouathong Weaving and Textile District
If you want to look at a large selection of crafts made locally, locally manufactured clothing and fabrics, and imports, this textile district in the northeastern part of the city is where to go. Laotian tribal handbags are a favorite as are their cotton and silk fabrics and clothes. However, realize that locally-made handicraft fashion and fabrics might be made with dyes that will run if you wash them in a washing machine. They'll need special care.
For crafts, we suggest the Handicraft Products of Ethnic Groups store. It is a place to see all kinds of ethnic crafts products gathered in one place for comparison and browsing. It is a cultural experience too to see how different ethnic groups produce things and what they like.
Vientiane Center Lao Mall
This is a new big mall, but it is fairly empty. It is a place to go to buy middle level-type manufactured imports, but there is not much for tourists to do there. Be very careful about buying fake products.
Laos Shopping Tips
Beware of the Scams
You will find lots of fake goods such as a fake Rolex watches. Sometimes, they are advertised as fake goods, but sometimes they are passed off as being genuine. Be careful when you shop. It is almost impossible to get a refund from a street stall. That is why is it helpful to have knowledgeable guide with you to help you communicate and find what you are looking for.
Common fake goods: In Laos, other than Chinese-made imitations, watch out for fake gemstones. As it is virtually impossible to tell fake gemstones from real ones without special equipment. We strongly recommend that you don't purchase them.
If someone offers to take you to a shop, don't go. The seller will give you a higher price to compensate their friend for taking you there. Pay close attention if you use your credit card because credit card fraud might happen in Laos.
Avoiding Scams and Staying Safe
In Vientiane, there are some violent crimes. Pay attention to your personal security, especially at night. Theft and bag snatching is common in tourist areas. Another problem in the tourist area is food or drink with poison or narcotics. So don't accept food or drink from strangers or leave your food and drink unattended. Theft and violent crime increase in the lead-up to festivals such as Lao New Year in April. This is why it is great to have an experienced guide and driver with you.
Scams and fraud are common for transportation too. Some motorbike rental companies do costly scams, so when arranging for transportation, go through reliable people who can give you recommendations about good transportation. Use a well-known hire company such as Asia Highlights. Don't use your passport as a deposit or guarantee. Check for skimming machines before using ATMs and keep your credit card and protected at all times.
Explore Lao's Shops and Markets with Us
Your guide can provide some of the best places for shopping and help you to bargain at markets. Our expert guide and driver can take you to great places most tourists never get to if you are looking for expert local craftsmanship. What is more, if you book a custom tour with us, there is no forced shopping as there is with other tours. We won't take you to places you won't want to go to or tourist traps.
Shopping in the countryside: Almost every Laotian town and most of the small villages have a central market offering a good range of fresh produce as well as varied arts and crafts. Let us know your preferences, and our trip advisor will recommend the markets in the places that are best suited to your interests. We will arrange your itinerary to ensure you get the most out of Laos's exciting shops and markets.
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