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We interviewed an expat poker in Vientiane on relocating to Laos to play poker, and travel tips in general.
I first spent some time in Thailand as many do, as there's quite a few poker players there. Then on a visa run to Vientiane (the Laos capital, on the Mekong River) I realized I preferred it here. It's more laid back than Thailand on a number of things, certain laws and political ideologies are different.
The Mekong Riverfront from the Laos side, Thailand visible to the West
For example you can renew visas in Laos longterm without needing to do visa runs to consulates outside the country - Laos is much more receptive to foreigners living here. There are also less controls like reporting your address every 90 days, no police stop and searches, etc. They just leave you alone to do your own thing. Similar to Vietnam or the Philippines visa wise, with the same safety levels of Thailand.
There's also less extreme nationalism, like how in Thailand you can be imprisoned for defaming the monarchy - that doesn't exist here. Interestingly one of the Piratebay founders was living in Laos for years quite openly without issue for example, then later was arrested by the Thai authorities.
Cheap Beer Laos by the river
It's less developed than Thailand, especially comparing Vientiane to Bangkok. More of a sleepy feel, certainly no 30 floor high rise condos or American style shopping malls. Luckily though since Vientiane is a visa run destination for all the Thailand expats, tons of international restaurants were started up here to cater to them.
You can find plenty of European food, Indian restaurants etc., and there's a decent selection of pubs and clubs here in the capital. Don't expect a super fast-paced lifestyle though.
One of the many Tuk Tuks for getting around the city, or rent a motorbike / bicycle
It feels super safe, most expat deaths are from drug overdoses, it's been fairly well covered in the media that if you are going to do that, make sure you aren't being sold white heroin as 'coke'. The same thing has happened in Amsterdam and Thailand.
Most grinders I know stick to cannabis which is more readily available than Thailand, with much less strict laws. Similar to Cambodia on that front.
When you get here you'll notice a lot of ladyboys riding around on motorbikes, watch your valuables if you're going to chat to them.
You can open a USD checking account at an ANZ bank branch to verify your Laos address with PokerStars. Laos uses dollars, Thai Baht and Laos Kip.
Given the low cost of living here you don't need to grind much, but usually late evening til early morning if you want to take advantage of the EU traffic.
At Samyek Pakpasack Restaurant, Vientiane
Or wake up early, multi-site and play til about 9am when the Australian fish come online.
I use Neteller, that works fine. Then the Neteller Mastercard they give you, works for withdrawing cash at ATMs. Americans can get a Charles Schwab account which refunds all foreign ATM fees.
@Home NightClub, Vientiane
It's a similar situation to Thailand where there's only a general umbrella of 'gambling' not being legal, and zero enforcement of that when it comes to expats playing online poker at home on their laptops. I'm not aware of anyone ever having an issue.
Some local Laos spirits for around 9000 Kip ($1.10)
There's the Savan Vegas Hotel & Casino, it's not much to get excited about though. Worth a trip once but. Not much live poker to speak of, at the Savan casino or elsewhere. Just small home / bar games, but most poker players in Laos just stick to grinding online.
Jazzy Brick Jazz Bar, Vientiane
It's getting better, Laos Telecom recently launched an unlimited 4G service for 250,000 Kip ($30). Then there's Beeline 3G which is stable in some areas. It can depend on location.
Chok Dee (Good luck) Cafe & Belgian Beer Bar, on the riverfront strip, Vientiane
I'd say most expats should budget at least $1k/month to get by, and $2k would be very comfortable. The locals obviously live on much less, if you want to go fully native you could do it cheaper.
Relaxed Laos lifestyle
Here's an example apartment for $300/mo - http://www.avs-apartment.com/room-avs4.html. Places in the touristy area by the riverfront can be overpriced, but still cheap by western standards.
Sakuran Karaoke Bar, Vientiane
There aren't that many poker players in Laos yet, there's so little information on blogs or forums. Maybe when there's more grinders here some will start up. Could ask in the TwoPlusTwo thread for Laos.
The capital as mentioned, better for urban stuff. Thailand blogger Stickman did a good trip report of Vientiane.
Statue on the Mekong Riverfront, Vientiane
This is more picturesque, beautiful countryside with lakes and areas to go 'tubing', where tourists get travel down river on rubber tubes to different bars, and swing from ropes. Some of that got shut down after safety issues but it still exists to some extent. Not too far from Vientiane.
About half a dozen regulars in that TwoPlusTwo thread and then a lot of the Thailand grinders will pass through Laos regularly on their visa runs. Then probably a few lurkers who don't post.
It helps but not essential. In Vientiane there's a workable level of English, they also understand Thai as the languages are similar. Also a little bit of French, given the history of French settlers here. You can also see that in some of the architecture and availabiliy of French cuisine.
The main touristy nightlife spots are Bor Penn Yang (means 'no problem' in Laos, same as 'mai pen rai' in Thai) rooftop bar, Samlo pub, and @Home nightclub. Then for some more local style discos there's Catwalk Pub and Romeo. Then lots of hidden spots that if you make some Laos friends you'll soon discover.
Bor Penn Yang from outside street level, and from inside overlooking the riverfront market stalls
The thing with Laos is you kind of need to network with the locals and find the best deals for things or places to go, unlike Thailand where it's all mapped out on travel blogs. You'll hear people say 'Laos is boring' but part of that is a lack of information.
Lots of chicks do aerobics on the riverfront in the evenings
In general Laos girls are really friendly and open so no issues meeting them. You may have heard that it's illegal to sleep with a Laotian woman without being married to her - that is officially a law here, but in practice it isn't enforced at all. You won't be stopped at hotel reception when taking a girl home or anything like that.
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