The Vientiane Night Market is aimed primarily towards tourists, with clean, orderly stalls, and all manner of merchandise that make great souvenirs or mementos. It all begins around sunset when a small army of sellers begin setting up their red-roofed stalls directly on the riverside promenade. You can’t fail to see it. The whole riverside area is alive at this time with joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of the cooling breezes and stunning backdrop of the sun lazily sinking into the Mekong river.
Products on offer are fairly typical of night markets throughout the region. You will find a predictable array of Buddhist-inspired paintings and knickknacks, cheap sunglasses, and Beer Lao T-shirts. The clothes stalls tend to be geared towards the backpacker market with fishermen pants and one-size-fits-all dresses and skirts. With only $US10 in your pocket you can pick up at least a couple of products here, but, for bargain hunters, it’s worth mentioning that everything on offer here can be found at a slightly cheaper price at other markets. The traders seem to have whittled down all the best-sellers from the Morning Market and set them up in more attractive, and convenient, surroundings.
As with all tourist markets, English is widely spoken but be prepared to test your bargaining skills because initial prices are always inflated, and you should never accept the first price quoted. Most of the products can be found at several stalls so it helps to wander around to find the best price. A little perspective is advised when it comes to the negotiation process however, as the difference of a few thousand Kip is negligible when converted to foreign currency. Even if you have already stocked up on souvenirs and aren’t really planning to buy anything, an enjoyable few hours can be spent browsing and people watching down by the river. It seems to be the Laotians’ favourite pastime.
The one noticeable absence from the market is the lack of food stalls, but with Vientiane being so small there is pretty much every kind of food imaginable only a stone’s throw away. Return visitors may wistfully remember Vientiane before the construction of the promenade – named in honour of Chao Anouvong, the last king of Laos – when many ramshackle riverside bars and restaurants were propped up on stilts directly over the river, offering great sunset vistas, cold beer and fresh, grilled fish. Those days are long gone as the government decided to build a flood wall to protect the city, move restaurants away from the water’s edge to reduce the amount of trash being tossed into the river and generally make it a more communal area for everyone to enjoy. Nowadays, instead of the riverside bars, there is a children’s playground, a Chinese shrine, a flower garden and an imposing statue of Chao Anouvong, pointing across the Mekong towards Thailand. It’s all part of the transition from sleepy colonial backwater to modern capital city that’s taking place in Vientiane. The Riverside Night Market is the most ascetically pleasing shopping experience to be found in Vientiane and the best place to find some interesting clothes or gifts without breaking the bank. All life seems to gravitate towards the market anyway, so it’s probable that even short-stay visitors will spend some time here.