For a capital city, Vientiane is an awfully small and sleepy location. Hugging the banks of the Mekong River along the border with Thailand, the city isn't as sexy or well known on the tourist circuit as its neighor to the north - Luang Prabang. But let me assure you, it has charm nonetheless.
Vientiane was the second stop on our three city tour of Southeast Asia after spending several days further south in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to tour the crumbling ruins of Angkor Wat. If you've followed the blog at all you know that I'm not driven by any hotel loyalty or desire to obtain/retain elite status in various programs, so I'm strictly looking at the cost/value proposition being offered by different properties.
Vientiane isn't a bustling metropolis like many of its neighboring capitals, but there are a handful of name brand properties open or opening. Tourism is growing, though there still seems to be a relative dearth of hotel options. Since we were on a bit of a romantic couples getaway, the goal was affordable luxury. The pickings were pretty slim in this arena, but after some careful consideration I selected the Salana Boutique Hotel.
What did it have going for it that drove our decision?
Large rooms with separate, private bathrooms.
A location a few blocks off of the Mekong River which meant it was a good location for shopping and dining.
Free breakfast included in the room rate.
At the time of our stay, it was also rated the best hotel in Vientiane on TripAdvisor, though it appears to have slipped to second place since. While I don't put too much weight into TripAdvisor reviews, it's nice to see that the overall consensus was positive.
Our rate also included free airport transfers, which doesn't seem to be offered by the property any longer. We were met by a smiling man with a "Salana" name board in the rather small arrivals hall at Vientiane's airport. He quickly took both of our bags into his hands and escorted us out to the parking lot where a small passenger van with plush leather seats was waiting (A/C blasting!) to zip us off to the hotel, which was about 15 minutes away. Chilled bottles of water were offered to both of us, which was welcome in the sweltering Lao heat, topping 110º Fahrenheit plus humidity during our stay.
Salana is an L-shaped hotel that occupies a nice piece of real estate on a corner right smack in the center of the hotel and restaurant epicenter of Vientiane. The van dropped us off out front and we quickly made our way indoors to get out of the heat. The lobby is modern and spacious, a mix of dark tropical woods and rich fabrics.
The check-in desk was actually just that - a desk off to the side of the lobby. Unmanned at the time we walked in, a little mural of tropical fronds decorated the wall behind it. As if on cue, a man appeared from behind the office doors next to the desk and welcomed us to the hotel. He directed us to sit down in the cluster of chairs not in front of the desk but off to the side with a table and more space.
He was expecting us so once we handed over our credit card for the stay, he headed back to the desk to process the check-in. In the mean time, another staff member emerged from the the hotel's restaurant to drop off two martini glasses filled with fruit juice mixture that was both refreshing and tasty. A nice little welcome amenity!
Yet another staff member wheeled our luggage into the lobby from the van on a small luggage rack. He left it near the door while he walked over to the desk and picked up our room key from the desk clerk. Our credit card was returned and we were invited to follow the bell man up to our room on the top floor. The elevator wasn't very big, so we took the stairs up while the bell man took the elevator with our bags. We offered to just take our own bags up but he insisted on taking them and showing us the room as well.
The room was quite spacious for two people as it was the largest/nicest room category they offered - the Salana Suite. Just inside the door to the right was a small sink set into a cabinet which held some dishe. There was also a small dining table with a radio/iPod dock set up. To the left was a closet. Inside was a key code operated safe, robes, slippers, and a basket for any laundry you wanted have done. Prices were, as expected, inflated compared to what you could get done at a local laundry service but still very cheap for most visitors.
On top of the cabinet with the sink was a hot water kettle and cups for water, tea, and hot chocolate. Two bottles of water which were replaced daily were also provided. A few bottles of liquor and snack packages were available as a form of mini-bar. Again - inflated prices but still cheap for most visitors.
Directly across from the room's door and the tables/sink area was a large, solid wooden coffee table and a couch. It's a bit hard to see but the couch was one of those wide, deep-seat affairs that both my boyfriend and I love. He's very tall so having the additional room to stretch out works well for him, and I'm just a big fan of anything, well, big. A large lamp made out of wood was in the corner next to the couch.
The room is shaped line an L, and against the wall near the crook of the L-shape was a dresser for clothing storage with another iPod speaker as well as a wall-mounted flat screen television. This meant that the TV was visible from both the couch and the bed, but not from the dining table. Also, the TV was a bit small to watch comfortably from either location. Programming as almost all in Thai or Lao, no international programming from BBC or CNN.
The other half of the "L" was reserved for the sleeping area. A very large (California King I'd wager, but simply listed as a king) bed sat with a padded bench at its foot. Small night stands book ended the bed and a large golden metallic art piece of tropical flowers served as a pretty headboard. The bed was firmer than I have at home but I still found it comfortable. My boyfriend was less thrilled as he prefers a plush, soft bed.
To the left of the bed was the entrance to the bathroom. Inside the bathroom was a Jacuzzi tub on the right hand side. I never ended up using this our entire stay so I cannot comment on the quality of the jets/experience. When it's 110 degrees outside, you lose a little interest in hot water relaxation. Who knew?
Moving from the tub from right to left were a toilet, sink and vanity, and then the rain shower.
The toilet had a hose attachment for your spraying pleasure, which was the only noteworthy thing about it. Otherwise it worked, and that's all that matters. The sink and vanity area featured plenty of space for the two of us to lay out our array of products. The only thing I didn't care for was the relatively small size of the mirror.
The shower was roomy enough, though the water pressure wasn't fantastic. It was definitely enough to comfortably shower, but not really a full power washing. Overall the bathroom was the least impressive part of the room, though it was functional and that's acceptable for me to be satisfied on a trip.
On the vanity were a few odds and ends. Glasses to use at the sink and then things like an extra tooth brush, shower cap, etc.
Shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel were all generic offerings but they smelled good and left me feeling clean after using them, so I didn't need anything fancy.
As I mentioned we had booked the Salana Suite, the highest room category at the property. Our top floor suite was in the crook of the hotel and had a wrap around balcony that overlooked the intersection below. On one side was a temple complex, which oddly enough was less than peaceful as it was a hub of monks chatting and talking on their cell phones. As you can see, the hotel is only a few short blocks from the shores of the Mekong River. Plenty of great restaurants around this hotel, and Vientiane's night market sets up at the end of the street that heads to the river.
Overall - we liked our stay here. The service was top notch and very friendly. From the servers at breakfast to the front desk staff, everyone seemed very down to earth and kind. The location of the hotel was really ideal for dining and exploring during the evening. The relatively few tourist sights in Vientiane are not in a single, consolidated area which means no hotel is going to be perfect for sightseeing. The town is small and easy to navigate though, so that's not a big issue. The hotel let us rent bicycles for a small fee and we found that ideal for getting around during the day, even if it was very sweaty.
Final ruling - Recommended!