September update - new play cafe post coming soon! Vientiane has more for families now. Watch this space.
If you’ve got young kids in Vientiane, you’ll know and appreciate a good play cafe. Somewhere where the little monkeys can lose some energy while you can relax with a coffee... preferably with a soundproof glass wall separating the two.
For a town this size (Vientiane is pretty small for a capital city, after all), it’s not a bad selection. They are all run by enterprising businesses catering to the falang and well heeled Lao crowd. If you want a big kids’ entertainment area with waterslides and a hundred screaming kids, head to ITECC Mall. But for a low key family or friends’ meal with the kids in tow, read on.
1. Common Grounds
Common Grounds Cafe recently put a roof over their outdoor play area, shading the area from the hot sun but not the light. It’s made a huge difference to the playground, and they've recently redone the padded floor with artificial grass too. Our kids are mad for their quesadillas, they use good quality organic Lao coffee, and their fresh juices are tasty too (I always ask for no sugar).
The outdoor area has a couple of slides, tunnels, a rope climbing frame, and a cubby house. Sometimes you can find baby frogs living near the wall! Inside is a smaller area with Lego and other toys suitable for babies to crawl around. Parents can sit inside this space at tables, there are toilets as well, and the whole area can be closed off from the rest of the cafe.
Common Grounds is downtown on Chao Anou Road. Tel +856 21 255 057. Open every day except Sunday.
2. Skillz Cafe
Skillz is a small but lively outdoor cafe run by an ever-smiling staff who are also students. It’s a vocational training centre for rural Lao youth that teaches cooking, cleaning, childcare, hospitality and English. They also accept clothes for themselves and their village if you have anything to give.
The cafe and play area is outdoors but sheltered. It’s a mixture of grass and sandy dirt (which when it rains gets very muddy). There’s a sand pit, swings, a wooden cubby house, climbing rope and various toys. On the other side is a fish pond with terrapins. They offer birthday parties and free childcare activities twice a week.
The food is generous and American style;, think maple syrup pancakes and sweet milkshakes. They also have coffee, a small Lao menu and simpler dishes like quiche and salad.
Skillz Cafe is on Thadeua towards the clock tower. Tel: +856 20 58 367 185. Open Tues-Sat.
3. Cafe Vanille
Cafe Vanille is a French bakery and cafe with arguably the best pastries in town. The cafe is spacious with lots of (very heavy) chairs and tables, reliable wifi and an extensive menu of breakfast and lunch options. You can have a very foamy Lao cappucino or a reliably good fresh juice, and the staff are plentiful if not exactly bustling. Their new deli section also stocks some interesting and well-priced French wines (I’m just saying).
The play area is in a separate room with glass windows and consists basically of a lot of big cushions and soft toys. There used to be a wooden slide but it's been removed. Despite, or perhaps because of, this simple set up, the kids always have fun, especially as they’ll almost invariably meet playmates in there too.
Cafe Vanille is on Rue Bourichane. Tel: +856 30 91 60 515. Open every day.
4. O’Gradys Irish Pub
O’Gradys irish Pub is a newcomer in Vientiane but has already established itself as a popular spot with big breakfasts, traditional roasts, quiz nights, and bands. It’s on a big block of land so there’s plenty of room for everyone.
A shaded kids play area is out the back. There’s a climbing structure, slide and swings in a sandy area. There’s a larger grassy backyard and kids will also love play acting and dancing on the stage. Outdoor tables are grouped about but are unshaded so it can get pretty hot.
O’Grady’s is on Rue Phonpapao. Tel +856 20 29 883 777. Open every day.
5. Joma 2 cafe
Joma 2 is popular for falang with small kids (I believe there’s a baby group that meets there regularly) and also with Laotians for coffee meetings. They have the usual coffees with Lao beans, as well as good sandwiches and other falang food though the fruit juices tend to be overly sweet with no fresh fruit in sight.
The play area is in a separate room at the back of the cafe. There's a large wooden train engine structure that kids can climb up on and around. There isn’t anything else in the room but kids make their own fun.
Joma 2 is on Rue Dongpaina, or the corner and next to Lily Spa. Tel: +856 21 454 663. Open every day.
One other spot that's worth visiting is the indoor play area at Vientiane Center.
It's on the 3rd floor adjacent to the food court. Young kids will love it though you may not! There are slides, netted climbing frames, a ball pit, jumping castle, play shops, toys, and a "sand" pit that's actually full of brown rice; the fun of sand without the mess.
On the flip-side, it's very loud and bright with florescent lights and a multitude of colours. They recently installed video games and electronic ride-on toys on two sides that are accompanied by flashing lights and high-pitched tinny music, and are all-round irritating.
Vientiane Center is on Khouvieng. Cost: 30,000 kip per child, accompanying adults are free and everyone needs socks. Open every day.
This post was last updated in February 2017.