May 19 2013
Nam phu literally translates into ‘water mountain’, and is the Lao equivalent of fountain. While Nam Phu in Vientiane is not the largest or most spectacular fountain in the city, it’s known by no other name and acts as the central landmark of downtown Vientiane.
The fountain is a legacy of the historic French presence in Laos. For many years it humbly rested in the centre of its quaint square, surrounded by European restaurants in an ambiance of old world charm. However, as the rustic colonial aesthetic is increasingly unfavoured by developers in Vientiane, Nam Phu square underwent a major transformation in 2012 and emerged as a much louder expression of modern Laos.
Lights of ever-changing colours illuminate the fountain, while a powerful sound system entertains spectators with a rotation of Thai pop favourites. In the evenings, the square features live performances by local guitarists covering Thai and Western classics for all to hear. A wooden walkway has been built around the fountain, adjoining it to food stalls that have set up tables so that guests can enjoy a frosty Beer Lao or a meal near to the fountain. Those simply wishing to take an evening stroll can meander past the stalls and enjoy the view close up.
Twin buildings on the edge of Samsenthai Road make up Nam Phu Bar and Restaurant, which offers an extensive dinner and cocktail menu at above-average prices. Their rooftop seating provides an excellent spot to perch and gaze at the fountain or do a bit of people watching onto the main drag below.
Old-time establishments like Le Provencal, Le Cave du Chateux and Scandinavian Bakery sill maintain outdoor seating, separate from more recently developed establishments, while maintaining a view of the fountain.
If you’ve just arrived in Vientiane, or you’re leaving by coach or minivan, Nam Phu is a popular spot to drop off or pick up passengers, so you may need to make your way here from your hotel. Note that there are several ATMs close by, so this might be an easy place to head if you’re looking for cash. As you face the main road, Samsenthai, make a right past Kop Chai Der Restaurant and you’ll see a blue ANZ ATM and a small branch of BFL that also changes money. A small kiosk opposite the fountain sells water, lighters and cigarettes, for those who need last minute provisions.
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