First published 9th June, 2011
Just a few kilometres from the centre of the Lao capital of Vientiane, you'll find a little piece of mainland China that most visitors don't even know exists. While not on the scale of the Chinatowns you'll find elsewhere in the world, Sānjiāng is still a fascinating enclave, where thousands of Chinese immigrants seek to recreate through food and shopping, the home they left behind in China.
For the traveller it means a great spot to sample authentic Chinese cuisine and be immersed in a microcosm of China, warts and all. Don't expect anyone to speak English; service at restaurants is as hit and miss as it is on the mainland and an impatient 'Eh?' is as common as a smile. But if you haven't yet visited China, leap off Vientiane's beaten track and into Sānjiāng.
A range of regional Chinese cuisine is available in Sānjiāng; the following restaurants will take you on a pretty good best-of hits culinary tour of China.
Sichuan-Chongqing Restaurant (川渝饭店, Chuānyú Fàndiàn)
Chuānyú boasts cheery red décor and large dining tables, each adorned with a lazy Susan, and serves typical Sichuan-style fare laced with chillies and a distinctive regional peppercorn (huājiāo) that numbs the mouth. Portions are generous and rice for two arrives in a wooden bucket. Try the gānbiān sìjìdòu (fried green beans), a simple, mildly spiced dish, or huíguōròu (twice-cooked pork), pork slices with cabbage, red peppers, onions and celery in a black bean sauce.
The front room hums with local diners during Chinese lunch and dinner time, at around 12:30 and 18:30 respectively. Private dining rooms are available for a supplementary fee. There is no English on the menu and staff when we visited couldn't speak English. Taking the characters for these recommended dishes along should help to make ordering hassle free.
Fried green beans (Gānbiān sìjìdòu, 干煸 四季豆)
Twice-cooked pork (Huíguōròu, 回锅肉)
Sweet and spicy shredded pork (Yúxiāng ròusī, 鱼香肉丝)
Pork casserole (Hóngshāoròu, 红烧肉)
Fried beef with tofu (Dòuhuā niúrròu, 豆花牛肉)
Eggplant in garlic sauce (Yúxiāng qiézi, 鱼香茄子)
Expect to pay around 30,000 kip and up per person.
Restaurant with a red and blue sign above a white-tiled patio, Sichuan-style food, open daily, 08:00-22:00.
Three Paths Cuisine (三道菜, Sǎn Dào Cai)
Sǎndàocài's mix of Laos and Chinese customers dine on mushroom-like seats at low tables, in the centre of which is a stone pot for boiling your own food. This is Yunnan's version of hotpot: simple, earthy, and not at all spicy. Point to whichever ingredients you'd like to boil in the glass-fronted fridge: expect to see chicken, beef, lamb, pork, cured meat, stomach, liver, dried fish and tofu, as well as a wide-variety of vegetables. A thin soup will be added to the stone pot and once it's boiling, add your ingredients.
If you've ordered rice and it doesn't arrive, ask again; it's customary for rice to be served after the meal as something to fill up on once the tastier food is finished. An additional menu of fried home-style dishes has pictures, but all prices are in Chinese yuan, so check on the exchange rate. A stone pot meal for four will cost around 180,000 kip, depending on how much meat you order.
Beside Chuanyu Restaurant, Yunnan-style hotpot and home-style food, open daily, 08:00-22:00.
Liaoning dumpling spot
This friendly little place is a good bet for dumplings, which are made on-site daily. Use the pictures on the wall to choose between boiled, steamed or fried dumplings. Its friendly owner from Beijing is a laid back man, and if you're not in the mood for dumplings, his son, the chef, will cook whatever's in the fridge for you – but beware of the salt and MSG.
Ten dumplings, which are enough for a taste, cost 10,000 kip. Dishes are 15,000 to 40,000 kip each.
Glass-fronted restaurant in the middle row of restaurants, dumplings and home-style food, open daily, 06:00-22:00.
If you don't want to be served any surprises, a canteen-style place serves cheap staples that you choose from behind the glass. Dishes tend to be rather tasteless, with gelatinous sauce and low quality meat. A kebab stall also operates opposite the indoor market from 16:00, where you can point to a range of things on sticks and watch them get barbecued and sprinkled with powdered spices. Beef, sausage, potato, fish balls, vegetable and tofu sticks range from 1,000 to 5,000 kip each.
Laos – Sānjiāng International Trade and Commerce City (老挝三江國際商貿城)
Whether your goal is to fill your luggage with fake watches, sunglasses, handbags, DVDs and even fake iPads, or to just get a taste of what Made-in-China looks like in Laos, the indoor market will not disappoint. You'll find the entire contents of a Sino-American dream home here: washing machines, pianos, massage chairs, Halloween costumes – just for starters.
An array of fake brand-name products are on offer in and around shop number Ā226: electronics, smartphones, 'Gucci' sunglasses, 'Rolex' watches and 'Mont Blanc' pens. Nothing is real, but salespeople may argue otherwise. Bargain hard. When language fails, a calculator will usually appear. Pirated Hollywood DVDs are available throughout the market, at around 15,000 kip a movie, but quality varies.
Indoor market at the traffic circle, 08:30-18:30 daily
Hong Kong City (香港城, Xiānggāng Chéng)
This large store has fake designer handbags (around 200,000 kip), cheap brand-name sports shoes, golf clubs, lightweight binoculars and a range of other counterfeit products, with prices marked in kip and baht. The staff may be keen to show you their range of ridiculous battery-operated toys.
Don't miss the blonde stripper or the break-dancing donkey.
Store with a red sign, near Sānjiāng's back entrance, beside a place selling construction machinery .
How to get to Sānjiāng
Tuk tuk drivers know Sānjiāng and if you bargain hard, you won't pay more than 20,000 kip one way. Getting there by bicycle takes 15 minutes from the centre of town. Head west along Rue Samsemthai until you see a sign saying “Hong Kong Restaurant” on your left beside a brightly coloured temple called Wat Dai Noi (Small Dai Temple). If you reach Wat Dai Nai (Large Dai Temple), you've gone too far. Turn right down the narrow road opposite the restaurant. Sānjiāng's inconspicuous back entrance is a few metres down the road. Keep going north past wholesalers dealing in stationery, toys and agricultural machinery, and you'll reach a traffic circle, with the indoor market on your left and a few rows of restaurants on your right.
About the author
Claire van den Heever is the author of Sold Out, a book about Chinese contemporary art due for publication later this year, and a travel writer on her way from Shanghai to Cape Town, overland.
Story by Claire van den Heever
Read 1 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (8)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (18)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (76)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.