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Laos: Land of a million elephants

The Lao People's Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR, is a country that moves to its own measure of time. Life flows along at a languid pace which mirrors the waters of the Mekong River that flows through the country. Towns are less hectic than elsewhere in Asia and the countryside is a rare combination of beauty and tranquility.
Compared to the rest of Indochina, Laos remained largely hidden to the rest of the world for much for the 20th Century. Visitors today encounter an infused society with a strong spiritual tradition where the cacophonies of the modern world seem irrelevant.
Despite increased international interest, Laos remains the undiscovered gem of Asia. This landlocked nation of six million people exudes a delightful, almost other-worldly, charm and reminds visitors of a simpler, less harried past.

General Information
Geography
Laos is a landlocked country covering 236,800 square kilometers and shares its borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. 70% of its total land area is comprised of mountains and plateaus. The Mekong River is Laos' primary geographical feature, running the entire length of the country and serving as a natural border with Thailand.

Climate and Seasons
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with wet and dry seasons. May is very hot with occasional rain; June to October is the humid and wet monsoon season; and November to April is the cooler, dry season.

People
Laos' population of 6.7 million consists of more than 68 different ethnic groups, with most falling into three main categories: The Lao Loum who inhabit the lowlands, the semi-nomadic Lao Theung who live in the lower mountain ranges and the Lao Soung hill tribes originating from Burma, Tibet and southern China.

LANGUAGE
The national language of Laos is Lao, which is closely related to Thai and is spoken in many different dialects. Lao, like Thai, is a tonal language. French is still spoken by many government officials and educated members of the older generation but Thai and English are popular with younger people.

Religion
The great majority of the Lao people are Theravada Buddhists. Many Laotian men attend Buddhist monasteries for training before entering secular life. Other religions practiced include various Christian denominations, Baha'I Faith and Islam. Animism is widely practiced among ethnic groups.

TIME
Laos is GMT + 7 and does not operate daylight-saving system.

AIRLINES
International: The national carrier Lao Airlines, as well as Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and Vietnam Airlines serves the international airports at Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Domestic: Lao Airlines serves the domestic routes and connects the capital city Vientiane to major destinations in the country.

AIRPORT TAX
An international departure tax of USD 10 is payable by all travellers leaving Laos. It is not included in the price of your flight ticket and must be purchased at the airport before departure. There is also a domestic airport tax of 5,000 Lao kips per flight ticket.
Note: You can purchase your international departure tax in USD but domestic airport tax must be paid in Lao kips. Tax is subject to change without prior notice. Check with your Lac Viet Travel guide for updates.

ARRIVAL FORMALITIES
Upon arrival in Laos, all visitors must complete an entry/exit form including a customs declaration. It is important that your copy of this form is kept safe with your passport while in Laos and is presented to the customs and immigration officials on departure. In case you are obtaining your pre-arranged visa on arrival please proceed to the Visa counter and read the visa section below.

VISAS
Approval is no longer required for visas to Laos. Foreign tourists are generally admitted into Laos for 15 days with a visa on arrival (obtained at most border check points) without prior authorization or for 30 days with a visa issued at a Laotian embassy. This costs 30 USD and requires the filling in of an application form and two passport photos. An additional 1 USD/pax can be charged if you arrive on Saturday or Sunday.

ARRIVAL IN LAOS
By Air
There are still few direct flights from Europe or other countries to Laos. The most frequent connections are from Bangkok (Thailand). Lac Viet Travel will generally not be able to offer you attractive intercontinental fares - you will be better off consulting your local travel agent or searching the internet. However, we do offer attractive regional flight arrangements once you are already in Asia.
The two main international airports are Wattay International Airport in Vientiane and Luang Prabang International Airport. The smaller Pakse Airport serves the international flight to/and Siem Reap.

By Land
Laos shares borders with Myanmar and China to the north, Thailand to the west, Cambodia to the south and Vietnam to the east.

From CHINA

To LAOS

Visa Available Upon Arrival

Mohan, Yunnan

Boten, Luang Nam Tha

Yes

Kunming or Xishuangbanna

Xiengkok riverport, Luang Nam Tha

No

 

 

 

From MYANMAR

To LAOS

Visa Available Upon Arrival

Vangpung, Thachilek

Ban Mom, Bokeo

No

 

 

 

From THAILAND

To LAOS

Visa Available Upon Arrival

Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai

Houay Xay, Bokeo

Yes

Nakaxeng, Loei

Kaenthao, Sayabuli

No

Nongkhai, Nongkhai

Friendship Bridge, Vientiane

Yes

Bungkhan, Nongkhai

Paksan, Bolikhamxay

No

Nakorn Phanom, Nakorn Phanom

Thakhek, Khammouane

Yes

Mukdahan, Mukdahan

Savannakhet, Savannakhet

Yes

Chongmek, Ubon Ratchathani

Vangtao, Champassak

Yes

 

 

 

From CAMBODIA

To LAOS

Visa Available Upon Arrival

Dong Crorlor, Stung Treng (boat)

Voeun Kham, Champassak

No

Dong Crorlor, Stung Treng (road)

Dong Crorlor, Champassak

No

 

 

 

From VIETNAM

To LAOS

Visa Available Upon Arrival

Tai Trang, Dien Bien (Lai Chau)

Taichang, Phongsaly (Sobhoun)

Yes

Namxoi, Thanh Hoa

Nameo, Huaphanh

No

Namkan, Nghe An

Namkan, Xiengkhouang

Yes

Cau Treo, Ha Tinh

Nampao (Laksao), Bolikhamxay

Yes

Chalo, Quang Binh

Naphao, Khammouane

No

Lao Bao, Quang Tri

Densavanh, Savannakhet

Yes

Bo Y, Kontum

Phoukua, Attapeu

Yes


MONEY
The kip is the currency unit of Laos and are presently in distributions of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 kip. US dollars, Euros and Thai baht are also accepted in many places and are certainly more convenient to carry than great wads of the local currency. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 15:00. In Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, you can find some ATMs to withdraw money (lao kips). Visa Card and MasterCard are now accepted at the larger hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Note:
•    Most hotels will change USD and Euros at a reasonable exchange rate.
•    Shall you want to pay a bill expressed in Lao Kips with USD, ask for the exchange rate or ask your LacViet Travel guide for assistance.
For everyday expenses, we recommend carrying a mix of US dollars and kips. For larger items or when the exchange rate works in your favour, use US dollars. For tuk tuks, local food stalls and small purchases, it's best to use kips. Make sure you always have a stock of small notes so that you don't have to worry about change especially in the countryside.
The BCEL Bank can change American Express Travellers' Cheques for Lao kips or US dollars in cash. Note that a 3 % or 5% commission is charged. Very few shops, hotels or restaurants accept Travellers' Cheques.

Note: Travellers' Cheques can be difficult to change outside of the major cities.

ATMs
There are now quite a few ATMs in Vientiane. ATMs are increasingly being installed in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and other cities. MasterCard, Maestro and a few others are generally accepted.

CREDIT CARDS
The use of credit cards is still not widespread in Laos. Most upscale hotels and some large-ticket item shops will accept them, but few restaurants and bars will accept them

CLOTHING
Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for traveling in Laos. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat is a good idea in the rainy season. Warm clothing is needed for visiting the northern Laos during the winter months from November to February. Visitors to Laos should not wear shorts, short skirts or other skimpy clothing when visiting religious buildings and shoes should be removed before entering a private home.

ELECTRICITY
Lao uses 220V (50 cycles per second) but the plugs are not standardized. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.

ENTERTAINMENT
There is not much in the way of western style entertainment in Laos but Vientiane and Luang Prabang have good restaurants and quite a few bars and nightclubs. In the rest of the country, entertainment is mainly confined to the hotels and mainly tourist-orientated restaurants.

FOOD
Lao cuisine has many similarities to Thai with lots of aromatic herbs and spices such as lemon grass, chillies, ginger and tamarind used to flavour dishes. Sticky rice, or kao niao, is the main ingredient in Lao cuisine, usually served with fermented fish and a fish sauce similar to that used in Vietnamese cuisine called nam pa. Chicken and pork dishes are also popular but beef is expensive in comparison. Soups served with noodles, bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables can be found everywhere.

HEALTH
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in parts of Southeast Asia and it is advisable to take precautions especially if travelling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are rather limited in Laos but you can easily find good medical facilities in the main Thai towns and along the Thai-Lao borders. It is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before travelling in case evacuation is needed (usually to Bangkok or Singapore).

HOURS OF BUSINESS
Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 08:00 until 16:00 and often close for lunch between 12:00 and 14:00. Shops open from Monday to Saturday between 09:00 and 17:00 and some also open on Sunday.

INTERNET
Major hotels throughout Laos have Business Centers with PCs connected to the Internet. Some have wireless broadband access. Check with reception for fares and facilities. Cyber cafes are easily found in major towns and cities and prices are reasonable. In many Internet cafes, you can buy pre-paid international phone cards to dial from a computer to landlines or mobile phones worldwide. Most Internet cafes are equipped with webcams, headsets and microphones.

POSTAL MAIL
Postcards are sold at all main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks. A postcard to Europe costs about 6,500 kips and takes 10 days to two weeks to reach its destination.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

January 1

New Year's Day

March 8

International Women's Day

April 14 - 16

Boun Pimai, Lao New Year

May 1

Labour Day

December 2

National Day


SAFETY
Laos is generally a safe country. Nevertheless and as a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. In some tourist sites you may encounter some insistent souvenir sellers. A polite but firm "No, thank you" usually will suffice.

SHOPPING
The best buys in Laos are ethnic minority handicrafts and textiles. The Lao sarong or pha sin made from silk or cotton is popular souvenir. Other souvenirs to look out for include silverware, in particular from Luang Prabang, and wood carvings.

TELEPHONE
Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although be warned these services are expensive in Laos. Away from the major cities it may not always be possible to make international calls. If you have worldwide coverage, you can bring your mobile phone and use it to make domestic or international calls. Check with your mobile phone provider for the fares before using it abroad though as it may cost you an arm and a leg.

TIPPING
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in Laos. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.

TRANSPORTATION
Lao laws do not allow foreigners to rent and drive a car themselves. It is highly advisable to rent a car with an experienced driver who knows the area and can speak Lao in case of any problems. Traffic conditions may vary dramatically from what you are used to.

In Laos, drivers are only drivers. Tour guides must be licensed by the National Tourism Authority. Lac Viet Travel Laos employ arguably the best tour guides in Laos and we specialise in arranging tours with private driver and tour guide.

WEATHER
Laos has a monsoon climate featuring a dry and a wet season. The dry season lasts from November to May with the cooler period in December and January. At its coldest, temperatures fall to as low as 15�C. It is coldest at night, in the early mornings and at higher altitudes. During the hot period of the dry season, between March and May, temperatures can reach the high 30's �C. Rainfall in the wet season varies according to altitude. Generally speaking, the monsoon season produces severe rain that lasts for short periods of time. The wet months vary according to location. In Vientiane, they are from May to September; in Luang Prabang, August is far wetter than any other month.

WATER
Keep in mind to always clean your fruits and vegetable with purified water or to peel them. Bottled water is safe for Westerner and easy to find in most of places. Wash your hand before eating.