Laos Traveler's Tips
Laos is the least developed and most enigmatic of the three former French Indochinese states. A ruinous sequence of colonial domination, internecine conflict and dogmatic socialism finally brought the country to its knees in the 1970s, and almost ten per cent of the population left. Now, after two decades of isolation from the outside world, this landlocked, sparsely populated country is enjoying peace, stabilising its political and economic structures and admitting foreign visitors - albeit in limited numbers due to a general lack of infrastructure
The lack of foreign influence offers travellers an unparalleled glimpse of traditional South-East Asian life. From the fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley to the rugged Annamite highlands, travellers who have made it to Laos tend to agree that this country is the highlight of South-East Asia
- Air access
- Entry Formalities
- Customs Regulations
- Health equipment
- What to take with you
- What to wear
Laos has three International Airport :
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane Capital. Cities with directs flight to Vientiane/Wattay Airport are Bangkok, Chiengmai, Phnom Penh, Siemreap, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Kunming, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang Province. Cities with directs flight to Luang Prabang International Airport are Bangkok, Chiengmai and Hanoi,.Pakse International Airport in Champasack Province. Cities with directs flight to Pakse International Airport are Siemreap.
Airline Companies currently serving in Vientiane are Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Vietnam Airline, Siemreap Airway, The Southern China Airline, Silk Air, Malaysian Airline.Domestic flights are served by Lao Aviation only. A departure tax of 10US$ in levied for international flights, while 5.000 kips is levied for domestic flights.
[See price and timetable of domestic flights]
You can also get into Lao by land from China, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Tourists can pass the border at the following Entry Points:
Chiangkhong - Houixay, Chiang Rai to Bokeo Province.
Nakaxeng - Kaenthao, Loei to Sayabouly Province.
Nongkhay - Friendship Bridge , Nongkhay-Vientiane Capital.
Bungkan - Pakxan, Nongkhay-Bolikhamxay Province (no visa on arrival).
Nakorn Phanom - Thakhaek, Nakorn Phanom-Khammouane Province.
Moukdahan - Savannakhet, crossing the Mekong River by boat.
Chongmek - Vangtao, Ubol Ratchathani to Champasack Province.
Arrival by Train: Although there is currently no rail connection to Laos yet, an extension of the Bangkok-Nong Khai railway is planned and a line from Vientiane to Nong Khai is scheduled to start operating in near future.
Mohan - Botene , Yunnan to Luang Namtha Province .
Arrival by Boat: From Kunming or Xishuangbanna, China, it is possible to travel by boat through the Mekong river straight to Xiangkok riverport on Mekong River in Luang Namtha Province (no visa on arrival).
Taichang - Sobhoun, Laichau to Phongsaly Province (no visa on arrival).
Nameo - Banleui, Thanh Hoa to Huaphanh Province.
Namkan - Namkan, Nge An to Xieng Khouang Province.
Keoneua - Nampao (Lak Sao), Ha tinh to Bolikhamxay Province.
Napao - Chalo, Quangbinh to Khammouane Province (no visa on arrival).
Laobao - Dansavanh, Quang tri to Savannakhet Province.
Dong Calor - Veun Kham, Cambodia to Champasak Province.
Entry visas are obtainable at Lao Embassies or Consulate and required for all visitors with valid passports irrespective of nationality. Please allow ten days for processing. Travel permits are only required for trips to off-limit areas such as border provinces, military bases and remote islands.
The visa fee varies from between US$8- 42 depending o the agreement with the various governments
It is also possible to obtain a Visa-on-Arrival at the following international checkpoints:
- China (Mohan) - Luang Namtha Province (Boten)
- Thailand (Chiang Khong) - Bokeo Province (Houay Xay)
- Thailand (Nong Khay) -Vientiane Capital (Friendship Bridge)
- Thailand - Xayabouly Province (Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge)
- Thailand (Nakhon Phanom) - Khammouane Province (Thakhaek)
- Thailand (Moukdahan) - Savannakhet Province (Friendship Bridge II)
- Thailand (Chong Mek) - Champasak Province (Vang Tao)
- Vietnam (Nam Kanh) - Xieng Khouang Province (Nong Haet)
- Vietnam (Kao Cheo) - Bolikhamxay (Nam Phao)
- Vietnam (Lao Bao) - Savannakhet Province (Dene Savanh)
- Wattay International Airport (Vientiane capital)
- Pakse International Airport (Champasak Province)
- Luang Prabang International Airport (Luang Prabang)
For those wishing to extend their stay, it is possible to extend your visa at the Immigration Office in Vientiane, through travel agencies.
In case visa approval is arranged by Threeland travel we would like to offer you two ways to obtain visa: through Embassies & General Consulates of Lao or Visa on arrival.
Antique items for example Buddha images and other old artifacts are prohibited to be taken out of Laos. If you have already traveled from neighboring countries, you are advised to declare you belongings to the customs to avoid any problems when leaving Laos.
It is prohibited for any visitor to bring into Lao the followings:
- Weapons, explosives and inflammable objects.
- Opium and other narcotics.
- Cultural materials unsuitable to Vietnamese society.
Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons - the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and dry season from October through to April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 C, rising to a maximum of 38 C in April and May. In Vientiane minimum temperatures of 19 C are to be expected in January. In mountainous areas, however, temperatures drop to 14-15 C during the winter months, and in cold nights easily reach the freezing point.
The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite mountains receive over 3000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500-2000 mm, and in the northern provinces only 1000-1500 mm.
See Lao in BRIEF
No vaccinations are presently required other than the usual requirements if having recently travelled in a yellow fever affected area. If travelling to remote or border areas, travelers should check with their doctor or travel immunization clinic regarding the advisability of inoculation against Typhoid, Cholera, Dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis.In any case, the best prevention is not to get bitten by mosquitoes:
Sleep with a mosquito net outside towns
Wear long sleeves and trousers around dusk
Use plenty of strong insect repellant - some brands can be applied directly on clothing.
What To Take With You
There are a few things you should not travel without:
- A map, certainly
- Photocopies of your passport and visa.
- Cash in US$ 20’s and $ 100’s or Baths.
- A folding umbrella if you plan to visit during the rainy season. The wettest months are July and August.
- A flashlight is a good idea, in case of power cuts.
- Electrical multi adaptor if you plan on brining electrical appliances - there are many different types of plug sockets used in Laos. Laos uses 220V AC.
- Zip lock bags. They are cheap, disposable, and keep all kinds of things fresh and dry.
- Hotel cards: You should keep your hotel cards or brochures to show people to get guidance in case of missing way back home.
- Business Cards. You will discover that practically everyone in Vietnam has a calling card of some kinds. The proper way to offer your card is to hold it by the corners with both hands.
- Toiletries can be found in all Lao towns, but outside Vientiane, they are limited in supply. We suggest you bring your own.
- Insect repellant can be found in towns, but many visitors have their own favorite brands, not normally found in Laos.
- A first aid kit is a very good idea - medical resources are very limited in Laos.
What To Wear
Neat and respectful dress should be worn in all religious shrines. It is not considered polite to visit religious monuments in shorts, miniskirts or hot pants. Though shoes can be worn in temple compounds, they should be removed before entering the chapel of the principal Buddha image. Indeed, all Buddha images are regarded as sacred, regardless of size, age or position, and should all be shown due respect. Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch or be touched by a woman, or accept anything from a woman's hand.
Footwear - bring sandals or slip-ons to take off easily when entering temples.
The KIP is the official currency of Laos. The bank note are presently in denomination of 50, 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 kip. There has been some devaluation of Lao Kip in the past few years.The rate of exchange in Dec 2007 is approximately 10,000 Kip for a US Dollar.
All major currencies suck as the US Dollar, France Franc, DM, Yen, Bath and others can be exchanged at Banks that are located in all major towns. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane competitive rates are offered numerous authorized private exchange bureaus. One exchange facility is available at Wattay airport in Vientiane.Travelers can make an exchange either at licensed exchange shops in the major cities or at the major hotel.
Furthermore, most domestic and foreign bank in Vientiane allow cash withdrawals on visa credit cards ATM is only available in the Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao. Traveler Cheque and other currencies than US Dollars are only accepted by major banks but are difficult to negotiate outside the capital city. If bringing travellers cheques, they should be US$ denomination, from a well known bank, eg American Express or VISA.. It is better to carry US Dollar bills in small denominations and Thai bath while traveling in Laos. In case of journey to remote areas it is, of cause, advisable to take a good supply of kip with you.
Note: Payment by major Credit Cards such as Visa and Master, the bank charge will be applied up to 3-5% depends on individual shop and Traveler Cheque in US Dollars is charged 1-3 US Dollars per cheque
The official language of Laos is Lao. It is spoken in all parts of the country. The Vientiane dialect is very common and understood throughout the country, However, the usage of the language can differ from north and south. In spit of the colonial past, French remains the second official language. Today, English, French and Russian Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese is in common use among business sectors and young generations or by some senior government officials. Many shopkeepers can understand basic English and French.
[See also: Tour guide]
Bottled water and mineral water are obtainable at any shops in most cities. It is advisable to drink boiled water and not to drink ice and tap water.
Photography, Film And Developing
Fresh negative film is widely available. Popular brands are Kodak, Fuji, Agfa and Konica. Positive colour print film is only obtainable in Vientiane. Observe normal courtesy when photographing people, especially monks. Avoid taking photographs at airports and military locations.
\Vdeo tapes and camera film can be found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, but specialist products are often hard to come by. We advise you to bring plenty of film and video tape.
Laos is ideal place for buying handicrafts and souvenirs. Vientiane city offers a wide variety of Shopping opportunities. Varieties of handmade product of wood, gold, silver or precious stones are widely sold in department store (Talat Sao), many shops and market. But shopping is not limited to Vientiane city. All the major provinces are also offered with variety of shopping opportunities.
Once again, every visitor should remember that it is forbidden to take any antiques or Buddha images (which are older than 50 years) out of the country. Therefore such items brought into Laos from other countries have to be declared at customs.
Taxi: Taxis with meters are available in big cities. The current price is about US$ 0.5 per kilometre. Most metered taxi drivers can speak a little English.
Business hours: (GMT + 7)
- Offices: 08:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. and 13:00 p.m. to 16:00 p.m., from Monday to Saturday
- Banks: 08:00 a.m to 03:00 p.m, closed on Friday afternoons, Saturday and Sunday.
Electrical current: 220 volts (50Hz) A.C.
Telephone: Public phones are available in Vientiane and other major cities. You can also go to Laos Telecom office, hotels or telephone booths to call and fax overseas. Phone cards are widely available in most convenient stores. There are a number of Internet cafes in Vientiane and major cities. Normally, hotels will get 15-20% service charge of the bill.
Tip: Tipping is not obligatory and customary in Laos, however, small gratuities may be given in appreciation for efficient, friendly service. in hotels and restaurants, it is nonetheless widely practiced in addition to the service charges shown on bills. (Porters, 5000 - 1,000 Kip per bag.)