Full Name: Lao people's democratic republic
Capital city: Vientiane
Official language: Lao
Population: 6,69 million
Area: 236,800 km2
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International calling code: +856
Laos is one of Southeast Asia's least developed and least populated countries. The mighty Mekong River is at its heart, and flows through most of the major towns and cities you will visit. A strong Buddhist culture pervades, and the sight of glittering golden temples and monks collecting alms add to the country's beauty, serenity and undeniable allure.
Tourism in Laos is somewhat developed and there are luxury lodgings and wonderful eateries, yet patience is still required and the pace or style of service may be different to what you are used to. It is important to remain calm in any dealings with Lao people, as displays of anger are rare and frowned upon in Lao culture.
CLIMATE & TIMES TO TRAVEL
There are two distinct seasons in Laos: the wet season (May to October) and the dry season (November to April). You can travel to Laos any time of year. The dry season is popular, but many Travel Indochina travellers prefer the wet season as there is fewer tourists. Monsoonal showers usually occur in the afternoon and rarely affect travel plans, although travelling overland in some remote areas may not be possible. March and April are the hottest months and the evenings can be quite cool in the north between November and February.
The Lao language has varying dialects throughout the country. Interestingly, many ethnic groups don't speak any Lao. Other languages used in Laos are French, English, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.
Let’s learn how to speak Lao with your guide!
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.
MONEY: The unit of currency in Laos is the Kip which is available in 100000, 50000, 20000, 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500, 100 and 50 kip notes. U.S. Dollars, Thai Baht and the local currency are all accepted currencies. At the time of printing, the exchange rate was 8,000 Kip = US$1 and 11,500 Kip = 1 Euro. (Today exchange rates 17/07/12)
Traveler cheques (American Express) and credit cards are accepted in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. If you are traveling to other places please ensure you have enough ‘hard currency’, preferably Lao Kips. Most major hotels and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard (but not American Express) credit cards.
Note: Using credit card might be required for bank charges at least from 3%-5% of total amount
Banks are open Monday to Friday and some even on a Saturday morning but please note there are widely ATMs in the country. The withdrawal is in local currency only.
FOOD: A typical Lao meal consists of sticky rice accompanied by fish, poultry or beef seasoned with chili or garlic. Fresh fruit and vegetables should always be peeled or washed thoroughly with purified water. Bottled water should be used at all times for drinking. Boiled drinks such as coffee or tea are fine. There are several restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang offering international cuisine, including Italian, French, Thai and Chinese.
Lao cuisine shares many similarities with that of its neighbor Thailand. It is dry, spicy and delicious. Lao food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice and with the fingers. In the countryside, people will eat on a communal basis, sitting on the floor and sharing the dishes. The food eaten in Laos is influenced by its neighbors and the colonial French.
PASSPORT & VISA
All visitors to Laos require a valid passport with at least 6 months left before its expiry. Visas are required for entry into Lao PDR. A regular tourist visa is valid for up to 15-30 days, and may be issued upon arrival at any land international immigration checkpoints to Laos including major airports such as Vientiane's Wattay Airport, Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Savannakhet Airport for US$18.00-US$45.00 this visa fee is subject to passport holder. (2 passport size color photos are required and the application form is available at the immigration counter).
The most convenience entering Laos is applying visa on arrival. It can be obtained upon arrival at the airport and some major international boarder gates. (Visa application form is available at immigration counter. However, guests who has pre-visa arranged must obtain a copy of the visa approval before boarding the flight to Laos. If visas are needed, or if visas have already been approved, please provide us with passport and applicant details at least 10 days before the date of travel so that arrangements can be made / checked (as appropriate). You may require to check out the official site of Lao Immigration http://www.immigration.gov.la/
All Airport departure tax is included in your airticket, no further fee exist on your departure, however, overland border gates require to pay your fee at US$1.00/passport plus an overtimes charge to an officer is applied for weekend, public holidays and after office hours.
SAFETY & SECURITY
Laos is a very safe country, despite being one of the poorer nations in the region. However, you should apply common sense as you would when travelling anywhere: make sure your spending money is out of sight and near your body and keep jewellery to a minimum.
Even in Vientiane, you will feel safe walking at night, however Laotians tend to go to bed early so the streets are quiet after 9pm. Always carry a hotel address card with you when you go out so you can show taxi drivers.
While on holiday in Laos, you should keep a photocopy of your airline tickets, passport and credit card numbers separate from the originals in a safe place. Most hotels have room-safes for deposit boxes at reception where you can store valuables. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
SHOPPING & DINING
The central markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang both offer a wide range of souvenirs, as do many of the cities' shops. However, while the majority of private shops have fixed prices, in the markets the art of bargaining still rules.
TIPPING & BARGAINING
Tipping according to a percentage of the bill is not expected in Laos, but is enormously appreciated. For someone earning US$50 / month, a US$1 tip is about half a day's wages. You should also consider tipping drivers and guides. Typically, travelers on minibus tours will pool together to collect a communal tip to be split between the guide and the driver. About US$ 2 / day (per tourist) is standard. It is customary to make a small donation after visiting a pagoda, especially if a monk has shown you around.
We suggest these tips for traveling successfully in Laos (and anywhere else, for that matter!):
1. Try your best to smile and be pleasant.
2. Don't complain loudly.
3. If you want to criticize someone, do it in a joking manner to avoid confrontation
4. Expect delays - build them into your schedule.
5. Never show anger - ever! Getting visibly upset is not only rude; it will cause you to lose face.
Small, practical gifts such as a sewing kit, or pens and paper, are very welcome. It is best to present gifts with the right hand.
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
Light cotton and linen clothing is best in tropical climates. Long trousers are recommended for visits to temples and pagodas. Long sleeved shirts and socks should be worn at dusk for protection against mosquitoes. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are recommended for protection against the strong tropical sun. Bring a few items of warm clothing for trips to mountainous or highland areas where the temperature can be markedly cooler than in tropical lowlands. A windproof jacket is essential when touring along Mekong River during November to February. An umbrella or raincoat is recommended if visiting the country during the monsoon months.
It is best to bring your own film. Color standard films (such as Kodak, Konica or Fuji) are available in the main cities. But slide films, B/W films, video films and camera batteries as well as any specialized photo or video equipment should be brought with you. Obtain permission before photographing monks or the interiors of pagodas and temples.