Information & Facts
Things to do in Laos usually incorporate the attractions of
religious sites and the natural world. Near Vientiane, Xiang Khouan
is a religious park that has integrated Buddhist statues into a
river meadow landscape. Vientiane has the most impressive religious
site named That Luang, an enormous and ornate
stupawithin the city. The serene and historic city of
Luang Prabang is near beautiful religious locations such as the
Royal Palace, Wat Xieng Thong and Pak Ou caves, which all house
ancient Buddhist statues and relics. Another great Laos tourist
attraction is the beautiful cave of Tham Phou Kham in Vang
Travellers looking for fun activities in Laos can hire inner
tubes and float down the warm rivers that criss-cross the country
(often with refreshing cocktails in hand).
Visitors to Phonsavan can marvel at hundreds of enormous stone
jars strewn about a meadow for mysterious reasons in ancient times.
The area also hosts a number of other tourist sights and activities
such as a Mines Advisory Group (MAG) centre, a silk farm and tours
of the local villages.
Northern Laos is very accessible and generally tends to attract
most of the tourists travelling to Laos. However, eastern and
southern Laos are well off the tourist trail, for the moment, and
richly rewarding for those willing to make the effort.
Laos has a hot, tropical climate and therefore when it comes to
business, lightweight suits are common, worn with a tie. Visitors
should bear in mind that the country is generally rather
conservative and to act accordingly. Business cards should be given
and received using both hands and should be treated with respect.
Handshakes are common, but a traditional greeting is the '
wai', similar to the Indian '
namaste'where palms are placed together as if in prayer, and
held in front of the chest or face. Surnames usually come before
first names, which can be confusing for visitors. French is more
widely spoken and understood than English, though translators are
available. Business hours are usually from 8am to 12pm and 1pm to
4pm, Monday to Friday.
The climate of Laos is tropical, with a wet monsoon season
between May and October, and a dry season from November to April.
Very heavy rainfall can be expected in July and August.
Temperatures are constantly high all year round.
The international access code for Laos is +856. The outgoing
code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the
United States). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)21 for
Vientiane and (0)71 for Luang Prabang. International Direct Dial is
available in the major towns, but the service is expensive and
inefficient. Hotels sometimes add a hefty surcharge to their
telephone bills: check before making long-distance calls. Mobile
phones will only work in the major cities; it is advisable to check
the coverage with your service provider before leaving as the local
mobile phone companies have few active roaming agreements with
other network operators. Internet cafes are widely available in
Skimpy or revealing clothes are generally not acceptable. Public
displays of affection are taboo in Lao society. Avoid touching
anyone on the head or using your feet to point at anything.
Appropriate dress and behaviour when entering places of worship is
essential. The Laos government prohibits any sexual contact or
relationships between Lao nationals and foreigners, unless married
under Lao law; penalties may involve heavy fines or imprisonment.
It is illegal not to carry an identity document. Photographing
military sites is prohibited.
Travellers to Laos do not have to pay duty on 500 cigarettes or
100 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 2 bottles wine; 1 bottle of other
alcohol; and jewellery up to 500g, provided they are from countries
not bordering Laos.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. A variety of
plugs are used, including the European-style two-pin, the UK-style
three-pin and the flat two-pin type.
Those planning to travel to Laos should seek medical advice
about vaccinations and endemic diseases at least three weeks prior
to departure. There have been bird flu outbreaks in northern Laos
provinces. Malaria exists throughout the country except in
Vientiane, and typhoid and cholera occur in some areas. A typhoid
vaccine is recommended for all travellers, except short-term
business travellers who will restrict their meals to major
restaurants and hotels. Other risks include Hepatitis E, plague,
dengue fever, and Schistosomiasis if swimming in the Mekong River.
Travellers' diarrhoea is a problem for many visitors; only drink
bottled water and avoid dairy products, uncooked meat and fish,
salads and unpeeled fruit. Medical care in Vientiane is extremely
basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to
deal with medical emergencies. Medical evacuation is difficult to
organise and very expensive. Travellers are advised to take out
comprehensive medical insurance, and those who have an unstable
medical condition should consider avoiding Laos. A yellow fever
certificate is required by all entering from an infected area. Bird
flu has been detected in poultry and wild birds, and the first case
of human infection was confirmed in February 2007; however the risk
is still low for travellers, but contact with domestic, caged and
wild birds should be avoided and poultry and egg dishes well
Lao is the official language, but some English and French
The Lao Kip (LAK) is the legal currency unit, currently
available in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and
50,000 kip. US Dollars, Euros and Thai Baht are also accepted in
many places and are more convenient to carry than large stacks of
the local currency. Banks, hotels, and jewellery shops all offer
currency exchange services. For everyday expenses, carry a mix of
US dollars and kip. For larger items, or when the exchange rate
works in your favour, use US dollars. For local transport, street
food stalls and minor purchases, it is best to use kip. When in
rural areas, ensure you carry a supply of small notes as change can
be hard to come by. Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard
are accepted at most international hotels, many shops and
restaurants, and a few tourist-orientated establishments in Luang
Prabang and Vientiane - but in other parts of the country assume
that only cash is accepted. Travellers cheques can be cashed at
most banks in Vientiane and other major towns. Banks are open
Monday to Friday from 8am to 12pm, and then again from 2pm to 3pm.
In Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and other major towns, ATMs are
available from which money can be withdrawn. Note that ATMs
distribute only Lao kip, with a maximum of around 1,000,000 kip per
Most foreign passengers to Laos can obtain a visa on arrival,
provided that: (i) they are arriving at one of the following
airports: Vientiane International, Luang Prabang, Pakse,Warray;
(ii) they are holding a return/onward ticket, and the necessary
travel documentation for their next destination; (iii) they have a
confirmed hotel reservation in Laos; and (iv) they are in
possession of one photograph, size 3 x 4 cm. These tourist visas
are valid for 30 days (with one extension possible), and cost USD
30. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to
enter Laos, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting
through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your
passport has at least six months validity remaining after your
intended date of departure from your travel destination.
Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated
by travel agents and official sources.
Most visits to Laos are trouble-free, but violent crimes such as
robbery are on the increase. Foreigners have been assaulted after
having their drinks or food drugged. You should be careful about
taking drinks from strangers, and do not leave food or drinks
unattended. Theft of passports is a problem and travellers are
advised to take care, avoid carrying large sums of money and keep
valuables and documents in a safe place. Travel in some rural parts
of Laos is dangerous because of banditry and unexploded ordnance,
and visitors should never stray from well-worn footpaths. Visitors
should also note that an ID document or passport should be carried
at all times and should be presented on demand or else a heavy fine
could be imposed. Visitors to Vang Vieng are advised to be
particularly vigilant of their belongings, and aware of their
personal security as there have been reports of petty theft in the
area. Staying at a trustworthy and secure hotel or guesthouse while
in Vang Vieng is recommended.
Tipping is becoming more widely practiced in tourist hotels and
restaurants where 10% is expected; elsewhere, there is no need to
tip. Many of the more up-market restaurants tend to include a 10 to
15% service charge in their bill.