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Laos Travel Tips

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. If you have already booked your trip to Laos click here to download our pre-departure guide.

Full name
Lao people's democratic republic
Voltage
Used in 127V/ 220V
Frequency
Used in 50HZ
 
Captital city
Vientiane
Population
6,500,000
Religon
Buddhist
 
Currency
Kip (LAK)
International code
+856
Time zone
UTC + 7 hours
 
 
Climate & times to visit
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.
What to expect
One of the charms of Laos is that tourism here is still developing, and at a slow pace. While there are some stunning luxury accommodation options in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and some fine restaurants, you may find that the style and speed of service is not the same as you would find in Australia or other destinations Asia.

It is important that you try to be patient and deal with any frustrations in a calm manner; the Laos people are warm and welcoming, but anger is not well-tolerated. Like Thailand, Laos features a strong Theravada Buddhist culture, which is central to daily life.
Events
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the holidays listed below. As major holidays are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our Australia-based Asia specialists for details.
 
 
 
Health & fitness
As with travelling to other parts of Asia, you need to take precautions when visiting Laos. Some of the diseases known to exist in Laos include hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever, diphtheria, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We strongly recommend you consult your doctor with regards to vaccinations and up-to-date health advice at least a month before you leave Australia.

Medical care facilities are basic, even in the capital Vientiane. Any serious medical treatments will likely require transfer to Bangkok.
Visa information
Most travellers, including citizens of Australia, need a visa to enter Laos. Australian travellers can obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at most overland border points and at the airports in Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang. The current price for Australian passport holders is currently 30 USD (USD cash only, passport photo required). Visas cost an extra 1 USD on weekends and public holidays.

Note: as with all destinations Laotian visa regulations are subject to change. We strongly advise that you check with the Lao embassy or nearest Australian consulate prior to travel in Laos. Although we can offer guidance, please do be aware that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct visa.
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.
Recommended reading
Culture Shock: Laos: by S. Mansfield. An easy to read introduction to Laos.

Shooting at the Moon, by R. Warner. A fascinating account of the CIA’s role in Laos through the 60s and 70s, covering the major events leading up to the United States' bombing of the neolithic remains of the Plain of Jars. It discusses the tragic role played by the Hmong people through the Indochina wars.

A Short History of Laos, by G. Evans. A short history of the Laos, including significant chapters dedicated to reform attempts of the last 10 years and the author's attempts to predict the future of this land-locked nation.

Stalking the Elephant Kings, by C. Kremmer. This timely and 'light' book steps you through the author's investigation into the fate of the last King in Laos and his family.

Ant Egg Soup, by N. Du Pont De Bie. Best-seller in the UK, this book is centered on the author’s quest for authentic Lao cuisine. It includes recipes collected during her travels and some highly lucid accounts.
 
What to take
  • Flat walking shoes & sandals
  • Hat & sunglasses
  • Swimming attire
  • Lightweight travel towel
  • Money belt
  • Lightweight waterproof coat or umbrella
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Alarm clock
  • Small torch (flashlight)
  • Travel plug/international adapter
  • Women’s sanitary products
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs/eye mask
  • Day pack and/or small backpack
  • Clothes for temples
 
 
 
 
Getting around
Arrival transfer: If you have booked an arrival transfer for your Laos holiday, you will find your driver waiting for you in a Travel Indochina t-shirt and carrying a Travel Indochina signboard with your name on it.

Road: For six travellers or more, air-conditioned Hyundai with 25-40 seats are used. If you are travelling in a smaller group, travel will be by air-conditioned minibus or modern sedan car. Metered taxis are cheap and plentiful in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Air: Domestic flights in Laos are on Lao Airlines, and the planes are quite new. Schedules often change at short notice and can affect your travel plans.

Boat: Many of our Small Group Tours to Laos include some boat travel on the Mekong, and it is a wonderful way to get around the country.

Other: Tuk tuks, bicycles and your feet.
Internet access & communication
Internet: Internet is generally inexpensive in Laos and readily available in Luang Prabang, Vientiane, either in your hotel or at an internet cafe. Many cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels in these centres provide free WiFi.

Phone: Mobile phones can be used if you have roaming enabled, though coverage outside urban areas can be inconsistent. The cheapest way of calling overseas (or locally) is via a VOIP service such as Skype. International phone and fax fees in hotels are expensive and you cannot make reverse charge calls in Laos.

Mail: International mail from Laos generally takes ten to fourteen days to reach its destination. Prices are equivalent to Australian postal rates.
Food & drink
You will find the food in Laos has a lot in common with neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. Fish sauce, coconut milk, chillies, lemongrass and galangal are all common features, and dishes are usually served with sticky rice, rather than steamed rice.

Some specialities worth trying are som tam, a spicy green papaya salad, and laap, made with minced chicken, pork or fish. Vegetarians are generally well catered for, with vegetarian options often highlighted on a menu or in a separate section.

Tap water should be avoided however bottled water is readily available and provided on a complimentary basis by most hotels. The local beer, Beerlao, is considered by many to be one of the best beers in Asia.
Tipping
Tipping is a personal matter, and you should never feel obligated but when travelling in Laos, a tip is often an appropriate way to show your appreciation for great service.

If you are joining one of our Small Group Tours, your Western tour leader or local guide or will ask for a small sum at the beginning of your stay in Laos. This will be used to tip hotel porters and boat crews during your trip. This means that you do not have to worry about having small change on hand, and helps to prevent over-tipping. You may also choose to show your appreciation for Travel Indochina guides, drivers and tour leaders with a tip; however, it is not compulsory to do so.
Responsible travel
Travel Indochina is committed to responsible travel in Laos and while travelling you may have a chance to partake in traditional cultural activities and support sustainable projects.

Baci welcome: A feature of many of our holidays in Laos the traditional Lao welcome (baci) ceremony in a family home.

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE): This inspiring organisation assists with rehabilitation for victims of UXO and traffic accidents.

Big Brother Mouse: This wonderful organisation sets out to improve the literacy levels of Lao children. You may like to purchase books for ‘drop off’ to schools or villages during your trip.

ElefantAsia: Travel Indochina has sponsored ‘Elephant First Aid Kits’, designed to empower elephant owners to care for this endangered native of Laos.

Makphet: Eat delicious food and support a good cause. Travel Indochina sponsors a student at this restaurant and hospitality training restaurant in Vientiane.

Mai Savanh: Based in Vientiane, this fair-trade enterprise provides employment and income for underprivileged women while helping to maintain the traditional art of Lao silk weaving.

Ock Pop Tok's 'Living Crafts Centre': Gain a true sense of the place of bamboo in Laos daily life as you learn the ancient art of bamboo weaving.