Here is a concise list of useful Laos travel and country information for people visiting Laos on tour, for business or an extended stay. If you would like a copy of this information, a printable version (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) is available HERE.
LAO OR LAOS?
The people call themselves ‘Lao’ and the language is also ‘Lao’, so where did the extra “s” come from? The answer seems to date back to the French administration: “Royaume des Laos” (“Kingdom of the Lao people”) was read as Royaume de Laos (“Kingdom of Laos”), which has remained since. The official name however, is the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The use of either, when referring to the name of the country, is acceptable.
Total Area: 237 thousand sq km,
Population: 6.8 million
Official Language: Lao (French is also recognised as a national language)
Time Zone: GMT+ 7 hours with no summer time (daylight saving time); the whole country is in a single time zone.
A regular TOURIST VISA does not need to be pre-arranged for entry into Laos. A Landing Visa can be arranged on arrival at the international airports and other checkpoints. To obtain a landing visa, you will require the following:
– A completed visa application form
– A Passport with at least 6 months validity
– Two recent photograph (4×6 cm)
– Appropriate visa fee (US$) Australia $30, Canada $42, USA $35, UK $35.
Visa conditions and fees change regularly. For the most up to date information, contact the nearest Lao Embassy or Consulate. For more information on obtaining a landing visa, please view the Laos pages on the United Kingdom FCO website on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/laos/entry-requirements
Arrival Procedures: After passing through immigration, you will proceed directly to the baggage area. After collecting your checked luggage and clearing the customs inspection, you will go out to the arrival area. If you are on an Asian Horizons escorted tour, you will be met by your tour guide here.
Customs Procedures: As a basic rule-of-thumb, all valuable items brought into the country such as jewellery, cameras, electrical equipment, etc. should be declared upon arrival and subsequently brought out of the country upon departure. (In actual practice however, it is not necessary to declare cameras or computers or even jewellery). To further improve the cash flow for tourists, now a new regulation allows foreigners to bring in up to US$10,000 per person undeclared into Laos.
No International Airport Departure Tax: Departure tax for international flights has been cancelled. Therefore Travellers no longer pay a separate departure tax as it is included in the ticket price.
The monetary unit in Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK), also known as Kip (currency symbol = ₭ or ₭N). This is the only unit of currency. All smaller denominations of the currency are now essentially valueless and as such are no longer in use. Lao Kip bank notes come in the following denominations: 500₭, 1,000₭, 2,000₭, 5,000₭, 10,000₭, 20,000₭, 50,000₭, 100,000₭. All notes are common. The following smaller notes do exist but are rarely seen: 1₭, 5₭, 10₭, 20₭, 50₭, 100₭.
Approximate exchange rates (as at 01 January 2015):
GBP £ 1 = LAK ₭ 12,000
USD $ 1 = LAK ₭ 8,100
EUR € 1 = LAK ₭ 8,700
Cash (recommended): Laos relies heavily on the Thai baht and the US dollar for the domestic cash economy. An estimated one-third of all cash circulating in Vientiane, is one of these two currencies. Kip is usually preferred for small purchases, while more expensive items and services may be quoted in kip, baht or dollars. Anything costing the equivalent of US$100 or more is likely to be quoted in US dollars. However, the majority of transactions will be carried out in Kip, so it’s always worth having a wad in your pocket. Ensure your US$ notes are clean and undamaged, as banks and other exchanges will not accept any notes which are torn, excessively crumpled or have writing on them.
Traveller’s Cheques: Travellers’ Cheques are still the most secure way of taking money abroad and although they have become obsolete in many places due to the advent of ATM’s, they can be used in Laos. Both travellers cheques and ATMs can be problematic to use thus cash is recommended. At this time, it is our experience that many hotels and banks only exchange American Express’s own dollar travellers’ cheques.
ATM: There are very mixed reports on the current convenience of using ATMs in Laos as they are difficult to find and can be unreliable. If you use an ATM, Visa / MasterCard debit & credit card with a PIN number are generally accepted. Please be aware of your daily withdrawal limit before you depart the UK. Please also be aware of personal security at an ATM as they can be hot-spots for pick-pockets. ATMs that are inside banks or other buildings are more secure. Advisory: Also contact your bank in advance to inform of overseas transaction as some banks may not allow overseas transaction without prior notice for security reasons.
Credit Cards (recommended as a backup): are generally NOT accepted except at 4* (and above) hotels. Tours with Asian Horizons are for the most part, inclusive and large amounts of cash are not necessary although you will have to prepare enough cash when getting around the cities for person expenses. Advisory: It is generally a good idea to take along a credit card just in case of emergencies as few insurance policies provide instant cash for things like lost luggage or medical emergencies etc. Please contact your issuer to ask about service charges and to let them know you will be travelling in Laos so your card will not be flagged for “possible fraudulent use abroad”.
LANGUAGE AND RELIGION
The official language of Laos is Lao, which is widely spoken in the majority of the country. As Laos is a former French colony, French remains an official language. English is spoken in larger cities and tourist areas but is generally not common outside them.
The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practiced by the majority of the population. Islam and Christianity are also practised but represent only a small % of the population.
The topography of Laos is largely mountainous, with elevations typically more than 500 metres above sea level, so although in the tropics, air temperatures can fall at higher altitudes or in the dry season. Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April. Generally, monsoons occur at the same time across the country, although that time may vary significantly from one year to the next. Temperatures range from highs around 40 °C (104 °F) along the Mekong in March and April to lows of 5 °C (41 °F) or less in the uplands of Xiangkhoang and Phôngsali in January.
Laos weather forecasts: www.bbc.co.uk/weather/
If travelling at high altitude during winter, travellers should bring appropriate, warm clothing should the temperatures dip but for the most part, light clothing is quite adequate for the majority of tourist spots all year round.
WHAT TO WEAR
Laos has a conservative culture still influenced by Buddhism where suggestive or revealing clothing are not recommend. When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required. Easily removable footwear (such as sandals) is recommended as most temple grounds must be visited barefoot (sock should also be removed).
The sun is very strong in all parts of Laos so a high protection factor sun screen, hats and sunglasses are recommended, as is an umbrella for the rainy season. (May – October)
HEALTH INSURANCE & IMMUNISATIONS
THE FOLLOWING IS GENERAL ADVICE ONLY. IN ALL EVENTS WE RECOMMEND YOU CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR ON FULL REQUIREMENTS:
Insurance (medical): Hospitals with the standard of care most tourists are used to are not commonplace in Laos. If a Traveller were to become seriously ill or injured, they may need to be medically evacuated (‘med-evac’) to the nearest major medical facility, most likely in Singapore or Bangkok. It is strongly recommended that Travellers purchase insurance which will provide medical-evacuation coverage should they require it.
Risk of malaria and is present throughout the year in the whole country apart from the capital Vientiane thus malaria prophylaxis is recommended. Mosquitoes are present year-round so insect repellent is essential to prevent mosquito bites and also protect from Dengue fever. Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria and Tetanus vaccinations are also recommended.
ADVICE: Tap water is not safe for drinking. Bottled water can be purchased almost everywhere, including small shops and street vendors but please always check that the seal on the bottle cap is unbroken before purchasing. Travellers should also remember that temperatures in Laos are generally hotter than their home country and should pace themselves according to their fitness level to avoid any medical problems from over exertion, sun stroke or dehydration. Below are some useful websites for more information on travel health advice:
|Disease||Recommendation||When to see a doctor|
|Typhoid||Vaccinationrecommended||10 days before travel|
|Hepatitis A||Vaccination recommended||2 weeks before travel|
|Diphtheria||Vaccinationrecommended||3 months before travel|
|Japanese B encephalitis||Vaccination sometimes recommended||1 month before travel|
|Tuberculosis||Vaccination sometimes recommended||3 months before travel|
|Hepatitis B||Vaccination sometimes recommended||2 months before travel|
|Rabies||Vaccination sometimes recommended||1 month before travel|
|Meningococcal meningitis||Not required|
|Yellow fever||Not required|
|Tick-borne encephalitis||Not required|
Laos has the second highest death rate in Southeast Asia from road accidents so be alert when crossing city streets. With more and more cars coming on to the streets in all locations. It is more important than ever to take care when crossing streets as the number of drivers is increasing and many are inexperienced and drive too fast. In general Lao drivers expect pedestrians to make way for them. Pedestrian crossings do exist in urban areas but are not always observed by drivers.
The voltage throughout Laos is 230 Volts AC. Because the voltage may be inconsistent, especially in more remote areas, valuable or sensitive equipment like stereos and computers should have appropriate electronic protection. Electrical sockets may be two pronged, usually able to take round or blade style plugs although sometimes you need a 3 prong adaptor.
Most 3* (and above) hotels provide conversion plugs but we recommend you take a universal adaptor able to fit any of these configurations for electronic items you carry with you.
Cameras, (including video) are permitted in Laos. Restrictions on photography include military facilities and any structure considered strategic – this includes bridges and train stations (although it may be only loosely enforced).
Mobile Phones – In urban areas coverage is fine, but rural areas have poorer coverage. Local SIM cards are available for about $5 and credit top-up cards are sold everywhere. Some companies have better range than others. Lao GSM cards have the best coverage if you’re planning to travel around a lot, while Tango offers free international text messaging, but a limited network. Internet and land lines – Accessing the internet in Laos is possible throughout the country via several options, including internet cafés and some hotels in the more remote towns. Most locations still do NOT have free WIFI so you should expect to pay for it. In hotels you will probably have to sit in the lobby to access it.
DOMESTIC AIRLINES IN LAOS
The quickest and most comfortable mode of domestic travel is by air with the domestic service is operated by Lao Airlines. There is a 20kg luggage limitation on domestic flights on an economy fare. Excess baggage charges are often not enforced on tourists but this is not guaranteed so we recommend staying under this limit whenever possible. There are no domestic airport taxes to pay at the airports (they are already included in ticket price).
SOCIAL CUSTOMS & CULTURE SHOCKS!
Toilets: Away from your hotel, toilet paper is not always provided, even in locations such as restaurants, trains and public toilets, even at tourist destinations. Remember to carry yours when going out! We recommend taking a supply from your hotel room on a daily basis. Hand washing facilities are also not always adequate and we recommend you carry alcohol hand wash with you.
Bargaining: Expected for tourist souvenirs and at local markets. The shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price. Consult your local guide about the standard price. Bargaining can be a lot of fun and sometimes top up your shopping experience!
Opening Hours: Most banks, business, and government offices are open Monday to Friday only, usually from 9am – 5pm, some may close at lunchtime (12:00pm – 2:00pm). Tourist sites are generally open daily, from 8am – 5pm. Most restaurants open daily from 6am – 9am, 11:30am – 2pm, and from 5pm – 9:30pm.
GRATUITIES AND TIPPING
No one should feel obligated, but it is common to tip drivers, guides, waiters at local restaurants and also usually hotel porters for good service. The following suggestions on tipping are meant as general guidelines. It is recommend that you tip in either Lao Kip or US dollars. Note: Tipping your guides depends entirely on your satisfaction with their services. Clients are not obliged to tip for poor service whereas for exceptional service, clients may wish to tip more.
Porterage at hotel: In general, if a porter carries the client’s bags to the room, a tip of about US$.50 – $1.00 would be appropriate, depending on size, weight, etc.
Restaurant tips: In general a tip of about 5–10 % is appreciated for meal service. Some restaurants may add a service charge to the bill, in which case tipping is not normally needed.
Driver tips (including boats): The driver’s tip may be about US$ 2 – $4 per person per day (or in equivalent in LAK) for individuals, couples or small groups (not including young children). For large groups, that is, more than 6 passengers, a tip of about US$ 1 – $ 2 (or equivalent in LAK) per person, per day would be suitable. If the driver has an assistant, a tip of roughly 1/3 the amount given to the driver is considered appropriate.
Tour Guide: A fair average for tipping your tour guide is US$15 per person (or equivalent in LAK), day for individuals or small groups (under 6 passengers and not including young children). For larger groups around US$10 per person per day (or equivalent in LAK) would be appropriate.