Laos travel tips

Fast fact about Laos

+ The Lao People’s Democratic Republic
+ Capital city: Vientiane
+ Official language: Lao
+ Religion: Buddhism
+ Population: 6,77 million (2013)
+ Area: 236,800 km2
+ Currency: Lao Kip (LAK)
+ Time Zone: GMT +7 hours
+ International calling code: +856

Weather

Laos has a tropical monsoonal climate. The country has two distinct seasons, the wet (May – October) and the dry (November – April).

The wet season in Laos, similar to many Southeast Asian countries, is characterized by a downpour for a few hours a day, rather than all-day torrential downpours. Rain in Laos follows a dissimilar pattern according to regions. Generally speaking, the higher you are, the more rain you get, and the least amount falls in the towns along the Mekong River south of Vientiane. Land transport during this season can be quite slow and soggy; therefore, don’t be surprised if your trip takes longer than expected. However, this season comes with lower temperatures and cleaner air.

The dry season has two periods. The first period (November – February) is a great time to visit Laos as it is fresh and cool and river water levels are adequate. The second period is quite hot. The burning of rice straw makes you feel uncomfortable.

The best time to visit Laos is the festive season from December to February.

Clothing

What you should pack depends on what time of year you plan to visit Laos.

If you travel to Laos during the hot dry season, light cotton clothes, especially shorts and sleeveless tops, are highly recommended, but remember to bring some long sleeve tops and long pants if you plan to visit temples. A few extra clothes might be necessary if you come during the Lao New Year period as everywhere gets wet so you might need to change your clothes more often.

If you travel to Laos during cool dry season (November – February), suitable clothes include a light jacket or a fleece and some jeans and trainers as it can be quite chilly in the morning, particularly in Northern Laos. It is also often pretty cold if you are traveling by boat, tuk-tuk or sangtaew. Due to its mountainous topography, long pants and long-sleeved are recommended if you participate in hiking, trekking or outdoor activities. You should also wear a hat, sunscreen, lip balm containing an SPF, and sunglasses

During the rainy season you’ll probably get stuck in a downpour and need a raincoat or an umbrella – don’t worry – it is easy to buy one along the streets.

Laos people follow Buddhism. Temples and pagodas were built throughout the country. Dress properly with long trousers or cover your shoulders is highly recommended. Please remember to take your shoes off when entering temples.

Laundries are easily found everywhere in Laos and it costs just several dollars at most to have your clothes washed and ironed, so you should not overpack.

Religion

Within Laos approximately 60-70% of the population are said to be Theravada Buddhists, with the rest of the population largely follow Animism in the form of spirit worship. Less than 2% of the population are Christians and there are small communities of Muslims mostly in Vientiane.

Visa

All visitors entering Laos must possess valid passports. Visa can obtained from Lao Embassies and Consulates abroad. In addition, visa can also be obtained on arrival at the international checkpoint.

For entry into Lao PDR, you need a valid passport with at least 6 months left prior to the expiration date, 1 passport photo size color photos and the application form which is available at the immigration counter.

Tourist visa is valid from 15-30 days, and most travellers prefer to apply visa on arrival. It can be obtained upon arrival at international airports such as: Vientiane’s Wattay Airport, Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Savannakhet Airport and some major international boarder gates. It costs 20-42 US$ depending on nationality.

Visa is not required for citizens from Russia, Luxumberg, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland and ASEAN nations.

Public holidays

  • 1st January: International New Year’s Day
  • 6th January: Pather Lao Day
  • 31st January: Chinese New Year
  • 13nd – 15th April: Lao New Year (Pi Mai)
  • 1st May: Labour Day
  • 2nd December: National Day

Tax
In your air ticket, all airport departure tax is included. There is no further fee on your departure. Meanwhile in border gates, it is required to pay US $1 for each passport + overtime charge (applied for weekend, public holidays and not in working hours) to an officer.
Duty-free allowance is for:

  • 500 cigarettes
  • 2 bottles of wine
  • A bottle of liquor.

Exports of antiquities and Buddha images are strictly prohibited by government.

Money

The kip is Lao’s official currency and the only legal currency for every transactions. However, Thai baht and US dollars are commercially acceptable, including hotels, restaurants and shops. In Northern Laos, Chinese Yuan starts to be widely used.

Because Lao Kip is not convertible, banks are reluctant to give anything but Kip. So you may want to convert a certain amount of money if you visit Laos. Please make sure you always bring some US dollars or baht.

In the countryside, kip is preferred. Prices are quoted in Kip for small purchases and in US dollars for more expensive goods and services (tours, car rentals, etc).

If you want to use an ATM, your best bet is the capital, Vientiane. Up to 15 is now in operation – with many more due to be rolled out. You can use all major credit and debit cards but only get 1,000,000 kip out at a time. Many of them are found in Luang Prabang. You should not rely solely on ATMs as a source of cash if you visit Laos.

Payment by credit card is easier in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Cards of American Express, Visa, Master Card are accepted but in a very limited number. The commission is charged by some places, and normally is at 3%.
In October 2014, US $1 = 8052.5 Kip.

Language

Lao is the national language but there are many local dialects, not to mention the ubiquitous languages of the minority groups. Lao is closely related to Thai – a language is widely spoken by the neighbouring country.

French is spoken among the educated class who are over 40, mostly government officials and hotel staffs. But many other people are fluent in English.

Health

In general, there are no required vaccinations for entry to Laos. However, proof of Yellow Fever immunization is required for visitors arriving from infected areas (parts of Africa and South America).

Malaria is a serious risk in Laos and so visitors are advised to check with their doctor or a travel immunization clinic for protecting against malaria, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, polio, and tuberculosis. Any essential medications should be brought with you as there is no guarantee they will be available in Laos. For current information about vaccinations for Laos, see the official CDC Website.

Before your trip, please make sure your travel agency is aware of your health conditions as well as travel insurance.
Medical Kit Check List

Check Items
Aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen in USA)
Antihistamine – for allergies
Cold and flu tablets, throat lozenges and nasal decongestant
Multivitamins
Antibiotics
Loperamide or diphenoxylate – for diarrhoea
Prochlorperazine or metaclopramide – for nausea and vomiting
Rehydration mixture – prevent dehydration
Insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm and eye drops
Calamine lotion, sting relief spray or aloe vera – ease irritation from sunburn and insect bites
Antifungal cream or powder – for fungal skin infections and thrush
Antiseptic – for cuts and grazes
Bandages, band-aids (plasters) and other wound dressings
Water purification tablets or iodine
Scissors, tweezers and a thermometer
Sterile kit

Tipping

Tipping is not common in Laos — by locals, anyway. However, it is a kind gesture to tip drivers and guides. In some more expensive restaurants, a 10% tip is appreciated if service charge is not included on the bill. Usually, 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.

Some restaurants include a tip already in the final bill so you just need to be careful not to tip until you figure out if it’s already included.
It is customary to make a small donation after visiting a pagoda, especially if a monk has shown you around.

Food

Laos dishes are deeply influenced by Thai, especially in the north eastern Isaan region. They are distinguished by using fresh herbs, raw vegetables, and spicies. Meat and gish are grilled or steamed as well. It means that Lao meals are very low in fat.

Cuisine in Lao is traditionally eaten with stick rice (khao niaow), eaten by using right hand. And larb (or laap – meaning “luck” in Lao) is the most popular dish here, it is considered as national dish. It is likely to salad in which is mixed by herbs, spicies, lim juice and chili is optionally. Larb paa if you want to eat them with fish and larb sin if you want meat instead.

Laos is a landlocked country, all the seafoods therefore come from the Mekong river. One of the most delicious food that you should miss is Mok Pa – steamed fish in banana leaf. The taste of it is wonderful and delicious.

Generally, Lao cuisine has many variations through regions. However, they are all well cooked hygienically. In Vientianne, you even can find French restaurants as one major piece of evidence for French legacy in Indochine.

Drink

Tap water is not possible to drink. Instead, you can buy bottle water cheaply which is widely sold. They are produced locally, and the price is around 3000 to 5,000 kip for a litre.

Despite there is no prohibition for buying alcoholic beverages, Las does not tolerate drunk driving, and you will end up imprisons for years. Beer Lao, which is made of jasmine rice, is national drink. A 640 ml bottle can be found anywhere that the price is from 10,000 to 15,000 kips in restaurant. There are three versions of Lao beer: origional (5%), dark (6.5%) and light (2.9%). Lao lao is the local brew as rice wine that costs less than $0.3 per 750 ml bottle.

Lao kaafeh (coffee) is recognized for its quality. The kaafeh lao is served with sugar and condensed milk, kaafeh dam is black coffee, and kaafeh nom is coffee with milk.

Safety

Laos is a Buddhist nation, the crime rate is therefore quite low. You may feel very safe while travelling around the country and just make sure you pay attention to warning signs put by government.

Be careful with your bag or anything valuable while riding on a motorbike or bicycle. You may be targeted grey for motobike drive-by thefts. Although the crime is at a low level compared to other countries, being careful makes your trip comfortable.

Drowning is one of the most popular causes for tourist casualities in Laos. Floods happen more frequent during the rainy season (May – Sep) that make a strong current. As a result, travelling on boat on those days are extremely dangerous even you are required to have proper safety gear.

Areas where are close to Ho Chi Minh Trail are largely littered with bombies in consequence of Vietnam War. Make sure that you only follow on a existing path. Do not touch and do warn the person in charge if you find something suspicious.

Items Price
Street food 15,000 Kip
Restaurants 45,000 – 60,000 Kip
Drinks 7,000 – 12,000 Kip
Mobile phone 200,000 – 250,000 Kip
SIM card 30,000 – 50,000 Kip
Oversea call 2,000 Kip/minute
Bicycle rental 10,000-50,000 Kip

Always remember to bring some cash with you because credit cards are not widely accepted. US dollars, Thai baht or Lao Kip are okay.

Check List of items
O Passport with 6-month validity from entry date
O Photocopy of passport
O Visa
O Travel Insurance
O Money (US$ or credit cards)
O Vaccinations
O All relevant tickets (airplane, destination…)
O Clothing – light-weighted clothing for summer and warm clothing for highlands and winter
O Shoes, sandals or flip-flop
O First Aid Kit
O Adaptor – 220V/50Hz – 2-pin sockets
O Water bottle

Culture and Customs

Every Lao people follows a religion, so it is required to be respected for their beliefs. You should not touch on head of Lao people, and women should not touch monks. Shaking hands is not popular here, and things related to politics are considered as offence.

Visitors should carefully dress and please note that shorts and skirts are seemingly not acceptable here. If you visit temples and pagodas, please remmember to get your shoulders covered and shoes removed. Avoid to visit by 11.00AM because monks is having their morning meals. A small donation is often appropriate (you have to kneel when putting donations into the box).

To greet, Lao people are normally called by their name, not the family name. And Sabaidee (hello) is a good way to greet somebody. Do not hug or kiss to greet Lao people because they may prove embarrassing.

Bargaining is common in Laos. However, you should not bargain too hard or even do not need to bargain for most of the time because everythings is very cheap.

Phones & Internet service

Public phones are available in the major cities. To call overseas, you can go to Lao Telecom office. However, its disadvantage is that you have to use a pre-paid phone card, and even with the highest valued card, you can only talk for few minutes to Europe. Instead, you should use a mobile phone with a SIM card. The mobile network coverage is available throughout the country. Most of cafeteria in tourist areas is equipped with Skype which is highly recommended if you want to make international calls.

Internet is widely available in cafeteria. It is fast, cheap and accessible in major centers as Vientuane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Savannakhet.

Do’s Don’ts
Do dress appropriately in religious regions as: remove hats, long trousers…

Do ask for permissions before taking photos of people or monks.

Do support development by buying local food and handicrafts

Do keep your head lower than Buddha statues and monks

Do present and accept business cards with both hands

Do speak softly and avoid confrontation

Do help preventing forest fires

Do protect children in Laos from sexual abuse and exploitation by reporting suspicious behaviour

Do give contribution to an established organization or village elders

Don’t point at someone with your feet or finger.

Don’t touch on a head of Lao people

Women should not touch monks or their robes

Don’t touch sacred items and enter scared sites in Laos

Don’t take pictures or dusturb monks during prayer times

Don’t kiss and hug in public – it is quite impolite

Don’t litter and plastic bags should be disposed properly

Do not buy wildlife products

Do not make unnecessary noise

Do not distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging

Do not use drugs in village areas

Do not shout or raise your voice

Back to top
Share