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Laos

Why going to Laos?

 

 

“Land of A Million Elephants”, Laos is one of the countries the least touched by modern civilization in South East Easia. With few transport infrastructures, the country’s main communications artery is the Mekong River. Also, more than half of the inhabitants from the different ethnic groups (Lao, Thai, Meo/Hmong, Mien/Yao, etc) live along the Mekong and its tributaries and most are subsistence farmers. Among the major sites, there are Luang Prabang, the Nam Ou riverside, Vientiane, the Plain of Jars, the Bolaven Plateau and Champassak.

Quick facts

Neighbour : Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west

Area : 236 800 km².

Population: around 6,7 million

Ethnic groups : 55% Lao, 11% Kamu, 8% Hmong, 26 % Others

Official Religion : Buddhism (67 %).

Capitale : Vientiane

Spoken Language : Lao or Laotian /ˈlaʊʃən/[5] (ພາສາລາວ, BGN/PCGN: phasa lao, IPA: [pʰáːsǎː láːw]) is a tonal language of the Tai–Kadai language family. It is the official language of Laos, and also spoken in the northeast of Thailand, where it is usually referred to as the Isan language

Currency : Kip ($1 = 8,158 KIP – Dec 2016)

Visa & travel permissions

Getting Lao visa is easy and much easier than before. Apart from getting visa of Lao PDR through traditional ways at Embassy or Consulates, travelers of most nationals can obtain Lao visa upon arrival – at International airport of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savanakhet and at various border crossing points with the neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

Except some countries from Africa and Asia (Muslim countries), the visa on arrival is allowed for most of tourists and is not required for citizens of some countries from Southeast Asia, Russia, Switzerland, Brazil…

There are 2 options to choose from to obtain a visa for Laos.

1. Directly on arriving at the international airports of Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

The visa is then valid for 30 days and may be extended for a further 15 days only through a travel agency in Vientiane.
Requested documents:
– the visa request form, available before departure
– 1 photo of less than 6 months
– 31 dollars US in cash (this fee is subject to specific nationality: British: 36US$, American: 36US$, Canadian: 43US$, Sweden: 32US$)
Time for delivery: between 10 and 40 min depending on the number of people requesting it.

Please note that on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and Laos’ public holidays, $1 is added to the fee.

2. Directly from a Laotian embassy abroad before departure.

The visa is valid for 30 days.
Requested documents:
– the visa request form, available before departure
– 1 photo of less than 6 months
– 31 dollars US in cash (or more depending on the nationality)

Notes:

Your Passport must be valid for six months beyond the intended stay with at least 1 empty page for visa stamp.

Quick visa service on arrival is available at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse airport but not official and subject to change without prior notice. Quick visa service at land crossing border is rarely available and unofficial. Please contact with your agent in case you have any request.

Best time to visit

Access & Transportation

TRAVELING TO & IN LAOS

International Airport: Laos has 4 international airports:
– Wattay International Airport in Vientiane Capital which has flights from Bangkok, Chieng Mai, Ha Noi, Saigon, Vinh, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Kunming, Guangzhou. Located 5 km outside of the city center and around 15 minutes transfer; the airport consists of an old and small domestic terminal and a new international terminal.

– Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang which has flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ha Noi, Siem Reap, Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Kunming, Guangzhou. Located 3 km from city centre and around 10 minutes transfer, the airport is recently renovated and upgraded to reach international standard.

– Savanakhet International airport in Savanakhet which has flights from Bangkok. Located 2 km and take around 10 minutes transfer, airport is quite small and basically equipped

– Pakse International Airport in Champassak which has flights from Bangkok, Saigon and Siem Reap. Located around 4 km from city centre and take around 15 minutes transfer, airport is small and simply equipped.

Domestic airport: there are some popular airports for domestic routes such as Houai Xay, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Xiang Khoang, Xayabury… where regular flights from Vientiane Capital are operated.

Airport service: There are few services at the airport terminal with small restaurant/bar for food and beverage but limited selection. The location of airport is very close to city center and they are not very busy so tourist does not have to arrive to airport too early to avoid waiting time especially for domestic flight.

Air Company:

Laos Airline is the flag carrier of Laos. It operates domestic as well as international services to countries such as Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Korea.

Laos Central Airline is a private company which operates one domestic route Vientiane – Luang Prabang and one international route Vientiane – Bangkok.

Vietnam Airline, Thai Airway, Bangkok Airway, Air Asia operate some international route from some big cities in Asia areas such as Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Kunming…
There is no direct route from Europe to Laos.

 

BAGGAGE REGULATIONS

Baggage allowance on domestic flights is limited to 20 kg. A fee of maximum $2USD per kg for domestic flight and $5/kg for international flight is charged for excess luggage but most of the time, if it is only a few kilograms extra, the airline waves this fee or your guide can give some help. Each passenger can carry onboard a free baggage allowance: one piece for Economy class passengers. Each piece has a maximum weight of 7kg and the sum of three dimensions shall not exceed 115 cm (30 cm x 60 cm x 18 cm) or (12 x 24 x 7 inches). Airlines companies may refuse to carry unchecked baggage and may require the passenger to check his baggage in case it exceeds the quantity, weight and dimensions as specified above.

 

AIRPORT TAXES

The domestic airport tax and the international airport tax are included in the air ticket and are not needed to be paid at the airport when checking in.

 

TRANSPORT & TRANSFER IN LAOS

Because of its mountainous topography and lack of development, the infrastructure of Laos in general develops less than others neighbor countries but it has some anyway reliable transportation routes which link big cities or central areas.
The Mekong and Nam Ou are the popular natural channels suitable for large-draft boat transportation. Laotians in lowland villages located on the banks of smaller rivers have traditionally traveled in pirogues for fishing, trading, and visiting up and down the river for limited distances.
As a result of ongoing improvements in the road system started during the early 1990s, more new roads are constructed or renovated to reach the countries development request and the need of local people.
Some methods of local transport are still powered directly by people such as the tuktuk, Songthew or Samlor (3 wheel motorbike) although there are many places to rent a bicycle or motorbike if you would prefer that. Taxis is not popular in Laos
Other modes of travel are available for long journeys such as minivan, bus, air and cruise trip.
With the mass from tourist recently, the means of transfer are significantly increased for quality and quantity. Beside of travelling by air, Easia Travel can arrange for tourist some kind of transfer as below:

 

BUSES

– Bus 45s: The Hyundai Aero Space is a very reliable bus with all modern comfort and a high standard. The 45 seats is the bigger version which is used for up to 36 passengers to ensure enough space for the clients. The bus has a high tech air conditioner and the seats are suitable for western clients.
– Bus 35s: This type of bus offers good comfort. It can accommodate up to 20 pax. Most of the buses have electronic devices such as CD Player and microphone.
– Bus 25s: There are two brands for 25 seat bus in Laos which are Hyundai and Toyota. The 25 seat bus is a good choice for short and long transfers with a group of maximum 12 pax. The bus offers enough space for luggage.

 

CARS

– Minivan of 09s mostly produced in South of Korea, the Hyundai Starex is the most popular car used for individual guests in Laos. This 9 seat van is suitable for 01 to 04 pax with a guide and driver.
– Minivan of 15s: this is a 15 seat Toyota Hiace mini-van which very common in Laos. It is suitable for 05 to 07 pax with luggage (maximum 9 pax without luggage) . It can be used for either short unpaved tours or long distance tours with good road.

 

DAILY BOAT

A cruise trip on the Mekong river from Houai Xay to Luang Prabang via Pakbeng (02D/01N or 03D/02N) are a popular ways of travellers. There are difference choices for your budget from local cruise till luxury one.
Other short trip by local such as: boat on Nam Ou river (from Muang Khua to Muang Ngoi or Nongkhiaw), boat on Nam Song river (in Vang Vieng), boat from Don Khong to Don Khone (in 4000 island area… are also very popular and highly appreciated.

 

OVERNIGHT CRUISE

There are 2 suppliers who provide overnight cruise on Mekong river
01. Mekong cruise is a professional and high end suppliers who offers 2 luxury cruises:
– Mekong sun: operate cruise trips in the northern part of Mekong river from Golden Trianle till Luang Prabang town
– Mekong Pearl: operates cruise trips from Vientiane to Golden Triangle, passing through Luang Prabang Prabang town.

02. Vat Phou cruise operate a trip 03D/02N in the southern part from Pakse to 4000 island area.
Remark: Mekong Island which belongs to Mekong cruise is temporary unavailable due to technical problem.
You can contact with your tour operator to get some departure and tour details.

Tuktuk: Tuk Tuk is one of the most popular means of transportation in Laos. This is also a tourist’s favorite mean of transfer to have city tour or short transfer.

Dos or don'ts

When visiting Laos, there are some customs and beliefs that travelers should be aware of before coming to the country in order to avoid offending any of the locals.

Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind while visiting:
• A formal greeting for most Lao people is the “Nop” (joining one’s hands together in a praying gesture at chin level). Handshakes are also commonly used among male friends and with foreign visitors.
• The Lao word for “hello” is “Sabai dee”, say it with smile and you’ll be well received. The head is considered high. It is not acceptable to touch Lao people’s heads, so bear that in mind.
• Dress neatly, keep quiet and take photo without flash and not too close when you see the alms giving of the monk in the early morning
• Dress neatly when visiting religious shrines or temples
• It is OK to wear shoes if you just walk around a temple compound, but don’t forget to remove them before entering the chapel.
• At some temples, women in pants or short skirts are required to put on a Lao skirt as another layer before entering the place. Lao skirts are usually provided or available for hire on spot (if this is required).
• Don’t hesitate to take photo at local people but you should ask them a permission or  give them a smile before do it.
• Feet are low. Placing them on furniture or pointing at things or people with your feet is not acceptable.
• Despite the heat, Lao/Laotians dress conservatively. If you don’t want to be a “black sheep” dress neatly and moderately (don’t show too much skin) or you’ll get strange looks from the locals.
• Personal cleanliness is valued highly in Laos. Anyone who has strong body odour tends to get disgusting looks.
• Before entering a Lao person’s home, take your shoes off and leave them outside the house or on stairs.
• It is polite to gently crouch down when walking past someone who is seated, especially older people
• Lao people usually serve water to guests arriving at their home, it is polite to accept it even if you don’t want to drink (you don’t have to drink it).
• In offices, never place your feet on a desk while sitting on a chair, that’s very impolite. Some foreign specialists/advisors have been thrown out doing this, so be especially careful if you come to work here.
• In a Lao gathering, keep a low profile and you’ll maximize your chances of social success in Laos.
• Most Lao people swim in rivers or waterfalls with at least shorts and a T-shirt. It is more polite to do this rather than walk around in swimsuits or bikinis. Also if you are in the country and have to bathe in the river in the evening, women should wear a sarong.
• You might find it hard to communicate with locals if you don’t speak Lao especially in the countryside where not many people speak English. If things don’t quite work the way you expect, remember to keep cool, don’t lose your temper or raise your voice. It won’t help you, it will only make you look bad.
• Learn some basic Lao phases and practice them with the locals you meet, they will be impressed and you will be well received.

Money & budget

Laos’s currency is called the KIP, pronounced “kip”. Bills that represent Kip are broken down into 500; 1000; 2000; 5000; 10000; 20 000; 50, 000 and 100, 000 KIP denominations. Please be aware that the KIP is a non-convertible currency and cannot officially be exchanged abroad. The official exchange rate in Laos is around 8,000 Kip = 01 USD (as of July 2014).
Foreigner currencies such as US Dollars, Euros, Thai Baht, Australia Dollars…are popularly accepted in Laos to be exchanged in KIP and tourists are entitled to exchange easily money at the current market rate at the banks, airport or at any licensed moneychanger. The presentation of your passport is sometimes requested. Please ask your tour guide for assistance in case you need.

 

CREDIT CARDS AND ATMS
The network of ATM machines covers the most visited cities in Laos by tourists and business travelers. Maximum amount per withdrawal is 1,500,000/time and maximum 7,000,000/day. The ATMs charge a small fee of 25 000 KIP (subject to change) or equivalent for each transaction. Some visa cards are restricted by the issuing bank for oversea usage and therefore, customers may require seeking the approval of the issuing bank in order to do so.
Credit Cards are widely accepted by local suppliers in big cities (such as Luang Prabang and Vientiane), usually high-end hotels or shops, however they usually entail a 2.5-3% surcharge. In others, the use of cash is more popular and recommended.

 

TRAVELLER CHECKS
Traveller checks are rarely accepted by local suppliers so we do not recommend you to use it in Laos.

BARGAINING
In Laos you are expected to bargain. Do so freely but respectfully. Keep a smile on your face, be realistic about the expected discount and if the vendor does not reach your final price do not push him or her too hard.

TIPPING
Tipping was unknown in Laos until tourists started coming to the shores. These days, people such as boat men, driver, and hotel-restaurant staff…have grown accustomed to getting a tip from tourists. The same goes for tour guides. If a local helps you out like taking you somewhere or finds an important person for you, or allow you to take some photo, they would be looking for you to provide a small amount. It’s probably wise to always have some small change in KIP handy for when these occasions arise.
Sometimes when visiting pagodas and monasteries, you might be asked to make a donation. It is up to you whether do or not. The people of Laos are usually generous to the extent their finances allow. The amount depends on you but it might be around 10, 000 – 20, 000 KIP.
Here is a general rule of thumb for tipping:

Guides:
– About $5-$7 per day per person for a national guide.
– About $3-$5 per day per person for a local guide.
Drivers (car and boat): $2 per person per day is average.
Porters: 10,000 KIP per bag is sufficient.
Restaurants: between 5% of the bill is usual.

Health

If you travel to Laos, make sure that all of your vaccinations are current and that you are vaccinated for Tetanus, Polio and Diphtheria. Other vaccines recommended include Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B (if you are in-country for over 3 months), Typhus and Tuberculosis, vaccinations against rabies and Japanese encephalitis are also advised. Officially there are no vaccinations required to enter Laos.

HEALTH ADVICE
– Drink plenty of fluids during the day (2 litters).
– Do not drink tap water in Laos. Only bottled water is drinkable. The most popular one are Tiger Head and Dao.
– Wash your hands frequently
– Most important: Trust your gut feeling. If you don’t like your food, stop eating and do a double take when eating from street vendors.

Emergency contacts

EMERGENCY NUMBERS 24H/7D
Luang Prabang, Vientiane & South of Laos:
Mrs. Phet Anong PHONSAVATH : +856 (0)20 28 62 41 28

CONTACT ADDRESS
Easia Travel – Laos
Ban Visoun, Unit 07 – P.O BOX 095 Blvd
Luang Prabang, Laos P.D.R
Tel: +856 (0) 71 21 31 36 / Fax: +856 (0) 71 21 31 37

EMERGENCY SERVICE IN LAOS
Your home embassy may be able to assist with advice during emergencies or serious problems. You might want to register if possible before you arrive so that the embassy staff will know where to reach you in case of emergency at home. If calling a Laos emergency number you may have to ask the aid of a Laotian speaker because there might not be an English-speaking operator on the line:

Ambulance: 192
Fire department: 191
Police: 199
Red Cross: (01) 392029 / 30

What to prepare

PRE-DEPARTURE TASKS
– Make sure your passport is valid with at least 6 months before the expiry date and that you have the correct visas. Have a look at the visa requirements for more information.
– Consider medical, baggage and trip cancellation insurances.
– Check with your doctor re vaccinations and medicines needed.

 

CLOTHES
– Clothing should be lightweight and of the drip dry variety. You will be in the sun a lot so long sleeves and a wide hat would be more suitable.
– Underwear should be synthetic and easily washable.
– Sleepwear.
– Shirts should be long sleeved and light weight with lots of closed pockets.
– T-shirts, short sleeved and again with pockets.
– Cool evenings necessitate the need for pullovers or a light weight jacket.
– A light weight vest with lots of pockets will be handy for carrying your film camera and binoculars.
– Long trousers made from a lightweight, quick drying fabric should have multi pockets for day trips. Long trousers that turn into shorts are ideal.
– For trekking lightweight long shorts (for modesty purposes) are acceptable.
– Bathing suit should be modest so as not to offend the locals.
– Hat for protection from the sun. Should have a wide brim and a strap.
– A sturdy poncho or parka will help to keep you gear dry incase of rain or waterfall spray.
– Footwear: You will need some sturdy comfortable boots for trekking or just walking around. They will need to support your ankle as well as having a non slip sole.
– Water proof sandals for those short trips and boating.
– Some smart casual clothes for the evenings and visiting restaurants.
– From Dec to Jan or in the hill stations, Bolaven high land or a boat trip from Houai Xay to Luang Prabang can be quite chilly so bring a sweater or other warm clothing. Visitors should not wear shorts, short skirts or other skimpy clothing when visiting pagodas and monasteries.

 

PHARMACY
– Insect repellent with the percentage of DEET recommended by your travel medicine physician. It’s important that you bring an ample supply of good quality repellent.
– Antiseptic wipes for hand washing and emergency toilet paper.
– Personal First Aid Kit (bring in small amounts and in small containers)
– Aspirin/ibuprofen, etc.
– Cold-symptom relief tablets, antihistamine, cough drops. Adequate quantity of sweat-resistant sun screen with at least an SPF 15 rating or higher, and lip balm with sunscreen.
– Antibiotics.
– Prescription medicines in their original bottles. Acidophilus enzyme (available in capsules in health-food stores). This often helps your digestive system get in shape for “new” flora.
– Immodium, Lomotil, or similar anti-diarrhea medicine. Pepto-Bismol tablets and/or liquid (in leak-proof bottle).

 

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