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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 Asia. 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: 7,014,451 (January, 2019)

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

Official Religion : Buddhism (67 %).

Capital: 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 = 8,512.70 Laotian Kip– January 2019)

Visa & travel permissions

Getting a Lao visa is easy and much easier than before. As well as getting a visa for Lao PDR through the traditional ways, at Embassies or Consulates, travelers of most nations can obtain their Lao visa upon arrival – at the international airports of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet as well as at various border crossing points with neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China.

Travelers holding passports from the following countries are not eligible for a Lao visa on arrival: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi Cameroon, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bussau, Jordan, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, Nauru, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Syria, Swaziland Tonga, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Passport holders from these countries need to apply for a Laos Visa at the Embassies prior to their visit.

Passport holders from Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, Luxembourg and Switzerland can enter Laos with a visa exemption.

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

  1. Directly upon 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 arrival
  • 1 photo of less than 6 months
  • Up to 45 US Dollars in cash depending on the nationality
    • France: USD 30
    • Germany: USD 30
    • USA: USD 35
    • Switzerland: no Visa needed for a stay of 15 days
    • Italy: USD 35
    • Spain: USD 35

Time for delivery: between 10 and 40 minutes 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.

  1. 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
  • Up to 45 US Dollars in cash depending on the nationality
    • France: USD 30
    • Germany: USD 30
    • USA: USD 35
    • Switzerland: no Visa needed for a stay of 15 days
    • Italy: USD 35
    • Spain: USD 35

 

Notes:

  • Your passport must be valid for six months beyond the intended stay with at least 1 empty page for visa stamp.
Best time to visit

Access & Transportation

TRAVELING TO & IN LAOS

International Airport: Laos has 4 international airports:

  • Wattay International Airport in Vientiane Capital has flights to/from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vinh, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Guangzhou.
    – Located 5 km outside of the city center. The transfer from the city center to the airport takes around 15 minutes.
    – The airport is currently expanding in order to reach international standard.
  • Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang has flights to/from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ha Noi, Siem Reap, Singapore, Kunming, Guangzhou.
    – Located 3 km from the city center. The transfer from the city center to the airport takes around 10 minutes
    – The airport has been recently renovated and upgraded to reach international standards.
  • Savanakhet International airport in Savanakhet has flights from Bangkok.
    – Located 2 km from the city center. The transfer from the city center to the airport takes around 10 minutes
    – The airport is quite small and basically equipped
  • Pakse International Airport in Champassak has flights from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap.
    – Located around 4 km from city center. The transfer from the city center to the airport takes around 15 minutes transfer
    – The airport is small and simply equipped.

Domestic airport: there are some popular airports for domestic routes such as Houai Xay, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Xieng Khouang, Xayabury where regular flights from Vientiane Capital are operating.

Airport service: There are few services at the airport terminal with small restaurants/cafes for food and beverage but with a limited selection.

Air Company:

Lao Airlines is the flag carrier of Laos. It has domestic as well as international flights to countries such as Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Korea.

Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airway, Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, China Eastern Airlines, and Jin Airlines have some international routes from/to Vientiane and Luang Prabang to/from big cities in Asia, e.g. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Nanning, Changsha, Changzhou, Guangzhou, Seoul Busan, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap.

There is no direct route from Europe to Laos.

 

BAGGAGE REGULATIONS

Baggage allowance on domestic flights with Lao Airlines is limited to 20 kg. 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 their baggage if 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 don’t need to be paid at the airport when checking in.

TRANSPORT & TRANSFER IN LAOS

Because of its mountainous topography and the lack of development, the infrastructure in Laos is generally less developed than in neighboring countries but it has some reliable transportation routes which link Northern Laos with Central and Southern Laos.

The Mekong and Nam Ou Rivers 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.

As a result of ongoing improvements in the road system which started during the early 1990s, more and more roads are being constructed or renovated to reach the country’s development request and the need of local people.

Some local methods of transportation are the tuktuk, Songthew or Samlor (3 wheel motorbike) but there are also many places to rent a bicycle or motorbike. Taxi services are not popular and quite expensive in Laos.

Other modes of travel, such as minivan, bus, air and cruise trips, are available for long journeys.

Since Laos has been attracting more and more tourists in recent years, new and better transfer methods have increased significantly. Besides travelling by air, Easia Travel can arrange further kinds of transfers as detailed below:

 

BUSES

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

 

CARS

  • Minivans of 09s are mostly produced in South Korea, the Hyundai Starex is the most popular car used for individual guests in Laos. This 9-seater van is suitable for 01 to 04 people with a guide and driver.
  • Minivan of 15s: this is a 15-seater Toyota Hiace mini-van which is very common in Laos. It is suitable for 05 to 07 travelers 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) (03D/02N upon request) is a popular route for travelers. There are different choices for your budget, from local cruise to luxury one.

Other short trips by local boat are: 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)… These are also very popular and highly appreciated.

 

OVERNIGHT CRUISE

There are 2 suppliers who provide overnight cruises on the Mekong River

  1. Mekong cruise is a professional and high-end supplier who offers 2 luxury cruises:
  • Mekong sun: operates cruise trips in the northern part of the Mekong River from the Golden Triangle to Luang Prabang town
  • Mekong Pearl: operates cruise trips from Vientiane to the Golden Triangle, passing through Luang Prabang town.
  1. Vat Phou cruise operates a 03D/02N trip in the southern part from Pakse to the 4000 island area.

You can contact your tour operator to get further information on departure times and tour details.

Tuktuk: TukTuk is one of the most popular means of transportation in Laos. This is also a tourist’s favorite way to discover the city or for a 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 a smile and you will 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 photos without flash and not too close when you observe the monks’ alms giving 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 (Sinh) as another layer before entering the place. Lao skirts are usually provided or available for rent on spot (if this is required).
  • Don’t hesitate to take photos of local people but you should ask them for permission or give them a smile before doing 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 odor 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 elderly 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 will 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 people sometimes speak in their Ethnic language and not often speak English. If things don’t quite work the way you expect, remember to keep your 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 phrases and practice them with the locals you meet, they will be impressed and you will be well received.
Money & budget

Laos’ currency is called KIP, pronounced “kip”. Bills that represent Kip are broken down into 500; 1000; 2000; 5000; 10 000; 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 8,512.70 Laotian Kip for USD 1 (January 2019).

Foreign currencies such as US Dollars, Euros, Thai Baht, Australia Dollars are popularly accepted in Laos to be exchanged into KIP and tourists are entitled to exchange easily money at the current market rate at the banks, airport or at any licensed money changer. The presentation of your passport is sometimes requested. Please ask your tour guide for assistance in case you need.

It is advised to bring new and undamaged bills. Exchange places and banks recently started to charge 15-30% to deal with damaged/old/stamped bills. Also, exchange rates can vary depending on your denomination.

CREDIT CARDS AND ATMS

The network of ATM machines covers the most visited cities in Laos by tourists and business travelers. The maximum amount per withdrawal is 1,500,000/time and maximum 7,000,000/day. The ATMs can charge a fee of 25 000 KIP (subject to change) or equivalent for each transaction. Some visa cards are restricted by the issuing bank for overseas use 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

Traveler 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, drivers, and hotel-restaurant staff have grown accustomed to get a tip from tourists. The same goes for tour guides.

Sometimes, when visiting pagodas and monasteries, you might be asked to make a donation. It is up to you whether to 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 person/per day is sufficient.

Restaurants: 5% of the bill if the service charge is not included is usual.

 

Health

If you travel to Laos, make sure that all of your vaccinations are up to date 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 a lot of water during the day (2 liters).
  • Do not drink tap water in Laos. Only bottled water is drinkable. The most popular brands 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 Lao 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 regarding 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.
  • Shirts should be long sleeved and light weight with lots of closed pockets.
  • T-shirts, short sleeved and again with pockets.
  • Cool evenings during November – February, so pullovers or a light weight jacket are recommended.
  • 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 it does not offend the locals.
  • Hat for sun protection. Should have a wide brim and a strap.
  • A sturdy poncho or parka will help to keep you gear dry in case 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.
  • Waterproof sandals for those short trips and boating.
  • Some smart casual clothes for the evenings and restaurants.
  • From December to January or in the hill stations, Bolaven highlands or on a boat trip from Houai Xay to Luang Prabang, the temperature can be quite chilly so bring a sweater or other warm clothes. 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 30 rating or higher, and lip balm with sunscreen.
  • 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).

Please note that if you need to buy medicine at a pharmacy in Laos it is highly recommended to check the ingredients as pharmacists don’t always ask about allergies such as penicillin etc.

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