LAOS

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GENERAL INFORMATION 

CAPITAL CITY

The capital city of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR is the official name of Laos) is Vientiane.

SIZE

Inland area: 236,800 Km2.

GEOGRAPHICAL SITUATION

Located on the eastern coast of the South-East Asian Indochinese Peninsula with no access to the sea, Laos shares its borders with China to the North, Myanmar to the North-West, Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the South and Vietnam to the East. An estimated 70% of the total area is dominated by rugged mountains, dense jungle and plateau. Peaks rise from 1500 to 2500 m, the highest one being the Phu Bia at 2820 m. The Mekong River, which still remains the main transportation link, extends 1800 km. Cultivated areas are located along the Mekong plain, where half of the population is concentrated.

POPULATION

Laos has 7 million inhabitants with an average density of 31 inhabitants/km2.

48% of the population is Lao, 14% tribal Thai, 13% Sino Tibetan (including the Hmong and Yao ethnic minorities), 24% Mon-Khmer and 1% Vietnamese and Chinese.

There are actually a lot of different ethnic minorities groups (69) in Laos but most of them belong to the three main categories: The Lao Loum, the Lao Theung and the Lao Sung.

85% of the population live in the countryside.

The dominant religion is Buddhism (65% of the population). There is a small community of Catholics while the rest of the population is animistic. 

CURRENCY

The official currency is the Lao Kip (L-KIP) although US dollars or Thai Bath are accepted in the main cities. So are the Euros in the banks, and for payment in some hotels and restaurants of major cities. At the time of writing exchange rate is US$ 1 = 8 080 L-KIP, and 1 Euro = 8 600 (December 2015).

Traveller’s cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2% to 5% transaction fee. 

Visa and Master cards are accepted now in most hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and in a few restaurants and shops in the main towns (Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse), but can also be subject to 2% to 5% transaction fees.

You can also get cash advances with your credit card either from automated teller machines (ATM) in BCL banks or from foreign exchange offices (subject to 2% to 5% transaction fees).

Depending on the country you are travelling from, the best advice is to bring either cash in USD or Euro. Note that exchange rates for small and big notes vary, so we would recommend you to bring some small notes in USD dollars to cope with first expenses on arrival then either 100 USD or 100 Euro bank notes.

Be careful, banks and foreign exchange offices do not usually take old, scribbled or even stained bank notes. Please check opening hours, as some banks close at 4 pm.  

Please note that some hotels may need an imprint of your credit card as a deposit during your stay, which is a normal procedure.  However, this deposit can be made in cash and will be refunded upon check-ouT.

CLIMATE

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with two seasons: dry from October to April and rainy from May to September. Temperatures vary according to altitude and can be very cold in mountainous areas from November to February.

Vientiane

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Min °C

14

17

19

23

24

25

25

25

25

21

18

15

Max °C

28

30

32

34

32

31

30

31

31

30

29

29

Rain mm

5

12

38

99

267

300

260

293

300

112

15

4

Luang Prabang

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Min °C

13

14

17

21

23

23

23

23

23

21

18

15

Max °C

28

32

34

36

35

34

32

32

33

32

29

27

Rain mm

12

15

21

108

175

163

225

300

178

82

29

10

LOCAL TIME

Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

ELECTRICITY

In Laos electric current is 220V, but sockets are not always standard. Adapters can be found in local markets. Note that one third of the country has not yet got electricity.

WATER

It is very advisable not to drink water from the tap unless it is boiled properly.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

For mobile phone users: only a few international operators have an agreement with Lao operators, but you will be able to buy phone cards on the spot. However, please keep in mind that the GSM cover does not yet reach the remotest provinces.

Note also that there are quite a lot of Internet shops in most of the big cities in all provinces of Laos, although the Internet connection is often running quite slow. Overseas calls are possible in most of the Internet Shops.     

HEALTH & MEDICAL FACILITIES

No vaccination is required, but visitors are advised to receive inoculations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies and tetanus, and to make sure whether anti malaria treatment is necessary depending on the region they travel to. Inoculation for yellow fever is not necessary although doctors still usually recommend it.

Vientiane has good hospitals staffed with foreign medical personnel, while in Luang Prabang and Pakse there are only local medical staff.

For life threatening injury it is advisable to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we therefore strongly recommended taking out medical travel insurance.

TRANSPORTATION

There are three international airports in Laos: Wattay in Vientiane located 15 minutes from the town centre, Luang Prabang in the North, 10 minutes from the heart of the historic quarter, and Pakse in the South located 10 minutes from the town centre.

Road networks have improved but still need to be upgraded in some areas. By car or bus, it takes about 7-8 hours from Vientiane to reach Pakse and 8-9 hours from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. 

DRIVING

In Laos, we drive on the right side.

Owners of an International Driving license are allowed to drive a car.

Renting a motorbike is possible but can be, for security reason from time to time, temporarily forbidden in some areas by the local police.

COOKING

Traditional Laotian cuisine boasts over 350 specialities from different provinces. The most famous one is the Lap, a salad with thin slices of chicken, fish or pork. Meals are generally average spicy but make use of a wide array of interesting sauces.

Main cities now offer an increasing selection of international restaurants.  

SHOPPING

Although Laos is still under development, you can find all kinds of products often imported from Thailand. There is however a strong tradition of cotton and silk weaving. Beautiful fabrics and manufactured products can be found.

Prices displayed are usually fixed, but in other cases do not hesitate to bargain.

TIPPING

Tipping is not mandatory although it is appreciated. Note that prices in hotels and restaurants usually include 10% for VAT.

VISA AND PASSPORT

A visa is compulsory to enter Laos. To obtain a visa you must first ensure your passport will be valid for at least 6 months after your return date.

Citizens of Luxembourg and Switzerland do not need a visa if the length of their stay is not exceeding 14 days.

There are 2 options at the moment to obtain a visa for Laos:

-          For USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, E.U and Switzerland citizens visas can be acquired either directly or through your travel agency at Laotian Embassies and Consulates abroad.

-          You can obtain your visa on arrival at the international checkpoints of Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Pakse International Airports, at the Vietnam-Laos border checkpoint on national road 8  (Namphao) near Vinh (Vietnam) and on national road 9 (Densavanh) in front of Lao Bao (Vietnam), as well as the Thai-Laos border checkpoints at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane (in front of Nongkhai), Vangtau close to Pakse (in front of Chongmek) and Houeixay (in front of Chiangkhong). At the China-Laos border you can obtain your visa at the checkpoint of Boten, in front of Mengla (Yunnan province). Be careful, the checkpoint of Veunkham between Laos and Cambodia cannot deliver visas on arrival yet. Both a Cambodian and Lao valid visa should therefore be in your possession before departure.

BEFORE GOING

If you are travelling in the north or the centre from November to February warm clothes are recommended and especially appropriate all year long in the northern provinces (Samnua, Phongsaly, Luang Nam Tha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang).

In the south, light clothing is a must all year long except in Paksong (Salavan Province).

We also recommend you bring along mosquito repellent and high factor sun block, a cap or a hat, sunglasses, a raincoat and a small bag to carry a few things in case you have to leave your big suitcases at the hotel for a few days. A torch may be useful depending on your itinerary. Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country. So you should pay attention to what you are wearing (avoid short and bare shoulder cloths) when you visit temples or pagodas and choose shoes or sandals easy to walk (without laces).

For safety reasons, we advise travelers not to leave valuables in vehicles during their journey.

ASIA HOLIDAYS WISHES YOU A PLEASANT TRIP