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Laos travel guide - Travel S helper

Laos

travel guide

Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or more colloquially Muang Lao, is a landlocked country in the heart of Mainland Southeast Asia’s Indochinese peninsula, bordered to the northwest by Myanmar (Burma) and China, to the east by Vietnam, to the south by Cambodia, and to the west by Thailand.

Laos’ modern identity is rooted in the kingdom of Lan Xang Hom Khao (Kingdom of a Million Elephants Under the White Parasol), which lasted for four centuries as one of Southeast Asia’s biggest kingdoms. Due to Lan Xang’s central geographic position in Southeast Asia, the kingdom developed into a prominent center for overland commerce, resulting in economic and cultural prosperity.

Following a period of internal strife, Lan Xang was divided into three kingdoms: Luang Phabang, Vientiane, and Champasak. It became a French protectorate in 1893, and the three territories merged to create what is today known as Laos. It temporarily achieved independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but was recaptured by France until 1949, when it was given autonomy. Laos gained independence in 1953, with Sisavang Vong establishing a constitutional monarchy. Shortly after independence, a protracted civil conflict brought an end to the monarchy in 1975, when the Communist Pathet Lao organization took control.

Laos is a socialist one-party state. It is a Marxist state ruled by a one-party communist politburo presided over by military generals. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam People’s Army maintain a strong presence in Laos. Vientiane is the capital city. Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse are other major cities. Lao is the official language. Laos is a multi-ethnic nation, with the Lao people accounting for about 60% of the population, mainly in the lowlands. Mon-Khmer communities, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes dwell in the foothills and mountains, accounting for 40% of the population.

Laos’ ambitious development strategies are based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling it to its neighbors, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam, as well as on its initiative to become a ‘land-connected’ nation, as evidenced by the planned construction of four new railways connecting Laos to those same countries. Together with the expansion of the mining industry, Laos has been dubbed one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and the Pacific by the World Bank, with annual GDP growth averaging 7% over the last decade.

It is a signatory to the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and La Francophonie. Laos sought for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997 and was awarded full membership on 2 February 2013.

According to the non-governmental organization Transparency International, Laos continues to be one of the world’s most corrupt nations. This has discouraged foreign investment and exacerbated existing issues with the rule of law, particularly the country’s capacity to enforce contracts and commercial regulations. This has resulted in more than a third of Laos’s people living below the international poverty line (on less than US$1.25 a day). Laos is a low-income economy, having one of the world’s lowest per capita yearly earnings. The nation was rated 141st on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2014, indicating a poor level of development. According to the 2015 Global Hunger Index, Laos is the 29th most impoverished country in the world, out of 52 countries with the worst hunger condition. Laos, too, has a dismal human rights record.

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Laos - Info Card

Population

7,275,556

Currency

Kip (₭) (LAK)

Time zone

UTC+7 (ICT)

Area

237,955 km2 (91,875 sq mi)

Calling code

+856

Official language

Lao

Laos | Introduction

Tourism In Laos

From 80,000 foreign tourists in 1990 to 1.876 million in 2010, the tourism industry has expanded at a fast pace. In 2010, tourism is projected to contribute US$679.1 million to the GDP, increasing to US$1.5857 billion by 2020. Tourism employed one out of every 10.9 people in 2010. International visitor and tourist products export profits are projected to account for 15.5 percent of overall exports in 2010, or US$270.3 million, rising to US$484.2 million (12.5 percent of total) in 2020.

“Simply Beautiful” is the national tourist motto. The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); ancient and modern culture and history in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; trekking and visiting hill tribes in a number of areas include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in Vientiane; backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phons For this mix of architecture and history, the European Council on Trade and Tourism named the country the “World Best Tourist Destination” for 2013.

The Plain of Jars is likely to join Luang Prabang and Wat Phu as UNESCO World Heritage Sites after further work to remove UXO is finished. Lao New Year is celebrated around the 13–15 April and includes a water celebration similar to those of Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations, although with a more muted tone.

The Lao National Tourism Administration, associated government agencies, and the business sector are collaborating to bring the country’s National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan to fruition. This includes reducing tourism’s environmental and cultural impact, raising awareness of the importance of ethnic groups and biological diversity, generating revenue to conserve, sustain, and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural heritage sites, and emphasizing the need for tourism zoning and management plans for sites that will be developed as ecotourism destinations.

Laos is renowned for its silk and indigenous handicrafts, which may be found, among other places, in Luang Prabang’s night market. Mulberry tea is another specialty.

Geography Of Laos

Laos is Southeast Asia’s sole landlocked nation, straddling latitudes 14° and 23°N (with a tiny region south of 14°) and longitudes 100° and 108°E. Its densely wooded environment is mainly made up of steep mountains, the tallest of which is Phou Bia at 2,818 meters (9,245 feet), with some flats and plateaus thrown in for good measure. The Mekong River forms most of the western border with Thailand, while the Annamite Range mountains constitute the majority of the eastern border with Vietnam, and the Luang Prabang Range forms the northern border with the Thai highlands. The Xiangkhoang Plateau in the north and the Bolaven Plateau in the south are the two plateaux. The monsoon pattern influences the climate, which is tropical.

From May to November, there is a distinct rainy season, followed by a dry season from December to April. Because the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are significantly hotter than the first four, local legend maintains that there are three seasons (rainy, cold, and hot). Vientiane is the capital and biggest city of Laos, with Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse being additional important cities.

The government of Laos set aside 21% of the country’s land area for habitat protection preservation in 1993. The nation is one of four in the “Golden Triangle” opium poppy producing area. According to the UNODC fact book Opium Poppy Growing in Southeast Asia, published in October 2007, the poppy cultivation area in South East Asia was 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles), down from 18 square kilometers (6.9 square miles) in 2006.

The country of Laos is divided into three regions: north, center, and south.

Climate In Laos

There are three different seasons in Laos. The hot season lasts from March through May, with temperatures reaching up to 40°C. The somewhat milder wet season lasts from May to October, when temperatures hover around 30°C, tropical downpours are common (particularly in July and August), and the Mekong floods occur on occasion.

The dry season, which lasts from November to March and with temperatures as low as 15°C (or even zero in the highlands at night), is known as “high season” (when the most tourists are in the country). However, as the dry season draws to a close, the northern portions of Laos — essentially anything north of Luang Prabang — may become very foggy as farmers burn their crops and forest fires rage.

Demographics Of Laos

The word “Laotian” does not always mean “Lao language,” “Lao ethnic group,” “Lao language,” or “Lao traditions.” It is a political term that encompasses non-ethnic Lao communities in Laos and refers to them as “Laotian” due to their political citizenship. With a median age of 21.6 years, Laos has the youngest population of any Asian country.

In 2012, the population of Laos was projected to be 6.5 million, distributed unevenly throughout the nation. The majority of the population lives in the Mekong River and its tributaries’ basins. In 2008, the capital and biggest city, Vientiane prefecture, had approximately 740,010 inhabitants. The country’s population density was 27 people per square kilometer.

Laotians are often classified according to their altitude (lowlands, midlands, and higher highlands), which roughly corresponds to ethnic groupings.

Lao Loum (lowland people)

More over half of the population, or 60%, is ethnic Lao, the country’s main lowland residents and the country’s politically and culturally dominating group. The Tai language group started moving southward from China in the first millennium CE, and the Lao are part of that group. Other “lowland” tribes, which make up the Lao Loum with the Lao people, account for 10% of the population.

Lao Theung (midland people)

Mon-Khmer tribes known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians prevail in the middle and southern highlands. The Lao Loum refer to them as Khmu, Khamu (Kammu), or Kha to indicate their Austroasiatic roots. The latter, which means’slave,’ is, nevertheless, regarded derogatory. They were northern Laotians’ indigenous people. Some Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai minorities still live in the country, especially in the towns, although many fled when the country gained independence in the late 1940s, relocating to Vietnam, Hong Kong, or France. The Lao Theung make up approximately 30% of the population.

Lao Soung (highland people)

For many years, Laos’ hill people and minority cultures, such as the Hmong, Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan, and various Tibeto-Burman language peoples, have resided in remote areas of the country. The Lua and Khmu people, who are indigenous to Laos, are among the mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage located in northern Laos. The Lua people are now considered endangered. Lao Soung, or upland Laotians, is their collective name. Only around ten percent of the population is Lao Soung.

Religion In Laos

According to the 2005 census, 67 percent of Laotians are Theravada Buddhists, 1.5 percent are Christians, and 31.5 percent are other or unidentified (mainly Satsana Phi practitioners). In Laos, Buddhism has long been one of the most powerful societal forces. Since its arrival to the nation, Theravada Buddhism has coexisted harmoniously with indigenous polytheism.

Language in Laos

Lao is Laos’ national language, a tonal language closely linked to Thai. Most Lao understand Thai thanks to the omnipresent Thai broadcast media, and some have borrowed some Thai terms for tourist usage, such as farang (“Westerner”). This does not apply to Asians from other countries).

However, knowing a few fundamental Lao phrases is worthwhile. The Lao people are clearly appreciative of your efforts, even if they are little. French, a colonial relic, still appears on a few signs and is understood by a few individuals since it was formerly a required school subject. However, English has become more prevalent in recent years, with many younger people learning the language. As a consequence, most teenagers will be able to communicate in basic English, but their competence will be limited.

As part of their curricular obligations, schoolchildren in tourist locations will sometimes practice their English with you. They may ask you to sign a form or pose for a picture with you after a chat as evidence that the interaction had occurred. These discussions may be a wonderful way to get local recommendations for your next sightseeing excursion.

The Lao script may be converted to the Latin alphabet in two ways: French-style spellings like Houeisay, or English-style spellings like Huay Xai. While official papers seem to favor the French form, English spellings are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Internet & Communications in Laos

The country code for Laos is +856 20 654 321, and the format for phone numbers in Laos is +856 20 654 321. All numbers beginning with 20 are mobile, while the rest are landlines.

  • Laos Country Code is “+856”.
  • International Call Prefix is “00”.
  • Laos Call Prefix is “0”.

Internet cafés may be found in bigger cities, however connection speeds are sometimes excruciatingly sluggish, and the cafe personnel is often inexperienced. In Vientiane, the most stable connections cost about 100 kip per minute, with the lowest providing 4,000 kip per hour. However, there is no assurance of Internet security, and computer viruses abound.

Wi-Fi is the best choice in most situations. Customers may use free Wi-Fi in most Western-style cafés. The majority of lodgings (even cheap hotels in Vientiane) now provide free Wi-Fi.

For those who want to remain longer and need mobile Internet, GPRS through mobile phone is also a possibility, particularly if you have a local or Thai SIM.

With four competitive GSM providers, Laos’ mobile phone use has exploded. Two of them provide roaming options. It is usually cheaper to call someone on the same network than to call someone on a different network, yet there is no obvious market leader. Locals use any of the four networks, but tourists and expatriates choose Tigo or M-phone (Laotel).

Without any paperwork, local prepaid SIM cards may be bought in a variety of shops and retailers. However, be warned that the government taps virtually all network communication (including phone and fax).

Thai GSM service is accessible near the Thai border (covering a large portion of Vientiane), and Thai SIM cards and top-up cards may be purchased in Laos; DeeDial International Call Cards are also available. As a result, if you already have a Thai phone number, you may utilize the (usually less expensive) Thai network and/or avoid purchasing a new SIM card. However, be aware that if you have an International Roaming-enabled Thai SIM, it will connect to a Lao network when the Thai network is unavailable, resulting in considerably higher roaming costs.

Laos’ postal service is sluggish but usually dependable. Other paid alternatives, such as FedEx, DHL, and EMS, are available in a variety of places. These services are more costly, but they are also more dependable.

Economy Of Laos

Laos’ economy is highly reliant on investment and commerce with Thailand, Vietnam, and, particularly in the north, China. Pakxe’s development has also been fueled by cross-border commerce with Thailand and Vietnam. Despite the fact that the government is still nominally communist, the Obama administration in the United States proclaimed Laos to be no longer a Marxist–Leninist state in 2009, and removed restrictions on Laotian businesses obtaining US Export-Import Bank funding. The Lao Securities Exchange started trading in 2011. The government launched the Laos Trade Portal in 2012, a website that has all the information merchants need to import and export products into the nation.

Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of GDP and employs 80% of the workforce. Only 4.01 percent of the nation has arable land, with only 0.34 percent of it being utilized for permanent crops, the lowest proportion in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Rice is the most important crop in agriculture, accounting for approximately 80% of all arable land. Around 77 percent of Lao agricultural families are rice self-sufficient.

Between 1990 and 2005, rice output rose by 5% year, and Lao PDR reached a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999, thanks to the creation, release, and broad acceptance of improved rice varieties, as well as economic reforms. In the Greater Mekong Subregion, Lao PDR may have the most rice types. Since 1995, the Lao government has collaborated with the International Rice Research Institute of the Philippines to gather seed samples from each of Laos’ tens of thousands of rice varieties.

The IMF, ADB, and other international agencies provide development assistance, as well as foreign direct investment for the development of society, industry, hydropower, and mining (most notably of copper and gold). Tourism is the country’s fastest-growing sector. Brain drain has hindered Laos’ economic growth, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4 percent in 2000.

Laos has abundant mineral resources, yet it imports petroleum and natural gas. Metallurgy is a significant sector, and the government is hoping to attract international investment to help exploit large reserves of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper, and other precious metals. Furthermore, the country’s abundant water resources and hilly topography allow it to generate and export significant amounts of hydroelectric electricity. Around 8,000 megawatts of the total potential capacity of 18,000 megawatts has been pledged for sale to Thailand and Vietnam.

Beerlao, which is sold to a number of countries, including Cambodia and Vietnam, may be the country’s most well-known product. The Lao Brewery Company produces it.

With Foreign Direct Investments, Laos’ mining sector has gotten a lot of attention (FDI). Since 2003-04, this industry has made major contributions to Laos’ economic situation. More than 540 gold, copper, zinc, lead, and other mineral deposits have been discovered, investigated, and exploited.

Entry Requirements For Laos

Visa & Passport for Laos

Citizens of Brunei and Myanmar (14 days), Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea, and Switzerland (15 days), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam are exempt from visa requirements. (30-day period)

Most (but not all) countries may get a visa on arrival at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse airports, as well as the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, and on the Lao/Vietnam border. It is also accessible when entering through Stung Treng (Cambodia), but guesthouses in Cambodia and the Lao embassy in Phnom Phen will pretend it isn’t so that they may charge for visa services. One passport picture (perhaps two in Lao embassies) is needed when applying for a tourist visa or obtaining a visa on arrival, but you may be able to pay a USD1 charge to have your passport photo scanned upon arrival.

Prices vary by nationality and range from USD35 to USD42 for Americans, USD42 for Canadians, USD45 for Australians, and USD30 for Chileans. EU nations should pay USD30 as of June 2013, with no further processing fees unless you forget to provide a passport photo. It is also possible to pay in Vietnamese dong, Lao kip, or Thai baht, however due to the mark-up, travelers should carry US dollars.

Visas may be acquired from Lao embassies/consulates in advance. The cost varies by country and embassy; it is usually USD20, but it may be as high as USD63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing timeframes vary as well; typically, it takes 2-3 days to obtain a visa, but you may be able to pay an additional modest fee (about USD5) to receive it in as short as one hour. Travel agents in Phnom Penh can obtain the visa the same day (for a fee of up to USD58), while acquiring it through the embassy takes a few days. For most countries, obtaining a visa through the embassy in Bangkok costs approximately 1,400 baht, with an additional 200 baht for “same day” processing. Getting one at the border is both cheaper and faster.

The Lao PDR consulate in Khon Kaen, Thailand, also issues visas. The consular personnel speaks Thai and English (to a limited extent). Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 13:00 p.m. to 16:00 p.m. In February 2012, many modifications were made, including an increase in fees that are now comparable to those paid by the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok.

Visas cost 1,400 baht (USD45) for Americans, Britons, and residents of many EU nations, 1,200 baht (USD38) for Australians and New Zealanders, 1,700 baht (USD54) for Canadians, and 600 baht (USD20) for Chinese. Officially, visas may be picked up the following day for 200 baht, alternatively they can be granted in one hour for 200 baht. Only baht is officially accepted, however if you don’t have any, they may accept US money. Note that there has been a reported rate of 30-31 baht to the US dollar, making it more costly than obtaining one on arrival and paying in US dollars. Given that obtaining a visa at the border for many countries may cost between USD20 and USD42, acquiring a visa at the border is both cheaper and faster. Note: If you need a visa for Laos and are traveling the direct bus from Khon Kaen to Vientiane, the bus operator will not give you a ticket unless you already have one.

Visa-on-arrival services are available at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse international airports, as well as all border crossings (see below), including now overland from Cambodia. In February 2010, Visa on Arrival services were launched in Voen Kham, Cambodia (north of Stung Treng). The price ranges from USD30 to USD42 if paid in US dollars, but is much more if paid in Thai baht, and border authorities will not take Lao kip. The fee is typically 1,500 baht if you pay in Thai baht (about USD47-48). A USD1 “out of office hours/overtime” cost at Vientiane’s Friendship Bridge, as well as a minor entrance stamp price of 10 baht to USD1, may be imposed.

Entry permit extensions (sometimes known as “visa extensions”) are available from the Vientiane Immigration Department, the Luang Prabang Immigration Department, the Pakse Police Station, and perhaps other places. Extensions are not available in Savannakhet, Laos’ second city, but you may make a border run to Thailand for a fresh 30-day visa. The cost is USD2 per day plus a minor “form fee” of 5,000 kip (Pakse) to USD2 per day (Luang Prabang). The procedure is simple: show up in the morning with your passport and one picture, fill out a form (which is done for you in Luang Prabang), and return in the afternoon for your extension.

If you need to stay longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it may be more cost efficient to cross the border (entry to Thailand is free for most western countries) and return right away to get a fresh 30-day Lao visa.

Extensions are also available via agencies in other parts of Laos. They will courier your passport from Bangkok to Vientiane for approximately USD3 each day for a minimum of 7 days.

How To Travel To Laos

Get In - By plane

Lao Airlines, Lao Central Airlines, and a few others, notably Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways (Luang Prabang only), and Vietnam Airlines, service the international airports at Vientiane (VTE) and Luang Prabang (LPQ). Lao Airlines has booked certain seats on Vietnam Airlines flights (codesharing / better pricing). Pakse is the country’s third international airport, with flights to and from Siem Reap (Lao Airlines’ Vientiane – Pakse – Siem Reap) and Ho Chi Minh City.

Low-cost airlines used to avoid Laos, but AirAsia now flies three times a week from Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane. Another inexpensive alternative for traveling to Vientiane is to fly to Udon Thani, Thailand, using budget airlines Nok Air or Air Asia, and then take a shuttle service straight from the airport to Nong Khai and the Friendship Bridge (40 minutes); Vientiane is just 17 kilometers away.

Get In - By train

In 2009, the long-awaited first connection over the Mekong from Nong Khai, Thailand, to Tha Naleng, Laos, finally opened. There are two shuttle trips each day in each direction, one of which is scheduled to connect to Bangkok’s night trains. When crossing the border by rail, you may get a visa on arrival. Because the railway station is in the middle of nowhere, using the train is not a particularly appealing choice.

Get In - By land

The National Tourism Administration’s website lists the majority of open border crossings for foreigners, along with information on where visas on arrival may be obtained. Unfortunately, this list isn’t comprehensive.

Cambodia

When entering Laos overland from Cambodia, visas on arrival are now available (as of February 2010), with an official “Visa on Arrival” office integrated within the checkpoint. Stung Treng is the closest Cambodian town, and the border is a 90-minute speedboat or bus trip away. Note that the border is rarely used, with almost no onward public transportation available (book through Stung Treng to Ban Nakasang for Si Phan Don/Don Det), and both customs officers and transport providers have a reputation for overcharging foreigners, though this appears to have improved recently (currently both Cambodian and Laos border officials request USD1 stamp fee per country). When crossing the border in October 2010, Cambodian police will demand $1 for an exit stamp. Even if you tell them you don’t have any, they will stamp it. They will want USD2 for an entrance stamp, and if you refuse, they will not stamp it (you will need the stamp to exit), so you will have no option but to pay the bribe. If you cross the border by boat, you must return by road to the border post to have your entry in Laos officially recognized (i.e., get your passport stamped).

At the Lao-Cambodian border, there are two pitfalls: four changes of bus (some of them tiny minibuses where passengers must sit on each other’s laps) and hours spent driving to remote guesthouses to pick up backpackers; if your luggage is sent on a bus you are not on (due to “lack of space”), it may disappear. This is something that the “King of Bus Company” is renowned for.

China

Foreigners may travel between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) via land, and visas can be obtained on arrival (USD37 for UK residents) or in advance at the Lao embassy in Kunming. Mengla has daily bus service to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. The North bus station is where buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha depart. The first bus departs at 8:00 a.m. and costs about $40.

In general, independent travelers cannot cross the Mekong River from China to Laos, not least because there is a piece of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at Xieng Kok does not grant visas on arrival. Travel agencies in China, such as Panda Travel, provide sporadic cruises from Jinghong (China) to Huay Xai (Laos), although timetables are unpredictable and costs are high.

Myanmar

Myanmar’s Shan State and Laos’ Luang Namtha Province are linked by the Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge.

Thailand

Between Thailand and Laos, there are eight open border crossings. In order from north to south:

  • Donsavanh – Lao Bao – to/from Savannakhet
  • Keo Nua Pass
  • Lak Sao – to/from Khammouan Province
  • Nam Can – to/from Plain of Jars
  • Na Meo – to/from Sam Neua
  • Tay Trang – to/from Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw
  • Bo Y (nearest town on Vietnamese side being Ngoc Hoi and on Lao side Attapeu)

How To Travel Around Laos

Traveling across Laos via plane, road, or river may be just as enjoyable as the destination itself, but leave plenty of room in your itinerary for the near-inevitable delays, cancellations, and breakdowns.

Get Around - By plane

Lao Airlines, the national airline, maintains a near-monopoly on internal flights. Their safety record was poor before to 2000, but they’ve since improved significantly and had a 13-year accident-free run until a crash near Pakse in October 2013, which claimed 49 lives and was the country’s worst aviation tragedy. Nonetheless, the rather extensive network is by far the quickest (and, in some ways, the safest) method to visit many areas of the nation.

The popular Vientiane-Luang Prabang route costs about USD101 (one-way full price for foreigners) as of 2013, although it covers the same distance in 40 minutes that would take at least ten to twelve hours by bus. Every day, there are many aircraft. Tickets are available for purchase online or at any travel agency.

Flights to more distant locations, on the other hand, are flown on the Xian MA60, a Chinese copycat of the Soviet An-24, and are often cancelled without notice if the weather is poor or there aren’t enough passengers.

Several times a week, Lao Airlines operates 14-passenger Cessnas from Vientiane to Phongsali, Sam Neua, and Sainyabuli (Xayabouly). These airfields are all primitive, and flights may be canceled at any time if the weather isn’t ideal.

Get Around - By road

Minibuses are faster and more costly, but it does not always imply that they are better. A typical VIP Bus is just an old bus by Western standards (typically retired Chinese tour buses), and although they may be more prone to problems, they normally offer greater leg space, making lengthy journeys considerably more pleasant. A bottle of water, a snack, and a lunch/dinner break are all included on VIP buses. Air conditioning is common in both kinds (albeit it may not always function).

A hired vehicle with driver is much more costly, but it is unquestionably the most convenient. A vehicle with a driver will set you back about USD95 per day. Some people are able to cross the border into Thailand, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam by car. Tour firms, tourist hotels, and vehicle rental businesses can help you organize transportation. Because the vehicles are new, they are dependable. They offer the added benefit of allowing you to stop the vehicle at any moment for photographs, a stroll around a town, or just to stretch your legs.

Although Laos’ roads have improved in the last 10 years, the fact that 80% of them are still unpaved is alarming. The major roadways linking Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Savannakhet are now sealed, with bus, minibus, and converted truck as modes of transportation.

The following are some of the most popular routes across Laos:

  • Vientiane to Vang Vieng is a very short, fast, and pleasant journey (less than 4 hours by VIP bus).
  • Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is an incredible journey through the mountains, but it comes at the expense of an 8-hour journey filled with bends.
  • Luang Prabang to Phonsavan – minibus: crowded, so get there early to obtain a decent seat towards the front; great views, so grab a window seat if possible.
  • Phonsavan to Sam Neua – modified pickup truck: lovely vistas, but plenty of slopes and curves, which may cause nausea.
  • Sam Neua to Muang Ngoi – minivan: a 12-hour journey over a terrible road; beautiful vistas and a necessary evil, but enjoyable if you’re willing to take a few bumps and speak to some Lao people who, after all, are in the same situation.
  • Muang Ngoi to Luang Namtha – Minivan: 10 hour journey (Oudomxay); good route, used by travellers.
  • Luang Namtha to Huay Xai is only accessible by road during the dry season; however, during the wet season, the same trip may be done by boat. China is constructing a new route connecting China and Thailand. This road connects Luang Namtha with Huay Xai and is in excellent condition.
  • Between Borikham and Tha Thom, there is a new road that connects Paksan and Phonsavan. A guesthouse with eight rooms is located in Tha Thom. The woodland between Borikham and Tha Thom is still in excellent shape (despite the fact that it is a gravel road). Since the majority of Laos’ forest has vanished, this is one of the few remaining highways surrounded by primary forest. This is a must-see if you’re traveling by motorcycle! Also, inform everyone that if no visitors visit, the forest would be burnt or sold. Between Paksan and Phonsavan, the Vietnamese are doing extensive roadwork, which may cause some lengthy delays. Even though the distance is just a few hundred kilometers, traversing this stretch may take 16-20 hours.

Tuk-tuks, jumbos, and sky labs, motorised three or four wheelers, are used for local transportation in Laos (less than 20 km). For short trips of 1-5 kilometers, a jumbo should cost no more than 20,000 kip (about USD2.50).

Stray Traverse now offers a fully guided “hop on hop off” bus service that allows you to travel the length of the nation. This is Southeast Asia’s first guided hop-on hop-off bus.

Women should be mindful that there is frequently no chance to use the restroom during breaks on long bus or minibus rides, so a wide skirt may be appropriate.

By songthaew

A songthaew () is a truck with two rows of bench seats in the rear, one on each side — thus the name, which means “two rows” in Thai. They’re sometimes referred to as “minibuses” in English tourist literature. The most popular form, which is based on a pickup truck and has a roof and open sides, is by far the most frequent. Smaller types are converted micro-vans with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards. Larger types start out as small lorries and may have windows and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.

Songthaews are widely utilized as both local buses (the most cost-effective mode of short-distance transport) and taxis; in some cases, the same vehicle is used for both. If you ask a songthaew to take you somewhere and there is no one else in the rear, the driver may charge you the taxi fare. In this instance, be sure you know how much the ride will cost before you go.

By tuk-tuk

A broad range of small/lightweight vehicles are referred to as tuk-tuks. The overwhelming majority have three wheels; some are completely custom-made, while others are based on motorcycle components in part (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). The rates that visitors are supposed to pay for point-to-point locations are regulated by a tuk-tuk organization in Vientiane. The prices are adjustable, and you should explicitly negotiate before boarding a tuk tuk.

By motorcycle

Traveling by motorcycle in Laos is not without dangers, but the benefits of genuinely autonomous travel are enormous. Bike rentals are available in Vientiane and other cities like as Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Tha Khaek, although they may be rare in other areas of the nation. Because machine quality varies from shop to shop, you should thoroughly examine your new companion before hitting the road. Touring Laos is simple since there are numerous excellent roads, including several paved ones.

Depending on whatever town and rental business you visit in Laos, you may hire a variety of motorcycles. The Honda Baja or XR 250 dual-purpose motorcycles, the Ko Lao 110cc, and the standard Honda Win/Dream 110ccs are all available. Helmets are not only required by law in the nation, but they are also a prized commodity in a location where traffic regulations are made up on the fly. Police have been clamping down on individuals who don’t have a motorbike license, so if you’re found without one, prepare to pay a fine.

By bicycle

With calm roads, cycling is a fantastic alternative. Laos has great isolated places to explore, little-traveled roads, nice people, and even businesses that provide bicycle trips with expert guides across the nation. The more time tourists spend in Laos, the more they appear to like the peaceful travel atmosphere and the chance to interact with the locals. In Laos, excellent maps of the roads are accessible, and all main routes have decent roads. Simple guest rooms may be found within reasonable distances, and in all large cities, there are more options and restaurants. Food will not be an issue if you remember to bring some with you. The staples are tropical fruits and noodle soup.

A variety of guided mountain bike excursions are offered by a number of local companies across Laos.

Outside of Vientiane, there are relatively few good bike stores if you’re traveling on your own. However, you may have difficulty with bikes with 28-inch wheels. Bring your gear and make sure you obtain contact information from a provider, perhaps in Thailand.

Get Around - By boat

Although river services are progressively drying up as the road network improves, many of the surviving services only operate during the rainy season, when the Mekong floods and becomes more navigable, boats along the Mekong and its tributaries are handy bypasses for the terrible roads. The major routes still in use are Huay Xai (on the Thai border) to Luang Prabang and travel south of Pakse.

There are two types of boats: slow boats and speedboats. The latter are small, light vessels with strong engines that slide over the water at fast speeds.

By slow boat

Many people go from Chiang Khong, Thailand, to Luang Prabang, Laos, through the border village of Houai Xai along the Mekong River. The journey takes two days and is breathtakingly beautiful. Apart than that, it’s a floating backpacker enclave with no (decent) food, tight quarters, and scorching heat. The novelty had worn off by the second day. Bring a nice (long) book, a soft blanket for the wooden seats, and patience.

Slow boats usually spend the night at the hamlet of Pakbeng. Some boat packages include lodging, but this is typically at an exorbitant price. It is simple to obtain a cheaper price by booking a hotel in the town itself. Most stores in Pakbeng close about 22:00, so plan on getting a good night’s sleep before the boat trip the next day. This is also an excellent location for stocking up on supplies.

The boats have recently improved significantly. They now offer soft used car seats and serve pre-prepared meals that is OK but not spectacular.

By speedboat

Some may find the 6-hour ride from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang more appealing than the two-day journey on the slow boat, but it is not for the faint of heart. Expect to be squeezed into a modified canoe designed for four people, along with ten other passengers and all of their baggage. Because there are no seats in the canoe, expect to spend the whole 6 hours sitting on the floor with your knees against your chin. Expect a deafeningly loud engine to be a few inches from your head. Expect the engine to break down a few times, with pauses in between to allow for repairs. That said, if you get it to Luang Prabang without incident at the conclusion of this journey, you will never be happier. Stories of tiny, overloaded speedboats drowning or colliding with driftwood abound, but if you’re a strong swimmer, rest assured that you’ll be able to view both coasts the whole journey. As you can see, deciding between the slow boat and the speedboat is a difficult decision, one that is dependent mostly on your comfort level: would you choose a slow, uncomfortable journey, or a lot quicker, but more hazardous, unpleasant one? The landscape along the route is beautiful and unexplored in any case, and Luang Prabang is an amazing city worth a thousand trips.

Speedboats, although useful for reducing time, are not without risk: built to carry 8 passengers, they are frequently overloaded; engine noise is well above a healthy level, which can be a serious hazard to your ears, especially if you are on the boat for a long time (as well as causing significant noise pollution, scaring wildlife, and spoiling the peaceful river life); and fatalities resulting from capsize due to sloppy maneuvering or hitting floating logs (and exaggerated by competing slow boat owners, some say…) The overwhelming majority of speedboat users, on the other hand, have no significant issues. If you’re taller than the typical Laotian (which many are), have claustrophobic tendencies, and/or have inflexible leg muscles, you’re in for a long, unpleasant ride.

Destinations in Laos

Regions in Laos

  • Northern Laos (Ban Nalan Trail, Bokeo Nature Reserve, Houay Xai, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Muang Ngoi Neua, Muang Long, Muang Ngeun, Muang Xay, Nong Khiaw, Pakbeng, Vieng Phoukha)
    Villages of hilltribes, mountains, and the enchanting old capital.
  • Central Laos (Plain of Jars, Paksan, Phonsavan, Tha Khaek, Vang Vieng, Vieng Xai, Vientiane)
    The sleepiest capital city in Southeast Asia, as well as the surrounding countryside.
  • Southern Laos (Champasak, Pakse, Savannakhet, Si Phan Don)
    The Mekong flatlands, with more mountains and fewer visitors, are the least frequented part of the country.

Cities in Laos

  • Vientiane, on the Mekong River’s banks, is still a quiet metropolis.
  • Huay Xai — in the north, near the Mekong River and on the Thai border
  • Luang Namtha, the northern capital, is well-known for its hiking.
  • Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its many temples, colonial-era architecture, and bustling night market.
  • Muang Xay is the capital of the multi-ethnic province of Oudomxay, and is also known as Oudomxay.
  • Pakbeng is the midway point between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang on the nighttime slow boat.
  • Pakse is the starting point for visits to the Wat Phu ruins and the “four thousand islets” (Si Phan Don)
  • Savannakhet is located on the Mekong River in the south and is linked to Mukdahan, Thailand, via a bridge.
  • Tha Khaek is a popular starting point for visiting Phou Hin Boun National Park, which includes the renowned Konglor Cave.

Other destinations in Laos

  • The Ban Nalan Trail is a two-day ecotourism trip in Laos’ northwestern provinces.
  • Wat Phu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring Angkor-style Khmer temples, is located in Champasak.
  • Nong Khiaw is a stunning karst cliff where you may explore hilltribe communities, kayak, cycle, or just relax.
  • Plain of Jars – Iron Age burial sites in Phonsavan; one of the most important places for learning about the “Secret War.”
  • The “four thousand islands” of Si Phan Don are tucked inside the Mekong near the Cambodian border.
  • Vang Vieng is a backpacker’s paradise for limestone cave exploration and Nam Song river tubing.
  • See the caverns where the Pathet Lao commanders conducted their activities in defiance of the West in Vieng Xai, a secluded cultural oasis and symbolic birthplace of Marxism.

Things To See in Laos

Laos’ main draw is its undisputed reputation as the least westernised, most laidback, and therefore most genuine of all the Indochinese countries. It’s unclear how much longer this will continue, but while it does, this is a really rare and unusual nation to visit.

Natural attractions

The word “wilderness” is sometimes overused, although it accurately describes most of Laos. The Mekong River and its tributaries are probably the country’s most significant geographical feature. Its winding course in the north has carved out some of the world’s most beautiful limestone karsts. Vang Vieng, a backpacker’s paradise, is a popular starting point for exploring the karsts. The landscape gets more mountainous as you go north, and the rainforest becomes less explored. Luang Namtha is a far-northern town that serves as the ideal base for tourists who wish to explore the true Lao wilderness and firsthand experience the lives of the region’s different hill tribes.

The Mekong delta lowlands in the south, in contrast to Northern Laos, are completely flat. Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) is an excellent location for exploring what is unquestionably Asia’s most mellow and peaceful area. The goal here should be to immerse yourself in local village life, take it all in, and do nothing. There are, nevertheless, some spectacular river-based attractions, including Southeast Asia’s biggest falls. If you’re fortunate, you may be able to see a Mekong pink dolphin up close.

Cultural attractions

It’s no wonder that temples are a popular tourist destination in this Buddhist-dominated country. The three-layered golden stupa of Pha That Luang, which dates from the 16th century and is located in the capital city of Vientiane, is the country’s national emblem and most significant religious landmark. There are many more magnificent temples in the capital city that, on their own, make a visit to Laos essential.

Luang Prabang’s whole historic metropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a really unusual city, befitting its position. Traditional wooden Lao homes and magnificent estates from the French colonial period blend almost seamlessly with beautifully maintained gilded temples and their accompanying orange-robed monks. On the banks of the Mekong and the Nam Khan, spotless clean streets and a flourishing café culture complete the image of a city that is almost too lovely to be real.

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic megalithic archaeological environment that dates back to the Iron Age. Thousands of stone jars are strewn over a wide region in Phonsavan’s low slopes. The most common archaeological hypothesis is that the jars were used in Iron Age burial rites in the region, although this is far from proved, and there is still a lot of uncertainty. During the Secret War of the 1960s, the region was tragically damaged by American bombardment, and much UXO remains unknown. It’s highly probable that this will be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site once that process is completed.

In Champasak province, Wat Phu is a ruined Hindu Khmer temple complex. It was built in the 12th century, and tourists who have seen Angkor Wat may recognize parallels.

Recent history

The village of Vieng Xai offers a fascinating look into not just Laos’ recent past, but also the history of Indochina as a whole. In 1964, the United States started attacking Pathet Lao — the Lao communist movement – strongholds in Xieng Khouang. The Pathet Lao proceeded east to Vieng Xai, where they built their headquarters in the limestone karst cave networks around the town, despite heavy shelling.

A complete ‘Hidden City’ was built, with a population of approximately 20,000 people. The Pathet Lao hid in these caverns and survived in a mostly underground setting for nine years, despite nearly continuous American bombardment. The caverns housed schools, clinics, and marketplaces, as well as government departments, a radio station, a theater, and military barracks. Vieng Xai temporarily served as the capital of Laos after the 1973 truce, until being delegated to Vientiane in 1975. The caverns are open to the public on a regular basis, and there is additional historical evidence around the town.

Things To Do in Laos

  • Sauna with herbs. The herbal sauna is a Laotian experience that should not be missed. These are simple-looking things, typically simply a decrepit bamboo hut with a stove and a water pipe on one side, usually open only in the nights and frequently operated by temples (but not always). The typical visit process is as follows:
  • First, enter and pay. The going cost is about 10,000 kip, plus around 40,000 kip for a massage.
  • Go to the locker room, remove your clothing, and wrap yourself in a sarong (usually provided).
  • Head over to the shower or water pail in one corner and wash up, keeping yourself modestly sarong-clad.
  • Take a deep breath and enter the sauna chamber. Inside, it’ll be dark, hot, and steamy, with strong herbal smells of lemongrass and whatever the sauna master is cooking up that day, and you’ll start sweating excessively right away.
  • When you’ve had your fill, go outdoors, drink a cup of weak tea, and marvel at how the tropical heat of the day has transformed into something cold and pleasant.
  • Hiking. Hiking in the mountains of Northern Laos is popular, and homestays in minority tribal communities are common. Luang Namtha is the primary center for this, with the two-day Ban Nalan Trail being particularly noteworthy. The itinerary passes via Nam Ha National Protected Area and includes overnight stays in Khmu communities. Oudomxay, south of Luang Namtha, and Pakse, in southern Laos, are two more trekking hotspots.
  • Kayaking. It is possible to set up in a variety of places. Kayaking the Mekong between Luang Prabang and Vientiane is an option for the adventurous tourist.
  • Rock climbing is popular in Northern Laos because of the limestone karst structures. Vang Vieng is the major rock climbing destination, although Nong Khiaw and Mung Ngoi are also worth a visit.
  • Tubing. One of the highlights of the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit is floating down the river on a big inflatable tube. The Nam Song’s famous Vang Vieng section is surrounded with pubs that entice you and your tube in with ziplines, water slides, loud music, buckets of bad local whiskey, and limitless Beerlao. In August 2012, after several tourist fatalities, crackdowns against Vang Vieng tubing were launched. Many river bars, as well as their flying foxes and rope swings, have been shuttered since then. Tubing is still an option, although it’s more quieter now. It remains to be seen if this is a long-term or short-term effect. Tubing is also available in other parts of Laos, such as Si Phan Don, Nong Khiaw, and Mung Ngoi.

Food & Drinks in Laos

Food in Laos

Lao cuisine is quite similar to that of Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region: spicy, bitter rather than sweet, with abundant fresh herbs and vegetables served raw. When the chilis become too much for your tongue, some of the raw veggies may be added to calm it down.

Rice is the main source of carbohydrates. Sticky rice (khao niaow) is the most common kind, which is eaten by hand from tip khao baskets. Pinch off a little with your right hand, never your left, roll into a ball, dip, and eat away.

Laap (sometimes spelled larb) is the national cuisine, a “salad” made of minced beef, herbs, spices, lime juice, and, more often than not, scalding quantities of chile. Unlike Thai larb, the Lao version may utilize raw meat (dip) instead of cooked meat (suk), and it creates a delicious, though spicy, carpaccio when served with shellfish.

Tam maak hung (), a spicy green papaya salad similar to som tam in Thailand, but with fermented crab (pudem) and a chunky, powerful fish sauce called pa daek, giving it a deeper flavor than the softer, sweeter Thai version. Ping kai, spicy grilled chicken, and mok pa, fish cooked in a banana leaf, are two more popular meals.

Laos also has a wide variety of sweets. Kanom kok is a tiny sphere of coconut milk, tapioca, and crushed rice pudding. Sang kaya mayru is a cooked pumpkin stuffed with a sweet custard. The pumpkin is sweet in and of itself, and the resultant concoction may be very tasty. Finally, a favorite snack is sticky rice with mango or durian.

Culinary imports from other nations, in addition to Lao cuisine, are widespread. Both khao jii pat-te, French baguettes filled with pâté, and foe (pho) noodles from China are popular morning treats. It’s worth noting that foe may refer to both thin rice noodles and broad flat noodles (guay tiow in Thailand).

Drinks in Laos

The ubiquitous and delicious Beerlao, produced from Laotian jasmine rice and one of the few Lao exports, is the country’s national drink. It has a near-mythical reputation among travelers and beer connoisseurs. A big 640 ml bottle should not cost more than 10,000 to 15,000 kip in restaurants, and the yellow emblem with its tiger-head silhouette can be seen everywhere. It’s available in three flavors: original (5%), dark (6.5%), and light (5%). (2.9 percent ). The brewery claims to have a market share of 99 percent.

Rice liquor, also known as lao-lao, is widely available and is the cheapest method to get drunk, costing less than USD0.30 per 750 ml bottle. Be cautious, since quality and distillation standards differ drastically.

Lao coffee (kaafeh) is known for its superior quality. The finest brand is Lao Mountain Coffee, which is produced on the Bolaven Plateau in the south. Lao coffee, unlike Thai coffee, does not include pulverized tamarind seed. If you want to avoid being served expensive Nescafé, ask for kaafeh thung. Kaafeh lao comes with sugar and condensed milk by default in lower-end restaurants; black coffee is kaafeh dam, and coffee with milk (often, but not always, non-dairy creamer) is kaafeh nom.

Although tap water is unfit for consumption, bottled water is inexpensive and readily accessible.

Outside of Vientiane and Vang Vieng, there isn’t much in the way of nightlife. In other areas, all you have to do is go to a restaurant to have a drink. However, other places may be so relaxed that they expect you to keep track of how much you’ve drank, with the occasional guest home inquiring how much you’ve drink during your stay as you check out.

Money & Shopping in Laos

The kip is the Lao currency, which has recently been convertible at banks in neighboring countries after the creation of the Lao stock market in 2011. There is a Lao bank that exchanges kip at the Nong Khai-Vientiane land border (opens at 09:00) and there is a Vientiane airport that trades kip (opens at 09:00). (straight and right of the Visa on Arrival desk).

The biggest note is 100,000 kip, which is very rare (although you may get some from the ATM). The 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 kip notes are in widespread use. If you withdraw the maximum amount of 1,000,000 kip from an ATM, you may get 20 50,000 kip notes. This makes transporting big amounts of kip inconvenient. Although less frequent than in the past, USD is sometimes accepted, albeit at a rate that is typically 5-10% lower than the official rate. Many places along the border, including Vientiane, accept Thai baht. However, keep in mind that only kip is accepted in rural areas, and ATMs will not be accessible, so prepare beforehand.

The euro is also accepted in more touristic areas and banks. So, if you’re from a eurozone country, pack some just in case. This may be less expensive than converting your euros to baht or USD and then back to kip.

In addition to Vientiane, ATMs have recently emerged in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Savannakhet, Tha Khaek, Pakse, and Luang Namtha, among other important towns. The biggest bank, BCEL, accepts both Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, although there are usually USD1-2 fees.

A cash advance from a credit card is available at many banks, travel agencies, and guest homes. This is usually accomplished by taking a cash advance in USD from the card; the card issuer will usually charge a fee (around 3%), the Lao bank will charge about 3%, the agent providing the cash advance may (or may not) charge another 3%, and the amount will then be converted from USD to kip at an unfavorable rate, costing another 5% or so. As a result, these transactions are considerably more costly than taking cash from an ATM in other nations. When compared to USD, Euros have poor conversion rates in Laos, thus obtaining a cash advance in USD and converting it to kips may save you money compared to carrying euros with you. Expats in Vientiane often get cash via ATMs in Thailand’s Nong Khai and Udon Thani, where the limit per transaction is typically 20,000 baht, or 10 times the amount available in Laos.

In banks, the usage of ATMs and credit cards is contingent on computer functioning, staff computer abilities, power outages, telephone network outages, holidays, and other factors. A few tourists have been forced to leave the nation early since they were unable to withdraw money to continue their journey. Always have some cash with you. Outside of large cities, changing money may be almost difficult.

Banks provide competitive rates, and private exchange booths may be found in most tourist locations.

At noon, many businesses begin an hour-long lunch break, while others adhere to the (now-defunct) official French two-hour break. Except for restaurants and a few stores, almost everything is closed on Sundays.

Traditions & Customs in Laos

When visiting temples, dress appropriately (long pants, sleeved shirts) and remove your shoes before entering temple structures and private residences.

It is considered impolite to expose the soles of your feet in Thailand, as it is in other Buddhist nations. Never put your hand on someone’s head. Despite the widespread availability of inexpensive alcohol, getting inebriated is seen as rude and a loss of face.

Things move slowly in Laos, and things seldom go as to plan. Keep your calm, since the locals will regard any visitor who is enraged amusing. They’ll keep their cool, and expressing your rage will make everyone involved seem bad, and it won’t help you get things done faster, especially if you’re dealing with government bureaucracy.

Buddhist monks

Theravada Buddhism is the main religion in Laos, as it is in neighboring Thailand and Cambodia, which means that monks are respected and their responsibilities are taken seriously. Women are not allowed to touch or be touched by monks. Women should thus lay any offerings on a piece of cloth on the ground in front of a monk so that he may pick them up. Monks are also prohibited from receiving or handling money, and it is considered insulting in the local culture to give money to a monk.

If you want to contribute, you should just give the monk food. Imitators are “monks” who hang around at tourist attractions asking contributions or accepting money. Monks are also forbidden from eating solid meals after midday and will cease collecting alms before that time. Even though they can comprehend and speak English, some people adopt a vow of silence and will not respond to you. If they seem hesitant, don’t force them to stand close to you for a picture or attempt to start a discussion with them.

Culture Of Laos

Theravada Lao culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. It may be found everywhere in the nation, from the language to the temple, as well as in art, literature, and the performing arts. However, many aspects of Lao culture precede Buddhism. For example, the khaen, a kind of bamboo pipe with ancient roots, is the dominant instrument in Laotian music. In lam, the main folk music style, the khaen used to accompany the vocalist. The lam saravane is perhaps the most popular of the lam styles.

Sticky rice is a traditional staple dish in Laos, and it has cultural and religious importance. Sticky rice is favored over jasmine rice, and it is believed that sticky rice cultivation and manufacturing began in Laos. Rice production is linked to a variety of customs and rituals in various settings and among various ethnic groups. Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang, for example, plant tiny amounts of the rice variety Khao Kam near the hut in remembrance of deceased parents, or at the edge of the rice field to signify that parents are still alive.

Sinh is a traditional Laotian clothing worn by women in everyday life. It’s a hand-woven silk skirt that may reveal a lot about the lady who wears it. It may reveal the wearer’s area of origin in particular.

Polygamy

Polygamy is illegal in Laos, but the punishment is mild. Polygamous marriages are illegal in the nation, according to the constitution and the Family Code, which state that monogamy is the primary type of marriage. Polygamy, on the other hand, is still practiced by certain Hmong people.

Media

The government publishes all publications, including the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur, which are both published in English. The country’s official news agency, Khao San Pathet Lao, also publishes English and French editions of its namesake daily. There are presently nine daily newspapers, 90 periodicals, 43 radio stations, and 32 television stations broadcasting in Laos. The only foreign media organizations allowed to establish offices in Laos as of 2011 are Nhân Dân (The People) and the Xinhua News Agency, both of which opened offices in Vientiane in 2011.

To avoid criticism of its activities, the Lao government tightly regulates all media outlets. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture have all been used against Lao people who have criticized the government.

Internet cafés are increasingly commonplace in large cities, and they are particularly popular among the younger population.

Only a handful films have been produced in Laos since the country’s independence. Sabaidee Luang Prabang, released in 2008, was one of the first commercial feature-length films. The first feature film by Australian director Kim Mordount was shot in Laos and includes a Laotian cast speaking in their own tongue. The Rocket, a film that premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in 2013 and won three prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, was named The Rocket. A few local production firms have recently succeeded in producing Lao feature films that have gained worldwide acclaim. At the Horizon, directed by Anysay Keola, from Lao New Wave Cinema, was shown at the OzAsia Film Festival, while Chanthaly, directed by Mattie Do, from Lao Art Media, was presented at the 2013 Fantastic Fest.

Sport

The national sport, muay Lao, is a kickboxing style comparable to Thailand’s muay Thai, Burmese Lethwei, Malaysian Tomoi, and Cambodian Pradal Serey.

In Laos, association football has become the most popular sport. The Lao Competition has risen to become the country’s premier professional league for association football teams. Lao Army FC has been the most successful team in the League since its inception, winning eight championships (after the 2007–2008 season).

Stay Safe & Healthy in Laos

Stay Safe in Laos

  • Identification It is essential to have a copy of your passport with you at all times while traveling in Laos. You may be requested to provide identification at any moment, and failing to do so will result in a fine of 100,000 kip.
  • In Laos, crime is minimal, although petty theft (bag snatching) is not uncommon and is on the rise due to authorities’ failure to suppress it. In the major cities, there have been reports of armed robberies. Despite the fact that most visitors are unlikely to be affected, Laos is one of the world’s most corrupt nations, and corruption plays a major role in the lives of many people.
  • While you are unlikely to be hassled by the judicial system, your legal rights may be limited or non-existent if you are accused.
  • Sexual interactions between a Lao citizen and a foreigner are prohibited unless they are married, which needs special permission. Foreigners and Lao nationals are not allowed to stay in the same hotel room in Laos. Condoms labeled “Number One” cost 1,000-5,000 kip each box of three. These are most likely the world’s cheapest condoms (and their quality seems to be OK).
  • In Laos, homosexuality is allowed if it is non-commercial and carried out between consenting adults in a private setting. In bigger cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane, public shows of love between same-sex couples are allowed, but homosexuality is still frowned upon in rural communities, particularly among the Hmong.
  • In Laos, drugs are a major issue that should be avoided at all costs. The law in Laos does not distinguish between personal use and trafficking, and any conviction will result with hefty penalties and deportation at best, and jail or even death at worst. Along the backpacker route, methamphetamine is widely available and often sold as “special” or “happy” shakes. Tuk-tuk drivers trying to sell you drugs should be avoided at all costs, since they often work with the police or a police imposter to “shake down” naive visitors ($500 is the standard “fine”). Keep in mind that Lao police officers often disguise themselves as citizens (undercover).

Stay Healthy in Laos

Anti-malarials are advised if visiting parts of Laos for a prolonged time, but consult with a doctor first: there are numerous drug-resistant parasites in the region. Other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever, may be fatal, therefore carry at least 25% DEET insect repellent and sleep with mosquito protection, such as mosquito netting or at the very least a fan. Vientiane seems to be free of malaria, but not of dengue fever. Dengue is transmitted by mosquitos that are active during the day, while malaria is transmitted by mosquitos that are active at night. Insect repellents with 25 percent DEET are very difficult to get by in Laos, so carry some with you.

Food and water safety measures must be taken as normal. Although bottled water is readily accessible, nearly all of it is unfiltered.

Several medical facilities in Vientiane are affiliated with European embassies. Otherwise, severe injuries and illnesses will almost certainly need a trip to Thailand. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are usually suggested; depending on where you are in Laos, they are just a few hours apart. Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai may also offer appropriate clinics, and there’s always Bangkok. Expatriates in Laos are likely to have the most up-to-date information, although luxury hotels may also be helpful.

Medical travel insurance is an excellent choice. Visitors should constantly check the local infection information. In reality, as the Western and European medical companies have revealed, Laos’ atmosphere is still infected. According to local media, the Laos government is keen to implement water and food quality improvement initiatives. This social reality is also described in the Lonely Planet travel book. However, it is not having a significant impact on the tourist industry. Laos’ government and tourist businesses have never shown the willingness to address this major issue.

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