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.