LAOS - TRAVEL TIPS
GMT +7 hours
The official language in Laos is Lao. However, there are several dialects and regional languages spoken throughout the country and, interestingly, many ethnic groups do not speak Lao. A mixture of cultural influences, other languages commonly spoken in Laos include French, English, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. Nevertheless, a few words of Lao will go a long way to impressing the locals.
The national currency in Laos is the Lao Kip. However, US dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted.
The majority of the Lao people are Theravada Buddhists. Many Laotian men train at Buddhist monasteries before entering secular life. Other religions practiced include various Christian denominations, Baha'I Faith and Islam. Animism is also widely practiced among ethnic groups.
Arrival and Departure Formalities
For most visitors, visas may be obtained on arrival at international airports or international border checkpoints. However, passport holders from some African and Middle Eastern nations are required to obtain a visa in advance through their nearest Laos embassy. The visa on arrival is valid for a maximum stay of 30 days (single entry).
Visa-free entry is available for visitors from the following nations: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam (30 days), Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland (15 days), Brunei and Myanmar (14 days).
It is recommended that you carry some cash in local currency or US dollars as credit cards are generally not accepted in Laos, except for a few high-end hotels and restaurants. Those that do accept credit cards will usually add a 3% surcharge.
Traveler's checks are not widely accepted, but can be cashed at major banks in the main cities.
Normal banking hours are: Monday - Friday, 08:30 to 15:30. ATMs are widely available in the major cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, and in some of the larger towns too.
Tipping is not compulsory and often not expected in Laos. At restaurants, a service charge is sometimes included in your bill. Otherwise, you are welcome to offer additional gratuities as a sign of appreciation for services provided. Gratuities for your guide and driver are entirely up to you. As a guideline, we recommend US $15 for your guide and US $8 for your driver, per person per day.
If traveling between November and February it is useful to pack a lightweight fleece jacket, especially if traveling to northern Laos and Luang Prabang where the evenings can be quite cool. Lightweight long-sleeved shirts and trousers are recommended to avoid insect bites, particularly when dining out at night, when mosquitos are most active.
A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and regular sun protection are recommended to protect against the sun and heat, particularly if you are planning to spend a lot of time visiting the many interesting sites which are outdoors.
When visiting temples and shrines, it is best to dress conservatively as visitors may be refused entry if not dressed appropriately. It is often a requirement to wear a long skirt or trousers that cover the knees as well as long sleeves to cover the arms and shoulders. Avoid any see-through clothing. You may also be required to remove any footwear, so sandals may be more convenient.
The voltage supply in Laos is 220v 50Hz. Sockets are fit for two round prongs.
Please consult your doctor for the most up-to-date advice and recommendation for vaccinations. In Laos, it is advisable to be immunized against cholera, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid and tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis. Malaria is prevalent in some remote regions of Laos. If traveling to these areas, anti-malarial medication is recommended.
In addition to anti-malarial medication, you can reduce the risk of mosquito bites by keeping your arms and legs covered as much as possible and by using insect repellent with the active ingredient DEET. Avoid perfumes, hairspray and other scented products.
Do not drink tap water in Laos and avoid ice in your drinks unless it is made from mineral water. Exercise caution when eating and drinking outside reputable hotels and restaurants and avoid eating fruit and vegetables if they have been peeled already. Seafood, dairy products and items such as mayonnaise should be consumed with care. Eating at street food vendors or unknown local places is not recommended.
Camera etiquette requires that you ask permission before photographing local people, unless you are shooting a crowded public scene. This applies especially to small children. Please be considerate of a desire not to be photographed.
Photography is not permitted at some designated locations, which may include some museums, art galleries and private houses, for example. These areas are usually clearly marked. In general, avoid taking photographs of government buildings or installations, and military or police personnel. If in doubt, please ask your guide.
Laos is famous for its woven silk and cotton fabrics and some of the finest silk and cotton weavers in the world can be found in the small communities here. For a wide selection of patterns from around the country, be sure to visit the morning market in Vientiane where you will find a rainbow of textiles. Here, you will also find the traditional phaa sin (a wraparound skirt adorned with a silver belt), which is worn by women, particularly government and office workers as well as school and university students.
Other interesting buys in Laos include locally crafted gold and silver jewelry. The best examples are often found in the various hill tribe communities. Gemstones, such as sapphires, are also available at reasonable prices. However, it should be noted that some silver and copper items exported from Laos are subject to tax, according to weight.
A wide variety of hand crafted products made of wood, bone and stone is also available. The pieces range from simple and mundane items to aesthetic and highly spiritual work.
Please be aware that it is prohibited to export antique products, particularly items that are over 40 years old, Buddha images and other cultural artefacts. Any antiques purchased in Laos must be declared upon departure. Therefore, it is important to confirm with the vendor regarding any possible restrictions and obtain a valid receipt when purchasing an item. Any antique items that were purchased in another country must be declared to customs on arrival in Laos.
Lao cuisine shares many similarities with that of its neighbor, Thailand. The dishes are dry, spicy and delicious. Traditionally, dishes are served with sticky rice and eaten with the fingers. It is common for people to eat communally, sharing several dishes at the table and, particularly in the countryside, to sit on the floor.
A typically Lao dish that you must try is laap, a salad of chopped meat (often chicken or duck) mixed with herbs, spices and finely crushed grains of rice. Tam mak houng is another common dish made of sliced raw papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice. A popular dish in northern Laos is khao soi, which is a thick soup made with flat rice noodles. It is often handmade by cutting up a flat sheet of steamed rice dough with scissors.