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Laos Travel Guide

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Getting There by Air
The national airline of Laos is Laos Airlines (website: . There are no direct flights from the USA or Europe; flights are mainly via Bangkok, China or Cambodia.

Main Airports
Vientiane (VTE) (Wattay) is 3km (2 miles) from the city (journey time – 20 minutes). To/from the airport: Taxis are available (be prepared to bargain). Facilities: Bank/bureaux de change, bars, post office, restaurants and car hire.

Departure Tax
US$10; children under two years of age and transit passengers are exempt.

Getting There by Water
It is possible to travel from Chiang Mai (Thailand) to Luang Prabang by speedboat, slow boat or by a deluxe one-day boat. The slow boat takes about two days and usually involves an overnight stay in Pak Beng. The speedboat goes from Houei Xay on the Laos border to Luang Prabang in around six hours.

It may also possible to travel the Cambodian part of the Laos-Cambodia crossing by slow boat or speed boat, instead of by bus or taxi (see Getting There by Road). Visitors should be aware that accidents can and do happen when travelling at high speeds along the unpredictable Mekong river.

Getting There by Rail
There are no railways in Laos, but the Thai system stretches from Bangkok via Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the Laos/Thailand border. A ferry and a bridge link the Lao side of the Mekong, 19km (12 miles) east of Vientiane.

Getting There by Road
It is possible to enter Laos from Thailand at Nong Khai over the Friendship Bridge. Other border crossings include Chiang Kong (Thailand)–Houei Xay (Laos) in the north; Mukdahan (Thailand)–Savannakhet (Laos); Chong Mek (between Pakse and Ubon Ratchathani); Nakorn Phanom (Thailand)–Tha Kek (Laos) and Jouay Kone (Thailand)–Xaingnabouri (Laos).

It is possible to enter Laos by road from Vietnam either at Quangtri or at the border post of Lak Xao near Vinh. Laos can also be entered from China, from Mengla in Yunnan province to Luang Nam Tha.

Overland travel to Myanmar is not feasible owing to security risks.

Despite the official line, some travelers have managed to enter Laos from Cambodia between Strung Treng (Cambodia) and Don Det (Laos) with some degree of hassle, although this crossing is by no means reliable. Check for the latest information locally. The best place to try to arrange this is from Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands).

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Getting Around by Air
Laos Airlines (website:  runs domestic air services from Vientiane to Houayxai, Luang Nmatha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxai, Sam Neua and Sayabouti in the north and Pakse and Savanakhet in the south. Private charter flights are also available through Westcoast Helicopters (website:

Around by Water
The Mekong and other rivers are a vital part of the country’s transport system. The choice is between irregular (and very basic) slow ferries and exciting but noisy and hazardous speedboats. Both services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. Ferries often depart early in the mornings and can take several days, whilst speedboats run more regularly and take approximately eight hours for each leg of the journey. Times and prices alter according to demand. There are regular jet boats trips along the river, run by Lao River Exploration Services (website: Boats can also be hired privately.

Around by Road
Traffic drives on the right. Many of the roads have been paved in recent years, including the main highway from the Thai border at Savannakhet to the Vietnamese border. However, few main roads are suitable for all-weather driving. In the north of the country, there is a road link between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and from Vientiane to Nam Dong and Tran Ninh.

Bus: Services link all major towns and cities. Buses can vary from air-conditioned to the more traditional type to the converted pickup truck.

Car hire: It is not recommended to hire cars in Laos as driving standards are low. However, it is possible to hire cars with a driver through hotels or tourist agencies.

Documentation: International Driving Permit recommended, although it is not legally required.

Note: If you are on a strict timescale, it is advisable to prearrange travel outside Vientiane with a tour company to avoid unforeseen delays and costs.

Around Towns and Cities
There is a mixture of old and metered taxis in Vientiane that can usually be located at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and the Morning market. Taxis can also be hired for approximately US$20 per day. Converted motorcycles, known as tuk-tuks or jumbos, are available in all major towns and cities and are perfect for shorter journeys around town. Bargaining is expected. Motorcycles and bicycles can be hired for the day in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and other places frequented by backpackers.

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Passport Required?
British                       Yes
Australian                  Yes
Canadian                   Yes
USA                          Yes
Other EU                   Yes

Visa Required?
British                       Yes
Australian                  Yes
Canadian                   Yes
USA                          Yes
Other EU                   Yes

Return Ticket Required?
British                       Yes
Australian                  Yes
Canadian                   Yes
USA                          Yes
Other EU                   Yes

Passport with at least six months remaining validity required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Note: Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements (see Contact Addresses).
Visa Note
(a) A 15-day visa on arrival is now available for nationals arriving at Vientiane International Airport, Luang Prabang International Airport or Friendship Bridge; visas are not extendable. (b) A one-month visit visa is available from the Laos embassy provided the applicant has a guarantor in Laos; visas can be extended by up to a further two months. (c) A one-month business visa is available from the Laos embassy; applicants require authorization from the organization they will be visiting in Laos before applying for a visa; visas can be extended until the completion of business. (d) A five-day transit visa is available for nationals transiting through Vientiane International Airport; nationals require proof of onward journey within five days. (d) Multiple-entry visas are only available from the ministry of foreign affairs in Laos.

Types of Visa and Cost
On arrival: US$30. Visit, Business and Transit: US$50.

All visas are issued for single entry and must be used within two months of date of issue.

Applications to:
Consulate (or consular section at embassy) or an officially recognized tour operator. A visa valid for Laos can also be obtained from travel agencies in Bangkok (Thailand) or on arrival.

Working Days Required
Three from consulate.

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Lao Kip (LAK; symbol ₭) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of ₭50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1.

Currency Exchange
Thai Baht and US Dollars are the easiest currencies to exchange. They are also widely accepted in shops, markets and hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Major credit cards are accepted in the more upmarket hotels and restaurants only.

Traveller's Cheques
Limited acceptance. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars or Thai Baht.

Currency Restrictions
Restrictions apply.
Banking Hours
Mon-Fri 0830-1600. Some banks remain open during lunch.

Exchange Rate Indicators
Date Jan 09
£1.00= ₭12,314.45
$1.00= ₭8,464.95
€1.00= ₭11,337.99


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The following goods may be imported into Laos, from countries not bordering Laos, without incurring customs duty:

• 500 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco.
• One bottle of alcoholic beverage and two bottles of wine.
• Personal jewellery up to 500g.

Note: The export of antiques such as Buddha images and other artefacts is prohibited. Any antique items purchased in other countries must be declared to customs on arrival in Laos.


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1 Jan
New Year's Day.
6 Jan
Pathet Lao Day.
20 Jan
Army Day.
26 Jan
Chinese New Year.
8 Mar
International Women's Day.
22 Mar
Day of the People's Party.
Apr Lao New Year (Pi Mai).
1 May
Labour Day.
2 May
Buddha Day (Vesak).
1 Jun
Children's Day.
30 Jul
Khao Pansa (Buddhist Fast begins).
13 Aug
Lao Issara (Day of the Free Laos).
Bouk Ok Pansa (Buddhist Fast ends).
12 Oct
Day of Liberation.
2 Dec
National Day.

*Variations may occur.
** Dates to be confirmed.

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Special Precautions
Diphtheria                     Yes
Hepatitis A                    Yes
Malaria                         Yes*
Rabies                          Sometimes
Tetanus                        Yes
Typhoid                        Yes
Yellow Fever                 No**

Inoculation regulations can change at short notice. Please take medical advice in the case of doubt. Where 'Sometimes' appears in the table above, precautions may be required, depending on the season and region visited.

* Not required for Vientiane.
** A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers arriving from infected areas.

Food and Drink
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

Other Risks
Hepatitis E occurs and hepatitis B is highly endemic. Dengue fever, tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis occur. Avoid swimming in fresh water as schistsomiasis and leptospirosis are present

Health Care
Any treatment must generally be paid for in cash. Health insurance is essential and should include cover for air evacuation.

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There are good hotels and guest houses in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, but facilities are basic elsewhere. Local village hostels are available, but with few amenities. Prices are generally lower than other popular Southeast Asian destinations. For more details of prices and location, contact a tour company with experience in Laos.

There are no facilities for camping in Laos.

Laos is eager to promote ecotourism and visitors can stay in specially constructed ecolodges available around the country. These include lodges in Laopako, 1 hour 30 minutes from Vientiane on the Nam Mgum river, or the Boat Landing Guest House in Luang Namtha province.

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Food and Drink

Dishes are Indo-Chinese in flavour and presentation. The cheapest and easiest way to sample Lao food is from the stalls in the markets. Traditionally, Lao food is very spicy but this kick is often tempered for the western palate. There are several fairly good French restaurants in Vientiane, catering mainly for the diplomatic community, and Luang Prabang, which has recently seen something of a culinary revival.

National specialties:
• Sticky rice (best eaten with fingers).
• Pho (white rice noodle soup, usually served with beef and/or pork although vegetarian versions are available).
• Laap (minced meat, fish or vegetables tossed in lime juice, garlic, powdered rice and chillies, accompanied by sticky rice).
• Tam maal hung (Lao-style papaya salad).
• Khai phaan (weed from the Mekong river - a Luang Prabang speciality).

National drinks:
• Rice whisky, lao lao, is popular and there are two brands available.
• Beer Lao.

Tipping: Not customary, however a modest tip in return for good service is appreciated.

There are several discos in Vientiane that tend to have live Lao bands. Most large hotels have their own nightclubs. Generally, however, the Lao nightlife is quiet and laid-back, usually involving a Beer Lao, a stunning sunset, firefly display and an early night.

The markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang are worth visiting. Silk, silver jewellery and handmade shirts are good buys. Although the majority of shops have fixed prices, bartering is still advisable for antiques and other art objects.

Shopping hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1600; Mon-Sat 0900-2100 (private shops).

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• Ascend Mount Phousi for a panoramic view of Luang Prabang and surrounding rivers and hills.

• Swim in the lower pools of the Kuang Si Waterfalls, situated 30km (19 miles) from Luang Prabang and bathe in the two hot springs some 52km (32 miles) north of Phonsavan: Bo Noi and Bo Yai.

• Spot the wildlife: Laos's pristine landscape hosts a variety of flora and fauna, including rare primates, mammals and birds. Take official advice about which areas to avoid as there is still some unexploded ordnance.

• Head to the hills and trek independently or as part of a locally organised tour. A number of guest houses offer hiking trips starting from Muang Xing, a small town on the river plains in the mountainous Luang Namtha province in the far northwest.

• Follow the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a clandestine route used by the North Vietnamese Army. It was bombed by the USA during the Vietnam War and parts of this devastation can still be seen. Take a guide as parts of the route still contain unexploded bombs.

• Lazily float along the Nam Song river in a rubber tube in Vang Vieng. The scenery is stunning and enterprising locals will tow the thirsty in to riverside bars for Beer Lao. Many of the bars have zip lines and water slides.

• Head to the Bolaven Plateau in Champassak province for elephant riding and trekking. Pakse, home to many ethnic minority groups, is the region's capital and the ideal base from which to explore the plateau.

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• Check out the old French colonial architecture and numerous Buddhist wats and stupas in Vientiane, one of Asia's most relaxed and quiet capital cities, suitably nestled in fertile plains on the banks of the Mekong River.

• Visit Laos' cultural and religious centre, Luang Prabang. This ancient royal city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Located between the Mekong and Khan River, it boasts 33 large temple complexes and around 1,000 resident monks. 

• Marvel at the mysterious Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan. Hundreds of stone jars, some weighing up to 6 tonnes, are scattered over the landscape. Legend says they were used to ferment rice wine in the sixth century to celebrate a victory in battle.  

• Be awed by Wat Xieng Thong, one of Laos' most impressive temples. Decorated with coloured glass and gold, it is testament to the fact that Luang Prabang had been the royal capital until 1975. The royal palace itself contains fine artwork and gifts made for former kings. 

• Drop in on a traditional community in Ban Phanom. The village is famous for its weavings and offers the opportunity to purchase bargain-priced silk and embroideries. 

• Do not miss the fascinating Pak Ou Caves. The two caves, Tham Ting and Tham Phun, are full of Buddha images that have been left there over hundreds of years by worshippers. They are easily reached by speedboat from Luang Prabang.

• Admire the breathtaking views across the Mekong Valley from the Wat Phu temple, constructed on a mountain top near fresh spring water by the Khmer Hindus, who went on to settle their empire at its former capital - Angkor Wat (Cambodia). 

• Head south to the supremely laid-back Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), an archipelago on the Mekong river, to see the spectacular Khone Phapheng (the largest waterfall in South-East Asia (by volume)) and the endangered irriwaddy dolphins.

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Country code: 856. The General Post Office (GPO) offers public telephones for national and international calls. The are also card phone booths available.

Mobile Telephone
Roaming agreements exist with a few international mobile phone companies. Check with your service provider. Coverage is sporadic and mainly, though not exclusively, situated around Vientiane.

Internet cafes are located in the major towns and are becoming increasingly common in places frequented by backpackers.

The General Post Office (GPO) is beside the Morning Market in Vientiane. Normal postal service is inexpensive and generally reliable although it can take around two weeks to and from Western countries. A courier service is recommended for urgent or valuable mail.

The Lao media is basically a tool of the government, which owns all of the country's newspapers and broadcast media. Newspapers are not widely read.

• English-language newspapers include the Vientiane Times.
• Le Rénovateur is a French-language newspaper.
• The Lao-language daily is the Vientiane Mai.
• All are state run.

• Lao National TV (TVNL) and Laos Television 3, a joint venture with a Thai company, are the main TV channels.

• Lao National Radio is the national radio station.

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Throughout most of the country, the climate is hot and tropical, with the rainy season between May and October when temperatures are at their highest. The dry season runs from November to April.

Required Clothing
Lightweights and rainwear, with warmer layers from October to March and upland areas.


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Most visits are trouble free.

The threat from terrorism in Laos is low. However, travellers should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including places frequented by foreigners.

Travellers should be aware of and respect local conventions at all times.

Unexploded ordnance in rural areas is an ongoing danger.

Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Laos have resulted in human fatalities, the last one of which was in 2007. As a precaution, travellers should avoid live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds is likely; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

The Lao government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao family law. Penalties for breaking these regulations can range from fines to imprisonment.

Penalties for illegal drug importation and use are severe and can include the death penalty.

It is illegal not to carry an ID document, and fines for not having one for presentation are high.


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Laos major places of interest:
 Phongsali, Sayabouri, Savannakhet, Luang Namtha, Xieng Khouang, Salavan, Bokeo, Vientiane, Sekong, Luang Prabang, Bolikhamsai, Pakse, Houa Phan, Khammouane, Attapeu @ Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.