Laos is a land locked country however it has only recently become a tourist destination. Every effort has been made to make all guests to this country comfortable and safe. Do not take the following tips as warnings, only advice, remember being a knowledgeable traveller is a big step to a successful vacation. Some of the rules and regulations implemented in Laos are found nowhere else in the world so it's a good idea to become acquainted with them before you step off the plane.
According to the Laos visa regulation, all nationalities except for citizens of countries having bilateral agreements on visa exemption with Laos, are required to have visa before getting into Laos. The visa valid for 30 days is usually delivered by Lao Embassies who require the original passport and 2 photos for two full working days in order to stamp the visa. The visa fee varies from between US$8 - 42 depending o the agreement with the various governments. The foreigner visitors can obtain a 15 day tourist visa on arrival at the following international check points : Wattay airport in Vientiane, Luang Prabang airport in Luang Prabang Town, Pakse airport in Champasak Province , Friendship Bridge in Vientiane opposite Nong Khai - Thailand, Boten in Luang Namtha Province opposite Mohan - China, Nong Haet in Xieng Khouang Province opposite Nam Can - Vietnam, Vang Tao in Champasak opposite Chong Mek - Thailand, Thakhaek in Khammouane Province opposite Nakhon Phanom - Thailand, Savannakhet in Savannakhet Province opposite Moukdahan - Thailand, Dene Savanh in Savannakhet Province opposite Lao Bao - Vietnam, Na Phao in Khammouane Province opposite Lakxao - Vietnam.
The tourist visa can be extended at the immigration office in Vientiane, through travel agencies.
The immigration regulation of Laos allows the citizen of below countries to obtain a 15 day tourist visa on arrival at entry gate with passport valid for at least 6 months.
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam
The official declaration forms must be filled in and presented with your luggage to customs on arrival. According to the custom regulation, the travelers excluding a crew member or a traveler below the age of 16, shall be allowed to import free of import duties and taxes the following goods, in addition to necessary wearing apparel and personal effects including personal jewelry: 1 liter of sprits and 2 liters of wine, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco, 1/4 liter of toilet water and 50 grams of perfume, one used camera or video camera with 10 rolls of film, one used cine-camera, one used audio-cassette recorder, one used radio receiver, used articles for sport and a camping tent with accessories, one used perambulator.
The commercial goods and items of high value being taken out of Laos require export permits from the customs service. The export of local currency is forbidden. The travellers can take with them unlimited amounts of souvenirs bought with receipts to show proof of purchase. The prohibited items are antiques, non-prescribed drugs, firearms, pornography.
The money can be exchanged at banks, authorized shops, or hotels. The combination of a visa card as well as US$ travellers cheques and US$ notes is the best suggestion for travellers into Laos. However it is advised that one uses official banks to change money and not exchange bureaus which might fake your card, especially in the Luang Prabang area.
There is a 3-5% mark-up for using credit cards in Laos and you are often a long way from an ATM, so conserve cash and use your credit card for paying things like your hotel bill or airline tickets. The major currencies such as the US Dollar, French Franc, DM, Yen, Baht and others can be exchanged at banks that are located in all major towns. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane competitive rates are offered by numerous authorized private exchange bureaus. One exchange facility is available at Wattay Airport in Vientiane.
The exchange bureaus and banks will cash traveller cheques in major currencies. Furthermore, most domestic and foreign banks in Vientiane allow cash withdrawals on Visa credit card or Master Card. In case of journeys to remote areas it is, of course, advisable to take a good supply of Kip with you.
The electric current in Laos is 220 volts AC at 50 Cycles per second. To operate small appliances, laptop computers or other electronic gadgets, you will need a multi-adapter. You should check with an electronics store before leaving your home.
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. The malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions especially if traveling off the beaten track. The medical facilities are rather limited in all countries and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before traveling in case evacuation is needed.
Laos enjoys a tropical climate with distinct seasons. The dry or cool season in Laos begins end of October and lasts until end of February. It is necessary to take along a pullover or jacket during the cool season as nights can be very cool , especially in the mountainous areas such as Luang Prabang , the plain of jars, Saravane and Houeixai. The hot season lasts from March to June and light cotton and hats are recommended. The rainy season starts in June and ends in October. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius, rising to a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius during April and May.
The cuisine of Lao originates from the ethnic groups of Laos and Northeast Thailand. The local food is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines. The staple food of the Lao is sticky rice. Galangal and fish sauce are important ingredients. The Lao national dish is laap (sometimes also spelled larb), a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish that is sometimes raw (prepared like ceviche) with a variable combination of greens, herbs, and spices. Another characteristic dish is tam mak houng, green papaya salad. The cuisine of Laos has many regional variations, according in part to the fresh foods local to each region. In Laos, a French influence is also apparent in the capital city, Vientiane, such that baguettes are sold on the street, and French restaurants (often with a naturally Lao, Asian-fusion touch) are common and popular. Vietnamese cuisine is also popular in Laos.
The domestic and international telephone, fax, telegraph and telex services are available at post offices and hotels in Vientiane and other major cities of Laos. The mobile phones are widely used. In addition, the phone cards are widely available in most convenient stores. There are a number of Internet cafes in Vientiane and major cities. The international dialling code for Laos is 856. To make international calls from Laos, you need to dial 00 + country code + area code + telephone number. To make domestic telephone calls, it is usually necessary to dial the entire number with 0 at the beginning. When dialling from outside Laos to a Lao telephone number, you must use the country code but exclude the ‘0’ at the beginning.
The national airline company of Laos is Lao Airlines who operates daily flights between Vientiane, Luang Prabang. The regular flight services are also provided from Vientiane to Pakse, Xieng Khouang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Sayaboury, Houeixay, Samneu, Phongsaly and Sananakhet. This airline company is quite often reviewing the timetable according to the time of year or aircraft availability , however the published timetables may not be relied on.
The international airports are Wattay in Vientiane City, Luang Prabang in Luang Prabang Town and Pakse in Pakse Town.
+The cities with directs flight to Wattay airport in Vientiane are Bangkok, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Kunming, Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap, Chiang Mai. The airline companies currently serving Vientiane are Laos Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines.
+ The cities with directs flight to Luang Prabang airport in Luang Prabang Town are Bangkok, Hanoi, Chiang Mai. The airline companies currently serving Luang Prabang Town are Laos Airlines, Vietnam Airlines.
+ The cities with directs flight to Pakse airport in Pakse Town are Siem Reap and Phno Penh. The airline company currently serving Pakse are Laos Airlines only.
The airport tax for domestic flight is currently KIP 5,000 per person. The airport tax for international flights is now US$ 10 per person. At this time, passengers on international flights can pay the airport tax in either local currency or US Dollars. The transit passengers proceeding to onward destination within the same day and not leaving the transit lounge are holders of a certificate of airport tax exemption.
The mountainous topography of Laos makes the construction of railway system impossible therefore the train service does not exist in Laos. At this time, the Thai railway stretches from Bangkok via Nakhon Ratchasima towards Nong Khai on Laos and Thai border. The new bridge links the Lao side of the Mekong, 19km east of Vientiane.
The traffic drive rule in Laos is on the right hand side. The roads, especially in the north, are often in a bad state and may be impassable during the rainy season. Internally, the road link between Vientiane and Luang Prabang to the north has been upgraded.The bus services are often poor and overcrowded although the long distance buses are sometimes more modern and air-conditioned. The minibuses often run between tourist hotels in the major towns. The car rental with driver is possible in Laos.
The Mekong and other rivers are a vital part of the country’s transport system. The choice is between irregular slow ferries and exciting but noisy and hazardous speedboats. These services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang to Houexay. The 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. The times and prices alter according to demand. The private jet boats can be hired from Lao River Exploration Services.
The country of Laos borders Cambodia , Thailand , Myanmar and China. The overland border crossing are available at the below entry points. The visa on arrival at these border gates may not be available however you need to have Laos visa beforehand.
+ The entry from Cambodia: There is border crossing at Veun Kham in Champasak province around 250 km from Pakse Town. The visa on arrival is not available at this border gate.
+ The entry from Vietnam: There are 06 border crossings including Sobhoun in Phongsaly province no visa on arrival), Banleui in Huaphanh province, Namkan in Xieng Khouang province , Nampao in Bolikhamxay province, Chalo in Khammouane province ( no visa on arrival), Dansavanh in Savannakhet province.
+ The entry from Thailand: There is border crossing at Friendship Bridge 19 km east of Vientiane City. The border roads into Laos also includes Houeixay in Bokeo province, Kaenthao in Sayabouly province, Pakxan in Bolikhamxay province (no visa on arrival), Thakhaek in Khammouane province , Savannakhet ( river crossing) and Vangtao in Champasack province.
+ The entry from Yunnan – China: There are border crossings at Boten in Luang Namtha province (no visa on arrival) and Xiengkok riverport in Luang Namtha province (no visa on arrival).
The traditional new year holiday locally called Boun Pi Mai. The new year is celebrated at the same time each year from 13-16 April. The Buddha images are taken out of the temples to be cleansed with scented water by devotees on the 13th April and placed on special temporary altars within the compounds of "wats" (temples). The devotees gather the scented water falling off the images, to take home and use it to pour on friends and relatives, as an act of cleansing and purification before entering the New Year. The images are returned to their proper shriners within the temples on the evening of the new year. The Boun Pi Mai is a time for much joyous celebration, with good deeds and prayers in anticipation the new year.
Pathet Lao Day January 6, Army Day January 20, Women's Day March 8, International Labour Day May 1, Children's Day August 13, Lao Isara August 13, Liberation Day August 23, Freedom from France Day October 12 National Day December 2.
The opening time of offices varies depending on business sectors. They are usually open from Monday to Friday from 07:30 or 08:00 until 17:00 or 18:00 and often close for lunch between 11:30 and 13:00. In some business sectors, also open Saturday morning. The banks are generally open from Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 15h30. The shops open early and close any time between 18:00 and 22:00 during 7 days a week.
The time in Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and lies in the same time zone as its neighbors Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.