Laos Travel Facts

Thank you for choosing TUI for your journey into Laos.

A journey into Laos is a journey into an Asia long lost. Laos presents visitors with a beautiful travel experience, rich in atmosphere, natural beauty and culture. To assist with your travel arrangements, we have prepared the following pre departure information. Please read this carefully before travelling and be mindful of some of our suggestions while in Laos.

What to Expect:
Laos is the least developed and least populated of all Southeast Asian and Indochinese countries. Laos is a landlocked country, and its landscape is dominated by mountains and rivers. The Mekong River is the main waterway in the country and is the source of much fishing and farming activity, and village life. Your travel in the country will take in some of the gorgeous river and mountain scenery in the country, as well as two of the most intriguing towns in all Asia – the sleepy waterside capital of Vientiane, and the fabled monastery town of Luang Prabang. Laotian people are warm and welcoming to foreigners who are able to visit after several decades of relative isolation from much of the western world.

The travel industry is slowly developing in Laos. While the freshness and novelty of tourism in the country is why many people choose to visit Laos, it should be remembered that facilities and services do not always reach western standards. Traveling throughout more remote areas involves bumpy road travel and the use of clean but basic accommodation.

Responsibility:
Information herein was correct at the time of preparation, however the rapid development of tourism in Laos has the potential to make some of the information in this guide irrelevant. This information is intended as a guide only and TUI is not responsible for any inaccuracies. This document does not, in any way, alter the booking terms and conditions in our small group journey brochure. Please contact us with your comments if you find during the course of your travels that the information in this guide is incorrect or out of date.

Visa Requirements & Departure Taxes:
Travellers on all of TUI’s small group journeys can easily obtain 30 day tourist visas on arrival in Laos, subject to the furnishing of $35USD (an extra $1USD on weekends and public holidays) and one passport photo per person. Laos visas can be obtained on arrival at the following border crossings:

  • The Friendship Bridge crossing (near Vientiane, bordering Thailand)
  • The Vientiane International Airport (Wattay Airport)
  • The Luang Prabang International Airport
  • Pakse International Airport
  • Nam Maew (Hua Phan Province, bordering Vietnam)
  • Nam Kan/ Nong Haet (Xieng Khuang Province, bordering Vietnam)
  • Lak Sao (Bolikhamsao Province, bordering Vietnam)
  • Lao Bao (Savannakhet Province, bordering Vietnam)
  • Thakaek (Khammouane Province, bordering Thailand)
  • Chong Mek (Champasak Province, bordering Thailand)
  • Huay Xai (Bokeo Province, bordering Thailand)
  • Boten (Luang Namtha Province, bordering China)

Travellers on TUI’s Bangkok Hanoi Overland, Thailand and Laos Experience, Laos and Cambodia Experience and Inside Laos small group journeys cross into Laos from Chiang Khong (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos). These travellers are therefore able to obtain a Laos visa on arrival at Huay Xai. This is a simple and efficient process. Travellers on the Khmer Kingdoms Explorer tour cross into Laos at Chong Mek. Here, getting a visa on arrival is also straightforward.

Indochina Explorer and Highlights of Laos travellers can obtain their Laos visa on arrival at Vientiane’s international airport. Images of Indochina travellers can obtain their Laos visa on arrival at Luang Prabang international airport. Please note that Indochina Explorer, Bangkok Hanoi Overland and Images of Indochina travellers will need to obtain their Vietnam visas in advance of arriving in Indochina.

Please allow $10USD for international departure tax, and $2.50USD for domestic departure tax. Please note that it is now law in Laos to carry an ID document at all time but this does not have to be your passport. Fines for failing to do this can be high. Please take all due precaution when carrying original documents.

Arrival Instructions:
Arrival (and departure) transfers are included for all Small Group Journeys. On arrival in Laos you will find a representative from TUI waiting to meet you outside the airport. Please look carefully for a TUI sign with your name on it (not a hotel sign). If you cannot see a sign with your name please call our local office contact number (on your detailed itinerary) and our duty officer will advise you what to do.

Insurance:
You must be comprehensively insured as a condition of travelling with TUI. Insurance should include unlimited coverage for personal accident and medical expenses, full provision for evacuation and a minimum of $25,000USD cover for repatriation expenses, baggage loss, and cancellation or curtailment of your holiday.

We will ask you to confirm your insurance details as part of our travel registration process at the start of your journey. If you do not have appropriate insurance we will insist you obtain insurance. We reserve the right not to provide the services booked with us until insurance is purchased.

Note that travel insurance may be ‘attached’ to your credit card, although usually such cover is effective only if your travel arrangements have been purchased with the card. Insurance cover from credit cards often does not include payment of medical expenses or emergency repatriation. Please check your policy carefully.

Please note that government regulations in Asia do not always require or enforce the possession of hotel, transport supplier and other supplier public liability insurance. Even when this insurance is in place, it can be for very limited cover only. TUI does its best to work with suppliers who possess public liability insurance, however this is not always possible. Regardless of length of stay and type of service, you must have adequate insurance to cover you in the event you suffer a medical problem while traveling

A Responsible TUI
TUI practices a thorough, realistic Responsible Travel Policy. We believe that travel should entail an exchange of knowledge and perspectives, a sharing of wealth, and a genuine appreciation of Asia’s beautiful natural environments. This philosophy underpins the heart and soul of our style of travel. It drives all that we strive to deliver to our travellers, and shapes the contact we have with our supplier colleagues in Asia. We recognise that poorly planned itineraries or poorly informed tourists contribute less to cross-cultural understanding and less to the livelihoods of local people. We also recognise that we work in a developing part of the world. Political and social factors sometimes impede the short term implementation of our responsible travel initiatives, so we do not make blanket, unrealistic statements about the achievability of our goals – doing so would make us ‘irresponsible’. We aspire to short or medium term implementation of our policies where this is realistic and to incremental change where there are constraints of a governmental or cultural nature.

We strongly encourage you to refer to our website and read our Responsible Travel Policy, as well as the TUI Guide to Responsible Travel (full of pointers which we hope will make for a more informed, more ‘responsible’ holiday).

The Political Situtation
For much of its history, the geographic entity now known as ‘Laos’ has comprised a series of autonomous and ethnically diverse Kingdoms, rather than a unified and culturally homogeneous state. Now, in the 21st century, one of the last communist governments in the world heads a mélange of more than 40 ethnic groups (including an ethnic Lao group comprising a little over half the nation’s six million population) within a firmly-defined national border.

The Lao communist party had its origins in the years shortly after World War II, when French hold on Laos and greater Indochina began to markedly weaken. In the years up until 1975, the formation of a number communist/ independence parties was overarched and guided by the establishment of the Vietnamese-instigated Indochinese Communist Party. To this day political commentators would contend that neighbouring Vietnam has a significant, sometimes pressuring influence on Laos’s diplomatic and economic affairs.

After the Geneva conference of 1957, a coalition government comprising royalist and communist representatives was formed. By the mid-1960s however, a combination of political squabbling, the escalation of communist resistance in Vietnam, and covert American and North Vietnamese presence in northeast Laos (supporting royalist and communist factions respectively) precipitated full scale Lao involvement in the American/ Indochina war. During the war the Kingdom of Laos earned the appalling fate of being – on a per capita basis – history’s most bombed country. The effects of unexploded ordinance are lasting today, particularly in Xieng Khuang Province in northeastern Laos.

The eventual fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh in 1975 to communist forces was followed shortly after by the collapse of Vientiane to the Pathet Lao communists, and the deposition of the Lao Royal family. Further events of the first ten years of communist rule were marked by the massive departure of educated Lao to countries such as France, America and Australia, and ongoing conflict with remnants of the Hmong minority army, which was backed by the United Stated until its exit from Indochina.

After more than 30 years, Laos today is still a one party state, governed largely by cadres from the Indochina war era (and for almost three decades until his death in 1992, by strongman Kaysone Phomivane). Key political/ developmental issues faced by Laos at the moment include:

  • Corruption within government and the public service
  • How to ‘deal’ with a slowly emerging set of younger politicians who are in favour of a degree of economic and political liberalisation
  • Forging national unity in a country comprising a diaspora of minority groups and a bare majority of ethnic Lao
  • Encouraging minority groups living at high altitudes to live at lower levels so that health, education and other infrastructure services can be provided
  • Finding lasting peace and end to conflict with Hmong remnants of the former United States-backed guerilla army
  • Reducing dependency on donor aid and on NGO (non-government organisation) support
  • Increasing the industry and export base beyond hydro-electric, garment manufacturing and tourism
  • Land rights and deforestation issues
  • High levels on unexploded ordinance in northeastern/ southern Laos, left over from the American/ Indochina War.

In addition to all of these issues is the pervasive threat to Lao to cultural and economic independence from the massively more populated neighbouring countries, Vietnam and Thailand. Given its tiny, diaspora population of often unrelated ethnic groups, Laos faces a long term challenge in preserving the traits which make it a unique and special country in Asia.

Money:
The official currency of Laos is the kip, however United States dollar cash is accepted almost everywhere. The exchange rate fluctuates but at time of writing, $1USD was the approximate equivalent of 10,000 kip. Thai baht is readily acceptable, although at less favourable rates. As you will accumulate kip as change from payments you make in USD, we recommend you change either nothing or very little (eg. $30USD) into kip upon your arrival in Laos. We advise you to carry USD cash. Credit cards (Visa and Mastercard) can be used in only a limited number of shops and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Travellers crossing from Thailand at Chiang Khong/ Huay Xai can change money at fair rates next to the Huay Xai (Laos) visa post. There are now a limited number of places in Luang Prabang and Vientiane which offer cash advances from overseas accounts, on Visa cards and Mastercards.

As your time in Laos will be limited, please bring enough money for the duration of your trip. We suggest you allow approximately $5USD to $7USD per person for a main course meal at a nice restaurant.

Climate:
Laos is affected by the annual Southeast Asian monsoon cycle. The ‘wet’ season is from May to October. During this time, the tropical lowlands average 30 degrees Celsius, while the mountains remain cooler. The first half of the ‘dry’ season is from November to February; temperatures during this time range from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius. Mornings and evenings in the north of Laos around Luang Prabang can be quite cool at this time of the year. People travelling between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang on the Mekong should bring at last one layer of warm clothes. During the second half of the ‘dry’ season – from March to June – the temperature can rise to up to 35 degrees Celsius. Many travellers prefer Laos outside the dry season; there are fewer tourists, and rainfall is often limited to brief afternoon showers which lend a different atmosphere to the country and towns.

Laos is affected by the annual Southeast Asian monsoon cycle. Many travelers prefer Laos outside the dry season; there are fewer tourists, and rainfall is often limited to brief afternoon showers which lend a different atmosphere to the country and towns.

WEATHER
November to February Temperatures during the first half of the ‘dry’ season range from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius (50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). Mornings and evenings in the north of Laos around Luang Prabang can be quite cool at this time of the year. People traveling between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang on the Mekong should bring at last one layer of warm clothes.
March to June During the second half of the ‘dry’ season the temperature can rise to up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
May to October During this the ‘wet’ season, the tropical lowlands average 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), while the mountains remain cooler. Although this is the wet season, you can expect to encounter just an hour or two of heavy rain rather than all-day downpours.

Baggage & Clothing:
Standard sized bags (preferably soft bags), backpacks or soft cases only are permitted on our journeys. Your baggage should be clearly labelled and kept to a reasonable minimum. Luggage limits on airlines are strictly enforced and space on vehicles and trains is limited. Any flights booked through TUI (domestic and international) have a luggage limit of 20 kilograms per person. You may be required to carry your own luggage at times where porters are not available – you should be capable of carrying your own bags on and off trains, and up and down stairs. If you are doing lots of shopping during your travels, it may be necessary for you to forward any excess to the city where your tour concludes, or ship purchases directly home. Keeping the amount of luggage you carry in check will ensure your safety and comfort, and the safety and comfort of your fellow travellers. Porterage is not included in the cost of your journey. Please ensure you pay porters around $1USD per person for carrying your luggage. Should you wish to avoid such payments, please carry and take responsibility for your luggage.

Comfortable casual clothes made of cotton are best in tropical and semi tropical climates – packing one set of smart casual clothes is advisable. Laundry services are available throughout the country, although hotel laundry costs can be expensive. We suggest you include:

  • Flat walking shoes and sandals
  • Hat & sunglasses
  • Jumper/coat/thermals – if visiting in winter
  • Bathers
  • Money belt
  • Raincoat or umbrella
  • Basic first aid kit (see below)
  • Insect repellent
  • Alarm clock
  • Small torch
  • Swiss Army pocketknife
  • Power adapter
  • Women’s sanitary products
  • Ear plugs and eye patches for the train

Please note that airlines insist all sharp items (knives, scissors, nail clippers etc.) are packed in your ‘check-in’ luggage. Alcohol is no longer permitted onboard domestic flights and must also be stored in your check-in luggage.

Electricity:
The electric current in Laos operates on 220 volts. Electrical plugs of the two rounded pin type are the most commonly required. You may want to bring a small hair dryer – many hotels do not provide one.

Health & Fitness:
Some of the diseases known to exist in Laos include malaria, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever, diphtheria, tetanus, and HIV/ AIDS. We recommend you take adequate preventative measures to minimise your risk of exposure to these health risks. We are a travel company and we are not qualified to provide detailed medical information appropriate to your individual needs. We recommend you consult with your local doctor or a specialist travel medical centre for up to date health information on vaccinations and medicine for your trip, at least one month prior to departure. Medical facilities are limited throughout the country (even in the capital Vientiane) compared to western standards.

We suggest you bring a simple medical kit. Your doctor should advise you what to include, but as a minimum we suggest you bring:

  • Aspirin or paracetamol (for pain or fever)
  • Antihistamines (for allergies and itches)
  • Cold and flu tablets
  • Something to stop diarrhoea
  • Something appropriate for nausea and vomiting
  • Rehydration mixture (to prevent dehydration)
  • Insect repellant
  • Antiseptic and bandages
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Antibiotics (discuss with your doctor)

As part of our travel registration process at the start of any journey with TUI, you will be asked to declare any serious pre-existing medical conditions or allergies.

Small Group Journey Gradings:
Each Small Group Journey in our brochure has a “grading” to assist you in choosing a holiday best suited to your level of health and fitness. A guide to the gradings is as follows:

Easy
These tours avoid the more arduous road travel by flying between major cities. They are suitable for travellers of all ages and levels of fitness. However, an average level of mobility and agility is required as these tours still include some walking in often hot and humid conditions, as well as getting on/off boats and walking up/down flights of stairs. Accommodation is generally comfortable by international standards.

Moderate
These tours involve some long distance overland/overnight travel and can include one or two nights of basic accommodation in more remote areas. The tours are suitable for most travellers of average fitness and mobility with a spirit for “soft” adventure. Clients will be expected on occasions to carry their own luggage for short distances.

Adventurous
These tours involve some long distance travel and at least 2 nights in very basic accommodation. On these tours there may be nights when clients will sleep out on boats, on trains, in a hilltribe village or in other basic accommodation. A client should be quite fit and be prepared for travelling in remote parts of developing Asia to get the most out of an “adventurous” tour. Clients will be expected on occasions to carry their own luggage for short distances.

Minimum Fitness Levels
It is essential for a good group dynamic on our Small Group Journeys that a less able client does not significantly impact on the enjoyment of the rest of the group during the touring days. We ask you please to consider the above tour gradings and think carefully about the Small Group Journeys most appropriate for your level of health and fitness. As a minimum requirement for our tours graded Easy, you should ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Am I able to walk 2-3 kilometres comfortably in hot and humid conditions?
  • Am I able to walk up 4 flights of stairs without losing breath?
  • Am I able to walk along rough and unstable surfaces?
  • Am I able to board small boats, trains etc?
  • Am I able to carry my own luggage?

If, upon commencement of a Small Group Journey, our Tour Leader takes the view that a client’s physical capabilities are not to the standard set out in by the above criteria (also stipulated in the “Fitness Form” which is required to be completed upon booking) then, in the interests of the client and fellow travellers, we reserve the right to prevent the client from participating in the tour. In such instances, we will assist with onward travel arrangements. Cancellation penalties will apply. You should therefore ensure that you are physically capable and prepared for undertaking our journeys.

Food/ Water:
Lao cuisine is somewhat similar to Thai food and can be quite spicy. Ingredients include vegetables, freshwater fish, beef, duck, pork and chicken. Food is generally flavoured with fermented fish sauce, coconut milk, peanuts and chillies. Vegetarians are well catered for. Breakfast is included each day on our tours and is usually a mix of buffet and continental style. You should only drink bottled water – available everywhere for purchase.

Tipping Policy:
If you are happy with the services provided by your local guides, drivers and your tour leader, a tip is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, tipping inspires great service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across TUI destinations. As a general guide on Small Group or Special Group Journeys, please allow $2USD to $3USD per day per traveller for each of your local guide, driver and tour leader. If your tour is private, please allow $3USD to $5USD per day per traveller for each of your local guide and driver. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Should you be dissatisfied with the services provided by your local guide, driver or tour leader, please let us know.

Safety & Security:
Laos is a safe country by world standards, but the usual commonsense safety precautions should be adhered to. Cities are small, and even at night you will feel quite safe walking outside. Most Laotians go to bed fairly early so streets will usually be very quiet after 9 pm. When outside your hotel, spending money should be kept in a secure place, close to your body. Wear as little jewellery as possible. You should leave valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes at all times and make sure you have photocopies of your passport, airline tickets, and a detailed record of your encashed travellers cheques and credit card numbers.

Post & Communication:
International post generally takes ten to fourteen days to reach its destination and prices are similar to western postal prices. Reverse charge (collect) calls are not currently available and IDD telephone calls and faxes are very expensive.

1. Memory cards sell in most Cities.

2. Bring extra batteries and adaptor units for recharging batteries.

3. Keep weather conditions in mind to gain the best photographic effects.

4. Do not take photos in politically sensitive areas such as military bases, customs or airports. Otherwise, you might be regarded as a terrorist or a person who has certain threat.

5. Certain places or backgrounds may incur fees. Be sure to clarify the amount before taking photos.

6. For religious reasons and for relic protection, many scenic spots such as museums, grottoes, temples, monasteries, palaces and cultural relics do not allow the taking of photos. ‘No Photos’ signs mark restricted areas.

7. Before taking photos of Local people which show their way of life or a street scene, you should first ask permission.

8. In some special wildlife reserves, taking photos close to the animals is not allowed for the sake of tourists’ safety. Please pay attention to the signs in these places.

9. In special areas such as Private Places, photography is strictly limited. Typical local customs and religious places such as palaces or monasteries can not be photographed unless you pay for your photo taking or get the permission.

10. It is illegal to take photos regarding other people’s private actions or some embarrassing scenes by using the telephoto lens.

11. Film processing is convenient and fast, with good print quality. Photography studios can be easily found in most Local cities.

12. As you take photos in museums or some exhibition halls, for the protection of cultural relic, photoflash lamp and A-frame camera should be avoided.

13. Besides photography, videography is also a good way to remember your trip.

Photography:
There are reasonable quality processing facilities in Laos. A roll of 24 exposures can be developed for approximately $4USD. Slide film and Hi8/V8 video cassettes are not widely available in Laos. The x-ray machines at all airports are film-safe. There are now a number of photo shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang which can burn digital images on to a disk and which sell memory cards.

Hotels:
Most hotels we use have private western style bathrooms, hot water, air-conditioning, IDD telephones, laundry and other facilities. Where possible we endeavour at passenger request to accommodate couples in double rooms. Please note however that on occasions during your journey, this may not be possible and a twin room will be provided. Our Bangkok to Hanoi, and Inside Laos journeys involve at least one overnight stop at towns where only simple accommodation is available. The standards at some hotels will not always match western standards, as Lao tourism infrastructure is still developing.

Asia is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and historic hotels. With this in mind, we designed our range of Deluxe (Essence of Asia) journeys. The emphasis by day is unchanged – small groups and an authentic experience of Asia. At night however, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the ambience of these specially selected hotels. Please note that in some cases Deluxe accommodation is not available. In these places we use the best hotels available. This will be clearly marked in your itinerary.

Check in and check out times can vary but most hotels in Laos require guests to check out by 12 noon and do not allow check in until 2pm. Many hotels may allow an earlier check in or later check out subject to availability on the day.

Massage Services:
Many countries in Asia are deservedly renowned for their massage techniques and the quality and value for money of these services. Unfortunately, many massage parlours including some in otherwise ‘reputable’ hotels are also linked to the paid sex industry. We advise you to check carefully before using massage services in Asia.

Transport:
There is only 2000 kilometres of sealed road in Laos. When travelling by road we generally use late model air-conditioned minibuses. Larger vehicles are used for bigger group sizes. Modern sedan cars are used when there are only one or two people in the group. Some tours involve at least one domestic flight. Lao Airlines operates a relatively modern fleet, however schedules frequently change which can result in alterations to your tour programme. Some tours also involve boat journeys along the Mekong River. This is a great opportunity to view the way of life for most families living along the banks of the river and will provide you with terrific photo opportunities. Toilets on the boats, where available, are generally of the Asian squat style. There is no train network in Laos. the train are generally Asian squat style although many also do have a western style toilet.

Tour Leaders/ Guides:
Providing the group tour reaches a minimum of seven passengers a Western tour leader will guide you on your entire journey through Laos. All of our tour leaders have an in-depth knowledge of Laos and an enthusiasm for the country that is contagious. Your tour leader is your link with Laos and is there to ensure the smooth running of the trip. Your tour leader will try – wherever practical – to cater for your individual interests. Local English-speaking guides also accompany you on your tour. They impart local information about history, customs and culture that can only come from living in the area. Generally, we have a different local guide for each city or region we visit. Thus, local guides are usually only with the group for a few days.

Local Time:

Laos is:

  • 7hrs ahead of GMT
  • 3hrs behind Australian Eastern Standard Time
  • 5hrs behind New Zealand
  • 12hrs ahead of Canada Eastern Time
  • 15hrs ahead of Canada Pacific Time
  • 12hrs ahead of US Eastern Time.
  • 15 hrs ahead of US Pacific Time.

Group Dynamics:
Our Small Group Journeys provide you with a good balance of group activity and personal discovery. Travellers need to be aware of certain personal responsibilities when travelling with a group. Simple things – like being ready at agreed times and keeping to schedule will ensure the smooth running of the programme. Furthermore, the traditions and culture of the country you are visiting should be respected. Correct behaviour includes wearing the appropriate dress when visiting religious sites and refraining from making comments or acting in a manner that would be viewed as unacceptable by your fellow group members or by the local people in the country you are visiting. Please ask your tour leader for further clarification of the issues mentioned above.

Shopping:
Laos has much on offer for shopping. Textiles, ceramics, lacquer ware, wood carvings and jewellery are just some of the many good buys. A few guidelines to follow when shopping:

  • Except in department stores, bargaining is the norm. To get the best price you will have to haggle hard.
  • Export of certain antiques and religious images (eg. Buddha images) is not permitted. Make sure you are aware of these regulations before purchasing.
  • Fake reproductions are common. Make sure you know what you are buying, especially in the case of antiques.

Language:
The Lao language is written in a Thai-Khmer script. Because the language is tonal the same written word can have several different meanings. This makes it fairly difficult to learn, but any attempt to speak the language will be well received by local people. Many Laotians recognise the importance of learning English for business and tourism purposes and for this reason English is becoming more widely spoken throughout the country. The Lonely Planet Lao phrasebook is recommended for those wanting to learn more about the language. To help you get the most out of your contact with Cambodians, try learning how to say these key phrases:

Lao English
Sabaidee Hello (or hi)
Chao sabaidee bo? How are you?
Khoi sabaidee I’m fine
Khobchai Thank you
Chao xue nyang What is your name?
Koi xue … My name is …
Chao aryou chak pee laev? How old are you?
Khoi dai … pee I am … years old
Lhacha thao dai? How much is …?
Paeng phoat/paeng lai! Its too expensive!
Bor No
Chao Yes
Khor thot/khoi khor thoat Excuse me / I’m sorry
Bor tong karn No need
Khob chai, tae va koi bor tong karn thong nyang Thank you, but I don’t need a plastic bag.
Bor out thodouth No straw please
Chong pokpax haksa xaphabvaetlom xoueykan Please help protect our environment
Kalouna ya pien pha aabnam khongkhoi Please do not change my bath towels
Kalouna ya pien phapooto khongkhoi Please do not change my linen
Lakon! Good bye!
Xodee! Good luck!

Important Dates Affecting Touring

01 Jan – International New Year’s Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.

20 Jan – Military Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.

08 Mar – Public holiday:
Banks will however be open. Some public offices only will be closed.

13 to 16 Apr – Lao New Year:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Wats and museums in Vientiane and Luang Prabang will also be closed for at least one day during this period. Hotels in Luang Prabang are very heavily booked.

01 May – International Labour Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Boat races in Luang Prabang, and maybe in Vientiane (TBA).

23 August – Boat Race Festival in Luang Prabang:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices in Vientiane and Luang Prabang will be closed, as will some businesses. Some streets blocked along the Mekong. Hotels heavily booked.

08 Oct – Boat Race Festival in Vientiane:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices in Vientiane and Luang Prabang will be closed, as will some businesses. Some streets blocked along the Mekong. Hotels heavily booked.

03 to 05 Nov – Wat That Luang Festival:
There will be some crowds around Wat That Luang in Vientiane, although these will not significantly affect touring.

02 Dec – National Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Wats and museums in Vientiane and Luang Prabang will also be closed.

22 Dec to 02 Jan. 2008 – International New Year period – Public holiday:
Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.

Over the festive period, there will be compulsory dinners at a number of hotels. The cost of these dinners must be settled directly with the hotel. At time of writing, 2006 compulsory meal rates had not yet been finalised. Please contact us for further information.

Recommended Reading:
Mobile libraries are carried in the minibus when the group is at least seven people in size. Libraries include guide books, books about local history, and fiction written by local authors. Feel free to use these books at any time during the tour.

Books worth reading include those outlined below. Please refer to our website for a wider list of suggested reading.

Compared to neighbouring Thailand, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, there is a paucity of good reading on Laos. Better titles are difficult to find and are often best sourced from Asia Books, Kinokuniya or Bookazine bookstores in Bangkok. Much of the material written about Laos focuses on the ‘secret war’ of the 1960s and 70s, although there have been some interesting recent titles on the fate of Laos’s last king. Some of our recommended titles are as follows:

Guide Books

  • ‘The Rough Guide to Laos’ – This guidebook provides detail and (generally) accuracy where others are lacking. Great maps, and the best of the English language guidebooks on the land of a million elephants.
  • Inside Guide to Laos and Cambodia by Inside Guides.

Travelogues

  • A Dragon Apparent, by Norman Lewis – A wonderful book by the doyen of English travel writing, perceptive, and full of detail based on the author’s travels in Indochina in 1950.
  • Ant Egg Soup, by Natacha Du Pont De Bie – Best-seller in the United Kingdom, this travelogue is focused around the author’s quest for authentic Lao food, and includes recipes collected during her travels. A light, very enjoyable read.
  • One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy – Easy to read account of an intrepid Irish travel writer’s cycling discoveries of Laos, with a focus on the wonderful encounters she has with local people.

Lao Culture and Politics

  • Culture Shock: Laos(Times Books International), by Stephen Mansfield – useful insights into the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of Lao culture. Easy to read and very interesting.
  • Laos: Politics, Economics and Society by Martin Stuart-Fox.

The war years (including the ‘secret war’)

  • Shooting at the Moon, by Roger Warner – lucid, moving, and fascinating account of the CIA’s role in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s, of events leading up to American carpet bombing of the Plain of Jars, and of the ultimately futile and tragic role played by the Hmong in the Indochina arena.
  • The Ravens (Asia Books) by Christopher Robbins – A thriller read about America’s ‘secret war’, the daring pilots who fought it, and the tragic fate of the Hmong people who sided with the CIA.
  • Air America: The story of the CIA’s Secret Airlines’ (Asia Books), by Christopher Robbins. Appeals to those with a specific interest in aviation, however some fine recounts of the role of the Air America airline in Laos’s secret war.

Lao history

  • A History of Laos by Martin Stuart Fox.
  • A Short History of Laos, by Grant Evans. Concise yet very useful history of the ‘land of a million elephants’. Interesting discussion on reform attempts of the past decade, and the future of this under-populated country surrounded by growing giants, Thailand, China, and Vietnam.
  • A Brief History of Southeast Asia, by Mekong Osborne – Provides very good context to the empires of Angkor, Lane Xang, Sukhothai and Ayuthaya, by also referring to highly influential empires in Indonesia and the role the Arabs, Europeans, and Japanese.
  • Mekong, by Milton Osborne – A book with a focus on history which entertains as if a novel of fiction. This is a great read about a great river and the French explorers who tried to navigate it from Saigon to China in an effort to create a trade conduit through Indochina.

General

  • Stalking the Elephant Kings, by Christopher Kremmer – The first edition of this light read recounts the author’s intrepid investigation into the fate of the last King in Laos, his wife, and son. ‘Bamboo Palace’ by the same author has just been published, shedding new light on the mystery of the Royal family disappearance.
  • Bamboo Palace, by Christopher Kremmer – somewhat overlaps with Kremmer’s ‘Stalking the Elephant Kings’, however an excellent and interesting read which includes new material on the fate of the last king and queen of Laos.

 

LAOS Q & A

Q: When is the best time to travel to Laos?
A: All year is fine. Travellers should note that Laos is especially hot and humid (highs of 35 degrees plus) between March and June. The winter months from October to February are generally the most pleasant. The country is at its greenest and most attractive (for photographers) during the wet season months from June to October or immediately afterwards. Smoke haze from traditional agricultural practices can dull the skies from March to May.

Q: How much English is spoken in Laos?
A: As Laos continues to open up to the outside world more and more people are learning English. In our hotels, most staff members can speak moderate English. However, on the streets and in local restaurants very few people can speak English and street signs and menus are written in local script. With the help of our local guides and tour leaders these communication problems are easily overcome.

Q: What kinds of transport are used on tour?
A: For road journeys and inner city touring, air conditioned cars, mini buses, or coasters are used. These vehicles are modern, well maintained, safe vehicles – good for small group travel. In and between cities and towns we also use a combination of boats, local songthaews (open air vehicles), and we walk. Where domestic flights are involved, we French built ATR72s. If you have any reservations about using the services of Lao Aviation, we suggest you refer to embassy or consulate advice. When travelling down the Mekong River from Thailand into Luang Prabang we use a small speedboat up until Pakbeng, then board a larger slow boat for the journey to Luang Prabang. A varied combination of boat transport provides the best first-hand experience of the Mekong River and ensures we arrive at our destination on time.

Q: Will I be spending too much time at religious sites?
A: No. Much of Laos’ most spectacular architecture and thriving traditional culture is to be found in and around its temple complexes. We believe our Laos tours are a nice balance of people, culture, history, natural landscapes and food.

Q: What type of restaurants and food will be available on tour?
A: Lao cuisine is similar to Thai food and can be quite spicy. We eat at quality Lao restaurants – serving a selection of seafood, chicken, beef, pork, duck and vegetable dishes. Some travellers prefer a mixture of International (western) and Lao food while touring. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang, a limited range of international cuisine is available. Breakfast is included each day on our tours and is usually a mix of western buffet and continental style. Vegetarians will find a good selection of fresh foods available. In Pakbeng and Lak Sao, western food is not available, and only a limited Lao selection is on offer.

Q: How much money will I spend per day touring?
A: Approximately US$12 per person for day to day living. Laos is a country that offers great value for your money. For around US$12 you will be able to buy lunch and dinner at good restaurants, as well as refreshments during the day. Western meal costs are higher

 

Money

How should I take money to Laos?
How much money will I need each day for food and other expenses?
Do I need to tip in Laos?
Will I need to bargain for everything I want to buy?

Health & Safety

What vaccinations will I need to have?
Are western toilets available?
Is Laos a safe country?
I’m traveling alone – is it safe to go out at night?
Is Laos a good place to take children?

Food & Water

Can I drink the water?
Is there vegetarian food and western food available?
I have special dietary requirements/allergies – can these be accommodated?
What general food and water precautions should I take?

Getting There and Away and Around

What is the flight time to Laos?
Do I need a visa for Laos?
Are the domestic flights safe and reliable?
Is it safe to catch a taxi or tuk-tuk at night?

Packing

Should I take a suitcase or a backpack?
What is the baggage allowance on domestic flights?
What should I pack for a vacation in Laos?
Will I need wet weather gear?

Communications & Technology

Will I be able to use my mobile phone?
Are there many internet cafes in Laos?
I am traveling with my laptop – will I be able to access WiFi?

Responsible Travel

I would like to bring some gifts for the local children – what do you suggest?
What are some of the local customs I should be aware of?
Looking for further information on how you can travel responsibly?

For information on our responsible travel polices visit our Responsible Travel page.

Money

How should I take money to Laos?
Bring a combination of USD cash and credit and debit cards. ATMs accepting international cards are available in Vientiane and other major cities, though the service isn’t always reliable outside the capital. Money is dispensed in the local currency kip (LAK). Most ATMs have a maximum allowance of 700,000 LAK (about 85 USD) and while you can make multiple withdrawals in the same day, this may incur fees from both the local and your home bank. Most hotels change cash at reasonable rates and a limited number will also change traveler’s checks. Credit cards are not widely accepted but can be used in mid-range to upmarket hotels and in a growing number of shops and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. If you bring traveler’s checks, it is best to use USD, but these are now becoming harder to cash.

How much money will I need each day for food and other expenses?
Laos is an inexpensive country to visit by almost any standards. Allow approximately 12 USD per person for day-to-day living, which will buy you lunch and dinner at good local restaurants (your breakfast is always included), as well as refreshments during the day. High end and Western restaurants will cost more. The price of alcohol varies, though local beer is about 2 USD for a large bottle. Transport such as tuk-tuks is inexpensive, and should cost you no more than 3 USD per trip on average, and often much less. If you are traveling independently, you will need to factor in any entrance fees, which are generally between 1-5 USD.

Do I need to tip in Laos?
Tipping inspires great service and, while it is not generally expected in Laos, it is appreciated. In basic restaurants we suggest rounding up your bill. In more up-market restaurants 5% to 10% is appropriate. If you are happy with the services provided by your guides and drivers, we suggest a tip of 3-5 USD per person per day for guides and 2 USD per person per day for drivers. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

Will I need to bargain for everything I want to buy?
Bargaining in markets is the norm in Laos, however shops and boutiques are normally ‘fixed price’. Some good purchases are local weavings, as well as gold and silver. Bargaining should always be good-natured – a smile and friendly attitude are a must. In some cases you will be able to get a 50% discount or more, at other times this may only be 10%. And it’s never a good idea to compare prices with someone else – chances are they will have! In most cases you will not need to bargain for basic items such as bottled water, toiletries and food.

Health & Safety

What vaccinations will I need to have?
Some of the diseases known to exist in Laos include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS. Consult with your local doctor or a specialist travel medical centre for up-to-date health information on vaccinations and medicine for your trip at least one month prior to departure.

Are western toilets available?
All hotels and guesthouses, including home-stays, are equipped with western toilets, as are most restaurants. Squat toilets are the norm however we endeavour to time stops according to acceptable and hygienic toilet facilities which will, in most cases, include a western toilet. Toilet facilities on boats can be basic. We recommend that you carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Is Laos a safe country?
Laos is a safe country by world standards. Usual common sense precautions are advisable. Most Laotians go to bed fairly early so streets will usually be very quiet after 9pm. Dark, insufficiently lit areas of town should be avoided after 9pm. Always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers, and a detailed record of your traveler’s checks. You should leave valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible. We recommend you wear as little jewelry as possible and keep your spending money close to your body in a secure place when out on the street.

I’m traveling alone – is it safe to go out at night?
Our hotels are centrally located in safe neighborhoods. Cities are small, and even at night you will feel quite safe walking outside. Most hotels we use have a restaurant or can arrange a tuk-tuk or a taxi to take you directly to your destination. To assist in finding your way back to your hotel, make sure you obtain a hotel address card, to show drivers where you want to go.

Is Laos a good place to take children?
Laos is very child-friendly. The Laotians are family oriented and regularly travel with their own children during vacation periods. If you are traveling with children aged 5-17, our Family Journeys, featuring a combination of fun and educational activities, might best suit your needs. Some hotels cater well to families with triple share options, or adjoining rooms.

Food & Water

Can I drink the water?
We advise against drinking tap water in Laos. Bottled water is provided on a complimentary basis by most hotels and is otherwise inexpensive and readily available

Is there vegetarian food and western food available?
Vegetarian dishes are widely available and there are a number of vegetarian restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Even vegetable dishes may use fish sauce as a base so if you’re a strict Vegetarian it’s a good idea to ask about the ingredients used. Western food is available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, though is generally more expensive than local cuisine.

I have special dietary requirements/allergies – can these be accommodated?
It is generally possible to accommodate special dietary requirements and allergies, though it is a good idea to have someone prepare a Lao translation of the details of your needs to show restaurant staff. Even non-seafood dishes may contain fish sauce as a base. Peanuts are a common ingredient.

What general food and water precautions should I take?
We advise you to use bottled water, even to clean your teeth. Always wash your hands thoroughly, particularly after handling local money. Ensure meats are thoroughly cooked. It is not necessary to avoid salads and herbs out of hand but remember uncooked foods do carry a greater risk. In general, establishments that cater to Western tourists make their own ice on the premises from bottled water. Elsewhere, ice is made from filtered water that is delivered in blocks from local factories. If in doubt as to the origin of ice, it’s a good idea to ask.

Getting There and Away and Around

What is the flight time to Laos?
From Australia: Flight times range from 12 Hours (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) to 15 hours (Adelaide, Brisbane)
From New Zealand: 16 hours from Auckland
From UK: 16 hours from London
From USA: Flight times range from 18 hours (Los Angeles) to 21 hours (New York)

Do I need a visa for Laos?
To enter Laos you will need a passport with at least six-months validity and a tourist visa. A 30 day tourist visa can be issued on arrival in Laos, at Vientiane, Pakse or Luang Prabang airports and most overland border crossings. For further details see our visa information page, speak to one of our experts or contact your local Lao consulate or embassy.

Are the domestic flights safe and reliable?
All domestic flights within Laos are with Lao Airlines on a relatively modern fleet. Schedules sometimes change and this can result in alterations to your itinerary.

Is it safe to catch a taxi or tuk-tuk at night?
Tuk-tuks are safe to take at night, though you should agree upon a price with the driver before getting in. Hotels and restaurants can often help arrange a tuk-tuk. Taxis are generally only available in the capital Vientiane. To assist in finding your way back to your hotel, make sure you obtain a hotel address card, to show drivers where you want to go.

Packing

Should I take a suitcase or a backpack?
We recommend one piece of medium-sized lightweight luggage with wheels and preferably a soft cover. If you are traveling on a train during your stay, bear in mind that you will need to travel with your luggage in your compartment, where space is limited, as there is no separate baggage car.

What is the baggage allowance on domestic flights?
The baggage allowance in economy class with Lao Airlines on domestic flights is two pieces of checked luggage with a combined weighing of no more than 20kg (44 pounds), plus one piece of hand luggage weighing no more than 7kg (15 pounds).

What should I pack for a vacation in Laos?
Please refer to the following checklist as a guide. You may need to carry your own bags at certain stages during the trip so you should be able to lift them! Laundry service is available in most hotels but can be expensive.

Travel documents: passport, visas, travel insurance certificate, air tickets,
Money: traveler’s checks/cash/credit card and money pouch
Day pack and/or shoulder bag that can be slung across the body for security
First aid kit
Medication/prescriptions (it is a good idea to have a doctors letter if you are carrying a large amount of medication), travel sickness tablets if required
Torch/flashlight
Travel plug/international adapter
Insect repellent
A range of comfortable, quick dry, loose fitting clothes
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
Swimming costume
Lightweight travel towel
Ear plugs/eye mask
Comfortable walking shoes
Camera, film and/or memory cards with spare batteries (or battery charger)
Raincoat/umbrella
Waterproof jacket
Clothes for temples – long pants or long skirts, long sleeve top, shoes which are easy to slip on/off

Will I need wet weather gear?
We do advise you bring wet weather gear however raincoats and umbrellas can easily be purchased in Laos.

Communications & Technology

Will I be able to use my mobile phone?
Mobile phone networks cover much of the country and global roaming is available – check with your service provider before leaving home. Reception can be patchy outside urban areas.

Are there many internet cafes in Laos?
You will find many internet cafes in Vientiane, Luang Prabang , Vang Vieng and Pakse, though speeds can be slow outside Vientiane. Rates are generally reasonable. Most hotels offer an internet service however rates are generally higher than in internet cafes.

I am traveling with my laptop – will I be able to access WiFi?
WiFi is offered in some hotels, either in-room or in certain public areas such as the lobby. Check with your travel expert for availability of WiFi at your chosen hotel/s before departure.

Responsible Travel

I would like to bring some gifts for the local children – what do you suggest?
Gifts such as text books and pencils are most appropriate and best given to organizations (such as schools or clinics) rather than to individuals, as distribution through a community channel is more likely to occur equitably, and with dignity. Big Brother Mouse is a great organization in Laos that distributes educational books and games to children. We generally advise against giving gifts directly to children on the street, at home or in village communities. Gift giving creates inequality within communities and encourages children to start begging. Giving money (even to children who offer to act as guides) can also make children the primary income earners in their family, resulting in long-term school truancy.

What are some of the local customs I should be aware of?
Laos is a predominately Buddhist country and dress standards are fairly conservative. When visiting temples and religious sites women and men should keep their shoulders and knees covered. You should try to keep your shoulders covered, especially outside major cities. Laotians are very easy going and this extends to their time-keeping and service. Expect things to run late and waiters to not seem as keen to serve you as you are used to. Travel with patience and a sense of humour and try to resolve any difficulties in a calm, friendly matter.