traveltips

LAOS - TRAVEL TIPS

Time Zone

 GMT +7 hours

Language

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.

Currency

The national currency in Laos is the Lao Kip. However, US dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted.

Religion

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.

Weather

Laos experiences tropical monsoon climates with each year marked by wet and dry seasons. Typically, the hottest month of the year is May, which also has occasional rainfall. June to October is the humid and wet monsoon season, while the cooler, dry season occurs from November to April.

Arrival and Departure Formalities

For most visitors, visas may be obtained on arrival at international airports or international border checkpoints. Passport holders from some African and Middle Eastern nations are required to obtain a visa from a Laos embassy prior to departure from their point of origin.

The visa on arrival is valid for a maximum stay of 30 days (single entry), and the following documents are required:

  • A passport valid for more than six months with at least two blank pages
  • A recent passport-size photograph
  • A completed visa application form (the form can be obtained at the airport)
  • Visa fee; USD 30-45, depending on applicant’s nationality

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)

E-visas are also available for tourism purposes for single entry up to a maximum of 30 days. The e-visa application requires up to three days to process. Please check the list of eligible nations at www.laosevisa.com/eligible-countries

While we do our best to provide the most up-to-date information, visa requirements may change at short notice. Obtaining the correct visa is the responsibility of each passenger and the company will not be held accountable for any refusal upon entry. Therefore, we recommend that you check with your consulate or embassy for current visa information before leaving home.

Money Matters

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

Tipping is not compulsory in Laos. You are traveling on an independent itinerary and the cost of your program does not include gratuities. Tipping is a very personal matter and should only be considered when the staff have gone above and beyond for you. Should you feel you would like to acknowledge their service, please consider the following as a rough guide, per person per day.

Type of Service / USD ($)

Group Size (Number of People)

1

2

3

4

5-9

10+

Tour Director

15.00

12.00

10.00

8.00

6.00

5.00

Guide

15.00

12.00

10.00

8.00

6.00

5.00

Driver

8.00

6.00

5.00

4.00

3.00

2.50

The above tipping guidelines are recommendations only and are not compulsory. Please use your own discretion in tipping, based on quality of service.

Restaurants: Some restaurants add a 5% service charge to your bill. You may wish to add about 10% to the bill to show appreciation for the service, however this is not required or expected

Taxis: Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped but they appreciate the fare being rounded up.

Porterage: If you are being transferred by our representative to a hotel, then porterage and tipping of porters is already included. You are not expected to tip the representative.

Clothing

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.

Electricity

The voltage supply in Laos is 220v 50Hz. Sockets are fit for two round prongs.

Health

Staying up-to-date with your vaccinations is a crucial part of your pre-holiday planning and it is important to seek professional medical advice for your specific requirements. If you are traveling to remote areas, you may also consider preparing a medical kit. 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. Please consult your doctor as to the best medication for you. 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. We supply clean bottled drinking water when you travel by private vehicle. 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.

Photography

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.

Local Handicrafts

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.

Local Food

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.

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