Laos travel hints
You should bring a money-belt to safely carry your travel documents and cash. Bring photo-copies of your passport and visa, plus some extra passport-sized photos if you’re applying for on-arrival visa. When flying out or within the region, you will probably be given baggage claim tags (they will be stuck in to the back of your ticket or on the cover of your passport). Keep these, as you will need to show them when check out the airport.
CLOTHING & LAUNDRY
Since Laos has two seasons distinctively, sunglasses, a hat, t-shirts, shorts, long trousers, some light-weight, long-sleeved tops, a light jacket and rain-resistant will get you through most trips. But if you plan to visit more to the mountain in the winter (Jan), then you’ll need a warm coat. If trekking is on your agenda, you will need sturdy footwear, plus lots of socks. As Luang Prabang and Phnom Penh offer upscale bars and restaurants, so be sure to pack some clothes and dress shoes for a nice evening out. Local laundry services are available, inexpensive and advisable in many towns, usually near the hotels and within a day service.
To some extends, Laos is still a sleeping country then you would be wise to pack travel camaraderie’s like sunscreen, films, contact lens solution, tampons and mosquito repellent, as well as prescribed medication. Many kinds of medicines are available in Phnom Penh and LuangPrabang without prescriptions, but they might not be as of that good quality like home. If you travel with a companion or with family, should it be a nice idea to cross-pack, i.e., pack half of your belongings in to other’s suitcase and vice versa. Just in case any baggage delayed might happen.
Laos paved the smooth way for its travel industry by providing easy and fast visa upon arrival. Visitors who enter Laos at the Wattay Airport in Vientiane or via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai may obtain 30-day tourist visa on arrival, the cost of which is varying from US$ 30 to US$ 40 applied to different nationalities. Remember to bring American cash for your visa payment and a passport-sized photo.
The Laos Aviation is pretty strict on lugguage weight, a popular 20kg (44 pounds) regulation is applied for all flights out and within Laos. Surcharge for over weight is approx 30 cents/kg. Carry-on bags should weight less than fifteen pounds and have a size limit of 9 X 14 X 22 inches.
When you fly out of Laos or within country’s routes, locking the duffel bags or suitcases is legal and advisable.
Except for some remote southern-tip parts sharing border with Vietnam, other destinations in Laos are worry-free for malaria though the following immunizations are still recommended for travelers. Consult your doctor or local health department to discuss which shots you need:
– Diphtheria and tetanus: Combined vaccinations for these two diseases are usually given in childhood and should be boosted every ten years.
– Hepatitis A: Vaccination provides immunity for up to ten years and involves an initial injection followed by another six months to one year later.
-Typhoid: Vaccination takes the form of an injection or capsules.
– Rabies: People making longer trips to remote areas should consider rabies vaccination, which involves three injections over a period of three to four weeks.
– Japanese B Encephalitis: People on trips of a month or more to areas suffering from recent outbreaks should consider getting this vaccine, which involves three shots over one month.
The Laotian currency, the Kip is worth about 8.050 to the US Dollar. While US Dollars are widely accepted, cashing traveller’s cheques is difficult outside Vientiane and Luang Prabang. ATMs are just arriving recently and not yet widespread. If you have a debit card, you can withdraw cash at this bank for a 3.5 percent commission. Better still, traveler should bring enough cash to cover your stay.
Laos has 220V, 50Hz electricity. As both two-prong and flat pins are in use, you would be wise to bring an adaptor.
MOBILE & INTERNET
Iphone and other up-to-date handhelds are very popular and convenient for connecting the internet as wifi is available everywhere. At the airport or phone shop, you can easily get a sim and data package for your stay in Laos. A good package for two weeks will be ranging just from US$10 – US$15.
SHOPPING & SHIPPING
If you go shopping in Laos, bargaining is necessary and actually full of funs. It is also recommended to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood shop before coming to a deal. If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it is better to be safe than sorry. The night bazzard in Luang Prabang should never be missed.
High-end restaurants will often add a service charge of five to ten percent to the bill. While tips are not expected in more casual restaurants and bars, they appreciated with thanks since waiter staffs earn low wages. Indochina Voyages Travel suggests tipping drivers about US$5 – US$ 7 per day, tour guides about US$10 -US$15 per day.
With around six million inhabitants, the small, land locked country has the lowest population density in Asia, largely due to its rugged terrain geography. Over 70% of the country is occupied by mountains that make up the name ‘country of million elephants’. Life is simple with Buddhism’s influence, making its people a bit laid-back and less business-minded. Daily life always seems to start late and end early. The Mekong river is the country’s heart and home to most of Laos people by its banks.
Laos has two seasons distinctively. The rainy season runs from May through October and the dry season from November to April. Most rain falls in the south. For the most part, Laos is hot, although there is a good deal of climate fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures at higher elevation areas. The capital, Vientiane, ranges from the mid-30s Celsius (mid-80s Fahrenheit) in April to the upper-20s Celsius (mid-70s Fahrenheit) in January. In the mountains, however, temperature can plummet to a near freezing point in December and January.
Laos has less than six million people, about half of them is Lao ethnicity. The Lao are concentrated in the Mekong river valley while people of Thai ethnicity live in upland river valleys. Other ethnic groups, including the H’mong and Mien, settle down in higher elevations.
Theravada Buddhism is the prevalent religion among lowland Laos, although many Laotians also practice Phi (animism) worship. Outside the Mekong river valley, the Phi worship is stronger still.
Laos’ rugged terrain made the establishment of large kingdoms impractical. In the 14th century a Lao warlord, Fa Ngum, founded the Kingdom of Lan Xang around what is now Luang Prabang. This kingdom split into three warring states in the 17th century, which had their capitals in Luang Prabang, Champasak and Vientiane today.
In the 1820s all three kingdoms came under Thailand control, but in 1839 the French signed a treaty with Siam and added Laos to their colonial empire.
Laos achieved independence from French rule in 1953. Peace was short lived, however, as the Americans began bombing Eastern Laos in 1964 in an attempt to target a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through Lao territory. Fighting between the communist Pathet Lao and royalist government in Vientiane broke out, ending with a ceasefire in 1973.
In December 1975 the Pathet Lao took control in Vientiane, constructing the Lao People’s Democratic Republic nowadays.
In Laos, revealing clothing is unacceptable at all. Shorts are generally fine, as long as they aren’t mini short. People tend to dress as well as they can afford to, Laotian people are often astonished and laugh at the dirty and tattered clothing worn by some travelers.
When coming in pagodas, temples in Vientiane and Luangparbang, shorts and tank-tops are not recommended. Your knees and shoulders must be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in some pagodas. Shoes are usually removed upon entering private accommodation too.
In terms of behaviour, public displays of affection between men and women are considered a bit shocking. On the other hand, it’s perfectly normal for a pair of men or a pair of women to link arms or hold hands, which does not imply any signal of lesbian or gay relations. Upon meeting someone new, people may simply nod to each other or may shake hands. Using both hands to shake someone’s hand with the word ” sabaidee ” is a warm gesture of respect.
Beckoning someone by crooking your finger is very rude. The correct way to call someone over is to wave at them or call their name. Never mind if the locals sometime look at you and laugh or giggle, they simply curious about your ages and why you travel if you are a senior traveler. To ask for the bill in a restaurant or shop, pretend to write on your palm with the other hand as if you are signing for the bill.
Taking picture for a close up one should be asked, especially when talking with the monks in Buddist temples, other than that, don’t aks if you like other photo opps. People are normally a bit shy when a foreigners turn to them and ask something with a camera in hand and they simply turn away. That is why the trick is not to ask if it’s not a personal close up picture. Be aware… never shoot your camera at a funeral.
In general, Laos is very safe and the Laotians are the most friendly people. Violent attacks are none, although theft might sometime be a problem. When possible, secure your valuables in the hotel safe. Remember to record your traveler’s cheque numbers and credit card information, just in case.
Do not leave your wallet or cell phone in the back pocket of your pants or anywhere else that’s easily reached (like an outer zip-up part on a backpack). Be always vigilant in markets and other crowded places like ports and train stations.
Pick-pocketing and purse-snatching are rare in Laos but you never know what might happen in the crowded market or any public gatherings . Wearing valuable jewellery especially necklaces that can be easily grabbed is also not advisable.
Use common sense and don’t walk alone after dark, both for visionary and safety problems. If you are not lucky to be confronted by a mugger, do not resist. Though the tuk-tuk (a kind of public taxis) is cheap and good for local economy, you are better not to use at night, ask your hotel or restaurant to call a reputable taxi firm which is always metered taxi.
Traffic is not of chaos, especially in Vientiane but Luangprabang is a bit crowded to walk in the evening. If you choose to ride a motorcycle or bike, make sure you understand the local driving culture quite a bit. When crossing the street on foot, move at a slow and steady pace with eyes contact, there you go.
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