Laos - Travel - Tours

LAOS

Prepare for your
holiday to Laos

Practical information:
All you need to
know about Laos
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Laos

Practical Information

Laos at a glance

  • Area : 236 800 km²
  • Population : 6 477 211 inhabitants (estimate 2011)
  • Religion : Buddhism
  • Capital : Vientiane
  • Language : Lao, Thai Dialects, English & French
  • Currency : Kip

Time Difference

6 hours ahead of the UK in the summer, 7 hours in the winter.

Climate

As with the rest of SE Asia, Laos has a monsoon climate, alternating between a rainy season and a dry season.
From May to October, wet winds from the south-west bring heavy rainfall. The rainfall varies according to altitude and latitude; the more mountainous northern provinces of Laos are less exposed than the south and receive less rainfall. Humidity is often close to 100%.

The dry season starts in October and the temperatures are cooler and even cold in the mountains. The average temperature is 15°C, but it can drop to 5° - 10°C in the evenings making a sweater or jacket highly recommended.

Towards the end of the dry season, in March & April, temperatures climb as high as 40°C so an effective sunscreen is needed.

Currency Converter

The official currency in Laos is the kip with notes of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 and 100,000 kip. ATM facilities are increasingly available in all of the major towns, however it is important to remember that cash is still king. Currency exchange is available in large towns such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, particularly in banks and money exchange offices - mainly from US dollars, euros or Thai baht. Thai baht and US dollars are accepted in major towns, however the further you travel from these towns, the less they are accepted. Expect to use kip for small items of personal expenditure.

Exchange Rates

The exchange rate is variable, however the kip is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

For the current exchange rate you can consult the website of the Banque pour le commerce extérieur (Bank for Foreign Trade) in Laos : http://bcellaos.com/

Credit Cards & Travellers Cheques

  • The use of major credit cards has only recently spread to Laos. You can use your credit cards (Visa & MasterCard) in large towns (banks, department stores, major hotels and restaurants).
     A commission of bank charges will be applied, of at least:
  • Visa: 3%
  • Master Card: 3.25%

Note that the number of banks where you can withdraw money with a credit card remains limited.

  • Your travellers cheques in euro or U.S. dollars can be changed in banks. However, there is a commission of $2 U.S. for each of your cheques (unless you agree to take the money in kip).
  • To transfer funds into Laos, major banks have foreign offices.

Laos-Luang Prabang - Wat

 

Electricity

The standard voltage in Laos is 230V. There is a mix of electrical sockets in use - the majority are two pin sockets although some three pin sockets exist.

 

Conditions & Security

Laos is generally a safe country, but like everywhere, you should follow some basic common sense rules. Petty crime does occur in the capital and other major towns, although not often. Take extra care during the big festivals, especially on the roads.

Practical Life - Do's & Don'ts

  • Always show respect for Lao people and their culture.
  • The standard greeting is a "nop" - hands together in front of the chest with a slight bow of the head. "Sabaidee" means hello.
  • Take off your shoes when entering someone's house and especially when entering a temple. Don't be surprised if some hotels & restaurants ask you to take off your shoes.
  • Temples and monks are all considered sacred - you should not touch a statue of Buddha and it is forbidden for women to touch a monk or their robes.
  • If you decide to get up early and enjoy the ritual of "Thak Bat" or Alms Giving Ceremony, please remember its a spiritual event. Don't try to take part or to get too close to the monks to take a photo.
  • Lao people are embarassed by public nudity or public displays of affection. You should try and minimize the amount of bare flesh; again especially in temples where the shoulders should be covered and women should wear trousers or a long skirt.
  • Never point your feet at another person; it's considered a grave insult. Equally, the head is the highest part of the body & so touching someone's head will offend.
  • Drugs are illegal in Laos - using and/or dealing in drugs carry very severe penalties.
  • Always ask for permission before taking a photograph of one of the local people.

Health

No vaccination is officially required to visit Laos, except for Yellow Fever for travellers from infected countries. However, it is recommended that visitors have up to date vaccinations against polio, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A & B & MMR. 

Malaria is the biggest threat in Laos. Consult your doctor before departure. From sunset, wear clothing that covers the maximum body surface area and use mosquito repellents on exposed areas. These precautions will also protect against Dengue Fever.

The health problems most common amongst travellers are digestive problems and diarrhoea which can be treated by drinking plenty of water and eating plain steamed rice. Try to avoid spicy foods and only drink bottled water.

More about Laos

Health

Some basic tips to follow:

Do not drink tap water. If you have to drink tap water, filter and boil it first. It is advised to drink only bottled water, locally sourced or imported.
Avoid eating raw fish and raw meat, including poultry.
Use mosquito nets, repellents and sprays.

First Aid Kit:

We recommend that you bring Intetrix and Immodium for diarrhoea and stomach problems. A broad spectrum antibiotic, such as Clamoxyl, Aspirin or Doliprane for pain relief. Eye drops (especially if you are a contact lens wearer). Lysopain Locabiotal for sore throats. A high protective sunscreen. Vitamin C. Elastoplast 6 cm tape for blisters. Tubes of Betadine cream 10% for wound dressings (although this can be found in local pharmacies). Take your usual medication. Anti-mosquito lotion, creams or sticks.