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Exploring Laos

Laos Travel Essentials

We’ve compiled a list of answers to some of our most frequently asked questions about travel to Laos. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if any of your questions are not answered below.

What Should I wear in Laos?

Laos is a very relaxed country and you are unlikely to get any raised eyebrows over what you choose to wear – especially in the bigger cities and towns like Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Shorts/skirts and vest tops are generally regarded as fine. However, the locals do dress more conservatively and so if you visit more rural areas it is considered respectful to follow suit. You will need your shoulders and knees covered for all temple visits.

Do I need a visa?

Yes but you can obtain your visa on arrival at any land border or international airport. The visa costs just under $40 (you need US Dollars in cash) and you will also need two passport photos on hand. The visa queues can be long at some of the smaller airports so we recommend sitting at the back of the plane so you can be off first if you are impatient to start your holiday 😉

What is the local currency and how easy is it to withdraw money there?

The local currency is Kip. US dollars are only accepted in hotels and to pay for entrance fees. The Kip is not freely convertible, which means that you can’t buy any Kips outside of Laos, and so any Kips you leave with can’t be exchanged anywhere else.

There are working cash machines in the key cities but cash is still king here in Laos and we recommend bringing dollars with you instead of Pounds or Euros. It is very important that the dollars are in good condition – make sure the notes look brand new without any tears in them.

There are places all over the country to change dollars and the rates are the same in all places (airports, banks, travel offices) as they are controlled by the Government so we’ve never had a problem with bad exchange rates.

What vaccinations do I need – and do I need to take malaria tablets?

Now we are not doctors and would always advise you to make a travel appointment at your local surgery for the latest up to date information. Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid are all usually advised but others are also recommended (including malaria tablets) depending on your area of travel. We recommend taking a look at the NHS Fit for Travel page, which has much more detail and also provides a malaria map of the country.

Should I tip in Laos?

Tipping in Laos is not customary but in such a poor country it is highly appreciated. In more upscale restaurants a tip of between 5 and 10% is recommended. Guides and drivers generally do expect to be tipped. For guides a tip between 5 and 10 USD per person per day is customary, and half of that for drivers. Of course tipping is always related to the quality of services rendered.

Should I take gifts or give money to the villages I visit?

It is a nice idea to give gifts to the villages you visit (maybe food treats, writing paper and pens for children etc) but it is not compulsory and they don’t expect it. Make sure you tell your guide so that he or she can help you decide how best to distribute the gifts – it is often given to the village chief or elder as to not encourage begging in children – and this also means the most needy will receive your gifts (rather than the child with longest arms in front of you!) It’s also a nice idea to take postcards or pictures from your own country to show – always a good ice-breaker to start a conversation.

Is there good wi-fi/3G?

Wi-fi is available in most hotels, cafes and bars. You can buy a local sim card  with cheap 3G packages on it – the main phone providers are Mphone and Unitel.

Am I going to be safe?

Laos is a very safe country to travel – the Buddhist belief in reincarnation and desire to reach Nirvana seems to be a better crime deterrent than most western methods! Bag grabbing, assaults, etc. are very rare (but can happen in the larger towns and cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane). Of course we always advise when travelling anywhere to keep your money and valuables on you or locked in a safe to avoid opportunistic thefts. For the latest advice on the political situation and any insurgency unsettlement please look at the travel page on the Foreign Commonwealth Office website.

What language do people speak in Laos?

Lao is spoken throughout the country along with dozens of other languages and dialects! The locals love it when you learn a few words and one word you will no doubt pick up quickly is “Sabaidee” which is a hello/how are you greeting. Not everybody speaks English – although it is surprisingly good in most places.

What’s the Time Difference?

Laos is 6 hours ahead of GMT in British Summer Time and 7 hours ahead of the UK during the winter.

Luang Prabang
This delightful Unesco-heritage protected town has some of the finest architecture, food and temples of all of Laos (as well as lots of cute boutique shops!) You could spend days in this delightful town, which has two rivers running through it, whilst exploring nearby caves, waterfalls and elephant camps.
Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands)
This cluster of islands caught in the middle of the mighty flowing Mekong is the perfect place to chill for a couple of days. Cycling to waterfalls, spotting rare river dolphins, chilling in hammocks and watching the sunset over the Mekong are all in the order of the day here.
Champasak & The Bolaven Plateau
The Bolaven Plateau is not to be missed by any die-hard coffee fans! This idyllic, hilly region is where the finest coffee in Laos grows and we have some wonderful day tours on offer here - you can even spend the night at a family home on a traditional coffee plantation. Nearby Champasak has some wonderful luxurious riverside accommodation (some of the best in Laos) and a sunrise trip to Wat Phou Temple must not be missed.
The riverside capital of Laos is home to some of the country's finest restaurants, spas and cafes, not to mention a fantastic collection of boutique hotels... it is the perfect place to indulge your tastebuds and senses for a day or two. Nearby there are a number of impressive temples and cultural sights which are ideal to explore by bicycle.
Vang Vieng
Something of an outdoor lover's paradise, Vang Vieng, which is set on Nam Song River, is the perfect place for anyone seeking nature based activities - as well as some more adrenalin-seeking adventures. It's backdrop of serene cliffs and vibrant green paddy fields, coupled with an excellent selection of boutique hotels, make it the ideal place to chill for a day or two.
Vieng Xai Caves
This fascinating wartime cave hideout is set in beautiful gardens backed by delightful karst scenery. It is ideal for those who are travelling onwards to Vietnam and crossing at the land border - or vice versa.

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