As one of Asia’s best kept secrets this landlocked mountainous
country remains relatively untouched by modern day tourism. This
ancient ‘kingdom of a million elephants’ is a true
experience for travelers, rewarding and captivating from the start,
Laos is packed full of breathtaking scenery, rich cultural history,
ancient temples and a diverse, warm and wonderful people.
Laos covers some 236,800 km2 with a north-south length of 1000
Km. The Annalistic mountain range crosses the north-west region
while the Mekong river divides Laos with Thailand and Myanmar
in the west. Navigable all year round, despite numerous reefs,
the Mekong is the heart of the country with most of the arable
land being along its banks.
Air: Lao Airlines is the only domestic airline in Laos. The schedules
are reliable but do check before flying as cancellations do occur.
During the holiday season it’s best to book ahead.
Roads: Laos has 14,000 km of road, 80% of which are not asphalted
this however is greatly improving. The North-South route: Luang
Prabang – Vientiane – Pakse - Champasak is well maintained
as is the transferral road leading to the Plain of Jars. As far
as the rest are concerned...well its Paris to Dakar without TV
and camels, an intrepid explorers paradise!!! Presently very few
road maps are available whilst city maps are rare and uninformative.
But take heart Laos is on the up, and striving to become more
accessible for all, for further information, the "Carterie
du Laos", is open every day from 8 am to 8 pm.
Rivers: The Mekong runs through the very heart of Laos, this
mighty river and it’s many tributaries are the traditional
highways and byways of Laos and boat excursions during your stay
are a must.
May to October is the rainy season, the rain is not constant but
suitable wet weather clothes would be advisable. November to May
is the dry season and temperatures can reach the high 30’s
and be very very humid. The winter can see temperatures in the
North dropping to between 10 and 15C during the months of December,
January and February.
Laos is the least populated country in S.E.Asia with only 6,000,000
inhabitants. The Northern regions of Laos claims around 80% of
the population leaving the Southern regions relatively sparse.
The republic democratic people party of Laos came to power in
1975. The regime is a people’s democracy. The executive
power is controlled by the president (currently Mr Juommaly Xayyasone)
and elected by the national assembly for a 5 year period. The
president is assisted by the prime minister who, in turn, is in
charge of the ministry council. The legislative power, guarantor
of the constitution, is held by the national assembly, which consists
of 85 representative elected by the people a term of 5 years.
Buddhism: The main religion is Buddhism. Around 60% of the Lao
people practice Theravada (of the "Small vehicle") a
practice which spread through Laos between the 14th and 17th centuries
based on the earliest teachings of Buddha. The ideal is to reach
Nirvana without going through reincarnation. Buddhism is inherent
in daily life here and a key influence on society and culture,
so for the people of Lao doing good deeds rather than bad ensures
salvation. The monks are held in very high esteem and treated
with great respect. When entering a religious place, please observe
the proper rules of dress. Ladies must wear a dress or suitably
long skirt and shoulders should be covered. For men, wearing long
pants is recommended. Shoes must be removed at the temple entrance.
If you have to sit down avoid pointing your feet forward. If your
joints allow it, fold your legs beneath you and keep your feet
pointing towards your back.
Animist: In Laos Buddhism and animism exist side by side. The
Lao people believe in "Phi" which means spirit, soul
or ghost. Any Laotian will tell you about "Phi" who
visits during your sleep. They are everywhere; good, bad, mischievous,
in trees, animals, houses and people, it is the SE Asian version
of a "genie". To protect themselves and show respect,
people build a "genie house", a small alter which is
placed in a precise spot, in front of the house or in the garden.
The "house" is always sheltered from the sun and offerings
of food and drinks are made to keep the spirit pacified.
Modest dress and behaviour is very important to Lao people, be
discreet if you do not want to attract any unwanted attention.
Lao people are generally quiet and gentle and shouting is something
people find quite shocking and something they do not react well
to. In Buddhism and in general Asian society, the head is very
important to the soul and its purity and should not be touched
by others. The feet walk on the earth and all that is deposited
on it so raising your feet to head height or putting your feet
on furniture or pointing with them is taken as a deliberate insult.
The official currency in Laos is Kip (symbol KN) 280 Kip for 1
Thai Baht. 9,400 Kip for 1 US Dollar. 12,240 Kip for 1 Euro. Banknotes
of 500/ 1,000/ 2,000/ 10,000/ 20,000 and 50,000 are available.
Thai Baht and US dollars are freely accepted in big towns, but
less so in rural areas. So who will take your Euros? Banks are
open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm, as in Europe.
Visa withdrawal comes with a charge of around 3% whilst most credit
cards are accepted in high class hotels and a few shops and restaurants
The national resources of Laos are limited and under exploited.
The largest economy is agriculture which provides a living for
80% of the population. The principal crop is rice but corn, tobacco,
cotton and coffee are also grown. Livestock is generally concentrated
around cattle, buffalo and pigs.
You can get a visa on arrival at most fo the borders with the
exception of the Cambodian border at Voen Kham.
Vientiane and the rest of country is a relatively safe place however
a little common sense and caution should be applied. For example,
do not leave bags unattended or hotel rooms unlocked. Although
minor crimes such as pick pocketing are rare, they can ruin your
trip so be vigilante. For motorbikes, always wear a helmet, even
if it’s hot.
The health situation has improved significantly over the last
few years although there is still a lot to do. Problems can be
treated in a number of Vientiane hospitals (Mahosot, Setthathrirat
and the international clinic) or in hospitals or dispensaries
in the provinces. In serious cases or for practical reasons (insurance
coverage for instance) you may prefer to be treated in Thailand
at Nong Khai, Udon Thani or Khon Kaen which will save you a trip
It is recommended you seek medical advice in your own country
on any immunisations you may need before you travel to Laos. The
medical system in Laos is improving but still very basic compared
to Western standards. Travel insurance to cover any medical costs
etc is strongly recommended.
Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Thus 12 noon in
Vientiane is 1am in New York, 5am in London and 6am in Paris.
Government offices and banks are generally open Monday to Friday
from 8.00 – 11.00 am and 13.30 – 16.00 pm. Shops and
private businesses are usually open longer.