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.
Laos is the least populated country in S.E.Asia with only 6,858,000 inhabitants. The Northern regions of Laos claims around 80% of the population leaving the Southern regions relatively sparse.
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 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Thus 12 noon in Vientiane is 1am in New York, 5am in London and 6am in Paris.
The official currency in Laos is Kip (symbol K).
9,400 Kip for 1 US Dollar. 12,240 Kip for 1 Euro.
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 in Laos.
T° in celsius. Min / Max.
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.
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.
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 Lao government issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at all international airports and most international border crossings.
The whole process is very straightforward. You need between US$30 and US$42 in cash, one passport-sized photo and the name of a hotel or guesthouse. Those without a photo, or who are arriving on a weekend, holiday or after office hours, will have to pay an additional one or two dollars. The visa fee varies depending on the passport of origin.
For those not eligible for a visa on arrival, Lao embassies and consulates abroad offer 30-day tourist visas. The process involves roughly the same cost and documentation and generally takes three working days.
In Bangkok you can get your visa on the same day for an additional 200B express fee.
HOTELS AROUND LAOS
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