Region: South East Asia
Around 60% of the Laos population are Thervada Buddhists (also known as Hinayana). This religion is concentrated mainly in the lowlands, with a handful of tribal Thais. Despite the fact that phii (earth or spirit) worship has been banned, an estimated 15% of the population are still animists and it remains the predominant non-Buddhist religion in Laos. In Vientiane, ceremonies are openly performed; and a shrine to animism also exists there. A small number of Lao are Christians, and these are mainly the remaining French 'elite'. When visiting temples, please ensure you are not dressed inappropriately (ie. no shorts or sleeveless shirts). Please show consideration if you wish to take photographs or enter Buddhist temples. Monks are not allowed to touch or be touched by women or even handed things directly by a woman. Shoes should also be taken off when entering any building that contains a Buddha image. When sitting in a temple your feet should not be pointed in the direction of the Buddha image. The best way to ensure you avoid offence is to be aware of the actions of the local people around you and follow their lead.
The Lao language is tonal and that makes it very difficult for English-speaking people to master. However, if you make an attempt combined with a big smile, it will be greatly appreciated by the local people.
Area (sq. km):
236,800 square meters
GMT +7 hours.
There are three distinct seasons in Laos. The best time to travel is the cooler part of the dry season from November to February. March to May is the very hot, dry spell before the rain arrives. The monsoon season lasts from May to October although the degree of rainfall varies throughout the country with more rain recorded in the southern highland region bordering Vietnam and Cambodia.
The best time to travel is November to early March when it is the cool, dry season. From March onwards, it gets fairly hot before the rainy season that stretches from May to October. Please note that it is still possible to travel during the rainy season, as it generally only rains for a period of time during the day (usually in the afternoon) and this has the positive effect of cooling down an otherwise hot and oppressive climate.
If you need to find your own way into town from Vientiane's Wattay International Airport, it is a matter of taking a ten minute taxi ride. You should pay no more than the equivalent in local currency of US$5 for the trip.
The international dialling code for Laos is +856 Telephone calls, especially international calls, made from hotels, often attract significant service charges, even when the number dialled is not available. Where possible, endeavour to make calls from local telephone offices, which are usually situated in or near the post offices. It is always advisable to confirm the rates you will be paying before you make your call. Should any extra assistance be required when you are on tour, please contact our local offices first. If you have a mobile phone it should be a relatively simple procedure to arrange ‘global roaming’ with your service provider; however, charges are generally very high so be sure to check this option thoroughly. You should also check with your service provider to see if your mobile phone is compatible with the networks used in Laos.
The electricity supply in Laos is rated at 220 volts, and appliances requiring 240 volts will work normally.If you bring electrical appliances you should also bring an international adaptor. Plug design varies, depending where you are; however, two flat pins (USA style) or three-pronged angled pins (Australian style) are fairly common.A torch (or flashlight) is useful when travelling in more remote areas. Note that whilst trekking, and in more remote areas, electricity will not be available. Here, the best option is small, battery-operated appliances.
The food in Lao is very similar to Thai cuisine, reflecting the common origins of the two countries. The staple diet is rice. The ingredients are usually cooked fresh and lime juice; lemon grass and coriander are usually added in the cooking. Many of the dishes are quite spicy. A common dish is 'laap', a salad of minced meat tossed with lime juice, onions, mint leaves, chillies and powdered sticky rice.
Lao Airlines has a network of routes around Laos with their hub in Vientiane. Please note that schedules can be unreliable and that flights are sometimes rescheduled or cancelled. The majority of roads and highways in Laos are in reasonable condition, or are in the process of being upgraded, road journeys can be a long and bumpy process. When on the Mekong, look out for express boats, speedboats, long-tail boats and rowboats. In Laos we travel around by bus, slow boat, fast boat, canoe, minivan and plane.
There is an increase in the items of interest for sale to travellers. The best buys are textiles (there is a wide range here made from silk and cotton with different designs reflecting the tribal and regional diversity of the country), gold and silver jewellery, and woodcarving. There are weaving villages where you can see fabric being made. Please note that the export of antiques and Buddha images from Laos is prohibited, although this policy is not always enforced. Bargaining for a good price is very much a part of the Lao way of life, but this should be done in a light-hearted and fun way. It is important to keep things in perspective, given the reasonably cheap prices available in Laos when compared to back home.
Visa: Please note that visa requirements can and do change. It is essential that you confirm requirements with the nearest relevant embassy or check with your travel agent before you travel. At the time of writing, a visa is required by most travellers visiting Laos including Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, British and Canadians. All other nationalities should check with the Laotian Embassy or Consulate in their country for up-to-date visa information. It is preferable to obtain your Lao visa before you start your travels, however visas can also be obtained on arrival in Vientiane International Airport and at the land borders at both Huay Xai and the Friendship Bridge. The process takes 15-30 minutes and requires one passport photo. The cost is normally between US$30-US$42 (varies with different nationalities), but amounts may change and an additional ‘late fee’ is sometimes levied at the land borders if you arrive late in the afternoon.
Travels in Siam, Cambodia & Laos-Henri Mouhot A Dragon Apparent-Norman Lewis Treasures from Laos-Lao Govt History of Laos-M. Viravong Laos: War & Revolution-Nina Adams Historical Dictionary of Laos -Martin Stuart-Fox and Mary Kooyman The Mekong-John Hoskins The Ravens (Pilots of the Secret War of Laos) -Christopher Robbins Laos-Lonely Planet