Voltage: 220V, Frequency: 50Hz
Kip (LAK) exchange rates
UTC +7 hours
What to expect
Laos is a landlocked, mostly rural country, with the defining part of its landscape the mighty Mekong River flowing through. There is mountainous terrain as well as waterfalls and farmland, with the major cities and towns offering much more developed facilities and comfort levels. It is markedly less developed in Laos than in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam.
You can expect to witness Buddhist monks collecting alms, opulent looking temples, historical sites and interesting architecture fusing French and traditional Lao influences.
The Lao people are friendly and hospitable with a charming, gentle nature. You may have the opportunity to converse with local monks wishing to practice their English with visitors. Although some places you stay or visit may be of a Western standard, other times facilities and services may be more basic. It is advisable to 'keep face' in your dealings with Lao people and maintain patience.
From Los Angeles
approximately 18 hours
From New York
approximately 21 hours
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the vacations listed here. As major vacations are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our USA-based Asia specialists for details.
1 January is a public vacation celebrating New Year's Day
. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
8 March is International Women's Day
, where Lao women are honored with celebrations in homes and offices. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
13-15 April is Buddhist New Year
in Laos, considered the most important celebration of the year. It is marked by throwing buckets of water on the streets, fairs, processions and cultural shows. Banks, public offices and many businesses will be closed, along with some wats and museums in major centers.
1 May is International Labor Day
, honoring the contribution of workers. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
August/September - A Boat Racing Festival
is held in Luang Prabang. Some streets along the Mekong are blocked, and hotels are heavily booked. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
12 October is Liberation Day
, commemorating the end of war in Laos in 1975 and the victory of the Pathet Lao. Banks will be open, but public offices and some businesses will be closed.
Mid-October - A Boat Racing Festival
is held in Vientiane. Some streets along the Mekong are blocked, and hotels are heavily booked. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
November (first full moon) - The That Luang Festival
is held in Vientiane, an annual religious festival spanning three days and nights. Thousands of monks descend on the capital for the festivities.
2 December is National Day
, a public vacation commemorating the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975. Banks, public offices and many businesses will be closed, along with some wats and museums in major centers.
24 December to 3 January is the International New Year period
. Most banks and public offices are usually only closed on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Health & Fitness
Travelers to Laos should take care with their health and safety as they would in other Asian destinations. Medical facilities are sparse in Laos, and even in the capital, Vientiane, are minimal. For serious medical conditions, a transfer to Bangkok is needed. If traveling outside the major centers, it is preferable to visit a private clinic rather than a government-run hospital should you require medical attention.
Diseases that can be found in Laos include typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, diphtheria, polio, tetanus, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We advise that you take relevant precautions to avoid exposure to these and other health risks. It is advisable to see your doctor at least one month before leaving the United States or Canada for current health advice.
Citizens of the US, Australia, UK, EU Countries, New Zealand and Canada must possess a visa to visit Laos. All other nationalities should check with the Laotian embassy or consulate in their home country. Travelers can easily obtain a 30 day tourist visa upon arrival in Laos, at the airports in Vientiane, Pakse or Luang Prabang, or at most overland border crossings.
The cost of a Lao visa varies according to nationality and is 35 USD for holders of USA and UK passports, 30 USD for holders of Australian and New Zealand passports, and 42 USD for holders of Canadian passports. All travelers require USD cash to pay for their visa, and a passport photo must be provided. On weekends and public vacations an extra 1 USD is charged per visa.
Please note Laotian visa requirements are subject to change and it is your responsibility to research your visa requirements prior to travel. We strongly suggest that you check with the relevant embassies in your country of residence for current visa regulations.
Safety and security
Laos is a relatively safe country to visit, however the usual common sense safety precautions apply. The cities are small, and easy and safe to navigate on foot. The streets are generally quiet after 9pm as most Lao people go to bed early, and there are local laws ensuring businesses close by midnight.
It is important to watch your step on the streets as they can be marked by potholes and uneven surfaces. It is advisable to wear minimal jewelry and to keep cash secure to your body. A hotel address card should be carried in order to show drivers to navigate your way back.
During your time in Laos, it is recommended you keep copies of your passport, credit card details and airline tickets in a secure place apart from the original documents. Wherever possible, leave valuables in your hotel's safety deposit boxes. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
Culture Shock: Laos (Times Books International), by Stephen Mansfield
. Useful insights into the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of Lao culture in an easy reading format.
Shooting at the Moon, by Roger Warner
. A lucid, moving and fascinating account of the CIA’s role in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s, covering the events leading up to the American carpet bombing of the Plain of Jars. It also discusses the ultimately futile and tragic role played by the Hmong in the Indochina arena.
A Short History of Laos, by Grant Evans
. A concise yet very useful history of the ‘land of a million elephants’, featuring interesting discussion on reform attempts of the past decade, and the future of this under-populated country surrounded by growing giants, Thailand, China, and Vietnam.
Stalking the Elephant Kings, by Christopher Kremmer
. The first edition of this light read recounts the author's intrepid investigation into the fate of the last King in Laos, his wife, and son. 'Bamboo Palace' by the same author has just been published, shedding new light on the mystery of the Royal family disappearance.
Ant Egg Soup, by Natacha Du Pont De Bie
. Best-seller in the United Kingdom, this travelogue is focused around the author’s quest for authentic Lao food, and includes recipes collected during her travels. A light, very enjoyable read.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman
. A culturally insightful and heart rendering account of a severely epileptic Hmong child, and her migrant parents’ encounters with the mis-directed efforts of a Western health care system.
Useful words & phrases
Hello (or hi)
How are you?
Jao sa-bai-dee bor
I'm fine, thank you
What is your name?
Jao seu nyuang
My name is…
How old are you?
Jao chak bpee
I am …years old
How much is ...?
Ahn nee tao dai
It's too expensive!
Excuse me /I'm sony
I want /I don't want
Khoi ao /Khoi bor ao
Arrival and departure transfers
Road journeys in Laos take place in modern minibuses with air-conditioning, while groups of six or more use 25-40 seat Toyota Coaster or Hyundai. Modern sedan cars are used when there are only one or two passengers. Lao Airlines are used for domestic flights, which use reasonably modern aircraft.
Travel schedules may change, which could alter your itinerary, so a degree of flexibility is required. For exploring cities and towns, you can opt to walk, or take a tuk-tuk for longer distances. In Vientiane there are also taxis available. Laos is an excellent country to explore by boat, with many options to cruise the Mekong River. Unlike neighboring countries, Laos does not have a rail network.
Internet services can be found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, such as at internet cafes, and rates are very affordable. The best value way to phone internationally is through an internet phone service. In hotels, international phone calls and faxes are fairly costly, and it is not possible to make reverse charge calls in the country.
It is possible to use cell phones if you have roaming enabled, although outside the main centers coverage is inconsistent. International post takes 10-14 days to reach its destination, with the cost of sending mail comparable to fees in Western countries.
Food & drink
Lao cuisine is healthy, fragrant and full of flavor. It features many similarities to the food found in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, with some distinctive native herbs and ingredients.
Mainstays include spicy salads, soups and grilled meats, and sticky rice is consumed with most meals. Common ingredients in Lao dishes include galangal, fish sauce, lemongrass and chilli, though unlike in Thai cuisine, coconut cream or milk isn't typically used in soups and curries. Various wild leaves and herbs are incorporated into many dishes, and meats including buffalo and frog feature widely, along with an abundance of fish.
Vegetarians should be able to find suitable dishes to order in Laos. It is important to not consume the tap water, although bottled water is available everywhere and is usually complimentary in your hotel room.
Tipping is not obligatory in Asia, though is highly appreciated when received. It is a great way to demonstrate your satisfaction with service levels. At the commencement of your trip, your local guide or Western tour leader will request a small amount (approximately 50 cents per day) to be used as tips for boat crews, hotel porters and other service staff encountered. This eliminates the need to constantly carry small change, and also prevents excessive tipping.
We do not include compulsory tipping for Travel Indochina representatives in any of our trips, however we are confident you will be pleased with the service levels you receive. Should you wish to provide a tip you can, though this is not compulsory.
Although Laos is a landlocked country, you may still encounter opportunities to swim throughout your journey. Swimming pools can be found in many hotels and resorts, though you are responsible for your own personal safety, along with that of any children you may be traveling with.
In Vang Vieng, tubing (riding a rubber ring) down the river is a popular activity, though it is important to be aware of your surrounds and your personal safety. There are also opportunities to swim in waterfalls, such as the multi-level Kuang Si Falls, a popular daytrip from Luang Prabang. These waterways are unpatrolled by lifeguards and maintaining awareness of your capabilities is very important.
There are numerous humanitarian organizations that we support in Laos, and by traveling on a Small Group Journey you will have the opportunity to help make a difference. Each of our journeys visits the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitors' Center in Vientiane, a worthy cause which helps rehabilitate landmine and traffic accident victims.
Many groups have an opportunity to support a local family through participating in a 'baci' ceremony in a family home, which is a traditional Lao blessing. On the Highlights of Laos journey, we visit an internationally-certified fair-trade silk weaving organization called Mai Savanh, which is helping revive this traditional art and also providing a livelihood for disadvantaged women.
Two of our longer journeys learn more about the use of local sustainable materials in a bamboo-weaving session at Ock Pop Tock's 'Living Crafts Center' in Luang Prabang. You may also have the chance to dine at Makphet, a vocational training restaurant in Vientiane where Travel Indochina sponsors one of the trainees.
Read more about our responsible travel projects in Laos and the rest of Asia.