"Laos is absolutely fantastic and I definitely have plans to make it back to that corner of the world again - the people were all so friendly."
Floating down the Mekong was really splendid and although the river was at low levels we all had a great time trying to dodge all the rocks lurking under the surface. Along the way we stopped at a small village for lunch and learnt a bit about the local distillery – all around people were making 'lau-lao', the local firewater (which makes its mark with a substantial hangover in the morning!). The food throughout Laos was packed with fantastic flavours and the smell of local cooking combined with a Beer Lao was a real treat! If I had to sum Laos up I would say that the people were always friendly with huge smiles on their faces, the scenery on the long road journeys was incredible, the dedication to the Buddhist religion was quite something and the food is so delicious you just won't be able to stop eating!
Iain Shiels, Imaginative Traveller Tour Leader
Official Language: Lao Others: Thai, French
Religions: Buddhist 85%, Christian 2%, Muslim 1%, other 12%
Voltage: 220 volts, 110 volts in remote areas. Sockets are usually two pronged flat pin (i.e. American style but without the earth wire) or two pronged round pin used in Europe.
It is often possible to obtain a 15 day visa for Laos at the border (you will need US$30 in US$ cash only). However, regulations do change frequently and we would therefore advise travellers to arrange their visa in advance if possible. The easiest way to do this is to apply for a visa in your home country if there is a Lao Embassy or Consulate or alternatively to arrive in Bangkok three or four days before the tour starts and arrange your visa there.
Note: For Heart of Indochina tour it is NOT possible to obtain a visa on arrival at this point on the border between Cambodia and Laos. We strongly advise you to obtain your Laos visa in advance. However, it can sometimes be difficult to obtain a visa for Laos in your home country. If this is the case Laos visas can usually be obtained in Bangkok if you arrive a few days before the start of your tour, or en route whilst travelling through Cambodia - but this may not be possible for all nationalities.
Please note that our recommended visa service, Travcour UK, do NOT apply for visas for Laos due to problems experienced at the Laos embassy in Paris. Therefore for UK travellers the only options are (1) to get the visa at the border or (2) to arrive in Bangkok early to get the visa there. Although we advise the latter, we appreciate that this is not going to be practical for many travellers. Therefore we will continue to advise travellers on whether or not it is possible to get the visas on arrival at the border at the time of booking. If you book well in advance please contact us for the latest information closer to your time of travel.
Please note: As regulations may change without notice we absolve ourselves of any responsibility if changes to regulations affect your travel plans.
The monetary unit in Laos is the Lao Kip.
Approximate exchange rates (as at April 2008) are as follows:
Both Thai Baht and US Dollars are also widely accepted in Laos – in particular for mid-range and more expensive purchases – but all notes need to be in excellent condition.
At present there are no major restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Laos although limits may be set on very large sums of Thai Baht or US$ (usually US$4,000 or more).
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Bank and exchange counters are located in Vientiane and other larger towns. Generally speaking, banks will give you a better rate than moneychangers. Larger hotels will also exchange cash and travellers cheques. We recommend that you take either US$ or GB£ currency and travellers cheques, however it is possible to exchange other major currencies in Vientiane (please note Scottish Pounds are not recognised outside of the UK). Outside of the city it is probably best to carry US$ or Thai Baht as they will be easier to exchange. You may also have difficulty changing traveller's cheques outside the capital. Credit Card advances are possible at banks; however ATMs are only available in Vientiane. Credit Cards can only be used in larger restaurants (in cities) and for purchases in stores. In all cases you should never let your credit card out of your sight.
Note: the Lao Kip is a non-convertible currency so you will not be able to exchange any left over notes outside of Laos.
The Pre-Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Laos.
Although our Traveller trips include entrance fees for all sites specified in your itinerary there are some additional sites that you may like to visit. Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees. On average entrance fees in Laos vary between US$0.20 and US$4.50. Details of some popular entrance fees are as follows:
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Remember to bring your student card if you have one or are entitled to one as you may be able to get discounts on certain entrance fees, though the actual policy on this varies from site to site.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
Approximate costs (per person unless otherwise stated) for popular excursions and activities are shown below:
Don Khong Island (south)
On Traveller tours you will find the meal plan clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most Traveller tours, and many tours also include a number of dinners. Lunches are rarely included to give you more freedom. Meals are generally not included on our Adventurer tours in Laos. Approximate costs for meals and snacks are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Laos see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below. Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels can be as much as double those specified.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Laos. However bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the region.
Generally speaking the best way to get around Lao cities and towns is on foot although cycling is also an excellent and cheap way to get from A to B. Saamlors or trishaws (three wheeled cycles with an uncovered seat at the back) can also be hired in most towns although they are now rare in Vientiane. To cover longer distances three-wheeled motorbikes or tuk-tuks are the most widely used form of transport. They come in two varieties; small tuk-tuks which carry up to 3 people and cost an average of US$0.50 per ride and larger tuk-tuks (more commonly known as “Skylabs”) which seat up to 10 people and usually cost US$0.50 per person. Outside of the cities public buses or the more popular songthaews (pick-up trucks) are the best way to get around. Usually songthaews have a roof and bench seats along each side. These are very effective for getting to out of the way places with some independence. Prices vary as to your destination, period of time and number of passengers and you should generally negotiate a price before boarding.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Please note that you DO NOT need a mosquito net on any of our tours in Laos however you should protect yourself with a good mosquito repellent spray. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
As a general guideline clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard wearing and easily washed. In the hot summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. For most of the year the weather is generally warm to hot, however the north and highland areas can become quite cold at night especially in December and January. You will generally find it is better to have several thin layers rather than one thick layer as it gives you more flexibility and warmth. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
You should bear in mind that Laos has relatively conservative attitudes towards dress, particularly in remote areas. Sleeveless shirts, vests and 'short' shorts are generally frowned upon – as is scruffiness. Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Make sure you bring lots of clothing that covers shoulders and knees and also at least one outfit which covers your legs to ankles and your arms past the elbows. A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs).
In certain areas and religious sites, such as monasteries or wats, your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
It is advisable to protect yourself while in Laos with a course of prophylactics or 'anti malarial' tablets. However we strongly recommend that you consult your doctor for further advice on this matter. Generally you will need to begin taking the tablets a week or two before travel and continue for up to four weeks after you return home. You should remember that anti-malarial tablets are never 100% effective and should always be combined with other preventative measures to avoid being bitten. Alongside keeping exposed skin to a minimum you should also use an insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET.
It is important to bring durable soft luggage or a backpack as this is a lot more practical to transport.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light!
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Wherever you use a western or squat style toilet remember to place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
We encourage travellers to experience religious festivals and visit temples and shrines but ask that you follow religious rules such as removing your shoes, showing reverence and respect to monks and refraining from taking photographs at certain sites. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to advise you of local sensitivities.
In most cases your Tour Leader will brief you on etiquette accordingly; however there are a couple of good points which are worth noting; Patting someone (even a child) on the head and pointing your index finger is considered to be rude and insulting and open displays of affection (such as kissing and holding hands) are generally not acceptable. Anger, such as losing your temper and yelling will lead to a loss of respect and is highly unlikely to get you what you want! It is very important that you remove your shoes if you are visiting someone's house and you should avoid pointing the soles of your feet at anyone at all times. This may seem unlikely to happen but you could inadvertently do this while laying down or sitting with your feet up. If you are a guest at a meal do not begin eating until your host has invited you to so.
Bargaining is a way of life in much of South East Asia and is expected in Laos – for tuk-tuks and in most markets and shops – but it is never heavy duty. Although you are expected to bargain until you reach a fair price the laid back attitude of the Lao people makes bargaining very relaxed and a lot of fun! You should remember that it is considered disrespectful to agree a price but then walk away.
Our Magical Laos tour begins in Vientiane. Upon arrival at Wattay International Airport please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller on it. He should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area).
Our Journey Through Laos Tour begins in Thailand. Upon arrival at Bangkok International Airport please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller on it. He should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area). Please turn LEFT when you enter the arrivals hall.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
It is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point if you are not being transferred. Once you clear Immigration and Customs, follow the “Metered Taxis” signs in the Arrivals Hall. Directly outside the Arrival Hall entrance/exit you will find a yellow and black booth marked “Public Taxis”, which is open 24 hrs a day. There is a US$1.20 surcharge on taxi fares from the airport. If your driver takes the express toll way into town, the US$1.60 toll will also be added to the fare. As a guideline you should expect to pay a total of about US$8.50 for a taxi from the airport to your hotel meeting point.
In Vientiane again it is simple to get a taxi from the airport to the meeting point hotel,( the taxi fare should cost about $6.00 for the short journey into the city).
Most people find that Laos is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and generally take taxis or tuk-tuks rather than walk especially if you are a lone female.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager.
In Laos we also use the services of licensed guides at sights of particular historical interest such as Patuxai, the Grand Palace in Luang Phrabang, Don Khong Island and the Plain of Jars
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours hotels are simple, but comfortable. Bathroom facilities may sometimes be shared and rooms may sometimes be multi share rather than twin. Hotels on Traveller tours almost always have private bathrooms, air-conditioning or fans and often bar / restaurant facilities. On both Adventurer and Traveller tours hotels in the more remote areas (i.e. Plain of Jars and Pakbeng) may be subject to power cuts and/or limited electricity supplies. Please bear in mind that all hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement*). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
*Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight boats and trains.
There are never any shortages of laundries in South East Asia; the side streets of most towns and cities are teeming with them, generally offering their services for a very cheap price. A laundry service is available in most of the hotels and guesthouses we use.
The food in Laos has many similarities to Thai cuisine, featuring lots of aromatic herbs and spices like lemongrass, ginger, tamarind, and chillies but contrary to popular belief, it is not always hot and spicy. Additionally Lao cuisine is significantly influenced by that of China and France. Freshness is of paramount importance in Lao cooking, so ingredients are bought fresh from the local market on a daily basis.
Meals usually include glutinous (or sticky) rice as a staple alongside a vast array of vegetables, fish (either fresh of fermented), and meats like chicken and pork. You’ll also find that fish sauce, called nam pa, and chopped red chillies are condiments which accompany almost every meal. Dishes with a bit of a 'kick' include green and red curries, and spicy green papaya salad; however there are also plenty of mild but flavoursome dishes on offer like stir fried noodles, fish baked in banana leaf, and laap – minced meat or fish marinated in lemon juice and mixed with chopped mint. Soups, served with noodles, bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables are also available everywhere.
The French colonial period has left a legacy of delicious continental food. Street cafés and many Vientiane restaurants have a distinctly French feel with crispy baguettes, pate, crème caramel, banana flambé, and sweet pastries on the menu.
Tea in Laos is the Chinese green variety. Coffee was introduced by the French, but the Lao have added their own touch – the result is a brew which is thick, strong and very good! If you ask for milk it will usually be sweet condensed milk. Coffee is often served with a small complimentary glass of green tea.
The local brew is lau-lao (“Lao alcohol”) – a type of rice whisky which is often offered to guests, but watch out – it is extremely potent! The local beer is a light lager called Beer Lao, although Chinese beer is also sold in many towns. French wine can be found in some supermarkets and restaurants in main cities.
Vegetarians should not have any difficulty in finding a great selection of food in Laos as there is a strong Buddhist influence and Chinese, Malay and Thai vegetarian dishes abound.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes can now be found in most major towns but can be slow and unreliable. The cost for an hour is approx US$1.5
A 3 minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$12 from a hotel. International phone calls can be made from Internet Cafés at approx US$1 per minute.
The postal service is good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx US$0.80 for most destinations.
Availability of Film
Camera film is widely available and generally of good quality.
Laos experiences two distinct seasons – the rainy and the dry season. The rainy season lasts from May until October with hot and very humid weather and average temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius or higher. The first half of the dry season lasts from November to April with average temperatures in the 20s, although they can drop well below 10 degrees in mountainous regions, e.g. Plain of Jars particularly in December and January. The second half of the dry season, during April and May sees hot, dry weather with temperatures often soaring above 35 degrees Celsius.
The following shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
Festivals & Events
As Lao has six different tones, the same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. It is a difficult language to grasp but the locals will certainly appreciate your efforts!
The following words and phrases are spelled phonetically to help you with pronunciation.