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In 1353 a prince founded the Kingdom of Lan Xang—‘The Kingdom of a Million Elephants.’ The wild landscape of Laos still echoes the romance of the country’s original name. Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, with nearly three-quarters of its landmass covered in mountains and forested hills. National parks comprise 13% of the country, and Laos’ unofficial reputation is that of the being most laid back country in Southeast Asia.

In 1975, after the fall of Saigon, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of Vientiane and ended a six-century-old monarchy. Initial close ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with a gradual return to private enterprise, an easing of foreign investment laws, and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

Despite being just one hour by air from cosmopolitan Bangkok, life in Laos has continued in much the same way it has for hundreds of years, although things are now slowly beginning to change. In the mid-90s the government reversed its stance on tourism, and then declared 1998 ""Visit Laos Year"". Ongoing efforts are putting Laos on the map as a unique and experiential destination, with tourist numbers rising every year.

Vientiane is a laid– back, yet charmingly cosmopolitan village to spend a few days exploring, while Luang Prabang offers stunning hikes through the Laotian jungles and countryside. Vang Vieng has emerged as a popular holiday spot over the past few years for college-aged travelers. These energetic young adventurers brave the river by tube and enjoy a two hours float through a stunning valley, peppered on either side by bars and restaurants looking to lure tourists into stopping for a cold beer, or a ride down a waterslide.

Those visitors who are drawn by the laid– back lifestyle and the opportunity to knock back a few cold Beer Laos while watching the sunsets on the Mekong will simply explain the attraction by revealing that the true meaning of ""Lao PDR"" is Lao – Please Don't Rush.



The official currency in Laos is the Lao Kip, which is non-convertible so you will need to bring US dollars to exchange. US dollars are also widely used in bigger cities, particularly in restaurants. Please note that torn and old bank notes are not generally accepted. In areas located near the Thai border, the Thai currency, Baht, is commonly used. Visa and MasterCard are becoming more accepted in many of the bigger hotels and restaurants, especially in the larger cities. ATMs are available in larger cities and tourist spots.

Traffic & Transportation

The transport network in Laos is slow, but comprehensive. Getting around takes time, sometimes longer than you may think, but this is all part of the fun of travelling in this country.

Taxis and tuk-tuks

This is by far the easiest way to get around towns and cities, and negotiating the price is the norm.

Motorbike taxis and rental: Travel by motorbike in Laos is not safe and not recommended. Please note that travel by motorbike is not usually covered by travel insurance. Please check the fine print of your travel insurance policy to be sure of your cover.


Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with two distinct seasons: May to October is the rainy season and November to April is the dry season. It is hottest in March and April when temperatures can reach as high as 38C/100F. The lowest temperatures, usually in December, are around 15C/59F. The average temperature is between 25C/77F and 30C/84F.

Health and Safety

Health and well-being
Please be aware that your health can be at risk in Laos due to poor sanitation and lack of effective medical facilities. Rural areas may not have pharmacies and hospitals so make sure you travel with a full supply of any prescribed medicine you take. Every traveller is responsible for his or her own health. First and foremost, make sure that you have travel insurance for your trip. You should also consult your doctor or local travel clinic for the latest information and advice on travelling to Laos before departure.

If you have a medical condition or allergy which requires particular attention, please carry a doctor’s letter with you that describes the nature of the condition and treatment needed. We also recommend you pack a medical kit, including paracetamol and a diarrhoea remedy.

There are many vaccinations needed when travelling to this part of the world. It is important you ensure you have adequate protection against disease. Book an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic, no less than two months before your departure.

Culture and customs

Etiquette and cultural differences

Experiencing different cultures is one of the joys of travelling, and it is important that these differences are respected. Knowing a few important customs of the Laotian people will help make your visit more enjoyable:

 • Try not to get angry. Showing any frustrations or annoyances by shouting or becoming abusive is extremely impolite and unlikely to achieve a positive outcome.
 • Pointing your finger is seen as offensive. Try to gesture using your whole hand instead.
 • Refrain from public displays of affection, they are considered offensive.
 • It is offensive to touch another person’s head as it is considered the most sacred part of the body.
 • It is polite to remove your shoes before entering a house – look for shoes at the front door as a clue.
 • In Laos, people greet each other with a slight bow and a prayer-like gesture, known as the ‘nop’. For foreigners and business, handshakes are becoming more acceptable.

Temple visit etiquette

Foreigners are always welcome in temples. However, it is important that a few simple rules of etiquette are followed:

 • Dress appropriately and act with the utmost respect when visiting Wats (pagodas) and other religious sites, including the temples of Angkor.
 • Do not wear shorts or tank tops and make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
 • Remove your shoes and hat before going into a vihara (monastery).
 • If you sit down in front of the dais (the platform on which the Buddha’s are placed), sit with your feet to the side rather than in the lotus position.
 • Never point your finger or the soles of your feet towards a person or a figure of the Buddha.
 • A woman may accept something from a monk but should never touch a monk.
 • Show respect and turn off mobile phones, remove headphones, lower your voice and avoid in appropriate conversation.

Food and drinks

Traditional Laotian cooking involves a lot of game, wild boar and river fish. The freshness of ingredients is very important to Lao people who like to prepare everything from scratch. Herbs such as galangal and lemongrass are favourites and padaek (Lao fish sauce) is found on every table.

A national dish is called Lap, which is a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish that is sometimes served raw. Like its neighbour countries, rice is a staple food in Laos. However, sticky rice is preferred, which is crushed into a ball with fingers and used to soak up sauces.

Public holidays

Laos New Year is the main public holiday, which is celebrated on the 14th, 15th and 16th April. Not unlike Songkran, the Laos Pee Mai celebration mixes religious tradition with water. Here, water is used more for bathing Buddha images in temples than for dousing foreign tourists. However, water fights are catching on, so be aware when travelling during this period.

Helpful tips

Tipping is a personal matter and travellers are encouraged to tip any amount they feel is appropriate. For your convenience, we have included a suggested tipping guide below:

 • Bellboy: $1
 • Chambermaid: $1 per day
 • Guides: $3-$10 per day for guides (depending on group size and performance)
 • Drivers: $1-$5 per day, per person
 • Restaurants: In smart establishments you may find that the tip is already included in the bill. In local restaurants tips are not expected but you may wish to leave loose change on the table.

Pre-departure checklist

 • Travel insurance
 • Passport with at least six months validity from date of entry
 • Photocopy of passport
 • Passport-sized photo and $USD for visa on arrival
 • Vaccinations
 • Foreign currency (US$) and/or ATM card
 • All relevant tickets
 • Reconfirmed flights
 • Light weight clothing
 • Long-sleeved shirts and trousers (November-February evenings)
 • Depending on the season, your activities and the region you will be visiting (e.g. mountainous areas) it may be advisable for you to bring a jacket with you.
 • A small bag/backpack for day and overnight trips

 • Appropriate shoes for trekking, cycling and walking
 • Insect repellent
 • Sunscreen
 • Medication/first aid kit

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