Laos

Laos - Travel Tips 

Time Zone

 GMT + 7 hours

Language

The official language in Laos is Lao. However, there are several dialects and regional languages spoken throughout the country and, interestingly, many ethnic groups do not speak Lao. A mixture of cultural influences, other languages commonly spoken in Laos include French, English, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. Nevertheless, a few words of Lao will go a long way to impressing the locals. 

English

Lao

Hello

Sabai dee

Goodbye

Sohk dee

Thank you

Khob chai

How are you?

Sabai dee bo?

Excuse me

Khor tord

How much?

Tao dai?

I don’t understand

Bo khao chai

Beautiful

Suay ngam

 

Religion

The majority of the Lao people are Theravada Buddhists. Many Laotian men train at Buddhist monasteries before entering secular life. Other religions practiced include various Christian denominations, Baha'I Faith and Islam. Animism is also widely practiced among ethnic groups.

Currency

The national currency in Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK). However, US dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted.

Money Matters

It is recommended that you carry some cash in local currency or US dollars as credit cards are generally not accepted in Laos, except for a few high-end hotels and restaurants. Those that do accept credit cards will usually add a 3% surcharge.

Traveler's checks are not widely accepted, but can be cashed at major banks in the main cities.

Normal banking hours are: Monday - Friday, 08:30 to 15:30. ATMs are widely available in the major cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, and in some of the larger towns too.

Tipping

Tipping is not compulsory and often not expected in Laos. At restaurants, a service charge is sometimes included in your bill. Otherwise, you are welcome to offer additional gratuities as a sign of appreciation for services provided. Please consider the following as a rough guide, per person per day.  

Guide (or Tour Leader)  15.00
Driver (or Tour Assistant)  8.00

Weather

For full details on climate, please see Best Time to Go.

Clothing

If traveling between November and February it is useful to pack a lightweight fleece jacket, especially if traveling to northern Laos and Luang Prabang where the evenings can be quite cool. Lightweight long-sleeved shirts and trousers are recommended to avoid insect bites, particularly when dining out at night, when mosquitos are most active.

When visiting temples and shrines, it is best to dress conservatively as visitors may be refused entry if not dressed appropriately. It is often a requirement to wear a long skirt or trousers that cover the knees as well as long sleeves to cover the arms and shoulders. Avoid any see-through clothing. You may also be required to remove any footwear, so sandals may be more convenient.

Health

It is advisable to be immunized against cholera, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid and tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis.

Malaria is prevalent in some remote regions of Laos. If traveling to these areas, anti-malarial medication is recommended. Please consult your doctor as to the best medication for you.

In addition to anti-malarial medication, you can reduce the risk of mosquito bites by keeping your arms and legs covered as much as possible and by using insect repellent with the active ingredient DEET. Avoid perfumes, hairspray and other scented products.

Do not drink tap water in Laos and avoid ice in your drinks unless it is made from mineral water. A&K supply clean bottled drinking water when you travel by private vehicle. Exercise caution when eating and drinking outside reputable hotels and restaurants and avoid eating fruit and vegetables if they have been peeled already. Seafood, dairy products and items such as mayonnaise should be consumed with care. Eating at street food vendors or unknown local places is not recommended.

For up to date information on latest health and vaccination recommendations, please contact your doctor.

Electricity

The voltage supply in Laos is 220v 50Hz. Sockets are fit for two round prongs.

Photography

Camera etiquette requires that you ask permission before photographing local people, unless you are shooting a crowded public scene. This applies especially to small children. Please be considerate of a desire not to be photographed.

Photography is not permitted at some designated locations, which may include some museums, art galleries and private houses, for example. These areas are usually clearly marked. In general, avoid taking photographs of government buildings or installations, and military or police personnel. If in doubt, please ask your guide.

Arrival and Departure Formalities

For most visitors, visas may be obtained on arrival at international airports or international border checkpoints. However, passport holders from some African and Middle Eastern nations are required to obtain a visa in advance through their nearest Laos embassy.

The visa on arrival is valid for a maximum stay of 30 days (single entry), and the following documents are required:

- A passport valid for more than six months with at least one blank page
- A recent passport-size photo - A completed visa application form (the form can be obtained at the airport)
- Visa fee; USD 30-45, depending on applicant’s nationality.

Visa-free entry is available for visitors from the following nations:

- Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam (30 days)
- Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland (15 days)
- Brunei and Myanmar (14 days)

Local Customs

Lao people will greet each other with a nop, which is putting the palms of the hands together as if in prayer. Handshakes are also common among male friends and with foreign visitors.

The head is considered the most sacred part of the body, so it is considered rude to touch the head of another person. The feet are considered the lowliest part of the body and it is offensive to point your feet directly at a person or to put your feet on furniture.

Local Food

Lao cuisine shares many similarities with that of its neighbor, Thailand. The dishes are dry, spicy and delicious. Traditionally, dishes are served with sticky rice and eaten with the fingers. It is common for people to eat communally, sharing several dishes at the table and, particularly in the countryside, to sit on the floor.

A typically Lao dish that you must try is ‘laap’, a salad of chopped meat (often chicken or duck) mixed with herbs, spices and finely crushed grains of rice. ‘Tam mak houng’ is another common dish made of sliced raw papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice. A popular dish in northern Laos is ‘khao soi’, which is a thick soup made with flat rice noodles. It is often handmade by cutting up a flat sheet of steamed rice dough with scissors.

Local Handicrafts

Laos is famous for its woven silk and cotton fabrics and some of the finest silk and cotton weavers in the world can be found in the small communities here. For a wide selection of patterns from around the country, be sure to visit the morning market in Vientiane where you will find a rainbow of textiles. Here, you will also find the traditional phaa sin (a wraparound skirt adorned with a silver belt), which is worn by women, particularly government and office workers as well as school and university students.

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