Voltage: 220V, Frequency: 50Hz
Kip (LAK) exchange rates
UTC +7 hours
What to expect
Landlocked Laos is a predominantly rural country, with the Mekong River flowing through it. Mountains, rivers and farmlands dominate, and while the cities and towns offer creature comforts, Laos is overall quite undeveloped compared to its neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand.
A strong Buddhist culture pervades, and you can expect to see monks collecting alms, glittering temples, fascinating monuments and a charming blend of French-colonial and Laotian architecture.
The people in Laos are warm and welcoming, and you may encounter monks keen to practice their English with you. While certain hotels and restaurants are comparable to Western standards, service may be different to what you are used to. It is important to remain calm and patient in your interactions in Laos.
approximately 16 hours
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the holidays listed here. As major holidays 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 holiday 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 honoured 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 centres.
1 May is International Labour Day
, honouring 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 holiday 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 centres.
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
Travellers to Laos should take precautions as they would elsewhere in Asia. Medical facilities are limited, even in the capital, Vientiane. More serious medical treatments will require transfer to Bangkok. Outside the major centres, medical care facilities are basic, though a private clinic is preferable to a government hospital.
Some of the diseases known to exist in Laos include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, dengue, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We recommend you take adequate preventative measures to minimise your risk of exposure to these health risks. We strongly recommend you consult your preferred doctor for the most up-to-date health advice at least one month prior to travel.
Citizens of Australia, UK, US, EU Countries, New Zealand and Canada require a visa to visit Laos. All other nationalities should check with the Laotian embassy or consulate in their country of residence. Travellers can easily obtain 30 day tourist visas on arrival in Laos, at Vientiane, Pakse or Luang Prabang airports, or at most overland border points.
The price of a Lao visa varies according to nationality and is 30 USD for holders of Australian and New Zealand passports, 35 USD for holders of USA and UK passports, and 42 USD for holders of Canadian passports. For travellers of all nationalities payment should be made in USD cash and a passport photo must be provided. Visas cost an extra 1 USD on weekends and public holidays.
Please note Laotian visa regulations and arrangements are subject to change and it is your responsibility to ensure your visa is in order before you travel. We strongly suggest that you check with the relevant embassies in your country of residence that these guidelines are applicable to you.
Safety and security
Laos is generally a safe country, but the usual common sense precautions apply. Cities are small, and even at night you will feel quite safe walking outside. Most Laotians go to bed fairly early so streets will usually be very quiet after 9pm; there is a government-imposed curfew which requires all businesses to close by midnight.
Uneven surfaces and potholes are common on Lao streets, so always watch where you walk. We recommend you wear as little jewellery as possible and keep your spending money close to your body. To assist in finding your way back to your hotel, make sure you obtain a hotel address card to show taxi drivers.
Throughout your stay, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers in a safe place separate from the originals. You should leave valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible. 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 travel in Laos is in modern, air-conditioned minibuses. Groups of six or more travellers journey in Toyota Coaster or Hyundai with 25-40 seats, while modern sedan cars are used when there are only one or two people travelling. Domestic flights in Laos are on Lao Airlines, on relatively modern aircraft.
Schedules are subject to change, potentially impacting on your itinerary. Explore the cities and towns on foot, or for longer distances, take a tuk-tuk ride. There are also taxis in Vientiane. Boat travel is an excellent way to see Laos, with various services plying the Mekong. There is no train network in Laos.
Internet services are widely available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang including internet cafes, and rates are generally inexpensive. Internet phone services is the cheapest way to call overseas. International phone and fax fees are quite expensive in hotels, and reverse charge calls cannot be made in Laos.
Mobile phones can be used if you have roaming, though coverage outside urban areas can be inconsistent. International mail costs roughly the same as it does in Western countries to send, and takes around ten to fourteen days to reach its destination.
Food & drink
Lao cuisine has some similarities to Thai and Vietnamese food, with soups, spicy salads, stirfries and grilled meats, yet offers some unique ingredients and flavours. Flavours including lemongrass, fish sauce and galangal are widely consumed, and chilli is used liberally.
Wild herbs and leaves are often incorporated, and popular dishes include laap (a spicy mince dish) and bamboo shoot soup. Sticky rice is most often eaten with meals in Laos. Vegetarians are generally well catered for and in most instances should find something suitable to order. Tap water should not be consumed in Laos, however bottled water is widely available, and usually provided free in your hotel room.
We believe tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for receiving great service, and while it is accepted practice in Asia, it should never feel like an obligation. At the beginning of each trip, your Western tour leader or local guide will ask for a small sum (around 50 cents a day) to cover tips for hotel porters and boat crews throughout the trip.
This helps prevent over tipping and having to always carry small change. We are confident that you will be extremely happy with the service you receive from our guides, drivers and tour leaders, and in many cases will choose to show this through a tip, so we do not include compulsory tipping for any Travel Indochina representatives on any of our trips. The choice to tip is always completely up to you.
Despite being a landlocked country, there are some opportunities to swim in Laos. Many hotels and resorts feature swimming pools, although the usual safety precautions apply, especially if travelling with children.
Some travellers venture into Laos' rivers, particularly in the scenic town of Vang Vieng where tubing (riding on a rubber ring) down the river is a popular activity. You can also swim in some waterfalls, such as the multi-tier Kuang Si Falls outside Luang Prabang. It is important to be aware of your own safety when swimming in natural settings, which are unpatrolled by lifeguards.
Our Small Group Journeys in Laos include a number of experiences which allow our travellers to give back to local communities in a meaningful and sustainable way. Every one of our journeys pays a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitors' Centre in Vientiane, an inspiring organisation which assists with rehabilitation for victims of UXO and traffic accidents.
Many journeys also partake in a 'baci' ceremony 'a traditional Lao blessing' in a local family's home. Our Highlights of Laos journey visits the Mai Savanh silk weaving organisation, an internationally-certified fair-trade enterprise in Vientiane which revives the traditional art of Lao silk weaving while providing employment and income for poor women.
Similarly, two of our longer journeys visit Ock Pop Tok's 'Living Crafts Centre' in Luang Prabang and engage in a hands-on bamboo weaving activity, giving a greater appreciation for the importance and use of of this sustainable material in Lao daily life. While in Vientiane, we encourage you to enjoy a meal at Makphet, a vocational training restaurant where Travel Indochina sponsors a hospitality student trainee. For more information on our approach to responsible travel click here.