Laos Travel Tips

Before leaving on your Laos tour, we suggest you to make two copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Bring the other one with you with a passport-size photo, but keep it in a separate place from your passport. Leave a copy of your tour itinerary and contact information with family or friends at home so you can be contacted in case of an emergency.

Visa and Passport
Visa conditions change regularly. For the most up to date information, contact the nearest Laos Embassy or Consulate. You can get a visa on arrival for around US$35 or Thai Baht 1,500.00. Or if you are in the region, you can get a long-stay visa from the Laos Embassy in Bangkok or Hanoi. When you enter Laos, make sure you get an entry stamp in your passport. Not having a legitimate entry stamp could lead to arrest or a large fine. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Laos.

Local Laws and Customs
Don’t get involved with drugs. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of drugs are serious offences. Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty. The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao family law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao national must be submitted in a formal application to the Lao authorities.  Penalties for engaging in prohibited sexual contact or failing to register a relationship range from US$500 to US$5,000 and may also involve imprisonment. It is not unknown for Lao authorities to demand entry into hotel rooms or guesthouses where they suspect this regulation is being broken.
Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and can result in arrest or detention. This includes photographing anything that can be perceived as a military site like bridges or airfields.
When visiting temples and religious sites, wear suitable clothing and be respectful of the Lao culture. For example refrain from photographing monks around temples and during alms giving ceremonies. Women should also cover their shoulders, including when swimming in waterfalls.

Laos is one of the world’s poorest nations, and consequently one of the cheapest Asian countries to travel in. Your largest expense is likely to be transport, with journeys usually costing between 60,000 and 120,000K; accommodation and food are very inexpensive.

Supplied at 220 volts AC. Two-pin sockets taking plugs with flat prongs are the norm. Many smaller towns, including several provincial capitals, have power for only a few hours in the evening or none at all, so it’s worth bringing a torch.

Internet cafés are increasingly common in Laos, though there are still a fair few towns that don’t have access. Prices range between 6000 and 15,000K per hour; in most places, connections can be excruciatingly slow. Numerous cafés and many hotels and guesthouses in Vientiane and Luang Prabang now offer wi-fi – outside of these places wi-fi is limited to more upmarket accommodation and occasionally cafés in more touristy towns.

Most guesthouses and hotels offer a same-day laundry service, and in larger towns a few shops offer laundry service which can be cheaper than what you’ll be charged at your accommodation. In either situation, the charge is usually per kilogram. Your clothes will take a beating, so it’s best not to entrust prized articles to these services. If you want to wash clothes yourself, you can buy small packets of detergent in many general stores and markets around the country. Hang out your underwear discreetly – women should take particular care, as women’s undergarments are believed to have the power to render Buddhist tattoos and amulets powerless.

Lao currency, the kip, is available in 50,000K, 20,000K, 10,000K, 5000K, 2000K, 1000K and 500K notes; there are no coins in circulation.
Due to the high denominations of Lao money, it can be rather cumbersome to carry even relatively small amounts of money in kip. It’s far easier to carry large sums of money in dollars or baht and to change them as you need to – bear in mind though that larger US notes will get you better exchange rates. It’s not possible to convert money to or from kip outside of Laos.

Banks and Exchange
Banking hours are generally Monday to Friday 8.30am to 3.30pm. Exchange rates are fairly uniform throughout the country, though marginally better in larger towns and cities. Most towns have a bank with at least the most basic of exchange facilities – usually dollars and baht – though travellers’ cheques (US dollars) are now accepted at many banks and a wide variety of international currencies can often be changed, including euros and sterling. Moneychangers are common in larger towns, and rates are generally a little lower, though not disproportionately so, than the banks.

Travellers’ Cheques, Cash and Cards
The most convenient way to carry money in Laos is to take a good supply of US dollars or Thai baht with you. Travellers’ cheques are the safest way to carry larger amounts of money, and as they are now accepted at banks throughout the country they are a good option if you’re travelling for a few weeks, though cashing them will incur a charge of around $1 per cheque. ATMs are becoming more prevalent, but are still fairly rare, and even so it’s best not to rely on them. In addition, some travellers have had problems with receiving funds from ATMs, with reports that their accounts were debited despite not receiving cash at the end of the transaction. In such a situation, contact your bank as soon as possible.
Major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and in a limited number of other tourist centres. Cash advances on Visa cards, and less frequently Mastercard, are possible in some banks in larger towns, though minimum amounts and commission are likely to be imposed. Bear in mind that electricity supply in much of the country can be somewhat temperamental, so paying by credit card or getting a cash advance on a card is not always possible even when the service is advertised – it’s important not to rely on plastic in Laos and to always have some cash as a fall-back option.

Opening Hours and Public Holidays
Hours for government offices are generally Monday to Friday from 8am to noon and from 1 to 5pm. Private businesses usually open and close a bit later, with most opening on Saturday but almost all closed on Sunday. Details of banking and post office hours are given and above respectively. The posted hours on museums are not always scrupulously followed outside of the major cities and on slow days (almost every day) the curators and staff are often tempted to pack up and head home. Unless a festival is taking place, monasteries should only be visited during daylight hours as monks are very early risers and are usually in bed not long after sunset. Government offices, banks and post offices close for public holidays – a lot of shops, especially in smaller towns, also close for the day.

The majority of internet cafés now have facilities for international calling, usually through Skype. Alternatively, international calls can be made at the local Telecom Office, though prices are generally quite high. Regional codes are given throughout the Guide: the “0” must be dialled before all long-distance calls. Some hotels have consecutively numbered phone lines – thus t021/221200–5 means that the last digit can be any number between 0 and 5.
GSM or Triband mobile phones can be used in Laos, though call and text charges will be high, so if you’re planning on using your phone it’s worth buying a local SIM card. These are readily available from shops and markets and cost 20,000–30,000K, which will also give you an initial amount of credit to use. Mobile phone coverage is limited in more remote provinces – at the time of writing, the most comprehensive network was ETL. Top-up cards can be purchased in most towns and villages that have even the most basic shop – just look for the flag displaying the network’s name.