Laos has a monsoon climate featuring a dry and a wet season. The dry season lasts from November to May with the cooler period in December and January. At its coldest temperatures fall to as low as 15ºC. It is coldest at night, in the early mornings and at higher altitudes. During the hot period of the dry season, between March and May, temperatures can reach the high 30’s ºC. Rainfall in the wet season varies according to altitude. Generally speaking, the monsoon season produces severe rain that lasts for short periods of time. The wet months vary according to location. In Vientiane, they are from May to September; in Luang Prabang, August is far wetter than any other month. Laos is sunny year-round and we highly recommend bringing sun protection from your home country. Wearing sunscreen and a hat are the best ways to avoid heatstroke and sunburn.
The best connections to Luang Prabang or Vientiane are via Bangkok on a combination of Thai Airways and other regional carriers such as Bangkok Airways or Lao Airlines. If you are comfortable with longer layovers, then Air Asia also provides connections via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. The national carrier Lao Airlines, as well as Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and Vietnam Airlines serve the international airports at Vientiane, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Luang Prabang. Lao Airlines serves the domestic routes and connects the capital city Vientiane to major destinations in the country.
TRAVEL DOCUMENTS & MONEY
Approval is no longer required for visas to Laos. Foreign tourists are generally admitted into Laos for 30 days with a visa on arrival (obtained at most border check points) without prior authorization or for 30 days with a visa issued at a Laotian embassy. This costs 30-42 USD (depending on nationality) and requires the filling in of an application form and two passport photos. An additional 1 USD/person can be charged if you arrive on a weekend or public holiday. Two passport-size photos are required and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your expected departure date.
The kip is the currency unit of Laos and are presently in distributions of 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 and 100000 kip. US dollars, Euros and Thai baht are also accepted in many places and can be more convenient to carry than great wads of the local currency. Banks, hotels and jewelry shops all offer currency exchange. Banks are typically open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 15:00. In Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and other major towns you can find ATMs to withdraw money (ATMs distribute only Lao kips with a maximum of 1,000,000 – 2,000,000 per transaction). VISA and MasterCard are accepted at larger hotels and restaurants throughout the country. For everyday expenses, we recommend carrying a mix of US dollars and kip. For larger items or when the exchange rate works in your favour, use US dollars. For tuk tuks, local food stalls and small purchases, it’s best to use kip. Make sure you always have a stock of small notes so that you don’t have to worry about change especially in the countryside.
HEALTH & SAFETY IN LAOS
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in parts of Southeast Asia and it is advisable to take precautions especially if traveling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are rather limited in Laos but you can easily find good medical facilities in the main Thai towns and along the Thai-Lao borders. It is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before traveling in case evacuation is needed (usually to Bangkok or Singapore). If you are on any medications, please bring an adequate supply of pills with you as it can be difficult to find within the country.
Laos is generally a safe country. Nevertheless and as a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. In some tourist sites you may encounter some insistent souvenir sellers. A polite but firm “No, thank you” usually will suffice.
WHILE YOU ARE THERE
Time Difference | Laos is GMT+7 and does not operate on a daylight-savings system (therefore GMT+6 in summer time). Laos is 1 hour 30 minutes ahead of India.
Electricity | Laos uses 220V. Power outlets usually feature two-prong round or flat sockets however, there is no set standard. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.
Water | Keep in mind to always clean your fruits and vegetable with purified water or to peel them. Bottled water is safe for Westerner and easy to find in most of places.
Shops | The best buys in Laos are ethnic minority handicrafts and textiles. The Lao sarong or pha sin made from silk or cotton is popular souvenir. Other souvenirs to look out for include silverware, in particular from Luang Prabang, and wood carvings.
Internet | Major hotels throughout Laos have Business Centers with PCs connected to the Internet and most offer wireless broadband access. Check with reception for fares (often free of charge) and facilities. Cyber cafes are easily found in major towns and cities and prices are reasonable- around 1USD per hour. In many Internet cafes, you can buy pre-paid international phone cards to dial from a computer to landlines or mobile phones worldwide. Most Internet cafes are equipped with webcams, headsets and microphones.
Mobile Communications | Most hotels have IDD phones and fax machines, however these services are expensive in Laos. Internet cafes offer cheaper dialing rates although the quality is not always great and away from the major cities it may not always be possible to make international calls. If you have worldwide coverage, you can bring your mobile phone and use it to make domestic or international calls which again can be expensive. The Laos mobile network is cheap and affordable. Local SIM cards can easily be purchased in the main cities and international rates are around 2000 kip per minute.
Food | Lao cuisine has many similarities to Thai with lots of aromatic herbs and spices such as lemon grass, chilies, ginger and tamarind used to flavor dishes. Sticky rice, or kao niao, is the main ingredient in Lao cuisine, usually served with fermented fish and a fish sauce similar to that used in Vietnamese cuisine called nam pa. Chicken and pork dishes are also popular but beef is expensive in comparison. Soups served with noodles, bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables can be found everywhere.