YOU CAN EDIT THIS PAGE! Just click any blue "Edit" link and start writing!
== Understand ==
[[Thailand]] promotes itself as amazing, [[Vietnam]] can well be described as bustling, [[Cambodia]]'s Khmer temples are awe-inspiring, [[Myanmar]]'s junta is barbaric... but the adjective most often applied to Laos is '''forgotten'''. Although there are a few grand (but relatively unheard of) attractions, those visitors who are drawn by the '''laid-back lifestyle''' and the opportunity to
=== History ===
[[Image:WatThatLuang Landscape.JPG|thumb|400px|Pha That Luang, [[Vientiane]] - the national symbol of Laos]]
Despite its small population, Laos has 49 ethnic groups, or tribes, from which Lao, Khmou and Hmong constitute approximately three quarters of the population. Most tribes are small, with some having just a few hundred members. The ethnic groups are divided into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai language represented by 8 tribes, Mone-Khmer language with 32 tribes, Hmoung-Loumien language with 2 tribes and Tibeto-Chinese language represented by 7 tribes.
Laos is officially Buddhist, and the national symbol, the gilded stupa of [[Vientiane#See|Pha That Luang]], has replaced the hammer and sickle even on the state seal. Still, there is a good deal of animism mixed in, particularly in the '''baci''' (also ''baasi'') ceremony conducted to bind the 32 guardian spirits to the participant's body before a long journey, after serious illness, the birth of a baby or other significant events.
Lao custom dictates that women must wear the distinctive ''phaa sin'', a long sarong available in many regional patterns; however, many ethnic minorities have their own clothing styles. The conical Vietnamese-style hat is also a common sight. These days men dress Western style and only don the ''phaa biang'' sash on ceremonial occasions. Nowadays women often wear
=== Climate ===
Laos has three distinct seasons
The '''dry season''' from November to March, which has low rainfall and temperatures as low as 15°C (or even to zero in the mountains at night), is "high season" (when the most tourists are in the country). However, towards the end of the dry season, the northern parts of Laos — basically everything north of Luang Prabang — can become very '''hazy''' due to farmers burning fields and fires in the forests.
Prices range from US$30 to US$42 depending on nationality - Americans US$35, Canadians US$42, Australians US$30, Chileans US$30, Belgians US$30, British, Dutch, Italians US$35, Swedes US$31, Germans $30-$35.
Visas can be obtained in advance from Lao embassies/consulates. The fee varies by nationality/embassy; US$20 is common, although can be as high as US$63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing times also vary; 2-3 days is typical, though you may be able to pay an extra small amount (around US$5) to receive the visa in as little as one hour. In [[Phnom Penh]] the travel agencies can arrange the visa the same day (but may charge as much as US$58) while getting it from the embassy takes a few days. Getting a visa from the embassy in Bangkok costs around
Visas are also available at the Lao PDR consulate in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Thai and English (limited) are spoken by consular staff. Hours are Monday-Friday
(UPDATE July 2012): There have been several changes that took place in February 2012. Prices have increased and are now similar to those charged by the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok.
Visas for Americans,
Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as "visa extensions") are available from the Immigration Department in [[Vientiane]], the Immigration Department in [[Luang Prabang]], the Police Station in [[Pakse]], and possibly other cities. Extensions are
If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to
Extensions are also possible via agencies elsewhere in Laos (who will courier your passport to Vientiane and back again, around US$3 per day minimum of 7 days).
Visa on arrival for Laos is now available (as of Feb 2010) when entering from Cambodia overland (previously was not available), with an official "Visa on Arrival" office incorporated into the checkpoint. The nearest Cambodian town is [[Stung Treng]], and the border is a 90-minute speedboat or bus ride away. Note that the border is lightly used, with almost no onward public transport available at the border (therefore book through transport from Stung Treng to Ban Nakasang for Si Phan Don/Don Det) and both customs officers and transport providers have a reputation of gouging foreigners, although this seems to have improved recently (currently both Cambodian and Laos border officials request US$1 stamp fee per country). Crossing the border (Oct 2010) the Cambodia officers will ask for US$1 for exit stamp.You can tell them you don't have any and they will still stamp it. On the Laos side they will demand $2 for entry stamp, if you refuse they will not stamp it, (you will need the stamp to get out), so you have no choice than to pay the bribe. Note if you cross the border by boat, you will have to return by road to the border checkpoint to officiate your arrival (ie. get your passport stamped) in Laos.
Two pitfalls at the Lao-Cambodian border are that you will often have four changes of bus (some of them tiny minibuses where passengers have to sit on each others' laps), and hours spent driving to remote guesthouses to pick up backpackers; if your luggage has been sent in a bus you are not on (because of 'lack of space') it will sometimes disappear. The 'King of Bus' company is known to do this.
The land crossing between [[Mengla]] (Yunnan) and [[Boten]] (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible ($37 for UK citizens) or you can get in advance at the Lao consulate in [[Kunming]]. Daily bus service operates from [[Mengla]] to [[Luang Namtha]] and [[Udomxai]]. Buses from [[Mengla]] to [[Luang Namtha]] leave from the North bus station. The first bus leaves around
Generally speaking, it is not possible for independent travellers to cross from China to Laos via the Mekong River, not least because there's a chunk of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at [[Xieng Kok]] does not issue visas on arrival. Travel agents in China, including Panda Travel [http://www.chinadam.com], run irregular cruises from [[Jinghong]] (China) via [[Chiang Saen]] (Thailand) to [[Huay Xai]] (Laos), but schedules are erratic and prices expensive.
* [[Huay Xai]]/[[Chiang Khong]]: Fourth bridge under construction. Usual route to/from Luang Prabang, easy bus connections to [[Chiang Rai]] and points beyond on the Thai side.
* [[Muang Ngeun]]/[[Huay Kon]]: Visa on arrival. 40
* [[Nam Hueng]]/[[Tha Li]]: Easily reached via [[Loei]] on the Thai side, but 378 km of dirt road away from [[Luang Prabang]]. '''No visa on arrival'''.
* [[Vientiane]]/[[Nong Khai]]: The first Friendship Bridge and the busiest of crossing of them all. Direct trains from Bangkok now available.
====By motorbike from Vietnam ====
So after spending maybe 20 mins on at each border you and your bike are in Laos and the journey can go on! Brroammm...
Even more expensive, but certainly the most convenient, is a rented car with driver. A car with a driver will cost around $95 USD per day. Some can even drive over the border to Thailand, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. The cars can be arranged at tour agencies, tourist hotels and car rental companies. The cars are new, so they're reliable. They have the bonus of your being able to stop the car at any time for photos, nosing around a village or just stretching your legs.}}
The highways in Laos have improved in the past ten years, but the fact that 80% remain unpaved is a telling statistic. Still, the main routes connecting [[Vientiane]], [[Vang Vieng]], [[Luang Prabang]] and [[Savannakhet]] are now
Some common routes through Laos include:
* [[Luang Prabang]] to [[Phonsavan]] - minibus: cramped, so arrive early to get good seats as near the front as possible; beautiful views so secure a window seat if possible.
* [[Phonsavan]] to [[Sam Neua]] - converted pickup truck: beautiful views but lots of hills and bends, hence possible nausea
* [[Sam Neua]] to [[Muang Ngoi]] - minivan: a 12 hour trip along a horrible road; good views and a necessary evil, but fun if you're prepared to get a few knocks and talk to some Lao people who are, after all, in the same boat
* [[Muang Ngoi]] to [[Luang Namtha]] - Minivan: 10 hour trip (Oudomxay);
* [[Luang Namtha]] to [[Huay Xai]] - road only passable in the dry season, but the same journey can be made by boat in the rainy season. China
* [[Paksan]] to [[Phonsavan]] - the road from Paksan to Phonsavan is steadily improving and most of it is paved. Only one bridge remains to be completed and even this is expected to be done by the end of 2012. Travel time from Paksan to Phonsavan is now 4-5 hrs, a great improvment to the 16-20 hrs experieced only a few year ago. Public bus is available from Vientiane and Paksan on a daily schedule. The small town of Tha Thom is half way between Paksan and Phonsavan and several guesthouses and noodle shops line the road. The lush primary forest once boasted about is fast disappearing due to logging. However, it is still a beautiful way to travel and much quicker than
[[Image:Vientiane Jumbo.JPG|thumb|right|300px|Jumbo in [[Vientiane]]]]
Local transport (less than 20 km) in Laos consists of tuk tuks, jumbos and sky labs
You can now also travel the entire length of the country using a fully guided 'hop on hop off' bus service provided by [http://www.straytravel.asia/ Stray Travel].
Especially '''women'''' should be aware that often during lengthy bus or minibus trips there is no opportunity to go to the toilet during breaks, so it may be advisable to wear a wide skirt.
==== By tuk-tuk ====
The name '''tuk-tuk''' is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built , others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A tuk tuk
==== By motorcycle ====
Motorcycle travel in Laos is not without risks but the rewards of truly independent travel are great.
==== By bicycle ====
Cycling is a great option with quiet roads. Laos offers wonderful remote areas to discover, very little traveled roads, friendly people and even some companies providing cycling tours with the help of professional guides all over the country. The more time people seem to spent in Laos the more they seem to like the quiet travel mood and the opportunity to actually be in contact with the people along the way. Good maps are available about the roads in Laos and all major routes are with good roads. In normal distances you find simple guest houses and in all major towns better choices and restaurant. Food is not a problem as long as you remember to carry some stuff with you. Tropical fruits and noodle soup
There are a number of local operators running a wide selection of guided mountain biking tours through Laos.
If you travel on your own, there are very few proper bike shops outside of Vientiane
Some may prefer the speed of a motorbike, note that some roads are still not
=== By boat ===
==== By slow boat ====
Many people go from Chiang Khong in [[Thailand]] via the border town of Houai Xai
Recently the boats have considerably improved. They now have soft used car seats, and serve pre-
==== By speedboat ====
[[Image:Fast-boat.JPG|thumb|300 px|right|Speedboat barreling down the Mekong]]
An attractive choice for some, with a 6 hour
==== Speedboat warning ====
Though helpful in saving time, speedboats are not without danger: built to carry 8 passengers, they are often overloaded; the engine noise is well above a healthy level, which could be a serious hazard to your ears, especially if you are on the boat for a long time (as well as causing considerable noise pollution, scaring wildlife and spoiling the peaceful river life); and fatalities resulting from capsize due to incautious maneuvering, or hitting floating logs or hidden rocks, have been reported (and exaggerated by competing slow boat owners, some say...) However, the vast majority of speedboat users have no serious problems. If you are taller than the average Laotian (many are), are a bit claustrophobic and/or have inflexible leg muscles you are guaranteed an extremely uncomfortable experience for several endless hours.
Tourist areas will sometimes have school children who will practice their English with you as part of their curricular requirements. They may after a conversation, ask you to sign a form or pose for a photo with you as proof that this conversation took place. These conversations can be a great time to gain some local ideas for your next sightseeing trip.
There are two main ways to turn the Lao script into the Latin alphabet: either '''French-style''' spellings like ''Houeisay'', or '''English-style''' spellings like ''Huay Xai''. While government documents seem to prefer the French style, the English spellings are becoming more common. The latter is used on Wikitravel.
The key attraction of Laos is its undoubted status as the least
[[Image:PlainOfJarsView2.JPG|thumb|right|300px|The [[Plain of Jars]] near [[Phonsavan]]]]
The [[Plain of Jars]] is a megalithic archaeological landscape dating from the Iron Age. Thousands of stone jars are scattered over a large area of the low foothills near [[Phonsavan]]. The main archaeological theory is that the jars formed part of Iron Age burial rituals in the area, but this is by no means proven, and a great deal of mystery remains. The area suffered tragic damage from American bombing during the
Wat Phu is a ruined Hindu Khmer temple complex in [[Champasak]] province. It dates from the 12th century and visitors who have been to [[Angkor Wat]] will notice the similarities.
The town of [[Vieng Xai]] provides a striking insight in the recent history of not only Laos, but the whole of Indochina. In 1964, the US began intensive bombing of the Lao communist movement – Pathet Lao – bases in Xieng Khouang. Under much bombardment, the Pathet Lao moved east to Vieng Xai and established their headquarters in the limestone karst cave networks around the town. A whole 'Hidden City' was established which supported around 20,000 people. During nine years of almost constant American bombing, the Pathet Lao sheltered in these caves, and lived in a largely subterranean environment. Schools, hospitals and markets as well as government ministries, a radio station, a theatre and military barracks were all hidden in the caves. After the 1973 ceasefire, Vieng Xai briefly became the capital of Laos, before that function was moved to Vientiane in 1975. There are formal daily tours of the caves
== Do ==
'''Kayaking''' can be arranged in a wide number of locations. The ambitious traveler could kayak the Mekong between [[Luang Prabang]] and [[Vientiane]].
'''Tubing''' (floating down the river on a large inflatable tube) is one of the attractions of the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit. The hugely popular stretch of the Nam Song at [[Vang Vieng]] is lined with bars that lure you and your tube in with ziplines, water slides, loud music, buckets of terrible local
'''River cruises''' are a popular way to take in Laotian scenery, and options include working your way up or down the Mekong.
* Repeat at will.
== Buy ==
The Lao currency is the '''kip''', which is non-convertible (outside Laos), unstable and generally inflationary. Approximate exchange rates as of March 2011 are
The largest note is 100,000 kip and uncommon; the notes in common circulation are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. Withdrawing the maximum of 1,000,000 kip from an ATM could result in 50 notes of 20,000 kip each. This makes carrying large quantities of kip quite inconvenient. Although less common than in the past US$ can sometimes be accepted, although usually at about 5-10% less than the official rate. Thai baht can also be accepted in many areas near the border, notably Vientiane. Beware though, that in remote places only kip is accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.
More touristy places and banks are also accept the euro.
There are many '''ATM'''s in Vientiane, and they have also appeared in other major cities including Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Savannekhet, Tha Khaek, Pakse and Luang Namtha. BCEL [http://www.bcellaos.com/], the largest bank, accepts both Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, but surcharges of US$1-2 apply.
=== Costs ===
A budget of US$40 a day is a good rule of thumb, though it's possible to get by on less. A basic room with shared bathroom can be as little as US$6 in [[Vang Vieng]]
Unlike in Thailand
Laos is more expensive than Thailand and Cambodia,as most goods,petrol & food is imported from Thailand and Vietnam,and
===What to buy===
Typical Lao dresses in cheap machine-made fabric can be made to order. Expect to pay around US$5 for the fabric and US$2 for labour. Handmade Lao silk is one of the most attractive things to buy. The Talat Sao (Morning Market) in Vientiane has dozens of small shops selling 100% handmade silk scarves or wall hangings from US$5 upwards depending on quality, intricacy of design and size. Beware cheap synthetic fabrics sold as 'silk' imported from China and Vietnam. Be careful also of 'antique' silk. There is very little left but new fabric can be made to look old and worn. Still attractive, but don't pay more than US$30-50. In markets, always bargain: it is expected, but keep
== Eat ==
[[Image:BeerLao LightAndDark.JPG|thumb|Light and dark versions of Beer Lao]]
The national drink of Laos is the ubiquitous and tasty '''Beer Lao''', made with Laotian jasmine rice and one of the few Lao exports.It maintains an almost mythical status amongst travellers and world beer aficionados. The yellow logo with its tiger-head silhouette can be seen everywhere, and a large 640 ml bottle shouldn't cost more than 10,000 to 15,000 kip in restaurants. It's available in three versions: original (5%), Dark (6.5%) and Light (2.9%).
Rice spirit, known as '''lao-lao''', is everywhere and at less than US$0.30 per 750 ml bottle is the cheapest way to get drunk.
Lao '''coffee''' (''kaafeh'') is recognised to be of very high quality. It's grown on the Bolaven Plateau in the south; the best brand is ''Lao Mountain Coffee''. Unlike Thai coffees, Lao coffee is not flavoured with ground tamarind seed. To make sure you aren't fed overpriced Nescafé instead, be sure to ask for ''kaafeh thung''. By default in lower end establishments, ''kaafeh lao'' comes with sugar and condensed milk; black coffee is ''kaafeh dam'', coffee with milk (
'''Tap water''' is not drinkable, but bottled water is cheap and widely available
There is not much nightlife outside of Vientiane and Vang Vieng. To have a beer in some places, simply visit a restaurant. Something to note however is that some areas may be so laid back that they will expect you to keep track of of what you have drunk, with the odd guest house asking how much you have drunk during your stay upon check out.
* '''Identification''' When
* '''Crime''' levels are low in Laos,
* '''Judicial process''' remains arbitrary and, while you are unlikely to be hassled, your legal rights can be slim or non-existent if you are accused.
* '''Sexual relations''' between a Lao national and a foreigner are illegal unless they are married, and marriage requires special permits. Lao hotels are not permitted to allow a foreigner and Lao national in the same hotel room together. "Number One" condoms are available for 1,000-5,000 kip for a pack of three. These are probably the cheapest condoms in the world
* '''Criticism''' of the Lao government or the Communist Party in any way, shape or form is unwise; you never know who might be listening.
* '''Landmines or unexploded
* '''Fake products''' are very common. Laos is
== Stay healthy ==
Parts of Laos have a good deal of Malaria so anti-malarials are recommended if visiting those areas for an extended period, but check with health professionals: there are many high incidence of drug-resistant parasites around Laos. Other mosquito-born diseases, such as dengue, can be life-threatening, so make sure you bring at least 25% DEET insect repellent and ensure that you sleep with mosquito protection like nets or at least a fan. Vientiane seems to be malaria-free but not dengue fever-free. The mosquitoes that are active during the day carry dengue and those that are active in the evening carry malaria.
The usual precautions regarding food and water are needed. Bottled water
Vientiane has several medical clinics are associated with European embassies. Otherwise, you probably have to go to Thailand for better treatment of serious injuries and illnesses. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are generally recommended; they're only a few hours away, depending on your location in Laos. Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai might have suitable clinics,
Medical travel insurance is a practical option. Visitors always need to examine the local infection information, too. In fact, as Western and European medical industries reported so much, the environment in Laos has infectious issues even now. According to local newspapers, Laos goverment is eager to launch improvement plans of water and foods quality. The travel guide "Lonely Planet" also describes this social reality. However, it is not definitely affecting the tourism market. Laos goverment sides and tourism industries never show the atittude to adjust this serious problem.
== Respect ==
As with other Buddhist countries, showing the soles of your feet is very poor manners. Never touch any person on the head. Despite prevelant cheap alcohol, being drunk is considered disrespectful and a loss of face.
== Contact ==
'''Internet cafés''' can be found in larger towns, however access speeds are usually painfully slow and cafe staffs have less knowledge. The most reliable connections are in [[Vientiane]], and usually cost around 100 kip/minute, with the cheapest offering
'''Mobile phone''' usage in Laos has mushroomed, with four competing GSM operators. Two of these offer roaming services. Calling people on the same network is always cheaper than calling another network, but there is no clear market leader. Tourist and expats tend to prefer Tigo or M-phone (Laotel), while locals could have any of the four networks.
* '''Lao Telecom''' [http://www.laotel.com/] has agreements with some 30 international networks - see roaming with Lao Telecom [http://www.gsmworld.com/roaming/gsminfo/roa_lash.shtml].
* '''Beeline (formerly known as Tigo)''' [http://beeline.la/] has agreements with over 100 International phone networks - see roaming with Tigo [http://www.gsmworld.com/roaming/gsminfo/roa_laml.shtml]. Another popular choice, they also have low-cost international rate of 2000 kip/minute to many countries, if you buy their SIM card and dial "177" instead of "+". However, as of February 2009, Tigo's coverage is still said to be poor away from larger towns.
* '''ETL Mobile''' [http://www.etllao.com/] is known to have better coverage in rural and remote parts of Laos. However, in Laos "better" certainly does not mean "everywhere". They
* '''Unitel''' or starphone (the old name of this network) is available too.
Local prepaid SIM cards can be purchased in various shops and stores without any paperwork. But
'''Postal service''' in Laos is slow but generally reliable. Other