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Laos

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Understand
== 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 knock back a few cold Beerlao while watching watch the sunsets on the Mekong will simply explain the attraction by revealing that the true meaning of "Lao PDR" is ''Lao - Please Don't Rush''.
=== 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 westernWestern-style clothing, though the "phaa sin" is still the mandatory attire in government offices (not only for those who work there, but also for Lao women just visiting).
=== Climate ===
Laos has three distinct seasons. The '''hot season''' is from March to May, when temperatures can soar as high as 40°C. The slightly cooler '''wet season''' is from May to October, when temperatures are around 30°C, tropical downpours are frequent (especially July-August), and some years the Mekong floods.:
* The '''hot season''' is from March to May, when temperatures can soar as high as 40°C.* The slightly cooler '''wet season''' is from May to October, when temperatures are around 30°C, tropical downpours are frequent (especially July-August), and in some years the Mekong floods.* 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.
==Regions==
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 1400B 1,400 baht for most nationalities, plus 200B 200 baht more for "same day" processing. It's cheaper and quicker to get one at the border.
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 8 am 08:00 to 12 noon :00 and 1 pm 13:00 to 4 pm16:00.
(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, BritsBritons, and those from several EU countries cost 1400 1,400 baht/US$45 USD, Australians and New Zealanders pay 1200 1,200 baht/US$38 USD, Canadians pay 1700 baht/US$54 USD while Chinese pay 600 baht/US$20 USD. Officially, visas can be picked up the next day (or pay an additional 200 baht to have the visa issued within 1 hour). Officially, only baht is accepted. However if you don't have baht may take US dollars. Note: When asked, consular staff were using a 30-31 baht to the dollar rate, making it more expensive than getting one on arrival and paying in US Dollarsdollars). Given that a visa for many countries can be had for US$20-42 USD at the border, getting a visa at the border is cheaper and quicker. NOTE: If you are taking the direct Khon Kaen to Vientiane bus and you require a visa for Laos, the bus company will not sell you a ticket unless you have a visa already issued.
There are Visavisa-on-Arrival arrival facilities at the international airports in [[Vientiane]], [[Luang Prabang]] and [[Pakse]], and at all border crossings (see below), including now overland from [[Cambodia]] (visa on arrival facilities opened at Voen Kham -north of Stung Treng, Cambodia- in February 2010). The cost varies between US$30 and US$42 (if paid with US$ notes; paying with Thai baht will cost considerably more and border officials will not accept Lao kip at all). If you pay in Thai baht, the cost is usually 1500 1,500 baht (about US$47-48 USD). A US$1 "out of office hours/overtime" surcharge, and a small (possibly 10 baht to US$1) entry stamp fee, might also be charged.
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]], the Police Station opposite the Lao-Mongolian Hospital in [[Phonsavan]] and possibly other cities. Extensions are NOT not possible in Lao's second city, Savannakhet, although you can do a border run from there to Thailand to get a new 30 day visa. The cost is US$2 per day plus a small "form fee" ranging between 5,000kip 000 kip (Pakse) to US$2 (Luang Prabang.) The process is very easy; turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they immigration officers do this for you) and come back in the afternoon for your extension.
If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to pop over cross the border (entry to Thailand is free for most western nationalities) and return immediately to get a new 30 day Lao visa.
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).
'''[[Cambodia]]''':
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 US$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.
'''[[China]]''':
The land crossing between [[Mengla]] (Yunnan) and [[Boten]] (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible (US$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 8am 08:00 and costs about 40 RMB.
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 Km km from [[Pak Beng]].
* [[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 ====
The Bordercrossing border crossing on a Vietnamese motorbike at Tay Trang is very easy and straightforward. You arrive after going over some hills at the Vietnamese border where very friendly guys handle your case easily and with no hassle. You fill out the form for "temporary export of a vehicle", show them the Vietnamese Registration Card for the bike (which is in the owners name, not yours usually) and pay US$10. Then you proceed to the police, show the papers to them and get the exit stamp. You then have to drive for 6 km over the mountains to get to the Lao checkpoint. There you will find some not so friendly border guards who expect you to pay 5,000 kip for general fees and 25,000 kip for importing a vehicle. They fill out the form themselves and issue a 30-day visa (there is some talk on the Internet about 15-day visa or even 7-day arriving on a bike, but that's crap).
You then have to drive for 6km over the mountains to get to the Lao checkpoint. There some not so friendly border guards there who expect you to pay 5,000 Kip for general fees and 25,000 Kip for importing a vehicle. They fill out the form themselves and I got 30days visa (there is some talk in the net about 15day visa or even 7days arriving on abike, but thats crap).
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 sealedasphalt, and the transport options on these roads include bus, minibus, and converted truck.
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); all right OK road, much travelled by backpackers.
* [[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 builds is building a new road to Thailand. The road from Luang Namtha to Huay Xai is part of this road and it is a very good road.
* [[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 route Route 13 from Vientiane to Phonsavan.
[[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, (motorised three or four wheelers). A jumbo should cost no more than 20,000 kip (about US$2.550) for short journeys of 1-5 km.
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]. This is the only guided hop -on hop -off bus in South East Asia.
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 organization organisation in Vientiane controls the prices that tourists are expected to pay for point to point destinations. The rates negotiable, and well you should clearly bargain rates prior to getting on the tuk -tuk. The current rates can be found here: [http://spotonlaos.com/place/tuktuk/ Tuk Tuk Prices in Vientiane]
==== By motorcycle ====
Motorcycle travel in Laos is not without risks , but the rewards of truly independent travel are great. There are several rental shops in Vientiane only and bike rentals in other parts of the country are few. Quality The quality of machines varies from shop to shop so you need to fully inspect your new friend before you head out on the road. There are many good roads and many paved ones and touring Laos is done easily. Most bikes in Laos are Honda Baja or XR 250 dual purpose bikes and anything else is usually mechanically questionable. Helmets are not only mandatory in the country but a valuable item in a place where traffic rules are made up by the minute. Police have been cracking down on people who do no have a motorcycle licence, so expect to pay a fine if caught without one.
==== 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 is one of the standardsare popular choices.
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 but also , especially for bikes with 28 inches wheels you would have a hard time. Bring your equipment with you and make sure you get contact details to of a supplier , maybe from Thailand.
Some may prefer the speed of a motorbike, but note that some roads are still not brilliant condition ideal for a scooter due to the poor balance of Chinese importsmany bikes.
=== By boat ===
==== By slow boat ====
Many people go from Chiang Khong in [[Thailand]] via the border town of Houai Xai downstream down the Mekong to the marvelous marvellous city (if you can call a 16000 capita place town of 16,000 a city) of [[Luang Prabang]]. The ride journey takes basically two days and is very scenic. Apart from that, it is a floating backpacker ghetto with no (good) food sold, & so bring someyour own, cramped and considerably hot. It's your choice, but one of my fellow travellers remarked the second day 'no-one looks happy on this boat any more...' Be sure to bring a good (long) readbook, something soft for the wooden benches and your best patience.
Recently the boats have considerably improved. They now have soft used car seats, and serve pre-fab cooked food, which is not great but certainly sufficient. Because of the above warning, I considered a luxury boat, but there is no reason for that. Luxury boats are very expensive - and probably not nearly as scenic.
==== By speedboat ====
[[Image:Fast-boat.JPG|thumb|300 px|right|Speedboat barreling down the Mekong]]
An attractive choice for some, with a 6 hour ride journey from [[Huay Xai]] to [[Luang Prabang]], as compared to the two-day trip on the slow boat, but not for the faint of heart. Expect to be crammed into a modified canoe made for 4, with 10 other people, along with all the luggage somehow packed in. Expect to sit on the floor of the canoe, as there are no seats, with your knees against your chin for the full 6 hours. Expect an incredibly loud engine inches behind your head. Expect the engine to break a few times, and stops for delays to fix it. That being said, However when this ride finally ends, or if , you make it with no trouble, arrive you will never be happier to get to see Luang Prabang. Stories of small, overloaded speedboats sinking or hitting driftwood are common, but if you are a good swimmer, take comfort in the fact that you can see both shores throughout the entire trip. So, as you see, choosing The choise between the slow boat and the speedboat is a hard call, largely based mostly upon on your required comfort level; would you prefer a slow unpleasant trip, or a much faster, but more dangerous & unpleasant trip. ? Either way, the scenery along the way is gorgeous and unexploited, and Luang Prabang is an incredible city, that is worth a thousand of these journeys.
==== Speedboat warning ====
'''1 January 1, 2007''': There are unconfirmed reports that as of January 1, 2007, the Lao Government government has '''banned''' the use of speedboats due to environmental concerns. Relying on speedboats for travel may not be an option, and further information should be investigated. However, in early December 2007 speedboats were still cruising the Mekong, operating the Vientiane-Paklay-Vientiane route on five days/week and the Luang Prabang-Huay Xai route.
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. Two quick pronunciation tips: [[Vientiane]] is actually pronounced "Wieng Chan", and the letter ''x'' is ''always'' read as an "s".
==See==
The key attraction of Laos is its undoubted status as the least westernisedWesternised, the most relaxed and thereby the most authentic of all Indochinese nations. How much longer this will last is open to much speculation, but while it does this is a truly special and unique country to visit.
===Natural attractions===
[[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 Secret War secret war of the 1960s, and much UXO remains unclearedmany unexploded bombs remain. When that process is complete it is very likely this will be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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.
===Recent history===
 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, as well as other evidence of that era in the town.
== 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 whiskey, whisky and unlimited Beerlao. If you're more interested in enjoying the scenery, more serene quieter tubing locations include [[Si Phan Don]], [[Nong Khiaw]] and [[Mung Ngoi]].
'''River cruises''' are a popular way to take in Laotian scenery, and options include working your way up or down the Mekong.
===Bathe===
One A recommended Laotian experience definitely worth trying is the '''herbal sauna'''. Often (but not always) run by temples, these are simple-looking affairs, often frequently just a rickety bamboo shack with a stove and a pipe of water on one side, usually . Usually open only in the evenings. The , the procedure for a visit usually goes like thisis:* Enter and pay first. The going Typically the rate is around 10,000 kip, plus around 40,000 kip if you want a for an optional massage afterward.* Head for Go to the changing room, take off your clothes and wrap yourself up in a sarong (which is usually provided).* Keeping yourself modestly sarong-clad, head over go to the shower or water bucket in one corner and wash upclean yourself.* Plunge into the sauna room itself. It will be dark, hot and steamy inside, with intense herbal scents of lemongrass and whatever the sauna master is cooking up that day, and you . You will soon start to sweat profusely.* When you've had your fillenough, head outsideexit the sauna, sip on a little weak tea and marvel at how the tropical heat of the day now feels cool and refreshing.
* 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 1 euro €1 = 10,000 kip, 1 GBP £1 = 12,000, 1 THB baht = 260 kip & US$1 USD = 8,000 kip. Make sure that you get rid of all your kip before you leave the country (unless keeping a handful as a souvenir: it is possible to exchange , and kip can be exchanged into foreign currencies at Vietiane Vientiane airport.
The largest note is 100,000 kip and uncommon; the notes in common circulation are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. Withdrawing the maximum of 1,000,000 kip from an ATM could result in 50 notes of 20,000 kip each. This makes carrying large quantities of kip quite inconvenient. Although less common than in the past US$ 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. So if you're from one of the euro countries, just bring some just in case. This Bringing euros could be cheaper than changing your euros into baht or US$ and then into kip.
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 ===
The basic Lao approach towards tourists is the "milking cow" approach. They will take whatever tourists are willing to pay, although it is not as bad as Vietnam. Lately the prices have exceeded those of neighbouring Thailand, though the standards are lower. Hotels are of lower quality, and higher price comparing to Thailand or Cambodia, the dishes in restaurants are smaller and the tuk-tuks more of a rip-off. It's worse in the tourist centres of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng than in the smaller towns and villages.
Some Laotians consider tourists as "cash cows", and whilst not as bad as in Vietnam they will take whatever tourists are willing to pay; however honest and decent Laotians far out number the dodgy characters, especially outside the main tourist areas. Hotels are of lower quality for higher prices than in Thailand or Cambodia, the dishes in restaurants are smaller and the tuk-tuks more of a rip-off. As can be expected it's worse in the tourist centres of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng than in the smaller towns and villages. 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]] or as much as , rising to US$10-15 in [[Vientiane]] or and [[Luang Prabang]]. Meals are usually under US$5 for even the most elaborate Lao, Thai or Vietnamese dishes (although western food is more expensive), and plain local dishes cost US$2-3. A local bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng costs US$5; the slow boat from [[Luang Prabang]] to [[Huay Xai]] costs US$25 for both days.
Unlike in Thailand, access to temples in Luang Prabang is not free, but with an entrance fee typically being 10.,000 KIPkip.
Laos is more expensive than Thailand and Cambodia,as most goods,petrol & food is imported from Thailand and Vietnam. Also, some people,and because most people have the bad habit(especially tuk tuk drivers) in considering , consider 1 US$ as being equivalent to 10,000 kip,where in fact it's 8,000 kip for 1 US$,so try to remember in bargaining hard with tuk tuk drivers & when shopping in markets. If you have been in Cambodia, remember that 1 riel is 2 kip, so prices should be as the same like in Cambodia. For example, 2000 riel official exchange rate is equivalent to 4000 kipbetter.
2nd opinion: Outside of tourist centres rooms can be found for as low as US$2.50, per night and even at Si Phan Don for US$5/night. Large A large bowl of noodle soups are soup is around US$1, as are large bottles of Beer Laos. Exluding travelling costs Excluding transportation, living on US$15/day isn't hard (April 2011)should not be too difficult.
===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 smilingbe polite and smile ...
== 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%). The brewery claims they have 99% market share.
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. Beware, as quality and distilling standards vary wildly.
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 (often, however, although you'll get often be given non-dairy creamer) is ''kaafeh nom''.
'''Tap water''' is not drinkable, but bottled water is cheap and widely available. However filtered technology is developing.
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.
==Stay safe==
* '''Identification''' When traveling in Laos, it is important to travel with always have your passport at all times. Copies of your passport and visa are acceptable, and it is actually recommended to travel with a copy rather than the original, as this makes you less vulnerable. You may be asked to show ID at any time, and a fine (100,000kips) will be imposed if you do not produce documentation on request.
* '''Crime''' levels are low in Laos, though although petty theft (such as bag snatching) is not unknown and keeps rising with , which is on the rise given the grave inability of authorities to prevent it. Reports There are reports of robbery at gunpoint surface in the big cities. Though Whilst unlikely to affect most tourists, Laos is one of the world's most corrupt countries , and the corruption is a big factor in many citizens' lives.
* '''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 (and their quality seems to be OK.  * '''Drugs''' are a large problem in Laos and should be avoided at all costs. Lao law makes little distinction between personal use and trafficking and any conviction will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best and imprisonment or even execution at worst. Methamphetamine is widespread and often offered in "special" or "happy" shakes along the backpacker trail. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or a police impersonator to "shake down" ($500 is the common "fine") unsuspecting tourists. Keep in mind that often times Lao police dress as civilians.  As of 2006, the Lao PDR criminal code for producing, trafficking, distributing, possessing, importing, or exporting: :*Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip (US$1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.  :*Illegal chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment 50 million kip (US$6,578)fine.
:* '''Drugs''' are a large problem in Laos and should be avoided at all costs. Lao law makes little distinction between personal use and trafficking and any conviction will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best and Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment or even execution at worst. Methamphetamine is widespread and often offered in "special" or "happy" shakes along the backpacker trail. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or a police impersonator to "shake down" 7 million kip (US$500 is the common "921) fine") unsuspecting tourists. Keep in mind that often times Lao police dress as civilians (undercover). Current as of 2006, the Lao PDR criminal code for Drug Trafficking or Possession are:
For producing, trafficking:*Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip (US$3, distributing, possessing, importing, or exporting:947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg.
Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip ($1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500gramsChemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment 50 million kip ($6,578) fineAmphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip ($921) fineOpium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip ($3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kilograms*Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip (US$2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kilogramskg.
* '''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 ordinanceordnance''' left over from the Vietnam War maims or kills hundreds of people every year as Laos is the most bombed country in history. Almost all of these occur in the eastern and northern parts of the country, especially near the border with Vietnam. Never enter areas marked as minefields and travel only on paved roads and well-worn paths. If you are unsure of which areas are safe, ask the locals.
* '''Fake products''' are very common. Laos is one place where Chinese or Thai companies dump sub-standard products. Similar to Myanmar, there are few if any laws preventing such trade.
== 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 are is widely available but almost all of them are less-filtered.
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, as welland, of course, and there's Bangkok, of course. Expatriates in Laos probably have the best information; the more upscale hotels can be good resources, as well.
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 ==
Dress respectfully (. such as long trousers, & sleeved shirts) , when visiting temples and take your shoes off before entering temple buildings and private houses.
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 4000 4,000 kip/hour. However the , internet security is not guaranteed and computer virus issues are abandonedoften ignored.
In most cases, Wi-Fi with Mac/Linux laptop or iPad are highly recommended. Some cafes offer free WiFiWi-Fi-access for customers (check first if it's really free). Many accommodations now offer free wifiWi-Fi. GPRS via mobile phone is also an option, especially if you have a local or Thai SIM, for those who intend to stay longer term and require mobile internet.
'''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 seem appear to have low-cost international call service too. [http://www.etllao.com/service/ecall.html]
* '''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 pay attention with almost of network be aware that most networks, also including phone or and fax traffics traffic, are tapped as by government order.
As another optionsoption, there is Thai GSM coverage close to Thai border (including a significant part of Vientiane), and Thai SIM cards and top-up cards can be bought in Laos; in addition, DeeDial International Call Cards are available. Thus, if you already have Thai number, you can use (generally cheaper) Thai network and/or avoid buying one more SIM. However, beware - if you have a Thai SIM which has International Roaming international roaming activated it will connect to a Lao network when the Thai network is not available, and the roaming charges will be significantly higher.
'''Postal service''' in Laos is slow but generally reliable. Other paid options such as are Fed Express, DHL& EMS, and EMS exist in various locations. Though Although these services are much more expensive, they are more reliable.
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