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  • Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders

    known for the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple and the natural marvel, Tonle Sap Lake. Every year more visitors flock to Cambodia to discover for themselves just what wonders it has to offer.

  • Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders

    known for the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple and the natural marvel, Tonle Sap Lake. Every year more visitors flock to Cambodia to discover for themselves just what wonders it has to offer.

  • Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders

    known for the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple and the natural marvel, Tonle Sap Lake. Every year more visitors flock to Cambodia to discover for themselves just what wonders it has to offer.

  • Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders

    known for the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple and the natural marvel, Tonle Sap Lake. Every year more visitors flock to Cambodia to discover for themselves just what wonders it has to offer.

  • Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders

    known for the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple and the natural marvel, Tonle Sap Lake. Every year more visitors flock to Cambodia to discover for themselves just what wonders it has to offer.

 

The mighty Mekong River gently flows its way through the majestic country of Laos, symbolically reflecting the pace of this Asian nation and the lifestyle of its people. Along the banks of this river lie the exquisite capital of Vientiane, the historic town of Luang Prabang and the tranquil region of Si Phan Don (four thousand islands). Laos is a country that is rich with traditional life and natural beauty. Ancient monasteries are revered and Buddhism maintains a central role in daily life. The many ethnic groups of Lao take pride in their ceremonies and customs. The forested regions of the north and limestone karsts around the ecotourism centre of Van Vieng make for a dramatic and stunning landscape. Within Laos you can experience culture, nature and a way of life that that will ensure you have a relaxing and exhilarating holiday.

General Information


Identity Card of the country

 

Area

: 236,800 km2 (water: 6,000 km2 &  

  land: 230,800 km2)

Population

: 6,677,534 (2008 est.)

Capital

: Vientiane

Religion

: Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40%

  (including various Christian

  denominations 1.5%)

Political regime

: Ruling communists maintain a

  monopoly of political power.

  Communist regime is backed 

  by China and Vietnam

President

: H.E Mr. CHOUMMALI Saignason (Lt.

  Gen). Elected by the national

  assembly for a 5 year period

Vice Pr

: H.E Mr. BOUN-GNANG Volachit

Prime minister

: H.E Dr. BOUASONE Bouphavanh

  (who asst. pres. in turn, is in charge

  of the ministry council.)

 

Language       

Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages

Currency        

Kip (LAK)

Currency change

Exchange bureaus and banks will cash traveler checks in major currencies. Furthermore,  most domestic and foreign banks in Vientiane will allow cash withdrawals on Visa. Also, major credit cards can be used in many restaurants and hotels. If you intend to travel to a more remote area we suggest you take a good supply of Kip with you. The Kip comes in denominations of 5,000 2,000 1,000 500 200 and 50. The current rate of exchange is US$1 = 9,500 Kip

Please note that the Laos Kip is non-convertible outside Laos.

Banks             

Just about every major Thai bank has a branch in Vientiane. They are helpful when dealing with tourists. Every branch has English-speaking staff. Cash advances are possible using American Express and Visa. Wire transfers are easily executed.

The Kip is the official currency of Laos. Bank notes are currently in denominations of 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000. All major currencies, but especially the US Dollar and Thai Baht can be exchanged at banks. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane competitive rates are offered among numerous authorized private exchange bureaus. There is an exchange facility available at Wattay airport in Vientiane. Close on Saturday & Sunday

Food and Beverages

Food

Lao cuisine is the cuisine of the Lao ethnic group of Laos and Northeast Thailand (Isan). Lao food is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines. The staple food of the Lao is sticky rice. Galangal and fish sauce are important ingredients. The Lao national dish is larb, a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish that is sometimes raw (prepared like ceviche) with a variable combination of greens, herbs, and spices. Another characteristic dish is tam mak h ...

Traditional Lao food is dry, spicy and absolutely delicious. The most commonly used ingredients are lime juice, lemon grass and coriander. The majority of Lao food uses fresh vegetables and fish, mostly freshwater fish due to the country’s landlocked location. Other popular meat dishes involve chicken, duck, pork and beef. Lao food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice. In the countryside people eat on a communal basis, sitting on the floor and sharing the dishes.

Vientiane has a great variety of food on offer. Local stalls sell barbecued pork, chicken and duck, sometimes goat, beef (or buffalo); countless roadside stalls and restaurants serve bowls of different varieties of steaming noodles with meat, and other local delicacies are seen everywhere. Food from other ethnic kitchens is in abundance: Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, French and Italian cuisine are found in the cities.

Leading city hotels and better Lao food restaurants such as Kualao in Vientiane serve a variety of local and Asian regional dishes, many of which appeal to Western palates, as well as European food. Meat may be locally produced, but more expensive establishments use produce imported from Thailand or further afield such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Recommended foreign-run restaurants in central Vientiane include the excellent French Le Central; also Caves des Châteaux, Italian L'Opera, Kop Chai Deur (international menu), Joma and Scandinavian Bakeries. These are all within walking distance or near Nam Phou (Fountain) Square and two blocks from the Mekong River. The Lao Plaza Hotel offers buffets and à la carte dining and overlooking it across Samsenthai Road is Rashmi's  Indian Fusion restaurant which has an excellent menu and tasty food.

Beverages

Freshly-made fruit juices and bottled sodas are sold in most populated areas. Most popular is the locally produced Pepsi Cola, which has a history in Laos dating back to 1968 when a 'Pepsi bottling plant' was set up in US/Vietnam War days with the assistance of the later-impeached president Richard Nixon. It was apparently an American CIA-run clandestine heroin production facility. Not a single bottle of cola was produced until 1985! Pepsi production was eventually begun by the Lao Soft Drink Co. Ltd. now part-owned by Carlsberg A/S. It produces Pepsi, 7Up and Mirinda, as well as plain soda water. The Pepsi factory is near the Beerlao complex on Thadeua Road, between the Friendship Bridge and Vientiane Capital.

 

Geography and Climate

Geography

A landlocked nation in Southeast Asia occupying the northwest portion of the Indochinese peninsula, Laos is surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. It is twice the size of Pennsylvania. Laos is a mountainous country, especially in the north, where peaks rise above 9,000 ft (2,800 m). Dense forests cover the northern and eastern areas. The Mekong River, which forms the boundary with Burma and Thailand, flows through the country for 932 mi (1,500 km) of its course.

 

The different areas (seaside, main rivers….)

Cities

-Vientiane - the still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River

-Huay Xai - in the north, on the Mekong and the border with Thailand

-Luang Prabang - a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market.

-Luang Namtha - capital of the north, known for its trekking.

-Muang Xay - also known as Oudomxay, the capital of the multiethnic province of Oudomxay.

-Pakbeng - halfway point on the overnight slow boat between Huay Xai & Luang Prabang

-Pakse - gateway to the Wat Phu ruins and the "four thousand islands" (Si Phan Don)

-Savannakhet - in the south, on the Mekong, connected by bridge to Mukdahan, Thailand

-Tha Khaek - south of Vientiane on the banks of the Mekong, Tha Khaek is a popular base for exploring the Phou Hin Boun National Park including the famous Konglor Cave

Other destinations

-Ban Nalan trail - a 2 days ecotourism trekking in the north of Laos.

-Champasak - Angkor-style Khmer temples, a World Heritage Site

-Nong Khiaw- North of Luang Prabang by 4 hour bus ride or 7 hour slow boat ride, this area is between beautiful Karst cliffs where you can discover hilltribe villages, kayak, bike ride, or just hang out in a relaxing town.

-Plain of Jars - just what the name says, but nobody knows what they are or why they are there

-Si Phan Don - the "four thousand islands" are nestled within the Mekong near the Cambodian border

-Vang Vieng - backpacker hangout for spelunking in limestone caves and tubing on the Nam Song river

-Vieng Xai - Remote cultural oasis and symbolic cradle of Marxism. See the caves where the Pathet Lao -Leaders ran their opperations in defiance of the West.

-Tham Nong Pafa Cave - a cave discovered in Khammouan Province in 2004; as many as 200 Buddha statues of all sizes have been found inside

Seasons/ Climate

Laos has a warm and tropical climate with two seasons: the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and the dry season from October to April. The average temperature 29 degree centigrade. Maximum temperature can reach up to 40 degree centigrade. Temperatures can drop to as low as 15 degrees or even lower in mountains. Generally, tourists are recommended to visit Laos during the months of November to March because these are cool months and rainfall is lower than other periods

Clothing

Modes of dress in Laos very much depend on gender and age but in general Lao women wear silk skirts, blouses and scarves to attend important ceremonies. Lao men wear a sarong or long pants to attend the important ceremonies. Visitors should wear light, comfortable clothing that is easy to launder. The winter months and rainy season in the central region can get cool so a sweater or light jacket will come in handy. Good walking shoes and sandals that can be easily removed are recommended especially when entering temples and people's homes.

 

Health and Security

Vaccinations

Vaccination is not required for entry into big cities of Laos, but we suggest you check with doctor as some countries recommend their citizens be inoculated before embarking on an oversea adventure.

Water & Food

All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled

Water from the mains is not recommended for drinking unless previously boiled. Most urban Lao drink and cook with bottled water, usually delivered to houses, restaurants and shops in 20 litre (5 gal) plastic bottles costing 5000 kip (50 cents US). Half and one litre bottles are available cheaply everywhere, the most popular brand being Tiger Head from the BeerLao factory.

Safety

Vientiane and the rest of the country is a safe place, however a little common sense and caution should be applied. For example, do not leave unattended bags around 2 wheeled vehicles. Although minor crimes such as pick pocketing are rare, they can ruin your trip so be vigilante. When you drive a motor cycle, wear a helmet, even if it is hot.

 

Formalities

Passport 

A passport must have at least six months remaining validity.

Visa

Visitors traveling to Laos for the purpose of tourism need a visa. If applying to a Laotian Embassy, you will need your passport and 2 passport size photos. If you are flying into Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Pakse you can purchase a Visa upon arrival. In either event the Visa is valid for 15 days and costs about US$30 (depending on nationality) and can be renewed in Vientiane only. You can obtain a visa at most international borders but things change from day to day so if it is not a commonly used border its best to check with the embassy first.

It is also possible to obtain a Visa-on-Arrival at the following international checkpoints:

China (Mohan) - Luang Namtha Province (Boten)
Thailand (Chiang Khong) - Bokeo Province (Houay Xay)
Thailand (Nong Khay) -Vientiane Capital (Friendship Bridge)
Thailand - Xayabouly Province (Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge)
Thailand (Nakhon Phanom) - Khammouane Province (Thakhaek)
Thailand (Moukdahan) - Savannakhet Province (Friendship Bridge II)
Thailand (Chong Mek) - Champasak Province (Vang Tao)
Vietnam (Nam Kanh) - Xieng Khouang Province (Nong Haet)
Vietnam (Kao Cheo) - Bolikhamxay (Nam Phao)
Vietnam (Lao Bao) - Savannakhet Province (Dene Savanh)
Wattay International Airport (Vientiane capital)
Pakse International Airport (Champasak Province)
Luang Prabang International Airport (Luang Prabang)

Arrival

1. By air:

The main port of arrival by air is Vattay International airport in Vientiane. The following companies currently fly to Vientiane: Lao Aviation, Thai Airways International, Vietnam Airlines, Southern China Airlines, Silk Air and Malaysian Airlines. Regular flights are available to and from Bangkok, Phom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Kunming, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

2. By road:

Entry to Laos is possible from neighboring countries. Between Thailand and Laos the border can be crossed at Houeixay in Bokeo province, at the Mittaphab Friendship Bridge near Vientiane and at Dan Savannakhet Province, and Thai – Laos Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai Province Thailand connect to Vientian, Laos. A border crossing between Laos and Vietnam has been set up at Laksao.

Souvenirs (what to bring/ what you can’t bring back)

Laos has a strong tradition of cotton and silk weaving. In fact, several renowned European designers have recently started coming to Laos to purchase elaborate Lao weavings. These weavings display a level of skill and artistry mot seen anywhere else in the world. Artists from each province incorporate distinctive colours and patterns into their work. Such pieces can be bought in all the major markets, or directly from makers in silk weaving villages in Luang Prabang.

 

Traditions

Religion Buddhism

The main religion is Buddhism. The Lao practice Theravada of the "Small vehicle" which spread through Laos between the 14th and 17th centuries. The ideal situation is to reach Nirvana without going through rein Carnation. So for the Lao doing good deeds rather than bad ensures salvation. The monks are held in high esteem and treated with great respect, when entering a religious place.

 

Please observe the proper rules of dress. Ladies must wear a dress or at least a suitably long skirt and shoulders should be covered. For men, wearing long pants is recommended. Shoes must be removed at the temple entrance. If you have to sit down avoid pointing your feet forward. If your joints allow it, fold your legs beneath you and keep your feet towards your back.

Customs

Persons over 18 years are permitted to entry the following tax free. The following goods may be imported into Laos, from countries not bordering Laos, without incurring customs duty:
• 500 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco.

• One bottle of alcoholic beverage and two bottles of wine.

• Personal jewelry up to 500g.

Note: The export of antiques such as Buddha images and other artefacts is prohibited. Any antique items purchased in other countries must be declared to customs on arrival in Laos.

Festivals or events

Laos has a number of religious and cultural festivals. Here are some of

the more important ones:

Sikhottabong Festival (February)

This religious festival is held at Sikhottabong stupa in the region of

Khammouan.
Wat Phu Festival (February)

This festival is celebrated on the full moon of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar in the grounds of the enchanting pre-Angkorian Wat Phu in Champasak. Festivities include elephant racing, buffalo fighting, cock fighting and performances of traditional Lao music and dance.

Lao New Year (April)

The Lao New Year or Pi Mai Lao usually occurs in April. This is the nation’s biggest holiday and the entire country celebrates. People remove Buddha images from the temples to anoint and clean them with scented water. Street parties that invariably involve people dowsing one another with water then follows. This is essentially an act of cleansing and purification in anticipation of the end of the dry season.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival (October)

At dawn donations and offerings are made at temples throughout the city. In the evening candlelight processions are held around the temples as hundreds of candles with flowers and incense are cast into the Mekong River in thanksgiving. The following day an exciting boat race is held on the Mekong.

That Luang Festival (November)

This religious festival is held in and around the splendid That Luang stupa. Hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral offerings from the people. The festival includes a

grand fireworks display at night, and a trade fair, showcasing Lao products, will take place during the day.

 

Things to know

Electricity       

220V/50Hz (European & US plugs)

Language

The official language spoken in Laos is Laotian or Lao. The four principle ethnic groups of the country speak varying dialects of this language, most of which are mutually intelligible. The Lao language is a member of the Tai language group, sometimes known as Tai-Kadai or Kadai. Thai is well understood in Laos, since Lao people will watch Thai television and listen to Thai radio.

French, English, Russian and Chinese are spoken by some members of the population, although none can be considered widely understood. As a general rule, older Lao may speak some French and younger Lao may speak some English or Russian.

Telephone

Telephones - main lines in use: 61,900 (2002)

Telephones - mobile cellular: 55,200 (2002)

Post office

Vientiane’s General Post Office is located beside the Morning Market. Normal mail service is inexpensive and generally reliable, however for urgent or valuable mail (either to or from Laos) EMS or courier service is recommended.

The GPO offers public telephones for local, national and international calls. Phone card (available at appointed shops) booths are available for domestic and overseas calls. Most large hotels have IDD lines, but calls are expensive. Country code: 856. Outgoing international code: 00.

A number of Internet cafes have sprung up in recent years including the PlaNet chain in both Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The international dialing code for Laos is 856.