Laos Travel Information
On this page, we have compiled the most important and current travel information for Laos, as well as other useful travel tips that should give you an overview of this unique country and its people. Information about the entry requirements, currency, and optimum travel timed as well as information on required vaccinations can be found below
Entry & Exit
Canadian and American nationals require a visa for entry into Laos. You can apply for this visa at the relevant embassy or online. If you are entering the country at either the Vientiane, Luang Prabang, or Paksé international airport, then you can get a 30-day visa issued upon arrival. This visa is good for a single entry and costs a onetime fee of 30 USD. Your passport must be valid for at least six months from your arrival date and you will require two photographs (other photo ID). If you plan on getting your visa on arrival then you should make sure to bring US dollars as this is the only accepted currency. You should also make absolutely certain that you get an entry permit stamped on your passport. Make sure you always use the ‘open for foreigners’ border crossings. If you would like to get a visa that lasts for more than 30 days and allows for multiple entries, you must submit a request to the embassy before your trip. You will require either a regular passport or a temporary passport to enter Laos.
You are allowed to bring the following into Laos with you:
- 1 liter of liquor and 2 liters of wine
- 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250 grams to 500 grams of Tobacco
- Jewelry and Perfume
- 1 Camcorder / Camera
Laos has banned the import of:
- Kip (local currency)
- Drugs, narcotics, explosives, weapons, ammunition, and fireworks
- Funds of $10,000 USD or more must be declared
People over 18 years of age may bring a carton of cigarettes and 1.5 liters of alcohol and perfume among their personal belongings. Buddha-figures may not be exported. The export of antiquities must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Information. You are also not permitted to export the national currency, the Kip.
The medical care and the hygienic conditions in Laos are not comparable with those in North America. Anyone who chooses to tour Laos should be equipped with a good first-aid kit. If you become seriously ill or injured during your trip, we recommend travelling to Bangkok. Worldwide health insurance and reliable repatriation insurance are strongly recommended.
The Laos Tropical Institute recommends that all travelers get vaccinated against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, and Typhoid. Depending on your specific travel plans and the duration of your stay, it may be advisable to also get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, Rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis. In many areas there is also a high risk of contracting Malaria and Dengue Fever. Travelers to Laos are advised to bring a malaria prophylaxis with them, should they require it.
Avoid stings and bites from all insects as these are likely to become infected. Use a mosquito net, wear long sleeved clothes, and apply insect repellent regularly to minimize the risk of dangerous mosquito bites. Take precautions against mosquitos during the day as well, since the Dengue virus-transmitting mosquito is diurnal. There is no vaccination or prophylactic medication to prevent Dengue Fever.
Travel Facts for Laos
Laos has a tropical climate which is strongly influenced by monsoons. It is best to visit between November and March. At this time of the year temperatures stay between 20-30°C and there is little rainfall. In April it gets very hot, and the temperature rises to 35-40°C. The rainy season begins in June and lasts until October. You can travel to Laos during the rainy season, but you must expect that some roads will be flooded and impassable.
Laos is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
The Lao currency is the kip. There are 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5000, 2000, 1000, and 500 Kip bills. Coins and small bills are no longer used today. In addition to the Kip, you can pay with the Thai baht or (preferably) the US dollar almost anywhere in Laos. Banks and ATM's can be found in big cities like Vientiane. The ATM's accept Visa Cards and some debit cards. Anyone traveling in rural areas should carry enough cash to cover their costs. Although there usually are ATM's in smaller towns, there is no guarantee that they will work. You may have to wait several days for an ATM error to be corrected in order to withdraw money with foreign debit or credit cards. When you use an ATM in Laos you will likely pay dual fees – fees to the Lao owner of the ATM and fees to your own bank back home. It is best to use ATM's whenever possible as it is safer than carrying around large sums of cash. Only some hotels and restaurants in major cities accept credit cards.
The standard power output for most outlets in Laos is 230 V and 50 Hz, so make sure you buy an adaptor before the trip. Occasionally there may be power outages.
You can usually make calls using the phone in hotels. Just make sure you dial your country code first. If you would like to use your cell phone in Laos, you should discuss your options with your service provider before your trip. Make sure you inquire about the cost of calls and SMS.
Most major hotels offer their guests the opportunity to use the Internet, however, the Internet connection is often very weak and slow.
People and Landscape
Laos has around 6.8 million inhabitants and is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Most of the Lao people live in the Mekong plains region. The mountainous areas in the North and East are less populated but ideal for a tour. Laos is bordered by China and Myanmar to the North, by Vietnam to the East, by Cambodia to the South, and by Thailand to the West. The capital of Laos is Vientiane, where approximately 783,000 people live.
The official language of Laos is Lao. It is a tonal language very similar to Thai. Many Laotians speak French due to the French colonial past and, as a result of more recent history, more Laotians speak some English. The indigenous languages spoken in Laos can be divided into four groups: the Kam-Tai languages (this includes Lao), Mon-Khmer languages, i.e. the language of the Khmu, Miao-Yao languages, and Lolo-Burmese languages.
In Laos, there are three main ethnic groups. Approximately 60% of the population belong to the Lao Loum, who live mainly in the lowlands. The Lao Theung, called Mon-Khmer peoples, live mainly in the more mountainous regions and account for about 26% of the population. Approximately 13% of the population are Lao Soung (Sino-Tibetan ethnic groups). They primarily live in the highlands and include the Hmong, and Yao people. Some people of Vietnamese and Chinese decent also call Laos home. Laos has been a People's Republic since 1975 and is one of the few official communist states.
Laos can be roughly divided into two principle geographic regions: the mountainous region takes up about nine-tenths of Laos and stretches the full length of the country (from north to south) so it is ideal for active travel. Some of the peaks rise to over 2,000 meters above sea level. The rest of the lowland regions are in the South and along the Southwest border with Thailand. The Mekong is the most important river in Laos. It starts in Tibet, and runs through Vietnam to the vast Mekong Delta. About 50% of Laos is forested and there are both monsoons and rain forests with tropical plants. Many animals that live here are threatened with extinction, due to deforestation and the destruction of their natural habitat. Tigers, leopards, elephants, birds, fish, reptiles, and many other mammals call Laos home.
Laotian cuisine is both delicious and varied. Most dishes come with sticky rice in a small bamboo basket. Meals usually include a soup, meat (beef, pork or chicken) or fish, and vegetables. Spicy sauces such as jao times len, a paste of fish and chili, or padek, and salty fish sauce, are very popular among Laotians, and are served with almost any dish. For breakfast, the locals like to eat sticky rice with dried beef or soups.
The national dish of the Laotians is Laab, a salad of marinated meat or fish (usually raw) with vegetables and many herbs such as chilli, garlic, lemongrass, tamarind, coriander, Thai basil, mint and dill. Green papaya salad (Tam Mak Hung), is a heavily spiced salad which is also very popular.
Laotian coffee is especially delicious. It is called Paksong coffee and it is grown in Laos. The Lao people drink it with a dash of green tea. Even the local beer, Beerlao, which is brewed in the Lao State Brewery, is well worth a try.
Travel and Security Information
There are a few guidelines that every traveller should follow in order to have the best vacation possible.
- Tourists are required to have a valid passport. This passport must be valid until after the last day of your trip. Visas are also required for some nationalities.
- Medical and travel insurance are strongly recommended for all tourists.
- Tourists are advised to travel in groups and should never walk alone after dark.
- Obvious shows of affluence can sometimes welcome unwanted attention from criminals. Tourists are advised to keep valuable belongings safely stowed in their hotel safes if possible. It's never a good idea to keep large amounts of cash or expensive jewellery where they are clearly visible and it's important to remember to never leave valuable items in unattended vehicles or any other public spaces, including on public transportation and luggage holds.
- It's essential that tourists keep emergency details on hand at all times. These include the numbers and addresses of nearby hospitals, ambulances, consulates, and contact details of their next of kin.
Exclusion of Liability
Those who choose to travel do so entirely at their own risk. SC Travel Adventures endeavours to inform tourists of the risks involved with travelling but cannot be held liable for any events which occur outside of their direct control. Tourists are advised to avoid areas considered unsafe, remain vigilant and cautious at all times throughout their stay, and heed the advice of local authorities.