GENERAL INFO. Laos
Capital : Vientiane
Min. Traveling Cost $12/day

Bank Rate US$1=10,825kip, 1B=262kip, Jul 2005

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Laos is the LAST frontier in South-East Asia. Only a few years have passed since this country opened its doors to the outside. Except in Luang Prabang, Laos doesn't have so many old temples or historic spots, but it does have much to offer, beautiful nature - mountains, the river, and wonderful friendly people with radiant smiles.
However traveling in north part of Laos is very hard and uncomfortable. The buses, crowded with people, are almost falling apart, and the unpaved, dusty roads make for a bumpy, dirty ride. Instead, traveling in south part of Laos has been improved because the route 13 has been paved completely to all way to S end of Laos, bordering to Cambodia and VIP buses are running on this route.
However here you can enjoy a form of "traveling" which is rapidly disappearing in Asia. If this is the type of experience you want, then Laos is the BEST place for YOU.

The main attractions in the North -
Luang Prabang: Lao cultural center
Muang Xin: Hill Tribes
Vang Veng: The caves, scenery and relaxing pace
Phonsavan: mysterious stones' highlands
South -
Champassak: Old temple, prototype of Angkor Wat
Mekong delta: largest waterfalls in SE Asia, the tiny 4,000 islands



Laos index page

Language
National Lao: similar to Thai
Foreign Thai is easily understood. English & French are understood only in tourist areas. Lao dictionary or phrase books are useful.


Laos index page

Climate
Best Nov-Mar Cool & dry
Hot Mar-May max. 38c
Cold Nov-Jan A jacket is necessary early morning and at night. It can get very cold especially in the highland area.
Rainy May-Oct Roads get very muddy. Travel can be very hard.
Dry Nov-Apr


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Banks/Exchange
Latest Rate: June 2007
bank rate US$1=9.575kip, 1B=278kip, yen=74kip
Lao Currency: kip.
Lao notes are 500, 1000 5000, 10,000, 20,000. Due to the high inflation, new and larger notes are expected to be issued soon.100 notes are still circulating. However not many places they can be accepted. Avoid not taking those.
What to take:
US$,Thai Baht & Chinese yuen(in N Laos) are widely accepted. and can be exchanged in most cities. 500/1000 Baths notes are very useful.
Other foreign currencies(T/C or cash) can be exchanged only at banks.
Exchange Rate
The rates are very stable though the official & unofficial rate could change daily. However it could be changed and the black market rate in large cities can be best place to change cash money. In smaller places, Vang Vieng, Don Kon, the rate is very low even at the banks. Change enough to cover your expensive in these areas before you come.
How to get US$ cash in Laos
You can get US$ cash only from US$T/C with reasonable commission(1.5% com) at banks. T/C of other currencies requires very high commission to do so You better exchange them to Baths in Thailand before you come to Laos.
Black market/Money Changers:
Illegal but common practice. Ladies with bags of money around market areas, jewelry stores in market areas and some travel agencies, guest houses and restaurants. They usually accept US$ or Thai Bahts only. Chinese money can be accepted in N Laos. Higher rates for higher notes, but the difference is not high enough for the risk of large loss from possible devaluation. Usually the rate at black market is higher than ones at bank. but the difference between them varies daily, sometimes none. Therefore changing T/C to cash then to kip is not always good idea. Check the rate difference first.
Paying with foreign money.
Payment of flight tickets must be made in US$ cash. Some Guest Houses in Vientiane list their prices in $ and may charge more if you pay in Kip. Beside those above you can pay with US$ or Baths but you can have better deal with paying with kip. But currently(Mar 20, 2001) the Thai Baht is just below 200kip. Some shops or bus/boat stations accept Baht with 1B=200kip so ask before paying.
Cash
can be changed at Bank and black market. Higher rates are given for higher denominations, but difference is small.
T/C
of major currencies can be changed only in Banks. If you change to kip no commission for US$, Can$, FF, DM, Jen,. US$T/C can be changed to US$ cash in banks withy $2-3 com.
Credit Card: Visa, MC and American Express
Can use at middle class hotels, restaurants & souvenir shops.
They might add 2-4% extra for commission. You can buy air tickets at Vientiane and Luang Prabang without surcharge.
Cash Advance:
Only Visa card is available at Bank CE Lao. Charges for cash advance 3.5% min US$100.
ATM: None.
Inflation: March 20, 2001 $1=8280. May 99 $=7200kip, May 98 $2500kip, Feb 97 $=900kip
Kip was very unstable in past but now stable.
Kip conversion to hard currencies:
It is very hard to change kip to hard currencies at bank. At some borders when you leave you can change back to Bath with the bank rate. We don't have any information about the regulation to change money at border, but I could exchange small amount to Baths very easily.
Also at Riverside GH in Stung Treng, Cambodia, you can exchange between riel and kip for the both direction with the same rate.

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Basic Travel Costs
room:
Vientiane $5-10, Luang Prabang 15,000+kip
Vang Vieng 12,000+kip, Phonsavan 8000+kip,(99 info)
Savannakhet 20,000+kip Pakxe 12,000+kip
Don Khong 10,000+kip
meal at Restaurants $1+
tea (often free with meals or drinks)
coffee (Lao) 2,000kip water(1 liter) 1,000-2,000kip
Pepsi(bottle) 2,000kip beer 6,000kip
bf(American) 12,000+kip Lao noodle/soup: 5,000kip
toilet paper ? kip ice cream 1,500kip
T-shirt 15,000kup film x36 ? kip

Laos index page

Health
see SE Asia Health page for more details
Hospital: The medical facilities are of a low standard. If you require hospital treatment you should move to Thailand immediately. Town pharmacies have limited supplies, you may have to visit several to find the medication you want. You should take prescriptions & medication with you.
Many travelers have stomach problems in Lao. It is very hard to be sure that food and ice are 'germ' free especially when eating local food at local stalls. Ice is usually added to soft drinks, whilst the ice itself is probably OK the handling of ice is suspect.
Vaccination: Tetanus, Hepatitis, Typhoid, Rabies are recommended.
Drinking water: Tap water is not drinkable in Laos, boil water or buy drinking water. Some Guest houses offer free mineral water. Tea is available free at many restaurants and stalls.

Laos index page

Manner / Custom
1. Don't touch the head of Laos'. Never touch with a left hand.
2. Do not face the bottom of your foot to Lao people.
3. Women should not touch a priest. When women offer, should do so in-directly, such as asking men to do it or putting it on a tray
See the Manner in SE Asia


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Immigration/Visa
Important Notice for Laos visa
In 2003, It is confirmed that Visa on Arrival is issued with $30 at, Vientian airport, Luang Prabang airport, Boten, the border with China, Kong Khai(with Thai), Huexai(with Thai), Cao Treo(with Vietnam)
15 days $30/255yuen. On other border points, we have not confirmed but we assume at the most of the border points, 15 day visa is available. However we leave the information below until they are confirmed.
TV: Tourist Visa : 15 days NI: Non Immigrant Visa : 30days
Visas may be obtained in embassies, Consulates and through travel agencies or Guest Houses. The cost of visa depends on the nationality. Same-day service is available with extra fee.
Lao Visa Fee in regional Asian countries.
These info may be outdated. Please check other info in those cities as well.
On arrival $30
Vientiane/Luang Prabang Airport and other major land crossing points such as : Nong Khai, Chiang Khong, Boten(from China) etc.
Thailand
Bangkok
NI- around 1200B 2days, by agent TV 650B+,3days
Kong Kaen ?
Nong Khai TV - $30 at border crossing. Avoid agents which charge more.
Chiang Kong TV- $31 through an agent in the town. Also you can get it on the border.
Cambodia Phnom Penh Embassy - VV $25,1day,
Myanmar Yangon VV-around $40, 3days
Vietnam Hanoi-$50-60 2days, Ho Chi Min -around $50-60 3days,
China Kunming: 15day-$40(on the border $30), 30day-$42 (Can be paid byYeun, but the rate is bad.) need 3 days. Same day service 15day-$52, 30day-$59(incl. visa)
at Boten Visa on Arrival:
$30 need 1 photo
Visa Agent: in most border towns to Laos, you will be asked to apply Laos visa by the visa agents. Now you can get 15 day visa on arrival at most entrance points with $30-31. No need to apply visa by agents.
Visa Extension: Available at the immigration office in Vientiane, $2/day for any types of visa.
Travel Stamp : No required any more
Overstay charge: $10/day.
Overtime Charge:
If you cross the border on Saturday or Sunday or after 17:00, you may be requested to pay extra fee at Lao immigration for their overtime work. 10-30B

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Border Crossing
AIR
Vientiane Wattai Airport:
3km to town, by Taxi 10-20,000+kip, Airport tax: International $10 domestic 5,000kip
Luang Prabang airport:
4km from town. by tuk tuk $1-2
You can fly from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Siem Reap
LAND from Thailand
Nong Khai(Th)- Tha Deua(L): Border is open 6:00-20:00 The most popular gateway to Laos. 15 days visa on arrival $30
From Nong Khai International bus terminal to Laos frontier(Tha Deua) by bus
20B, the opposite direction 10B/1000kip
from the border(Tha Deua) to/from Vientiane 1 hr by bus,
3,000kip
Nakhon Phanom(Th)- Thakhek(L) ferry 60B/15,000kip
Mukudahan(Th)- Savannakhet(L)
boat 60B/13,000kip
Chongmek(Th)- Vang Teo near Pakxe(L)
from frontier to Pakxe, take a bus - 10,000kip
Chiang Kong(Th)- Huay Xai(L)
by boat. 20B One of the most popular routes for those who travel Laos from N to S.
LAND from Vietnam
Lao Bao: Hue/Hoian(V) from Savannaket(L)
Visa on arrival is available.
International Tourist bus to
Savannakhet via Lao Bao leaves from Danang/Hue/Dongha Daily.
By public transport: You may go to Dongha and change a bus to the border town. and bike taxi or talk to the bordrer. Travel Agents in Hue may run tour buses to near the border. From Lao Bao to Savannakhet, the last bus leaves around 15:00, arriving at 24:00. It's recommended you get here as early as possible. (Reported)
Exchange at Lao Bao: There is a bank at market/bus stop in Lao side. But the street exchange, the rate is very bad, 50 % lower than normal.
Cau Treo (Vinh (V)-Thakek (L) route: from Hanoi to Vientiane:
International Tourist bus from Hanoi to Vientiane via Cao Treo, $18-22, dep 19:00, 24 hrs.
By public transport:
may takes 3 days via this route from Hanoi to Vientiane. Transport is not well organized. Traveler report: train from Hanoi to Vinh about $30, bus is a lot cheaper. Accommodation options in Vinh are minimal, $6 after negotiating. From Vinh there is supposed to be public transport running to the border but 1 traveler got dropped in the middle of nowhere and had to continue by bus and jeep. the border area is rain forest, stunning scenery, apparently a new species of deer has recently been discovered in this area. On the Lao side of the border there is no public transport but tuk-tuk's will run you to the nearest town for around $3. En route there are many traditional Lao villages so this section of the trip is interesting.
Nonghet near Phonsavan route: This is a new route. No detailed info at this moment. It could be closest point to Hanoi.
Land from China
15 day visa for Laos on arrival $30
15 day visa for China on arrival ?
Mohan(Chi)-Boten (L):
Very easy to enter. Between both immigrations, pickup 3 yuen. 4000kip
Exchange:
In Boten shops change money 1 yuen->1250kip, 1B-> 278k,. In Mohan many old ladies change money as well. 1300k -> 1yuen, 1 yuen->1270kip. They will cheat so count money.
Transport: Kunming -> Laos
Kunming-> Jinghong:
Bus 15-17hrs,
Jinghong -> Mengla: Bus. every 30 min.
Mengla -> Mohan(Border): , take a pickup to the bus(small bus) depot to Mohan
14 yuen After Chinese immigration, take a pick up to Laos immigration 3 yuen/5000kip. Buses to towns in Laos leave from the immigration.
Mengla -> Houexai(Thai border):
Boten-> Luang Nam Tha:
Pickup 20,000kip dep 8:00, 11:00,
Boten-> Udom Xai:
Pickup 30,000kip, dep 8:00, 11:00, 15:00. A bus from China to Vientiane via Luang Prabang passes around 10:00. .
Transport: Dali(Ch) -> Mohan(Ch): Bus to Xishuangbanna 30hrs. Xishuangbanna -> Mengla 5 or 6hrs.
Transport: Mohan(Ch) -> Houexai(L) -> Chiang Mai(Th):
#1
Mengla 6:30 minibus -> border(Ch) at 8:00 -> border(L) 9:00 pickup -> Luang Nam Tha North bus station 10:30 songthaw -> South bus station 13:30 bus -> Houexai(L) 17:00 -> Chiang Khong(Th) 17:30 / bus 19:00 -> Chiang Mai 24:00
#2:
Mengla TuThSaSu International bus 10:00 -> Luang Nam Tha(L) passing 13:00 -> Houexai(L) 17:00 - Chiang Khong(TH) 17:30 / bus 19:00 -> Chiang Mai 24:00
Land from Cambodia
N from Stung Treng to Veunkham(Laos) -
is now officially opened.
From Cambodia(Stung Treng): A boat from Stung Treng up the Mekong to the Laos border, tickets available at Riverside GH
$5-7, 3 hrs. There is also pickup trucks by road. At the border, you must first obtain an exit stamp from Cambodian immigration officials, an entry stamp from Laos immigration & pass Laos custom police. Both immigration officers ask a few dollars. Buses are leaving from the border(Vueng Kham)to Pakse passing by Ban Nakasan(from the village you can go to Donkone island. ) and Muang Khong. Cross the border as early as possible because buses in Lao leave the border only in the morning. If all buses have left for the day, you may go to Nakasan by motor bike taxi. Bargain!!! If you take one, we recommend you to stop at the water falls on the way. Negotiate with stopping there.
From, Laos (Pakxe, Muang Khong or Ban Nakasan), take a bus to Veunkham, then After Lao immigration, take a boat to cross the boarder. Then take a pickup or a boat to Stung Treng. Very hard to negotiate the fares.


Laos index page

Mail/Telephone
Post office General Opening Hours: 8:30-16:30
For local info, see City info
?: (2003 info)
Europe USA Australia Japan Thai
Post card 7,500 8,500 5,700? 7,000 5,500?
letter 8,500 9,000 6,700? 8,000 6,500?
1kg air parcel 165,000? 185,000? 100,000? 95,000? 75,000?
2kg air parcel

169,000?
1 min. Phone call ? ? ? 19,000 ?
Small package to anywhere (seamail, 2k) ?kip
Telephone Country code 0856
International Direct call /Fax available
International calls from Card phones available. same charge as office. 350unit-25,000kip, 750-46,000k, 1050-61,000
International operator 16, No collect calls possible
Local calls from telephone office/card phone 500kip


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National Transport
There is a two tier pricing system for some transport. Flights it's official and foreigners pay about 4 times what Lao people pay. On many boats tourists are charged more than locals.
AIR
Domestic Airport Tax 5,000kip.International Airport Tax $5.
Flights are expensive compared to other transport. Lao Aviation's reputation is not good. Several embassies advise avoid taking Lao Aviation.
Many flights between most major cities. Flights between local cities are infrequent. Cancellations and schedule changes are common.
TRAIN None. Thais are suggesting Laos to lay rail from Nong Khai to Vientiane.
BUS
The Laos road condition has been improved last a few years. Large portion of the route 13 from Luang Prabang to the all way to South, the border with Cambodia, via Vientiane has been paved. Private tourist buses and VIP buses are running between Vientiane - Luang Prabang and Vientiane - Savannnaket. however many local roads are still in bad condition and it is not possible to travel during rainy season. During the dry season, roads are dusty - masks or wet towels are very useful.
Most of buses are leaving early morning, 6-8:00. The schedule of buses are posted at the bus office. But the buses leave when they get full. So better be at the bus station in the morning.
When you take a bus not from the originating town, don't expect to get a seat. In rainy season, many towns are inaccessible.
Buses are never comfortable and are stuffed with every kind of cargo imaginable. You should go early to bus stations to secure GOOD seats. Avoid "standing room" or the back seats as suspension is often shot.
In north of Laos, buses are running on winding road in mountains. Many people get sick on board, specially hill tribe children and old ladies.. We recommend to take a good seat and watch out people around you. They might vomit on you.
I Bus travel to the North. - See Security below
Boat
One of the most important and scenic forms of transport in Laos. Schedules are not fixed. Boats leave when they are full. Speed boats are so fast that you're advised to wear a life jacket & a helmet. Try to get a thick life jacket, it softens the vibration from the engine of boat. Slow boats are very slow. Up stream slow boats take 2-3 times as long. No boats run during night time, so when they are delayed , be prepared to sleep on the boat or on the river side. The speed boats don't have roofs. Also slow boat roofs cannot be against heavy rain. Be ready for your rain coat or warm jacket with you when you take a boat.

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Local Transport
Bus Not many City buses are running - limited service in Vientiane.
Taxi Running in Vientiane. But tuk-tuk is cheaper.
tuk-tuk 3 wheel truck. 2-3 people can ride in the back available in most towns..
Samlor Small truck with seats in the back. Up to 8 passengers. Run on set routes. 3,000kip/p
Boat Many boats along the Mekong river. Even cargo boats take passengers. Negotiate the fee beforehand.
Rent-a-car From travel agents. Usually with a driver.
Rental bicycle All towns in Laos are small. Bicycles are an excellent way to get around. Available from GH or shops. 5,000+kip/day

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Accommodation
The quality of accommodation is very high, and, following the devaluation of the kip, good value. Towels, soap and toilet roll are often provided. The rates are usually around 20-30,000kip except in Vientiane. Dormitories, singles are hard to find.
In some of the smaller towns electricity is available only in the evening. Power cuts are common. A torch is very useful.

Laos index page

Food
Local food in Laos is similar to Thai. Vietnamese, Chinese, and other international food is also available. Many restaurants have English menu, but the lists are usually not so long. It does not mean they serve limited food. They cannot translate their speciality. So ask what you want to eat.
Drink: Nam saa - Chinese Tea, is usually free in restaurants. Lao coffee is served very strong with lots of condensed milk, very sweet. Soft drinks are imported, expensive. Lao Beer is excellent - recently exported to the USA. Lao Lao is local alcohol "gut rotting". Hangovers are common. Mineral water is widely available.


Laos index page

Other
Customs: see SE Asia customs page
Souvenirs: Hill tribe weaving, post cards 1,500-2,000kip
Voltage/ plugs: 220v main towns),110v remote towns all multi-type which accept most kinds of plugs (not British type). Blackouts are common. Take candles or a torch.
Photo: prints/developing available in most towns.
English Publications: Vientiane Times 2,000k. Discover Laos monthly). Bangkok Post 20B


Laos index page

Festivals / Holidays PH : Public Holiday
Only the common holidays are listed below. Certain groups, such as banks, government offices, have their own holidays
1999 2000
Jan 1-3 Jan 1-3 PH New Year's Day
Jan 20 Jan 20 PH Military Day
Feb Chinese New Year : Chinese & Vietnamese holiday, lasts 3 days
March 8 March 8 PH Women's day
April 14-16 April 13-15 PH Boun Pimai Lao New Year,
Water festival like in Thai. Dancing & singing, lasts for 3 days.
May 1 May 1 PH May Day Parade in Vientiane
May Boun Visahhabousa Celebration of Buddha's Birth/Death/Enlightenment.
Boun Bangfai Rocket Festival Launching of homemade rockets at the start of the rainy season. Lots of dancing & drinking.
Jul 28 Jul 16 PH Boun Khao Phansa Buddhist lent. Ceremony of Tak Baat (donations to monks) takes place at dawn at many temples.
Aug 22 Boun Kao Padabdinh Commemoration of the spirits of the dead.
Oct 17 PH Teachers' Day
Oct 25 Oct 13 PH Boun Ok Phansa End of Buddhist lent. Candle lit paper boats are floated along rivers. Boat races held.
Oct 12 Freedom French Fair in Vientiane
Nov 23 Nov 11 PH Boun That Luang 3 day festival held in Vientiane.
Dec 2 Dec 2 PH Independence Day Military parade & dancing performance


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Safety Information
Laos is not a safe country. Every 3 or 4 years, there was a robbery occurs in N part of Laos, on route 13 from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and route 7, the way to Phonsavan. But for the both routes, foreigners are permitted to travel by bus. Most buses in the N are guarded with arms

@ Internet @
 
Internet Service is available in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Udomxai. Vang Vieng, Savannaket, and Pakxe, DondetExcept Udomxai and Dondet(800k/min.) All charging 250k/min. The connection is not always good.

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