Key Information to discover Laos
Follow this practical guide to Laos to help you prepare for your trip! You will find in this section all the important elements and information you should know about Laos, before leaving on your trip.
For any entry into Laotian territory, you will need a valid passport; this includes it being valid for 6 months after the date of exit from the country. You also need a confirmed onward or return ticket. Most foreigners need a visa, except for passport holders of 36 countries, which have exemption when travelling to Laos.
A tourist visa can be obtained. It must be used within 3 months of its issue and is valid for stays of up to 30 days. The price of the visa varies according to your nationality: you will need 2 passport photos, 4x6cm (1.5x2.4in) and the name of the hotel where you will be staying.
The authorities of Laos have also implemented an electronic visa (Evisa), which allows eligible travelers to quickly get the necessary authorizations to visit the country. However travelers should apply at least 7 days before their expected date of departure.
The eVisa approval letter will be valid for single entry stay and up to 30 days in the country. Applicants are able to obtain eVisa through a simple online application form. The Laos eVisa is offered to national who are eligible for Visa on Arrival. This means citizen of 150 countries can get their visa online, instead of the arrival visa.
Click here for more information: https://www.visalaos.com/visa-on-arrival/
It is also possible to obtain a visa on arrival in Laos, either at the airport or at the land border crossings. It is quicker and cheaper than at an embassy. To facilitate processing, pay the visa application fee in exact change with US dollars, Laotian Kip and Thai baht are accepted. You may pay more for the currency exchange.
More information about E-Visa for Laos: https://laoevisa.gov.la/info
Check on the link for more information: http://immigration.gov.la/
The main airports in Laos are Vattay International Airport in Vientiane, Luang Prabang International Airport, Pakse International Airport and Savannakhet International Airport.
From the US, there are no direct flights to Laos. However, coming for the United States of American you will have flight layover and connections. It is recommend to have your connection in Bangkok.
Here is a list of some of the airlines serving Laos: Air France, China Eastern, China Southern
Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines
Weather and geography
The climate and vegetation are of humid tropical type with monsoon. The dry season extends from November to April; it is pleasant and cool during the months of December and January. Frequent rains occur between June and October. The average rainfall varies considerably depending on latitude and altitude. Maximum temperatures: 38°C (100°F); minimum: 15°C (59°F) (depending on the season and the region).
Laos has no access to the sea and it shares its borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar. It covers an area of approximately 237,000 km² (91,429 mi²). Its capital is Vientiane. The other main cities are Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. Rivers and mountains are the two main landforms in Laos. The Mekong valley and its fertile plains concentrate almost all the rice fields.
Population and languages
Laos is a country with an estimated population of 7 million people, making it one of the least populated countries in Southeast Asia. Laos is more like a kaleidoscope of ethnicities than a nation state. With 30 inhabitants per km², the country has one of the lowest densities in Asia. 85% of the population lives in rural areas.
The official language is Lao. In the cities of Luang Prabang province and along the Mekong valley, people sometimes understand French. However, English is increasingly becoming the first foreign language.
The majority of Laotians (about 65%) are followers of Theravada Buddhism (teaching of the Wise Men) also practiced in Thailand and Cambodia. It emphasizes the three main aspects of life: the Dukkha (suffering, disappointment, illness), the Anica (transitory character of all things) and the Anatta (non-essential character of reality, impermanence).
Christianity represents 2% of the population, especially in certain ethnic groups such as the Hmong and Khmer and among Laotians of Vietnamese origin. Islam and Confucianism exist but represent only very small religious minorities in the country. Finally, it is important to note that 30% of the population is animist (although they may be Buddhist) and believe in protective spirits that may take animal form
When to go ?
The most interesting period to discover Laos is between November and March during the dry season. Temperatures are more pleasant; there is less humidity in the air and little or no rainfall. In some high altitude areas, it can even be very cold or even freeze at night (in the mountains of northern Laos).
Money and Electricity
The national currency of Laos is the kip. In reality, Laotians use 3 different currencies in their daily life (the kip, the US dollar and the Thai baht). Nevertheless, if you go to small towns and villages, plan enough kips for your stay.
Banks and official exchange offices are willing to exchange money with commission. In remote and rural areas, however, it is more difficult to find banks. Make the most of being in tourist cities (Vientiane, Luang Prabang) and change money and take your cash reserve with you.
The electric current is 220 V. It is advised that you travel with a universal adaptor. Be careful, if you go off the tourist trails to go to more remote provinces, a generator can distribute electricity for a few hours, sometimes not at all.
Traditions and customs
Due to the fact that Laos is made up of several large ethnic groups, each with their own culture and traditions, when we speak of Lao culture, we are actually referring only to the Lao of the plains, which do not even represent half of the population. Yet it is the culture that predominates in the cities and villages of the Mekong Valley, and on an official level, it is this culture that represents the national culture.
Correct behavior in temples or other religious buildings implies respect for a certain number of points.
It is important to wear correct clothing (no shorts, tank tops, T-shirts) and to remove your shoes when entering a building where a Buddha icon is located. Buddha’s are sacred objects.
When you decide to sit in a religious building, your feet must not be pointed at the Buddha. To do this, one should sit with one's legs bent to the side, with the feet pointing backwards.
Buddhist monks must not touch women or be touched by them. If a woman wants to give something to a monk, either give it to a man who will then give it to the monk, or place the object within the monk's reach.
b. Gestures and Attitudes in society
Laotians generally do not shake hands to greet each other, but use a gesture that consists of bringing the palms together in a gesture of prayer, the wai.
When things take a bad turn, don't get angry! To lose your temper is to lose face. Raising your voice is considered rude in any situation.
When you hold something out to someone, do it with both hands, or with the right hand, but never with the left hand, which is reserved for intimate ablutions. Books, as well as any written support, enjoy a privileged status over other objects: do not put them on the floor.
c. Head and feet
The feet are spiritually the most unclean part of the body. Never point them at anything or anyone. Don't put your feet on a chair or table when you are sitting down. Never touch someone with your foot.
Similarly, since the head is spiritually the purest part of the body, there are certain taboos: never put your hand on someone's head, and never stroke a child's (or an adult's) hair. If this happens to you, apologize immediately, as it may make you look extremely rude.
Never step over a person, even in a crowded area. Try to walk around the person or ask them to move.
d. Advice for Travelers
As you pass through ethnic minority villages, try to find out about the customs and taboos, either by asking questions directly or by observing.
Many ethnic groups are afraid of the camera. Before pointing the lens at a person or a house, ask permission.
Show respect for religious symbols and rituals. Avoid touching spirit houses, domestic hotels, village totems: your mere contact with these objects could possibly "pollute" them spiritually.