Laos is a great place to visit at any time of the year as the weather doesn't vary much – it’s always hot and humid!
The coolest time to visit is from November to January. This is also the driest time, and the main festival period, so it’s an interesting time to travel through Laos.
The wet season runs from June to October. It rains frequently during this time, temperatures average over 30 degrees Celsius and although some roads may be closed due to flooding, it is a great time for river travel.
February to May is drier but hot, with temperatures climbing to 40 degrees Celsius.
Passport and visa
Passports should be valid for six months from the date of entry into Laos. We recommend you make a photocopy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate, or scan it and keep it in an accessible email account.
Visas valid for 30 days can be easily obtained on arrival. Cost depends on nationality (from US$30 to US$42). One passport-sized photograph is required.
There are more tentative landing of ATMs in Laos, however, they are only available in Vientiane and dispense a maximum of 700,000 kip (about $70) a time and a $2 fee by BCEL.
Credit cards are not widely accepted overall Laos. However, they are recognizable at some large trading centers and hotels in Vientiane and Luang Phrabang. Visa and Master Cards are preferred to Amex or JCB. Except for the major cities, credit cards are virtually useless. So make sure you have enough cash with you when coming to Laos.
The official currency of Laos is kip (1 USD = 10,000 kip). However, US dollars and Thai bath are used widely within the country. Carrying US dollars is somehow more convenient than a lot of thousand kip.
Telephone connections and internet access
International calls from Laos can be made from most hotels and telecommunication offices in major cities and towns. It will be cheaper to call abroad using a local SIM.
Internet access is more available in Vientiane and Luang Phrabang.
The transport network in Laos is slow, but comprehensive. Getting around takes time, sometimes longer than you may think, but this is all part of the fun of travelling in this laid-back country.
In general, Laos is among the safest countries to travel and a strong image of the tranquil and relaxing life. Transportation is slow and safe. However, nothing is for sure 100 %, so be well-noticed of the petty theft, scams and travel accidents (especially in Vang vieng river).
Take all the usual precautions: have copies of all your documentation and try to keep in touch with family or friends overseas. There's no shortage of internet cafes across the country, so there's not really any excuse for not occasionally dropping an email in to placate the worriers at home. Better still, send a postcard -- some people still use those.
If you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, don't hesitate to ask a local for assistance -- by and large the Lao are very helpful, and even if they don't speak your language, they'll be able to help you find someone who does.
CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
Etiquette and cultural differences
The Government in Laos is very keen to educate visitors to this country on how to behave while visiting. Whether you come to Laos for a short visit or a longer stay, its always useful to note some of the following common norms:
- Monks are highly revered in Laos. Always sit lower (elevation) than monks.
- Don't walk over someone.
- Don't touch someone's head.
- do not give gifts to children as it encourages begging. Give them to reliable organizations or village elderly people instead.
- Dress modestly - covered from shoulder to shin.
- Do not show affection toward someone in public (i.e. touching, kissing, holding hands).
- Take off shoes before entering a home, temple and in some cases shops, restaurants, etc. Do not use your feet for anything other than walking.
- Don't touch Buddha relics.
- Always ask permission before taking photos.
- Laos people speak softly and avoid confrontation. Remember not to shout or raise your voice in public places.
Food and drink
Lao food is distinct from other Asia cuisines, although it is somewhat similar to the food found in the northeastern part of Thailand in the area known as Isan. Coming to Laos, you should also have some ideas about Laos cuisine:
- Sticky rice: is normal in every daily meal of the Lao, is often eaten with vegetable, some kinds of sauce and meat or fish
- Feu or pho (Rice noodle soup): favorite food of Lao, eaten with a lot of vegetables, meat and noodles.
- Laap: a dish that is particular to Laos and is often served on special occasions such as weddings, Baci ceremonies or other celebrations as in Lao language laap means luck or good fortune, often made from chopped or thinly sliced meat or fish mixed with vegetables and special ingredients.
Other Lao favourites include papaya salad (a spicy mix of green papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh chilies and peanuts), barbecued fresh fish and grilled meats (often served as small kebabs) and steamed fish or chicken in banana leaves.
Laos New Year is the main public holiday, which is celebrated on the 14th, 15th and 16th April. Not unlike Songkran, the Laos Pee Mai celebration mixes religious tradition with water. Here, water is used more for bathing Buddha images in temples than for dousing foreign tourists. However, water fights are catching on, so be aware when travelling during this period.
• Travel insurance
• Passport with at least six months validity from date of entry
• Photocopy of passport
• Foreign currency (US$, Thai bath) and/or ATM card
• All relevant tickets
• Reconfirmed flights
• Light weight clothing
• Umbrella and rain coat
• Appropriate shoes for trekking, cycling or walking
• Insect repellent
• First aid kit
• Adaptor – 220V, 50Hz; 2 pin plugs
• Small daypack (for day and overnight trips)
• Water bottle and helmet (for cycling trips)