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Laos Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are currently no direct flights between the UK and Laos, so the best option is to fly to Bangkok or Singapore and then take a connecting flight to either Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Flights are available from many of the major UK airports to both Bangkok and Singapore using a range of airlines including Thai Airways, British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights to Bangkok take around 12 hours. From Bangkok to Laos flight times range from 1 to 2 hours depending on your chosen destination.

Time zone

Laos is +7 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

You can obtain your visa upon arrival where you will need to present your valid passport, one passport sized photograph and the visa fee in US$ in cash per person. As with many other countries, your passport will need to be valid for at least six months from your date of arrival in Laos. Once you have your visa make sure you get an entry stamp in your passport.

Do’s and don’ts

Do carry your passport, or copies of your passport, with you at all times.

It is courteous to ask permission from people or monks before taking any photographs.

If you are going to a place of worship you should remove your shoes, ensure your upper arms and legs are covered and remove your hat.

Do not stray from the path in rural areas. Unexploded mines are a hazard throughout the country, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province close to the Plain of Jars and close to the Lao-Vietnamese border. In these areas it is advised to stick to main routes and avoid picking up any discarded metal objects.

Money

The official currency of Laos is the Lao Kip, but the Thai Baht and US Dollars are also widely accepted. Although US Dollars are accepted, it is not advisable to rely solely on this form of currency throughout your trip and best to also have a supply of Lao Kip as this is generally preferred for smaller purchases. Cards are not widely accepted but larger hotels in all of the main cities do accept card payments. You can also use ATM machines in most major towns, just remember to inform your bank before you travel.

Tipping

In Laos tipping is not generally expected. If you visit a temple or other religious institution, there will be contribution boxes available for donations. A guideline for tipping drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Lao cuisine has been heavily influenced by the food of surrounding countries, particularly Thailand and China. There is also a strong French influence with baguettes are readily available, numerous French restaurants and French style draught beers. Staples of the Lao diet include sticky rice, noodles, soups and grilled or steamed meat. Two famous, mouth-watering dishes are ‘larb’, a spicy mixture of meat, herbs and vegetables, and ‘som tam’, a spicy green papaya salad.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Laos celebrates an array of festivals throughout the year. The most vibrant of these is Boun Pimai –Laos New Year – which is marked with parades, dancing and water throwing, a traditional sign of cleansing which is said to bring luck for the coming year. This festival lasts for three days in the middle of April. Many festivals and celebrations revolve around the Buddhist faith with Visakha Puja, the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, and Boun Visakhaphusa, the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away, marked by periods of meditation and prayer.

Throughout October, along rivers up and down the country, boat racing festivals are a common sight to see. The largest of these is the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival which has become a national holiday. If you are lucking enough to be in the capital for the festival you will be treated to a lively display with nearly all residents turning out to cheer on the rowing teams.

Shopping

Laos is renowned for silver jewellery and textiles and the best place to pick such wares up is Luang Prabang where you will find a modern take on traditional styles and techniques. There is no shortage of markets in Laos offering shoppers the opportunity to browse traditional handmade craft items including textiles, rattan items and carvings.

Suggested reading

The Rough Guide and Footprint are excellent books with plenty of general information on the country. For more insight into the history of this fascinating country, from its ancient history to its colonisation by France and its subsequent freedom, try Martin Stuart-Fox’s ‘A History of Laos’ or ‘A Short History of Laos’ by Grant Evans. If you want some Laos-based fiction to read by the beach or pool, why not try one of Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri mystery series? All Cotterill's books are set in this beautiful country.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Laos the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Laos Holiday Ideas

Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos Holiday Review

It is the fifth major trip that you have organised on our behalf, all of which have been a great success. However on this occasion you have excelled yourself. It was an excellent mix of destinations and experiences. Each was unique in itself and we find it difficult to identify which was the highlight of the trip. They all were!

AW - Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos - February 2016

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