Population: 6.2 million
Currency: Kip. US dollars are also widely, but not universally, accepted
Language: Lao. French and English are spoken in larger cities and tourist spots
Religion: Theravada Buddhism in the majority, animism in the minority
Emergency number: 191 (police), 195 (ambulance), 190 (fire)
Who needs one?
With the exception of Japanese and ASEAN visitors, most visitors require a visa. These can be obtained on arrival at major points of entry (airports and certain land-border and ferry crossings); if you arrange your visa prior to arriving, you may enter at additional locations. Arrive with two passport-size photographs, a passport valid for at least six months and US dollars to pay the visa fee, which typically range from US$20 to $45. Thai baht and Lao kip are sometimes accepted, but at unfavourable exchange rates. Foreign tourists are generally admitted for 30 days.
Getting it sorted in Singapore
- Unexploded mines and ordnance are a hazard in Laos, and kill around 300 people each year. Don’t stray off main routes in rural areas, and don’t pick up metal objects
- Water borne, food borne and other infectious diseases are common and serious outbreaks occur from time to time. Wash hands often, wash food when possible and drink bottled water
Learn the Lingo: LAO
Hello: Sa bai dee
Thank you: Khwap Jai
That’s too expensive: Phaeng lai lai
I need your help: Suay khoy dai boh
Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Plain of Jars, Pakse
The North: Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang – Plain of Jars
The South: Vientiane – Savannakhet – Pakse – Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands)
Times & Dates
Lao Airlines flies direct from Singapore to Vientiane four times a week (three hours), or you can go to multiple destinations in Laos via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
Time difference from Singapore
1 hour behind Singapore
When to go
December and January are considered the best time to travel, but November through March is also recommended. The dry, hot season is from March through May, followed by the rainy season from May through October. September is generally the rainiest month of the year.
13 – 15 April: Laos New Year. Celebrations can last for more than a week; be prepared to be soaked as throwing perfumed water is part of the festivities. 2 Dec: Lao National Day. Celebrating the victory of the proletariat in 1975.
Before you go, read… A Short History of Laos, The Land In Between by Grant Evans. Chronicles the history of Laos from ancient times, to the turmoil of the Vietnam War and independence from France.
Before you go, watch…
The Betrayal – Nerakhoon. Academy Award-nominated documentary about a Laotian family’s struggles to assimilate into American life.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- forget the deodorant. Personal cleanliness is valued highly in Laos, so anyone with strong body odour will not make themselves popular
- show too much skin. Laotians dress conservatively, and will swim in rivers and waterfalls with at least shorts and a t-shirt on
- disrespect the monks. The morning alms-giving in Luang Prabang is popular, but be respectful, don’t use flash photography, and don’t level your head higher than the monks’ heads
- haggle hard. Remember, what’s 50c for you is much more for them