The One-Page Super-Guide to Laos for new visitors & expats

Laos is a fascinating country, sometimes forgotten by not being graced with a stunning coastline like it’s neighbors, regardless, it’s a trekkers dream and one of South East Asia’s fastest growing economies.

The country is bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand to the west and southwest.

 

 

Major Cities

city – province – population
Vientiane – Vientiane – 196731
Pakxe – Champasak – 88332
Savannakhet – Savannakhet – 66553
Luang Prabang – Luang Prabang – 47378
Xam Neua – Houaphanh – 38992
Phonsavan – Xianghouang – 37507
Thakhek – Khammouane – 26200
Muang Xai – Oudomxay – 25000
Vang Vieng – Vientiane – 25000
Muang Pakxan – Bolikhamsai – 21967

 

 

Major Attractions

Luang Prabang – Buddhist culture and colonial architecture
Vientiane – for cuisine and ancient temples
Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng –  for Trekking and Backpacking
Plain of Jars region – ancient and modern culture and history
Sam Neua – Laos Civil War history
Phongsaly and Luang Namtha – trekking and hill tribes, wildlife
Thakhek – caves and waterfalls
Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) – relaxation, the Irrawaddy dolphin and Khone Phapheng Falls
Wat Phu – an ancient Khmer temple complex
Bolaven Plateau – for waterfalls and coffee.

 

Currency

The official national currency is the Lao kip (K). No coins are used in Laos, only notes in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000 Kip.

In the daily life, you will find three currencies in circulation being the local Kip, Thai baht (B) and US dollars (US$).

At early 2017
$1 AUD = 6210 Laotian Kip
$1 USD = 8220 Laotian Kip
$1 Thai Baht = 234 Laotian Kip

 

Demographics

Laos has the youngest population of any country in Asia with a median age of 21.6 years. The minimum wage is 900,000 kip (US$111) per month.

An odd fact is that more people of Lao origin actually live in Thailand rather than in Lao itself, making Laos and Thailand somewhat intertwined culturally.

 

Customs and Culture

67 percent of Laotians are Theravada Buddhist, 1.5 percent are Christian, and 31.5 percent are other or unspecified (mostly practitioners of Satsana Phi). The country has some 43 minority groups and a strong presence of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese.

Similar throughout Asia, the Loa people also like to avoid conflict and value is placed upon politeness. Like Chinese, hierarchy is respected.

Lao culture has been strongly influenced by its neighbors and trading partners of Thailand, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Thailand and Lao share a lot of customs and very similar language. Of course, there is also French influence from colonial period which includes architecture, cuisine, and language.

 

Climate and Seasons

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April with temps hitting the mid 30 deg.C

Transport

 

Intercity Transport
From village to village locals will use Songthaews, which is basically a light truck with seats in the back, think army troop carrier style. Other options are small buses and popular destinations may have modern tourist mini-vans.

Large buses handle the major routes between cities which can be booked through hotels or guest houses. Vientiane is the main hub for intercity buses and has three stations being Central Bus Terminal, Northern Bus Terminal, and Southern Bus Terminal.

There are also cross-border buses which run between Laos and its neighboring countries including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. Again, buses can be booked through hotel or travel agency. There is some detailed information including timetables and contacts here: http://www.laos-guide-999.com/international-buses.html

 

Public Transport

Public transport in Vientiane consists of electric mini-buses, buses, ‘jumbos’ which are basically a large motorised Tuk-tuk. You can also rent bikes and hire private mini-vans. The taxi industry is growing, a major company in Vientiane is Taxi Vientiane Group Co (+856-21 4541 68)

 

Airports

Laos has several domestic and three international airports which are:

Vientiane (Wattay) (IATA: VTE) – Wattay International Airport offers regularly scheduled flights by Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Air Asia, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines.

Luang Prabang International Airport (IATA code: LPQ) – regularly scheduled flights for Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines.

Pakse International Airport (IATA: PKZ) – a major transportation hub for southern quarters of the country. Once the capital of southern Laos you should fly into Pakse International Airport to reach the scenic Bolaven Plateau or Si Phan Don. Regular scheduled flights from Vientiane, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap.

 

Airlines

There is one national carrier – http://www.laoairlines.com

 

Top Places to Stay

A selection of hotels/hostels that receive high reviews, offer great value in a central location.

 

Vientiane

S Park Design Hotel – 4 Star (1.5km from city center) – $70 AUD and up

Hive Hostel – (700m from city center) – $20 AUD and up

 

Luang Prabang

Villa Oasis – 3-star (City Center) – $66 AUD and up

Lakhangthong Boutique Hotel – 3-star – $56 AUD and up

Sakura Guesthouse (City Center) – $33 AUD and up

 

Long Term Rentals

Apartment rentals range from (in USD per month)

200 – 300: Usually substandard, older apartments.
400 – 600: Basic standard, rather smaller & older apartments.
700 – 1000: New, modern apartments, spacious.

http://jclao.com is an Australian/Laos company

 

Food and Cuisine

 

The staple ingredient in Laos is, like other Asian nations, is rice but not cooked just anyway, it has to be sticky rice and it’s served with most every meal. Known locally as khao niao the glutinous rice is soaked, then steamed and even better if it’s steamed over a charcoal fire.

Other popular dishes include

Khao Jee (Bagutte Sandwich) which is similar to Vietnamese Bhan mi, a crispy french style roll filled with fresh fillings.

Khao Piak Sen (Noodle Soup) a popular breakfast dish made up of chicken or pork broth with noodles and other toppings as desired.

Laap (Meat salad) finely chopped meat (can be raw or cooked) mixed with garlic, crushed, roasted rice and herbs then dressed with lime juice.

Tam mak houng (Papaya salad) – locally made fish sauce, fresh vegetables, shrimp and freshly sliced papaya

BBQ – streetside BBQ is hugely popular with skewers of meat, vegetables

 

Typical Living Expenses

Basic nightly accommodation – $15-25
Khao Jee (Bagutte Sandwich) – $3
Restaurant Meal – $6

 

Visas

Most countries, including Australia, can obtain 30-day visa on arrival, a handful of South East Asian nations are offered visa-free entry and residents of some countries must obtain visas in advance.

Official site: http://www.laosembassy.net/visa-and-passports/

 

Forums and useful websites

Laos News – http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/

Expat Site with forum – http://www.findinlao.com/f/

Laos Travel Guide http://www.laos-guide-999.com/

WikiTravel Laos – http://wikitravel.org/en/Laos

 

 

Language

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. The Lao alphabet is very similar to Thai. Languages like Khmu and Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and highland areas.

French and English speakers can be found in many larger cities.

Learning the language – basic phrases

More useful phrases here: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Lao_phrasebook

Making Friends in Laos

Best done while in Laos, you could also try Badoo.com, or connecting with people via the forums listed earlier. Loa people are renowned for being friendly, laid-back and fun-loving.

 

Mobile, Wi-Fi and Internet

The two major providers for mobile telephony are:

Lao Telecom – http://www.laotel.com

Beeline – http://www.beeline.la

Both offer 4G services in major cities and 3G /2G service in regional areas. A 3GB data pack costs around $16 AUD.

 

Dialling

The country code for Laos is 856.

From outside Laos

Dial +856 then the Lao number without a leading zero.

From within Laos:

Fixed line phone to a mobile: dial 020 then the number

Mobile to a fixed line: dial 021 and then the number

International calls: international code is 00 followed by the country code and then by the number without a leading zero.

 

Power

Laos’ power supply is 220 volts, 50Hz and the most common plug is type F

 

 

Medical

Medical care in Laos, including Vientiane, is basic and most people would go to Thailand.

 

For Australian Citizens, there is a clinic at the embassy

Australian Embassy
Thadeua Road
Kilometre  4
Phone number: +856 [0] 21353840

 

Alliance Medical

Honda Complex, Souphanuvong Road, Ban Wattayyaithong,
Sikhottabong district, Vientiane Capital, Lao P.D.R.

http://www.aimclao.com/

 

French Medical Centre

Bvd. Kouvieng Rue Simeuang, Vientiane, Laos

http://www.ambafrance-laos.org/spip.php?article540