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Inter City Boutique Hotel
Inter City Boutique Hotel - dream vacation

24-25 Fa Ngum Road Ban Wat Chan Chanthabuly DistrictVientiane

Vientiane Garden Hotel
Vientiane Garden Hotel - dream vacation

Sihome Road , Vientiane , LaoVientiane

Salana Boutique Hotel
Salana Boutique Hotel - dream vacation

Chao Anou Rd, 112 Wat Chan VillageVientiane

My Dream Boutique Resort
My Dream Boutique Resort - dream vacation

Ban Mougga village, Mougaga StreetLuang Prabang

Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu
Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu - dream vacation

Namphu Ban Xieng NgneungVientiane

Lalco AR Hotel
Lalco AR Hotel - dream vacation

Ban Hatsady NeuaVientiane

Laos (???????? m??ang l?o) is a nation in Southeast Asia, known for its mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements, and Buddhist monasteries.



  • Vientiane — the still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River
  • 2 Houay Xai — in the north, on the Mekong and the border with Thailand
  • 3 Luang Namtha — capital of the north, known for its trekking
  • Luang Prabang — a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market
  • 5 Muang Xay — also known as Oudomxay, the capital of the multi-ethnic province of Oudomxay
  • Pakbeng — halfway point on the overnight slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang
  • Pakse — gateway to the Wat Phu ruins and the "four thousand islands" (Si Phan Don)
  • Savannakhet — in the south on the Mekong, connected by bridge to Mukdahan in Thailand
  • 9 Tha Khaek — a popular base for exploring Phou Hin Boun National Park including the famous Konglor Cave

Other destinations

  • 1 Ban Nalan Trail — a two-day ecotourism trek in the north of Laos
  • 2 Bolaven Plateau — highland with waterfalls, jungles and farmland
  • Champasak — Wat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Angkor-style Khmer temples
  • 4 Nong Khiaw — beautiful karst cliffs where you can discover hilltribe villages, kayak, bike ride or just hang out
  • 5 Plain of Jars — Iron Age cemetery sites near Phonsavan; also one of the main locations to learn about the "Secret War".
  • 6 Si Phan Don — the "four thousand islands" are nestled within the Mekong near the Cambodian border
  • Vang Vieng — backpacker hangout for exploring limestone caves and tubing on the Nam Song river
  • 8 Vieng Xai — remote cultural oasis and symbolic cradle of Marxism; see the caves where the Pathet Lao leaders ran their operations in defiance of the West


The Lao People's Democratic Republic (??????????? ?????????? ??????????) (Lao PDR) is the only landlocked country in Southeasia Asia, and the most sparsely populated. Unlike most countries an Asia, the country has not undergone a major industrialisation and modernisation period; as result, lifestyle remains mostly rural and there are no large cities. An adjective often applied to Laos is "forgotten", but contrary to what advertised by travel agencies, it is hard to say this applies to tourism as well: Laos gets only 20% fewer international visitors than the Philippines, which has a population 15 times bigger than that of Laos.

Travelers lured by the prospect of visiting an untouched "Shangri-la" are likely to be disappointed; in fact, cities like Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw and Vang Vieng are very tourist-oriented. On the other hand, Laos can be extremely rewarding for those who are instead drawn by the laid-back lifestyle and the opportunity to knock back a few cold Beerlao while watching the sunsets on the Mekong. Perhaps one of the biggest attractions of Laos is the famous "Lao PDR" - Lao-Please Don't Rush.


See also: Indochina Wars

Laos is squeezed between vastly larger neighbours. It was created as an entity in 1353, when warlord Fa Ngum declared himself the king of Lan Xang ("Million Elephants"). The kingdom began as a Khmer vassal state. After a succession dispute, the kingdom split in three in 1694, and was eventually devoured piece by piece by the Siamese, the last fragments agreeing to Siamese protection in 1885.

The area east of the Mekong, however, was soon wrenched back from Siam by the French, who wanted a buffer state to protect Vietnam, and set up Laos as a unified territory in 1907. It was briefly occupied by Japan in 1945, and a three-decade-long conflict was triggered when France wanted to retake its colony. Granted full independence in 1953, the war continued between a variety of factions, with the Communist and North Vietnam-allied Pathet Lao struggling to overthrow the French-aligned monarchy. During the Vietnam War (1964-1973), this alliance led the United States to dump 1.9 million tonnes of bombs on Laos, mostly in the northeast stronghold of the Pathet Lao: as a comparison 2.2 million tonnes were dropped on Europe by all sides during World War II.

In 1975, after the fall of Saigon, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of Vientiane and ended a six-century-old monarchy. The royal family was arrested and sent to reeducation camps, where most of them died by the 1980s, though some of the royals would escape to France and established a government-in-exile, where they remain to this day. Closer ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with a gradual return to private enterprise, an easing of foreign investment laws and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

Despite being just one hour by air from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, life in Laos has continued in much the same way it has for hundreds of years, although things are now slowly beginning to change. In the mid-1990s the government reversed its stance on tourism, and then declared 1998 "Visit Laos Year". Since then, tourism in Laos has been rising every year.

In 2017, Laos and China started the construction of a high-speed rail linking Kunming to Vientiane, with plans for further extension all the way to Bangkok or even Singapore. When complete, the rail connection is expected to have a dramatical impact on the country; Kunming itself has a population 8 times bigger than Vientiane, and in fact, comparable to the entire population of Laos, while only the province of Yunnan has a population about 7 times bigger than the population of Laos. It is likely that the face of tourism in the country will drastically change, and the word "forgotten" used to describe Laos will become a forgotten memory itself.


Despite its small population, Laos has 49 ethnic groups, or tribes, from which Lao, Khmou and Hmong constitute approximately three-quarters of the population. Most tribes are small, with some having just a few hundred members. The ethnic groups are divided into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai language represented by 8 tribes, Mone-Khmer language with 32 tribes, Hmoung-Loumien language with 2 tribes, and Tibeto-Chinese language represented by 7 tribes.

Laos is officially Buddhist, and the national symbol, the gilded stupa of Pha That Luang, has replaced the hammer and sickle even on the state seal. Still, there is a good deal of animism mixed in, particularly in the baci (also baasi) ceremony conducted to bind the 32 guardian spirits to the participant's body before a long journey, after serious illness, the birth of a baby, or other significant events.

Lao custom dictates that women must wear the distinctive phaa sin, a long sarong available in many regional patterns; however, many ethnic minorities have their own clothing styles. The conical Vietnamese-style hat is also a common sight. These days men dress Western-style and only don the phaa biang sash on ceremonial occasions. Nowadays women often wear Western-style clothing, though the "phaa sin" is still the mandatory attire in government offices, not only for those who work there but also for Lao women who are visiting.


Laos has three distinct seasons. The hot season is from Mar-May, when temperatures can soar as high as 40°C and the humidity makes it feel like 50°C. The slightly cooler wet season is from May-Oct, when temperatures are around 30°C, tropical downpours are frequent (especially Jul-Aug), and some years the Mekong floods.

The dry season from Nov-Mar, which has low rainfall and temperatures as low as 15°C (or even to zero in the mountains at night), is "high season". However, towards the end of the dry season, the northern parts of Laos — basically everything north of Luang Prabang — can become very hazy due to farmers burning fields and fires in the forests.

Get in


Visas are not required by citizens of: Brunei and Myanmar (14 days), Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland (15 days), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam (30 days).

The website of the foreign ministry does not prove too helpful in obtaining up-to-date visa information. But the website of Tourism Laos provides more useful information on this topic.

Visa on arrival

A visa on arrival is available to most nationalities entering at the airports in VientianeLuang PrabangPakse and Savannakhet. These land border crossings offer visa on arrival: Boten (China); Houay Xay, Nam Ngeun, Kenthao, Vientiane, Thakhet, Savannakhet, Vangtao (Thailand) which includes all friendship bridges; Ban Leui, Nam Kan, Nam Phao, Dan Savanh (Vietnam); and Veun Kham (Cambodia). One passport photo is required although you may be able to pay a US$1 fee for your passport photo to be scanned upon arrival.

As of 2019, the price is US$30 for all except the following nationalities (the list excludes countries not eligible for visa on arrival and those with a visa exemption for at least 30 days):

Paying in Thai baht (1500 baht ~ US$47 in Jan 2019) is possible too, but the mark-up means that travellers should try to bring U.S. dollars. While Lao kip are usually not accepted for the visa fee, border staff does make exceptions sometimes, however at a bad rate. A US$1 "out of office hours/overtime" surcharge at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, and a small possibly 10 baht to US$1 entry stamp fee might also be charged.

Visa from the embassy

Visas can be obtained in advance from Lao embassies or consulates . The fee varies by nationality and by embassy; US$40 is common, although can be as high as US$63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing times also vary; 2-3 days is typical, though you may be able to pay an extra small amount (around US$5) to receive the visa in as little as one hour. In Phnom Penh the travel agencies can arrange the visa the same day (but may charge as much as US$58) while getting it from the embassy takes a few days. Getting a visa from the embassy in Bangkok costs around 1,400 baht for most nationalities, plus 200 baht more for "same day" processing. It's cheaper and quicker to get a visa at the border.

Visa extension

Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as "visa extensions") are available from the Immigration Department in VientianeLuang Prabang or Tha Khaek, the Police Station in Pakse, and possibly other cities. Extensions are not possible in Laos' second city, Savannakhet, although you can do a border run from there to Thailand to get a new 30-day visa. The cost is US$2.50 per day plus a small "form fee" ranging between 5,000 kip (Pakse) to 30,000 kip (Vientiane). The process is very easy; turn up in the early morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they do this for you) and come back in the afternoon to collect your passport with an extension stamp in it. If you do this in the late morning or later in the day, your passport will be ready the following day.

If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to nip over the border (entry to Thailand is free for most Western nationalities) and return immediately to get a new 30-day Lao visa since a 30-day visa extension costs US$75.

By plane

Those two international airports are served by national carrier Lao Airlines and a few others, including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways (Luang Prabang only) and Vietnam Airlines. Some seats on flights of Vietnam Airlines are reserved for Lao Airlines (codesharing/better price).

  • Pakse International Airport (PKZ IATA). The third international airport, with flights from Siem Reap (Vientiane–Pakse–Siem Reap by Lao Airlines) and from Ho Chi Minh City. SilkAir has regular service from Singapore to Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There are also regular round trip flights from Vientiane to Kunming, PDR and Incheon, South Korea on Lao Airlines and other carriers.  

Low-cost carriers AirAsia flies to Vientiane from Kuala Lumpur three times a week, and offers daily flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang. Another cheap option for getting to Vientiane is to fly to Udon Thani in Thailand with discount airlines Nok Air or Air Asia and connect to Nong Khai and the Friendship Bridge via shuttle service directly from the airport (40 minutes); from here, Vientiane is 17 km (11 mi) away.

By train

There is a bridge across the Mekong from the Thai town of Nong Khai to Tha Naleng near Vientiane. There are two shuttle services per direction per day, with one timed to connect to the night trains from Bangkok. Visa on arrival is available when crossing the border by train. The train is not a very attractive option because the railway station is in the middle of nowhere, however, there are shuttle buses to take you the rest of the way. Plans are underway to extend the line further into Laos, making it useful for domestic traffic, too.

A new railway line from Kunming, China to Vientiane is scheduled to open in December 2021. This line will serve Luang Namtha (Boten), Muang Xay, Muang Nga, Luang Prabang, Muang Kasi, Vang Vieng, Phonhong and Vientiane. The passenger train will be able to run at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour will be dramatically reduce the travelling time compared with traveling by road.

By land

Most border crossings open for foreigners, with an indication where visas on arrival can be issued, are listed on the web site of the National Tourism Administration. This list is unfortunately incomplete.


Visa on arrival for Laos is available when entering from Cambodia overland, with an official "Visa on Arrival" office incorporated into the checkpoint. The nearest Cambodian town is Stung Treng, and the border is a 60- to 90-minute bus ride away. The border is lightly used, with almost no onward public transport available once you passed through immigration, therefore it may be wise to book transport all the way to Ban Nakasang or Pakse depending on your destination.

If you're buying a ticket from a destination in Cambodia to one in Laos (the most common being Siem Reap/Phnom Penh to Don Det) and you want the border crossing to be as trouble-free as possible, accept that you will have to pay an additional fee that usually isn't lower than US$5 on top of the visa-on-arrival fee applicable to your nationality, current as of 2019. Not including possible mark-ups for the visa, the charge consists of:

  • $2 stamp fee on the Lao side
  • $2 stamp fee on the Cambodian side
  • $1 assistance fee for the facilitator as he gets the Lao visa and entry stamp for you

This is the best case scenario: the "assistance fee" may also be $2 depending on the bus company used, and/or the facilitator will demand a higher total to account for the inflated visa price. While you can decline to use a facilitator, you will nevertheless be asked for the unofficial fees by the immigration officials, as the facilitator merely collects them on their behalf to "speed up the process".

It is possible to at least circumvent the unofficial fees on the Cambodian side – several reports on the net suggest that the Cambodian officials are quick to give in if you refuse to pay the fee; it seems easiest if you can convince them that you simply don't have any dollars left.

Little public information exists for the Lao side. The officials may or may not try to overcharge you for the visa on arrival. For Canadians, this can oddly result in paying less than the official price of US$42. One traveller reported that officials, at least on one occasion, seemed to use US$30 (the official price for most eligible nationalities) as the baseline for passports from Western countries, but then asked a Canadian citizen for US$35 instead. Whatever your nationality, do make sure you know what visa price applies to your passport before you hop on the bus to this border.

Furthermore it is unknown whether one can refuse to pay the inflated visa fee (if applicable), the unofficial stamp fee, be successful and be still able to find onward transport to Ban Nakasang, although this definitely works the other way round (coming from Laos, going to Cambodia). Getting held up by not paying will likely see your bus leave without you.

For those who want to stand their ground and don't mind possibly having to wait for a few hours in order to beat corruption, there is an option worth trying: Book your transport with any operator to the border only, ideally from Stung Treng with a departure in the morning to have time on your side. Enquire with travel agencies or online to book your separate onward transport from the border going North, and make sure it only leaves two to three hours after your arrival at the border. Alternatively, if you're feeling the stars are aligned in your favour, you may be able to catch a minivan or tuk-tuk that some travellers use to get independently to the border from the Lao side; it's unlikely to happen after lunchtime though.

Another pitfall of the journey to the border is that you will often have four changes of bus (number depending on your origin – some vehicles are small minibuses where passengers have to sit on each other's laps), and hours spent driving to remote guesthouses to pick up backpackers. Asia Van Transfer (AVT) was set up by a foreign expat and has built a good reputation for not letting passengers wait unnecessarily, not letting them change vehicles and also not overbooking seats, but this means they're also a bit pricier; also, they cannot drive into Laos.

If your luggage has been sent in a bus you are not on, because of "lack of space", it will sometimes disappear. The "King of Bus Company" is known to do this.


The land crossing between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible or you can get in advance at the Lao consulate in Kunming. Daily bus service operates from Mengla to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. Buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha leave from the North bus station. The first bus leaves around 08:00 and costs about ¥40.

Generally speaking, it is not possible for independent travellers to cross from China to Laos via the Mekong River, not least because there's a chunk of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at Xieng Kok does not issue visas on arrival. Travel agents in China, including Panda Travel, run irregular cruises from Jinghong (China) via Chiang Saen (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos), but schedules are erratic and prices expensive.


The Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge connects Shan State in Myanmar with Luang Namtha Province in Laos.


There are eight border crossings open to all between Thailand and Laos. From north to south:

  • Huay Xai/Chiang Khong: Using the fourth Friendship Bridge is the usual overland route to Luang Prabang, easy bus connections to Chiang Rai and points beyond on the Thai side.
  • Ban Pangmon/Ban Huak: Located on a remote mountainous road. If you want to travel overland from Chiang Mai to Hanoi overland via Laos, this is one possible route. No visa on arrival.
  • Muang Ngeun/Huay Kon: Visa on arrival. 40 km from Pak Beng.
  • Nam Hueng/Tha Li: Easily reached via Loei on the Thai side, but 378 km of dirt road away from Luang Prabang. No visa on arrival.
  • Vientiane/Nong Khai: The first Friendship Bridge and the busiest of crossing of them all. Direct trains from Bangkok now available.
  • Paksan/Bueng Kan: No visa on arrival.
  • Tha Khaek/Nakhon Phanom: The third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
  • Savannakhet/Mukdahan: The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
  • Vang Tao/Chong Mek: On the route from Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani.


There are at least six border crossings that can be used by foreigners. These include:

  • Donsavanh - Lao Bao - to Savannakhet
  • Keo Nua Pass
  • Lak Sao - to Khammouan Province
  • Nam Can - to Plain of Jars
  • Na Meo - to Sam Neua
  • Tay Trang - to Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw (close to Dien Bien Phu, the site of a famous battle where the French were defeated by Vietnamese independence fighters)
  • Bo Y (nearest town on Vietnamese side being Ngoc Hoi and on Lao side Attapeu)

By motorbike from Vietnam

The border crossing on a Vietnamese motorbike at Tay Trang is very easy and straightforward. You arrive after going over some hills at the Vietnamese border where very friendly guys handle your case easily and with no hassle. You fill out the form for "temporary export of a vehicle", show them the Vietnamese registration card for the bike (which is usually in the owners name) and pay US$10. Then you proceed to the police, show the papers to them and get the exit stamp.

You then have to drive for 6 km over the mountains to get to the Lao checkpoint. There some not-so-friendly border guards there who expect you to pay 5,000 kip for general fees and 25,000 kip for importing a vehicle. They fill out the form themselves.

Get around

Being in transit by air, road or river in Laos can be as rewarding as the destination itself - but allow plenty of leeway in your schedule for the near-inevitable delays, cancellations and breakdowns.

By plane

State carrier Lao Airlines has a near-monopoly on domestic flights. They managed a 13-year accident-free streak until an October 2013 crash near Pakse resulted in 49 victims, the country’s deadliest air disaster. The fairly comprehensive network is by far the fastest and, relatively speaking, the safest way of reaching many parts of the country.

As of 2013, the popular Vientiane-Luang Prabang route costs about US$101 (one-way full fare for foreigners), but covers in 40 minutes what would take you at least ten to twelve hours by bus. Several planes a day. Tickets can be bought on-line or at any travel agency.

Flights to more remote destinations are flown on the Xian MA60, a Chinese copy of the Soviet An-24, and are frequently cancelled without warning if the weather is bad or not enough passengers show up.

Lao Airlines also flies 14-passenger Cessnas from Vientiane to Phongsali, Sam Neua and Sainyabuli (Xayabouly) several times a week. These airfields are all rudimentary and flights are cancelled at the drop of a hat if weather is less than perfect.

By road

The main routes connecting VientianeVang ViengLuang Prabang and Savannakhet are sealed, and the transport options on these roads include bus, minibus, and converted truck.

A good source of bus timetables, including some basic town maps, can be found at hobomaps.com

Some common routes through Laos include:

  • Vientiane to Vang Vieng – a rather short, rather quick, rather comfortable route (less than 4 hours by VIP bus).
  • Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang – an amazing scenery through the mountains, at the cost of a long 8-hour trip full of curves.
  • Luang Prabang to Phonsavan - minibus: a cramped 7-hour trip, so arrive early to get good seats as near the front as possible; beautiful views so secure a window seat if possible. Bus is 8 hours.
  • Phonsavan to Sam Neua - converted pickup truck: beautiful views but lots of hills and bends, hence possible nausea
  • Sam Neua to Muang Ngoi - minivan: a 12-hour trip along a horrible road; good views and a necessary evil, but fun if you're prepared to get a few knocks and talk to some Lao people who are, after all, in the same boat
  • Muang Ngoi to Luang Namtha - Minivan: 10-hour trip (Oudomxay); OK road, much travelled by backpackers
  • Luang Namtha to Huay Xai - road only passable in the dry season, but the same journey can be made by boat in the rainy season. China is building a new road to Thailand. The road from Luang Namtha to Huay Xai is part of this road and it is a very good road.
  • Paksan to Phonsavan - there is a new road between Borikham and Tha Thom. In Tha Thom there is a guesthouse with 8 rooms. The forest between Borikham and Tha Thom is still in a very good condition, but it's a dirt road. Since most of the forest in Laos has gone this is one of the last roads surrounded by primary forest. There are substantial road works being undertaken by the Vietnamese between Paksan and Phonsavan and there can be some fairly long delays along the way. Even though the trip is only a couple of hundred kilometres it can take 16-20 hr to traverse this section.

Local transport (less than 20 km) in Laos consists of tuk-tuks, jumbos, and sky labs, motorised three or four wheelers. A jumbo should cost no more than 20,000 kip for short journeys of 1-5 km.

The main ride-hailing app is LOCA. You can pay by cash or use a credit card to pay through the app.

You can now also travel the entire length of the country using a fully guided "hop on hop off" bus service provided by Stray Travel. This is the only guided hop on hop off bus in Southeast Asia.

Women should be aware that often during lengthy bus or minibus trips there is no opportunity to go to the toilet during breaks, so it may be advisable to wear a wide skirt.

By songthaew

A songthaew (??????) is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side — hence the name, which means "two rows" in Thai. In English tourist literature, they're occasionally called "minibuses". By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.

Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses, and generally are the most economical way to travel shorter distances. There also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to someplace if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price before embarking.

By tuk-tuk/jumbo

The names tuk-tuk and jumbo are used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built, others are partially based on motorcycle components. A tuk-tuk organisation in Vientiane controls the prices that tourists are expected to pay for point to point destinations. The rates are negotiable, and you should agree on the price prior to getting on the tuk tuk. The current rates can be found here: Tuk Tuk Prices in Vientiane

By motorbike

Motorbike travel in Laos is not without risks but the rewards of truly independent travel are great. There are several rental shops in VientianeLuang PrabangPakse and Tha Khaek, but bike rentals in other parts of the country may be scarce. The quality of machines varies from shop to shop so you need to fully inspect it before you head out on the road. There are many good roads and many paved ones and touring Laos is done easily.

There are a variety of bikes available in Laos, depending on which town and rental shop you go to. Some available include the Honda Baja or XR 250 dual-purpose bikes, Ko Lao 110 cc and the usual Honda Win/Dream 110 ccs. Helmets are not only mandatory in the country but a valuable item in a place where traffic rules are made up by the minute. Police have been cracking down on people who do not have a motorcycle licence, so expect to pay a fine if caught without one.

Petrol costs 9,000 kip/L (diesel 8,000 kip/L) as of Mar 2020.

By bicycle

Cycling is a great option with quiet roads. Laos offers wonderful remote areas to discover, little traveled roads, friendly people and even some companies providing cycling tours with the help of professional guides all over the country. The more time people seem to spend in Laos the more they seem to like the quiet travel mood and the opportunity to actually be in contact with the people along the way. Good maps are available about the roads in Laos and all major routes are with good roads. In normal distances you find simple guest houses and in all major towns better choices and restaurant. Food is not a problem as long as you remember to carry some stuff with you. Tropical fruits and noodle soup are the standards.

There are a number of local operators running a wide selection of guided mountain biking tours through Laos.

If you travel on your own, there are very few proper bike shops outside of Vientiane. but also for bikes with 28-inch wheels you might have a hard time. Bring your equipment with you and make sure you get contact details from a supplier, perhaps in Thailand.

By boat

Boats along the Mekong and its tributaries are useful shortcuts for the horrible roads, although as the road network improves river services are slowly drying up, and many of the remaining services only run in the wet season, when the Mekong floods and becomes more navigable. Huay Xai on the border with Thailand to Luang Prabang and travel south of Pakse are the main routes still in use.

There are so-called slow boats and speedboats - the latter being tiny lightweight craft equipped with powerful motors that literally skid across the water at high speeds.

By slow boat

Many people go from Chiang Khong in Thailand via the border town of Houai Xai down the Mekong to the marvelous city of Luang Prabang. The ride takes two days and is very scenic. Apart from that, it is a floating backpacker ghetto with no (good) food sold, cramped, and hot. By the second day, the novelty has worn off. Recommended to bring a good (long) read, something soft for the wooden benches and patience.

Slow boats generally stop in the village of Pakbeng for the night. Some boat packages will include accommodation, although this is usually at an inflated rate. By arranging a hotel in the town, it is easy to get a lower price. Most shops in Pakbeng shut down at about 22:00, so expect to get a good sleep before the second day's boat ride. This is also a good place to stock up on supplies.

The boats have considerably improved. They now have soft used car seats, and serve pre-fab food, which is not great, but certainly sufficient.

By speedboat

An attractive choice for some, with a 6-hour ride from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, as compared to the two-day trip on the slow boat, but not for the faint of heart. Expect to be crammed into a modified canoe made for 4, with 10 other people, along with all the luggage somehow packed in. Expect to sit on the floor of the canoe, as there are no seats, with your knees against your chin for the full 6 hours. Expect an incredibly loud engine inches behind your head. Expect the engine to break a few times, and stops for delays to fix it. That being said, when this ride finally ends, if you make it with no trouble, you will never be happier to get to Luang Prabang. Stories of small, overloaded speedboats sinking or hitting driftwood are common, but if you are a good swimmer, take comfort in the fact that you can see both shores throughout the entire trip. So, as you see, choosing between the slow boat and the speedboat is a hard call, based mostly upon your comfort level; would you prefer a slow unpleasant trip, or a much faster, but more dangerous unpleasant trip. Either way, the scenery along the way is gorgeous and unexploited, and Luang Prabang is an incredible city, worth a thousand of these journeys.

Though helpful in saving time, speedboats are not without danger: built to carry 8 passengers, they are often overloaded; the engine noise is well above a healthy level, which could be a serious hazard to your ears, especially if you are on the boat for a long time. It also causes considerable noise pollution, scaring wildlife and spoiling the peaceful river life. Fatalities resulting from capsize due to incautious maneuvering, or hitting floating logs or hidden rocks, have been reported but some claim and are exaggerated by competing slow boat owners. However, the vast majority of speedboat users have no serious problems. If you are taller than the average Laotian are a bit claustrophobic and/or have inflexible leg muscles you are guaranteed an extremely uncomfortable experience for several endless hours.

Suggestions for those who decide to take the risk:

  • get one of the front seats as they allow you to stretch your legs and are far from the noisy motor
  • wear helmets and life jackets; reconsider your journey if these are not provided
  • bring a coat in the cold season, the strong wind can make you feel cold even at temperatures of 25 °C.
  • bring earplugs
  • protect water-sensitive equipment as you might get wet.

By train

Laos does not have a domestic rail network, with the sole operational railway station on the outskirts of Vientiane serving only international trains to Thailand.

A railway like from Kunming in China to Vientiane is under construction as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, passing through Luang Prabang along the way. It is scheduled to be inaugurated in December 2021, this bringing domestic rail services to Laos for the very first time.


See also: Lao phrasebook

The official language of Laos is Lao (??????? pháa-s?a láo), a tonal language closely related to Thai. Thanks to ubiquitous Thai broadcast media most Lao understand Thai fairly well, and some have adopted certain Thai words for tourist use, including farang ("Westerner". Does not apply to foreign Asians).

But it's worth learning a few basic expressions in Lao. The Lao people obviously appreciate that you make an effort even if it is quite limited. French, a legacy of the colonial days, still features on a few signs and is spoken by most well-educated seniors. However, the presence of French has diminished in favor of English, with many younger people learning it. As a result, youth will generally know some basic English, though proficiency is generally poor. Mandarin and Vietnamese also have some presence.

Tourist areas will sometimes have school children who will practice their English with you as part of their curricular requirements. They may, after a conversation, ask you to sign a form or pose for a photo with you as proof that this conversation took place. These conversations can be a great time to gain some local ideas for your next sightseeing trip.

There are two main ways to turn the Lao script into the Latin alphabet: either French-style spellings like Houeisay, or English-style spellings like Huay Xai. While government documents seem to prefer the French style, the English spellings are becoming more common. The latter is used on Wikivoyage. Two quick pronunciation tips: Vientiane is actually pronounced "Wieng Chan", and the letter x is always read as an "s".

Like in neighboring Thailand, local pronunciation of the English word "twenty" often causes confusion by sounding a lot like "seventy".


Unlike other Indochinese countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, Laos never underwent a massive economic development, neither during colonisation nor even after the liberalisation of the Communist economy. As result, one key attraction of Laos is that most of the country, including the capital Vientiane, retains a relaxed, laid back feel with minimal presence of modern architecture or international brands and food chains. How much longer this will last is open to much speculation, but meanwhile, it makes it a truly special and unique country to visit.

Natural attractions

The term wilderness is much misused, but it can truly be applied to much of Laos. The mighty Mekong river and its tributaries together create perhaps the single most important geographic feature of the country. Its meandering path in the North has created some of the most stunning limestone karsts anywhere on earth. The backpacker-central town of Vang Vieng is a commonly used base for exploring the karsts. Further north, the terrain becomes more hilly, and the jungle less explored. Luang Namtha is the far-northern town which makes the best base for those visitors who really want to see the truly remote Lao wilderness, and directly experience the lifestyles of the various hill tribes in this region.

In direct contrast to Northern Laos, the Mekong delta lowlands in the South are perfectly flat. Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) is a great base for experiencing what is surely the most chilled and relaxed region anywhere in Asia. Experiencing local village life, taking it all in and doing absolutely nothing should be the aim here. There are though some wonderful river-based sights, including the largest falls anywhere in Southeast Asia. If you are lucky you might get a close-up view of a Mekong pink dolphin.

Cultural attractions

In this most Buddhist of nations, it is no surprise that temples are a key attraction. In the capital city of Vientiane, the three-layered gilded stupa of Pha That Luang is the national symbol and most important religious monument in the country, dating from the 16th century. There are numerous other beautiful temples which on their own make a stay in the capital city vital for any visitor to Laos.

The whole of the ancient capital of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Befitting that status, it is a unique city. Beautifully preserved gilded temples with their attendant orange-robed monks mold almost seamlessly with traditional wooden Lao houses and grand properties from the French colonial era. Spotlessly clean streets with a thriving café culture on the banks of the Mekong and the Nam Khan, complete the picture of a city which is almost too pleasant to be true.

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape dating from the Iron Age. Thousands of stone jars are scattered over a large area of the low foothills near Phonsavan. The main archaeological theory is that the jars formed part of Iron Age burial rituals in the area, but this is by no means proven, and a great deal of mystery remains. The area suffered tragic damage from American bombing during the Secret War of the 1960s, and much UXO remains uncleared. When that process is complete it is very likely this will be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wat Phu is a ruined Hindu Khmer temple complex in Champasak province. It dates from the 12th century and visitors who have been to Angkor Wat will notice the similarities.

Recent history

The town of Vieng Xai provides a striking insight in the recent history of not only Laos, but the whole of Indochina. In 1964, the US began intensive bombing of the Lao communist movement – Pathet Lao – bases in Xieng Khouang. Under much bombardment, the Pathet Lao moved east to Vieng Xai and established their headquarters in the limestone karst cave networks around the town. A whole 'Hidden City' was established which supported around 20,000 people. During nine years of almost constant American bombing, the Pathet Lao sheltered in these caves, and lived in a largely subterranean environment. Schools, hospitals and markets as well as government ministries, a radio station, a theatre and military barracks were all hidden in the caves. After the 1973 ceasefire, Vieng Xai briefly became the capital of Laos, before that function was moved to Vientiane in 1975. There are formal daily tours of the caves, as well as other evidence of that era in the town.


  • Herbal Sauna. One Laotian experience definitely worth trying is the herbal sauna. Often run by temples, these are simple-looking affairs, often just a rickety bamboo shack with a stove and a pipe of water on one side, usually open only in the evenings. The procedure for a visit is usually:
    Enter and pay first. The going rate is around 10,000 kip, plus around 40,000 kip if you want a massage afterward.
    Go to the changing room, take off your clothes and wrap yourself up in a sarong which is usually provided.
    Keeping yourself modestly sarong-clad, head over to the shower or water bucket in one corner and wash up.
    Plunge into the sauna room itself. It will be dark, hot and steamy inside, with intense herbal scents of lemongrass and whatever the sauna master is cooking up that day, and you will soon start to sweat profusely.
    When you've had your fill, head outside, sip on a little weak tea and marvel at how the tropical heat of the day now feels cool and refreshing.
    Repeat at will. (updated Nov 2016)
  • Hiking. Hiking in mountainous Northern Laos is popular, and this often includes homestays in minority tribe villages. The main hub for this is Luang Namtha where the two day Ban Nalan Trail is especially notable. The route goes through the Nam Ha National Protected Area, and involves staying in Khmu villages. Other hiking hubs include Oudomxay, south of Luang Namtha, and Pakse in southern Laos. 
  • Kayaking. Can be arranged in a wide number of locations. The ambitious traveller could kayak the Mekong between Luang Prabang and Vientiane
  • Rock Climbing. The limestone karst formations in Northern Laos are ideal for rock climbing. Vang Vieng is the main rock-climbing centre but climbs are also possible further north at Nong Khiaw and Mung Ngoi. 
  • Tubing. Floating down the river on a large inflatable tube is one of the attractions of the SE Asia backpacker circuit. The hugely popular stretch of the Nam Song at  Vang Vieng is lined with bars that lure you and your tube in with ziplines, water slides, loud music, buckets of terrible local whiskey, and unlimited Beerlao. After numerous tourist deaths, crackdowns on Vang Vieng tubing were announced in Aug 2012. Since then, many river bars have been closed down along with their flying foxes and rope swings. Tubing is still possible, but it's now a lot quieter. Whether this is a long or short-term result is still to be seen. Tubing can also be found in other locations around Laos including Si Phan Don, Nong Khiaw and Mung Ngoi. 



The Lao currency is the kip, demoted by the symbol "?" (ISO code: LAK). Wikivoyage articles will use kip to denote the currency.

Kip is convertible at banks in neighboring countries. It is possible to exchange to and from kip at Vientiane airport (opens at 09:00) and there is a Lao bank that exchanges at the Nong Khai-Vientiane land border (straight and right of the Visa on Arrival desk).

The largest note is 100,000 kip and rather uncommon (although you may get some from the ATM). Notes in common circulation are 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. Withdrawing the maximum of 1,000,000 kip from an ATM could result in 20 50,000-kip notes. This makes carrying large quantities of kip quite inconvenient.

Foreign currencies

Although less common than in the past, US dollars will sometimes be accepted, although usually at about 5–10% less than the official rate. Thai baht may be accepted in many areas near the border, notably Vientiane. In remote places, only kip is accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.

More touristy places and banks also accept the euro. So if you're from one of the euro countries, bring some just in case. This could be cheaper than changing your euros into baht or US dollars and then into kip.


There are many ATMs in Vientiane, and they have also appeared in other major cities including Luang PrabangVang ViengSavannakhet, Tha Khaek, Pakse and Luang Namtha. BCEL, the largest bank, accepts Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, but surcharges of 20,000 kip (Mar 2020) often apply. However, BCEL ATMs allow you to withdraw up to 1.5 million kip at once.

Expats living in Vientiane routinely get cash from ATMs in Nong Khai or Udon Thani in Thailand, where the maximum per transaction is mostly 20,000 baht, or ten times what you'll get in Laos.

Cash advance

Many banks, travel agents and guest houses will allow you to take out cash from a credit card as a cash advance. This usually occurs by withdrawing the money in US dollars from the card as a cash advance; the card issuer will usually charge a fee (about 3%), the Lao bank involved will charge about 3%, and then the agent providing the cash advance might or might not charge another 3%, and then the amount is converted from US dollars to kip at an unfavourable rate, costing another 5% or so. Thus, these transactions are much more expensive than the typical charge for withdrawing cash from ATMs in other countries. Getting a cash advance in US dollars and changing it to kip might save money compared to bringing euros with you to Laos.


The use of ATMs and credit cards in banks is subject to computer operation, staff computer skills, power cuts, telephone network breakdowns, holidays, etc. A few visitors have been forced out of the country prematurely as they couldn't withdraw funds to continue their travels. Always bring some cash. Changing money can be next to impossible outside major towns.

Money exchange

Banks give good rates, and private exchange booths are common in the major tourist areas. However, euros get pretty bad rates compared to US dollars when exchanged in Laos.

Shopping hours

Many shops start an hour's lunch break at noon, and some maintain the (now abolished) official French two-hour break. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays, except restaurants and many shops.


Prices tend to be lower in Laos than in neighboring countries, though standards might be lower as well. Prices are lower in smaller towns and villages than in tourist centers like Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

A budget of US$40 a day is a good rule of thumb, though it's possible to get by on far less. Excluding transport costs, living on US$15/day isn't difficult.

A basic room with shared bath can be as little as US$6 in Vang Vieng or as much as US$10-15 in Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Meals are usually under US$5 for even the most elaborate Lao, Thai or Vietnamese dishes (Western food is more expensive), and plain local dishes cost US$2-3. A local bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng costs US$5; a VIP bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang costs 160,000 kip; the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs US$25.

Unlike in Thailand, access to temples in Luang Prabang is not free, but typically costs 10,000 kip. In Vientiane only the more famous temples charge an entry fee.

For some products Laos is more expensive than Thailand and Cambodia as most goods, petrol, and food is imported from Thailand and Vietnam, and because most people have the bad habit (especially tuk-tuk drivers) of considering US$1 as 10,000 kip, where in fact it's about 9,000 kip. Remember this in bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers and when shopping in markets.

Outside of tourist centres, rooms can be found for US$2.50, and even at Si Phan Don for US$5/night. Large noodle soups are around US$2, and a typical price for large bottles of Beerlao is 10,000 kip.

What to buy

Typical Lao dresses in cheap machine-made fabric can be made to order. Expect to pay around US$5 for the fabric and US$2 for labour. Handmade Lao silk is one of the most attractive things to buy. The talat sao (Morning Market) in Vientiane has dozens of small shops selling 100% handmade silk scarves or wall hangings from US$5 upwards depending on quality, intricacy of design and size. Beware cheap synthetic fabrics sold as silk imported from China and Vietnam. Be careful also of "antique silk" as there is very little available, but new fabric can be made to look old and worn. Still attractive, but don't pay more than US$30-50. In markets, always bargain: it is expected, but keep smiling.


Lao food is very similar to that eaten in the northeastern Isaan region of Thailand: very spicy, more often bitter than sweet, and using lots of fresh herbs and vegetables served raw. Some of the raw vegetables can be used to cool your mouth when the chilis are overwhelming.

Rice is the staple carbohydrate. The standard kind is sticky rice (???????? khao niaow), eaten by hand from small baskets called tip khao. Using your right hand, never your left, pinch off a bit, roll into a ball, dip and munch away.

The national dish is laap (???, also larb), a "salad" of minced meat mixed with herbs, spices, lime juice and, more often than not, blistering amounts of chili. Unlike Thai larb, the Lao version can use raw meat (dip) instead of cooked meat (suk), and if prepared with seafood makes a tasty, if spicy, carpaccio.

Another Lao invention is tam maak hung (???????????), the spicy green papaya salad known as som tam in Thailand, but which the Lao like to dress with fermented crab (????? pudem) and a chunky, intense fish sauce called pa daek (?????), resulting in a stronger flavour than the milder, sweeter Thai style. Other popular dishes include ping kai, spicy grilled chicken, and mok pa, fish steamed in a banana leaf.

Laos also boasts a range of local desserts. Kanom kok is a small, spherical pudding made from coconut milk, tapioca and ground rice. Sang kaya mayru is a pumpkin filled with a sweet custard and then steamed. The pumpkin itself is also sweet, and the resulting mixture can be quite delicious. Sticky rice with mango or durian is also a popular snack.

In addition to purely Lao food, culinary imports from other countries are common. Khao jii pat-te, French baguettes stuffed with pâté, and foe (pho) noodles from China are both ubiquitous snacks particularly popular at breakfast. Foe can refer to thin rice noodles (Vietnamese pho), and to the wide flat noodles that would be called guay tiow in Thailand.


The national drink of Laos is the ubiquitous and tasty Beerlao, made with Laotian jasmine rice and one of the few Lao exports. It maintains an almost mythical status among travellers and beer aficionados. The yellow logo with its tiger-head silhouette can be seen everywhere, and a large 640 ml bottle shouldn't cost more than 10,000 to 15,000 kip in restaurants. It's available in three versions: original (5%), dark (6.5%) and light (2.9%). The brewery claims they have 99% market share.

Rice spirit, known as lao-lao, is everywhere and at less than US$0.30 per 750 ml bottle is the cheapest way to get drunk. Beware, as quality and distilling standards vary wildly.

Lao coffee (kaafeh) is recognised to be of very high quality. It's grown on the Bolaven Plateau in the south; the best brand is Lao Mountain Coffee. Unlike Thai coffees, Lao coffee is not flavoured with ground tamarind seed. To make sure you aren't fed overpriced Nescafé instead, be sure to ask for kaafeh thung. By default in lower end establishments, kaafeh lao comes with sugar and condensed milk; black coffee is kaafeh dam, coffee with milk (but often non-dairy creamer) is kaafeh nom.

Fresh coconut juice is delicious, and soymilk at convenience stores is surprisingly tasty, nutritious, and inexpensive.

There is not much nightlife outside of Vientiane and Vang Vieng. To have a beer in some places, simply visit a restaurant. However, some areas may be so laid-back that they will expect you to keep track of what you have drunk, with the odd guest house asking how much you have drunk during your stay upon check out.


Accommodation options outside the Mekong Valley's main tourist spots are limited to basic hotels and guesthouses, but there are many budget and mid-priced hotels and guesthouses and quite a few fancy hotels in Vientiane and Luang PrabangPakse has the Champasak Palace.


Lao work permits are difficult to obtain, unless you can secure employment with one of the numerous NGOs. English teaching is possible but poorly paid (US$5-8/hour).

One of the most interesting ways to get to know a country, and which has become increasingly popular, is to volunteer.

Stay safe

  • Identification When traveling in Laos, it is important to travel with a copy of your passport at all times. You may be asked to show ID at any time, and a fine (100,000 kip) will be imposed if you do not produce documentation on request.
  • Crime levels are low in Laos, though petty theft (bag snatching) is not unknown and keeps rising with the inability of authorities to prevent it. Reports of robbery at gunpoint surface in the big cities. Though unlikely to affect most tourists, Laos is one of the world's most corrupt countries and the corruption is a big factor in many citizens' lives.
  • Judicial process remains arbitrary and, while you are unlikely to be hassled, your legal rights can be slim or non-existent if you are accused.
  • Sexual relations between a Lao national and a foreigner are illegal unless they are married, and marriage requires special permits. Lao hotels are not permitted to allow a foreigner and Lao national in the same hotel room together. "Number One" condoms are available for 1,000-5,000 kip for a pack of three. These are probably the cheapest condoms in the world, and their quality seems reasonable.
  • Homosexuality is legal in Laos when it is non-commercial and practiced between consenting adults in private. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples may be tolerated in larger cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but in smaller towns homosexuality remains taboo, especially among the Hmong people.
  • Drugs are a large problem in Laos and should be avoided at all costs. Lao law makes little distinction between personal use and trafficking and any conviction will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best and imprisonment or even execution at worst. Methamphetamine is widespread and often offered in "special" or "happy" shakes along the backpacker trail. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or a police impersonator to "shake down" (US$500 is the common "fine") unsuspecting tourists. Keep in mind that oftentimes Lao police dress as civilians.
The Lao PDR criminal code penalties for producing, trafficking, distributing, possessing, importing or exporting are
  • Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip (US$1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
  • Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment 50 million kip (US$6,578) fine
  • Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip (US$921) fine
  • Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip (US$3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg
  • Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip (US$2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kg
  • Criticism of the Lao government or the Communist Party in any way, shape or form is unwise; you never know who might be listening.
  • Landmines or unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War maims or kills hundreds of people every year as Laos is the most bombed country in history. Almost all of these occur in the eastern and northern parts of the country, especially near the border with Vietnam. Never enter areas marked as minefields and travel only on paved roads and well-worn paths. If you are unsure of which areas are safe, ask the locals.
  • Fake products are very common. Laos is one place where Chinese or Thai companies dump sub-standard products. Similar to Myanmar, there are few if any laws preventing such trade.

Stay healthy

Parts of Laos have a good deal of malaria so anti-malarials are recommended if visiting those areas for an extended period, but check with health professionals: there is a high incidence of drug-resistant parasites in Laos. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue, can be life-threatening, so make sure you bring at least 25% DEET insect repellent and ensure that you sleep with mosquito protection like nets or at least a fan. Vientiane seems to be malaria-free but not dengue-free. The mosquitoes that are active during the day carry dengue and those that are active in the evening carry malaria. 25% DEET insect repellents are almost impossible to find in Laos, so bring some from your home country.

The usual precautions regarding food and water are needed. Tap water is not drinkable anywhere in Laos, but bottled water is cheap and widely available. In Laos, most bottled water is simply treated tap water, and some brands sterilise their water better than others. Tiger Head is recommended, which is made by the Laos Brewing Company (of Beerlao fame), costing 5-6000 kip. Roadside water kiosks that let you cheaply fill your own bottle with filtered water (as are common in Thailand and Malaysia) are not present in Laos.

Vientiane has several medical clinics are associated with European embassies. Otherwise, you probably have to go to Thailand for better treatment of serious injuries and illnesses. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are generally recommended; they're only a few hours away, depending on your location in Laos. Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai might have suitable clinics, as well, and there's Bangkok, of course. Expatriates in Laos probably have the best information; the more upscale hotels can be good resources, as well.

Travel insurance that includes cover for medical evacuation is strongly recommended. Remember: if you can't afford travel insurance, then you can't afford to travel.


Laos had a population HIV rate of 0.3% in 2020.


Dress respectfully (long trousers, sleeved shirts) when visiting temples and take your shoes off before entering temple buildings and private houses.

As with other Buddhist countries, showing the soles of your feet is very poor manners. Never touch any person on the head. Despite prevalent cheap alcohol, being drunk is considered disrespectful and a loss of face.

Things in Laos happen slowly and rarely as scheduled. Keep your cool, as the natives will find humour in any tourist showing anger. They will remain calm, and venting your anger will make everybody involved lose face and is certainly not going to expedite things, particularly if dealing with government bureaucracy.

Swastikas are commonly seen at Buddhist temples. They are regarded as a sacred symbol, and have no connection to Nazism or anti-Semitism whatsoever.

Buddhist monks

As in neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia, Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Laos, meaning that respect for monks is part of Lao life and that monks take their duties seriously. Monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by women. Therefore, women should place any offerings on a piece of cloth on the ground in front of a monk so he can pick it up. Monks are also forbidden from accepting or touching money, and offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful in the local culture. Should you wish to donate, you should only offer food to the monk. "Monks" who hang out at tourist spots soliciting donations, or those that accept money, are imposters. Monks are also not allowed to eat solid food after noon, and will stop gathering alms before then. Some undertake a vow of silence, and will not answer you even if they can speak English. It is best not to compel them to stand next to you for a photograph, or try to start a conversation if they seem reluctant.


Laos phone numbers have the format +856 20 654 321 where "856" is the country code for Laos. Numbers starting with 20 are mobile numbers, while all others are landlines.

  • Laos Country Code is "+856".
  • International Call Prefix is "00".
  • Laos Call Prefix is "0".
  • Laos articles here use the convention "+856 xx xxxxxx" except for emergency numbers which use local format with leading zero, "0xx xxxxxx"

Internet cafés can be found in larger towns, however access speeds are usually painfully slow and cafe staffs have less knowledge. The most reliable connections are in Vientiane, and usually cost around 100 kip/minute, with the cheapest offering 4,000 kip/hour. However, Internet security is not guaranteed and computer viruses are abundant.

In most cases, Wi-Fi is the best option. Most Western-style cafés offer free Wi-Fi-access for customers. Most accommodations, even budget places in Vientiane, offer free Wi-Fi.

Mobile phone usage in Laos has mushroomed, with four competing GSM operators. Two of these offer roaming services. Calling people on the same network is always cheaper than calling another network, but there is no clear market leader. Tourist and expats tend to prefer TPlus or M-phone (Laotel), while locals use any of the four networks.

  • Lao Telecom has agreements with some 30 international networks. See roaming with Lao Telecom.
  • TPlus (formerly known as Beeline) has agreements with over 100 International phone networks. Another popular choice, they also have low-cost international rate of 2000 kip/minute to many countries, if you buy their SIM card and dial "177" instead of "+".
  • ETL Mobile is known to have better coverage in rural and remote parts of Laos. However, in Laos "better" certainly does not mean "everywhere".
  • Unitel is also available. It offers 5GB/30&day plans for 50,000 kip plus 30,000 kip for the SIM card (Mar 2020).

Local prepaid SIM cards can be purchased in various shops and stores, including at the airport in Vientiane (walk through to the Domestic Terminal to find a shop selling snacks and Unitel SIMs), without any paperwork.

As another option, there is Thai coverage close to the Thai border (including a significant part of Vientiane), and Thai SIM cards and top-up cards can be bought in Laos; in addition, DeeDial International Call Cards are available. Thus, if you already have a Thai number, you can use the generally cheaper Thai network and/or avoid buying one more SIM. In addition, with the advent of cheap "neighboring country" roaming packages from the "big three" carriers in Thailand (AIS, dtac, and True all have 99 baht/2GB data roaming packages for Laos valid for varying periods) means that Thai SIMs are cheap to use even away from the Thai coverage area and can be helpful in other ways (for example, a True SIM will roam on Unitel, TPlus, and Lao Telecom, while a dtac SIM will roam on all four Lao networks, which given the lower roaming pricing these days, can be worth the premium over a local SIM limited to one network).

Postal service in Laos is slow, but generally reliable. Other paid options such as FedEx, DHL, and EMS exist in various locations. Though these services are much more expensive, they are more reliable.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Civil unrest

Tensions between Laotian government forces and unidentified groups could lead to violence in the northern region of Laos, particularly in the area of Vang Vieng. While there have been no restrictions placed on ground transportation, there is an increased military presence in the area. Proceed with caution when travelling north from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang.


Street crime is prevalent in cities and towns, including Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and has been occurring even during daylight hours. Bag theft has increased markedly. Thieves on motorcycles grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, other motorcycle drivers and their passengers. These thefts occasionally involve violence. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not show signs of affluence and avoid travelling late at night. Break-ins at hotels and guesthouses occur. Armed robberies occur in Phou Khao Khouay National Park.

Fatalities have occurred as a result of attacks on vehicles travelling on Route 13 (Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang), Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) and Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province). Be extremely vigilant when travelling on these routes.

Women’s safety

Sexual assaults occur, particularly in VientianeVang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Be vigilant along hiking trails. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.


Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and follow the advice of local authorities.

Spiked food and drinks

Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum, or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

Some food and drinks, such as “happy pizzas” and “special shakes,” may contain unspecified amounts of opium and other unknown substances. These items are sold in areas frequented by tourists, particularly Vang Vieng. While these items may be easily accessible, taking any amount of opiates can be dangerous. Foreigners, including Canadians, have died as a result of drug overdoses. Travellers have been assaulted after ingesting spiked food or drinks.


Landmines and unexploded munitions constitute a risk, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars) and at the Laotian-Vietnamese border areas that were formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Avoid these areas and only travel on well-used roads.


Road travel in Laos can be hazardous as vehicles are often poorly maintained and road conditions are poor, especially during the rainy season. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Livestock often stray onto the roads, causing accidents. Travel should be undertaken only during daylight hours. Travellers involved in traffic accidents have been required to pay compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who the police judged to be at fault. Laotian insurers will generally only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and refuse to cover compensation, which can be the largest expense.

Do not leave your passport as collateral when renting vehicles, including motorcycles. Read rental contracts thoroughly to ensure that the vehicle is correctly insured to cover damages and theft. Only rent from reputable companies, as some companies have been known to "steal" the vehicle, particularly motorcycles, and claim for loss. If your passport is inaccessible or stolen as a result of misuse, you may be subject to investigation by Passport Canada and may receive limited passport services.

Public transportation is unreliable and limited after dark. River travel is common in Laos, however, travel by boat on the Mekong River from Vientiane to Luang Prabang is unreliable. Safety standards are minimal. Speedboat travel is especially dangerous during the dry season (November to May). Lifejackets and helmets should be provided and worn by passengers. Do not travel on or across the Mekong River after dark. In some areas, the Laotian military has been known to shoot at boats after dark.

There have been fatal crashes involving Yuen-7 and Yuen-12 aircraft on domestic routes. Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

River-based sporting activities

Exercise extreme caution and carefully consider your safety if engaging in river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng. Travellers have died or been seriously injured while taking part in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping/diving into the river. River levels can fluctuate considerably and debris can make river-based activities dangerous.

General safety information

You are encouraged to register with the Embassy of Australia in Vientiane in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect your safety.

Tourist facilities outside Vientiane and Luang Prabang are limited. International telephone and email facilities are available in Vientiane but are extremely limited elsewhere. Even where available, these services are often unreliable and expensive.

Comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks. Travellers are subject to search, detention and the possibility of fines by authorities if suitable identification is not presented. Security authorities may place foreigners under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, fax machines and email messages may be monitored. Personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.

Emergency services

Dial 191 to reach police, 195 for ambulance or 190 for fire fighters.


Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.


Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Japanese encephalitis

Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending time outdoors in rural areas) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.


Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.


Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).


Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Southeast Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southeast Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.


Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.


Insects and Illness

In Southeastern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.



  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.


Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Southeastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.

Avian Influenza

There have been human cases of avian influenza ("bird flu”) in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces or other secretions.

Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds as well as surfaces contaminated with their feces or other secretions. Ensure all poultry dishes and eggs are thoroughly cooked.


Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.

Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities throughout Laos are scarce and operate below Western standards. Medical evacuation to Thailand is required, except for basic medical conditions and injuries, in order to obtain acceptable standards of treatment. Such evacuations are very expensive and difficult to organize. Take this into account prior to travel if you suffer from an unstable medical condition. Seek immediate assistance in Vientiane and consider leaving if you experience medical problems while in Laos.

Canadians may visit the Australian embassy’s clinic (country and area codes: 856-21/ tel.: 353-840), which is located in the same building as the Australian Chancery, or the International Clinic attached to Mahasot Hospital (country and area codes: 856-21/ tel: 414-022).

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.


Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict and may include the death penalty.

Non-marital sexual relationships between foreigners and Laotian citizens are against the law, as are various forms of cohabitation with Laotian nationals. Convictions for such offences can lead to prison sentences and large fines. Improper registration of a relationship to a Laotian national can lead to similar penalties. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Laotian citizen must be submitted in a formal application to Laotian authorities.

You can be fined for not carrying proper identification, such as your passport, at all times, and for not having an entry stamp in your passport.

Photography of government buildings and vehicles, as well as bridges, airfields, military installations or personnel, is prohibited. Violators may be arrested and equipment seized.

Laos is tolerant of a wide diversity of religions. However, religious proselytizing or distributing of religious material is strictly prohibited. Violators may be arrested or deported.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.


Public displays of affection, such as kissing, whether between opposite or same-sex couples, are not considered proper or polite.

Laos presents a risky business environment. Judicial and regulatory regimes may not operate with the same transparency as can be expected in Canada. Individuals may be held legally and financially responsible for company dealings. The possibility of bureaucratic delays and unexpected legal interpretations should be accounted for in business planning. For further information, consult the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.


The currency is the kip (LAK). It is not easily obtained or exchanged outside of Laos. U.S. dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted. There are very few automated banking machines in Laos that accept foreign cards. Those that do are often out of order. Major credit cards are accepted at some international hotels and tourist establishments. Cash advances can be obtained from some banks although commissions are high. Traveller’s cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and other major towns. Western Union provides services in several major cities and towns across the country.


The rainy (monsoon) season extends from May to November. During the rainy season, the provinces along the Mekong River in southern Laos are prone to severe rainstorms that can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and hampering the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities. Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.

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