General Information

• Official Name: Laos People’s Democratic Republic
• Population: 6.5 million
• Capital City: Vientiane, population 750,000
• People: Over 60 ethnic groups, the mains ones are Lao Lom (lowland: 50%), Lao Theungm Lao Sung and tribal Thais
• Language: Lao
• Currency: Kip (KN)
• Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
• International Dialing Code: +856

Laos is a landlocked country of stunning natural beauty and strong spiritual traditions. Much of the country remains relatively unexplored. With a population of roughly 6 million people, it is one of the least populated countries in the world. Much of the country is dominated by forested mountains, verdant valleys and broad snaking rivers which are perfect for nature lovers and those seeking the ultimate laid-back holiday.

Pre Departure Check List

• Travel Insurance
• Valid Passport (at least six months remaining) and visa (or two passport pictures as well as 20US$ for visa on arrival)
• Immunizations/Vaccinations
• Foreign currency (US$) or ATM card
• Flights tickets
• Photocopy of passport either scanned into email account or separate from the original

Travel Insurance (Compulsory)
Viet Expert Travel will do everything possible to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. However, the normal array of risks is involved and should be recognized by participants. Thus, we require all guests to purchase travel insurance prior to their trip. Travel insurance is a cost effective way of protecting yourself and your equipment in the event of problems due to cancelled trips, delays, medical emergencies, baggage loss or damage. It also gives you peace of mind for your trip.

Visa/Passports
A passport with at least six months validity is necessary. A visa is can be obtained in advance and is valid for 30 days. Otherwise you can obtain your visa on arrival; such a visa will be valid for 15 days for a cost of about 30USD. Two passport photographs should be submitted with the visa application form. In Vientiane a ‘visa on arrival’ can be extended for another 15 days at a cost of 2USD per day. Otherwise you will be charged 10USD per day by border authorities when you leave the country. Citizens of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia can travel visa-free.

If coming into the country overland then we recommend booking transfer through Viet Expert Travel to avoid the increasing number of tourist scams through other bus and tour companies.

Arriving in Laos
We will arrange your transfer from the airport to your hotel or residence and back unless otherwise specified.

Health & Well-being
Be aware, as with other parts of Southeast Asia, your health can be at risk due to lack of effective medical treatment facilities and poor sanitation. In Cambodia, there are few pharmacies and hospitals in rural areas, so be sure bring with you any medications that you will need.

Each traveler is responsible for his or her health. Consult your doctor or local travel clinic before departure for the latest information on travelling to Laos.

Immunizations/Vaccinations
Before travelling to Laos, it is important to ensure that you have adequate protection about disease. About two months before your holiday consult your doctor regarding vaccinations you will need before you travel. These will vary depending on where you are planning to visit. Bear in mind that there is a malaria risk in rural parts of Laos. In general, most visitors to Laos will require the following vaccinations:

• Hepatitis A and B
• Tetanus
• Typhoid
• Polio
• Diphtheria

If you have any special conditions or allergies that may require attention overseas, have your GP write a letter describing the nature of the condition and the treatment. Always carry the letter on your person. It is also a good idea to bring your own first aid kit containing some basics and paracetamol (acetaminophen) and diarrhea relief.

Money
The official currency is Lao Kip. Kip is non-convertible outside of Laos, so you will need to bring US Dollars to exchange. US dollars are also widely accepted in bigger cities, particularly in restaurants. Please note that torn and old US dollar notes are not generally accepted in Laos. In areas located near the Thai border, the Thai currency, Baht, is also accepted.

Visa and MasterCard are becoming more accepted in many of the bigger hotels and restaurants, especially in the larger cities. ATM’s are available in cities; in Vientiane you’ll find several ATM machines which dispense Lao Kip only.

Allow $5 to $15 per meal for additional lunches or dinners not included in the trip price. You may also want to have some money put aside to try some local foods at the markets.

Tourists are encouraged to tip an amount they find appropriate, preferably in USD. For your convenience, below is a tipping guide; these amounts are suggestions. We encourage our passengers to reward guides based on their performance:

• Meals (restaurants): average amount is $1
• Bellboy: average amount is $1
• Chambermaid: average amount is $1 per day
• Tips for guides are completely at your discretion, but here are some guidelines: $1.50 to $3 per day per person for guides (depending on group size), $1 per day per person for drivers

Mail and Telecommunications
• Telephone connections to the rest of the world are widely available, however they aren’t cheap
• Internet access is available in all major tourist places

Clothing and Suggested Packing List

• Personal clothing items, toiletries, medication
• Sunscreen
• Insect Repellent
• Light weight clothing (March through October)
• Long sleeved shirts and pants (November to February evenings as well as temple and countryside village visits)
• Depending on the season, your activities and the region you will be visiting e.g. mountainous areas, it may be advisable for you to bring a jacket with you
• Camera
• Adaptor – 220V, 50Hz; 2 pin plugs
• Water bottle and helmet (for cycling trips only)

Laos is a tolerant population and may choose not to point out improper behaviourbehavior to its foreign guests, but you should dress and act with respect when visiting pagodas or other religious sites. Proper etiquette in pagodas is mostly a matter of common sense.

A few other Temple visiting tips:

• Do not wear shorts or tank tops, have your shoulders covered
• Remove your hat when entering the ground of a temple
• Remove your shoes before going into the vihara (Sanctuary)
• If you sit down in front of the dais (the platform on which the Buddhas are placed), sit with your feet to the side rather than in the lotus position
• Never point your finger or the sole of your feet towards a person or a figure of the Buddha

Climate
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with two distinct seasons.

• May – October: Rainy season
• November – April: Dry season
• March – April: Hottest months - temperatures can reach as high as 38°C/100F
• December: Lowest temperatures around 15°C/59F
• The average temperature is between 25°C/77F and 30°C/84F
• Cuisine, Special Dietary Requests and Drinking Water

Laos’ cuisine is similar to that of Thailand and offers a variety of national dishes. Like all other Buddhist countries, vegetarian food is readily available in most restaurants.

If you are a vegetarian, vegan, allergic to any foods or adhere to a special diet, please advise us prior to your trip so we can comply with your dietary requirements.

It is not advisable to drink tap water in any Southeast Asian countries. Bottled water is recommended but do check the expiry date before opening it. Ice is widely used in Laos and it is produced with treated water.

Cultural Differences
Experiencing cultural differences is one of the joys of travelling, and it is important that these differences are encouraged and respected. It is important to be aware of some of these differences by reading travel guides and asking questions when uncertain.

Saving Face and Manners

• Getting angry and showing it by shouting or becoming abusive is extremely impolite and a poor reflection on you. In addition, it is unlikely to achieve much.

General Points of Etiquette

• It is improper to pat children on the head
• If you would like someone to come over to you, motion with your whole hand held palm down - signaling with your index finger and your palm pointed skyward may be interpreted as being sexually suggestive
• When using a toothpick, it is considered polite to hold it in one hand and to cover your open mouth with the other.
• When handing things to other people, use both of your hands or your right hand only, never your left hand (reserved for toilet ablutions!)
• Public displays of affection are considered to be quite offensive in Laos – defiantly no kissing! It is also extremely rare to see couples holding hands. On the contrary it is quite common to see friends of the same sex holding hands.
• It is polite to remove your shoes before entering a house – look for shoes at the front door as a clue

Donations and Gift-Giving
Although there is a great amount of poverty in certain areas of Laos, please read the following points about donations and gift-giving.

• In many places it is considered acceptable to give to the elderly or disabled as there is no social security or other way these people can earn money. Do not give to begging children as it reinforces for these children that begging is an acceptable way to make a living.
• Giving money and goods away to random individuals can increase begging. It accentuates an unequal relationship between locals and visitors, with tourists being seen as purely ‘money givers’. We do not want to encourage the development of a society that equates every human action as potential money making scheme – for example paying to take photographs.
• Do not give sweets to children in villages that we visit. Local people do not have access to dentists, nor can they afford them and again there is the issue of turning children into beggars. Pens, toothbrushes, clothing or other ‘worthwhile’ items are best distributed via a local charity, school teacher or community leader.
• Avoid feeling that you necessarily have to give ‘material’ things. The best giving can sometimes be interactions: a smile, a joke, a song, dance or playing a game can go a long way

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