Our Laos Travel FAQ aims to give you all you should know if you take a holiday in Laos; visas, language, money, food, climate, places to see and the time difference. Laos is a mountainous land-locked country west of Vietnam and north of Cambodia.
What time zone is Laos in?
Will I manage if I only speak English?
Is there a reliable Internet Service?
Will my mobile phone work?
Should I arrange travel insurance?
Will Laos be a culture shock?
What is food like in Laos?
What clothes should I pack?
How much luggage should I take?
What is the electric current in Laos?
What is the best currency?
Can I use credit cards everywhere?
How expensive is travel?
Should I tip in Laos?
Passport & Visa
Do I need a visa?
Are there any passport requirements?
Is it safe to drink the tap water?
Is it safe to travel in Laos?
Why is it important to avoid drugs?
Is it safe to drive?
What do I do in an emergency?
How do I report a crime?
What are the common scams?
Will I enjoy the shopping?
Things to do
What sightseeing options should I have?
Where are the best beaches?
What is the best alternative to arrive in Laos?
How should I get around in Laos?
What is the traffic like?
What is the climate like?
Q. What time zone is Laos in?
A. Laos is 3 hours behind Australia, 7 hours ahead of London and 12 hours ahead of New York.
Q. Will I manage if I only speak English?
A. English is understood by some working in tourist areas. French is arguably more widespread. Many signs of important facilities and places are in English and Lao. It is nice and always appreciated if you know a few local words such as Hello, goodbye, Thank you etc. If you have an organised Laos holiday you will have a guide to help in the event of any problem.
Q. Is there a reliable Internet Service?
A. The Internet is improving and internet cafes will be found in large towns. It is often very slow so you need to show patience.
Q. Will my mobile phone work?
A. SIM Cards can be bought though coverage in remote regions is non-existent.
Q. Should I arrange travel insurance?
A. It is advisable to have suitable insurance so that you are covered for any medical problem, delay, disruption of your holiday or loss of belongings and important documents.
Q. Will Laos be a culture shock?
A. It is worth reading about local culture before you travel. Laotians are very hospitable people who do not easily take offence but that is as long as you respect their culture. There are several simple things to remember:
• Dress appropriately at religious sites which means no bare shoulders, mini-skirts or shorts. You will need to remove your shoes at times, for example when entering a temple. At no time should you have your back to a Buddha image or statue.
• It is rude to point in any way with your feet or touch anyone’s head.
• Don’t take close-up photographs of anyone without permission. That certainly applies when you are in a temple.
• Bow forward slightly with hands together when introduced to someone. This formal greeting is not required on every occasion.
Q. What is food like in Laos?
A. The cuisine reflects the things grown in the Country which are similar to elsewhere in the wider region. That means that rice comes with most meals, often in form of noodles. Fresh vegetables are used as a side dish or within the recipe itself. You can expect dipping sauces and soups together with herbs and spices. Dishes may be stewed, grilled or fried. There is little red meat in the diet; you are likely to get poultry, pork and fish in your dishes. The food is very healthy with little oil. Be prepared to eat street food which is very fresh, especially from busy stalls and definitely inexpensive. The national dish is Laap which includes minced meat, herbs and spices, lime juice and chili. The national drink is beer and you will find rice wine widely available. Coffee is grown in Laos and regarded as good quality. You are not seeing things if you see baguette sandwiches for sale; baguettes are a legacy of the time when the French were colonial masters.
Q. What clothes should I pack?
A. Pack according to the season. You may need some warm clothing at night in some areas but generally temperatures are fairly high. Light cottons that dry quickly are ideal and some clothes that are necessary if you are going to visit temples etc.
Q. How much luggage should I take?
A. You should never need more that the standard airline allowance of 20 kgs. and remember you want some space for souvenirs. A basic medicine kit will be a useful item to put into your case. Remember if you are on a Laos tour package and constantly on the move, you have your luggage to take with you so don’t pack too much unless you are certain you will be it.
Q. What is the electric current in Laos?
A. 230 Volts
Q. What is the best currency?
A. The local currency is the Kip. The Euro and the US Dollar will be accepted in many tourist places though torn notes and coins cannot be used. It means that you should have some local currency for small bills.
Q. Can I use credit cards everywhere?
A. You can use credit and debit cards in provincial cities to withdraw money and cards for purchase in some cities. Cards can be used to settle accommodation or restaurant bills in major cities. In remote rural areas, you should have cash.
Q. How expensive is travel?
A. Travel is very inexpensive in Laos.
Q. Should I tip in Laos?
A. Tipping is not mandatory but it will not be refused.
Passport & Visa
Q. Do I need a visa?
A. Yes, but you can get a 30-day visa on arrival and extend it from within the Country. If you want to obtain a visa in advance, you can get one from an Embassy or Consulate and there is now an e-visa facility that is suitable if you are intending an extended stay.
Q. Are there any passport requirements?
A. Your passport must be valid for 6 months when you enter Laos in common with what is now standard worldwide.
Q. Is it safe to drink the tap water?
A. It is advisable to drink bottled water which is cheap and readily available. Be cautious about having ice in drinks in all but the best restaurants and hotels.
Q. Is it safe to travel in Laos?
A. Laos is a relatively safe country and stories of tourists having any physical problems are very rare. There may be pickpockets in popular tourist areas so be on your guard and keep documents and any expensive electronics in a safe place at all times.
Q. Why is it important to avoid drugs?
A. The authorities are very intolerant of recreational drugs. You may be carrying prescription drugs for medical conditions and it is worth having documents to support that.
Q. Is it safe to drive?
A. It is far more convenient and sensible to use taxis to get around cities and public transport for longer journeys. Many of the roads are unpaved throughout Laos and always in remote areas, especially in the monsoon season. If the buses cannot get there, you should not try in a rental car.
Q. What do I do in an emergency?
A. In the event of a problem, you should contact your Embassy if accessible. That is especially the case for things like loss of passport. Police are low paid so to get a report you will need to make an insurance claim, you may need to pay a bribe and have a translator with you because few policemen will speak any English. Health facilities in places like Vientiane and Luang Prabang are obviously far better than in the rural areas. You should get a list of important telephone numbers for the regions on your itinerary.
Q. How do I report a crime?
A. There is a level of soft corruption in the police force and a guilty party can often escape a problem with a bribe. Don’t get angry and accept the reality. It is useful to have someone with you who understand English because it could be confusing otherwise and documents that you may be asked to sign will be in Lao and not English.
Q. What are the common scams?
A. Tourists can be victim to attempts to overcharge for such as taxis and accommodation. If anyone offers you a service of any kind, establish the final price before you accept. The airport is the primary place where taxi scams can exist. Drivers know that you are unlikely to be familiar with the country and can therefore sometimes see that as an opportunity. Motorcycle taxis in cities may also try a ‘’scam’’ so be certain of the full price before you jump aboard.
Q. Will I enjoy the shopping?
A. There are modern shops in the Cities but tourists are often keener on local souvenirs. You should bargain at markets but be careful not to cause offence for the sake of what will usually be a small amount of money. There are some lovely crafts in Laos and you will help village economies by buying from them rather than in towns and cities.
Things to do
Q. What sightseeing options should I have?
A. If you are on an organised Laos tour package, all the arrangements will be made for you. Luang Prabang is the most interesting area even though it is not the capital. You will enjoy the temples and orange-robed monks in the City. Close by there are some natural highlights as well including the Kuang Si Waterfalls and the Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong. Go to the top of Phou Si Hill for great views over the region. Vientiane is the other main city and there are several things of interest. Buddha Park has more than 200 statues while interesting landmarks include Wat Si Saket. Pha That Luang and the Black Stupa. If you are interested in museums, Vientiane is the place to visit them; the National Museum, Hophakaew Museum formerly a royal palace and the Army History Museum.
Q. What is the best alternative to arrive in Laos?
A. Most arrivals in Laos fly into the Airports of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There are border crossings with all neighbouring countries.
Q. How should I get around in Laos?
A. The transport infrastructure is still developing. There are domestic flights between Vientiane and Luang Prabang and smaller Cessna links to small regional airports. Buses connect the major areas of population although you should be mindful of potential problems in remote areas during the monsoon season especially since many roads are unpaved.
Q. What is the traffic like?
A. You will need to have patience on the roads of Laos but there is not the huge volume of traffic found elsewhere in Asia. Some of the roads are not great and keep your eyes open if you are crossing the road.
Q. What is the climate like?
A. The monsoon months are low season which means fewer crowds and often cheaper prices. That season starts around May and lasts until October inclusive. It does not mean heavy rain for long periods every day incidentally. Nights can be cold at altitude but temperatures are fairly good though it may feel colder than it really is when it is raining. Some lightweight rainwear and umbrella are useful if you are travelling in the monsoon season.