- Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
- Capital city: Vientiane
- Population: 7 million
- Language: Lao
- Local time: GMT+7
- Power voltage: 220 V, 50 Hz
- International dialing code: +856
- Official Flag
Q: Do I need a visa?
A. There are only 31 countries in the world that need a visa prior to entering Laos. All other nations are either visa exempt or can get a visa on arrival at 27 different ports of entry, either by air or land. Check here for more information on your nationality’s requirements.
If you qualify for the visa on arrival, make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity for the duration of your trip, two passport-sized photos, and a filled-out visa application form. The fee ranges from USD30-45 depending on your nationality.
Q. What kind of currency is used in Laos?
A. The official currency of Laos is the Laos Kip (LAK), with 1 USD = 8500 LAK. Thai Baht and USD are also used in some major tourist destinations.
Please note LAK are virtually useless outside of Laos, so make sure to change the majority of your local currency back to USD, EUR, or GBP before exiting the country at either the airport or reputable exchange shops with a good rate.
Q: What is the national language of Laos?
A. The national language of Laos is Lao, spoken by 3 of the country’s 7 million people. Surprisingly, this multilingual country has over 86 different and distinct languages belonging to different ethnic minority tribes, such as the Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien, Sino-Tibetan, and Tai-Kadai.
If you can speak Thai, you will find you can get by in Laos as the language shares some words and similarities when spoken. That being said, here are some common phrases to try during your trip in Laos to enhance your experience and interactions.
- Hello: Suh-bye-dee
- Thank you: Khop Chai
- Excuse me: Khaw Toot
- Goodbye: La Gon
- Yes: Jao
- No: Baw
- How much does it cost ?: Laka Tao Dai
- So expensive: Phaeng Lai Lai
- Can you help me ?: Suay Khoy Dai Boh
Q: How is the access to Wi-fi and/or 3G/4G networks?
A. Even though Laos is a quiet and rural nation, the Wi-Fi connection is super fast and readily available in most cafes, restaurants, and accommodation properties, from luxury hotels to little bed and breakfasts.
SIM cards cost as little as USD5 with phone-calls running between USD0.25 – 0.50 a minute. To call for help, dial 1191 for police, 1192 for the tourist police, 1190 in case of fire, 1195 for an ambulance, and 1199 for electricity issues.
Q. What should I eat while visiting Laos?
- Khao Niaw – Often served in a woven-basket, sticky rice is a perfect accompaniment to any dish. It it is so crucial to the national identity that locals even refer to themselves as “luk khao niaow”, or the children of sticky rice.
- Tam Mak Hoong – Unripe papaya is chopped into long thin strips and mixed with fish sauce and shrimp paste before adding lime juice, chili peppers, and palm sugar. This popular salad is said to have been invented in Laos even though most people believe it’s a Thai creation, and makes a great appetizer, especially when served with the quintessential sticky rice to balance its spiciness.
- Laap (Larb or Laab) Laap, the unofficial national dish of Laos, is a type of meat salad made from minced meat (chicken, beef, buffalo, duck, or pork) marinated in fish sauce, citrus juices, chili peppers, and pepper. The mixture is then mixed with crushed lemongrass and mint before being cooked in lime juice and garlic.
- Mok Pa – Similar to Cambodia’s Fish Amok, a river fish is soaked in vibrant locals favors like lemongrass, kaffir lime, fish sauce, green onions, basil, and fresh dill and chili, and then wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed over hot coals. It is considered a signature dish of Laos.
Q. What kind of local transportation is available?
A. It’s easy to get around Laos by local transport and for most cases, it’s much cheaper than travelling by private car or airplane.
- Tuk tuks, a three-wheeled vehicle most associated with Thailand, are also quite commonly used in Laos. Up to 6 people can fit inside and expect to pay about 30,000-50,000 LAK (USD3.50-6). It’s advise to agree on the price before getting into the tuk tuk to ensure unpleasant surprises.
- A songthaew is a kind of pick-up truck outfitted with benches and used as a bus following set routes at quite irregular intervals. The fare is cheaper than tuk tuks, ranging between 10,000-20,000 LAK (USD1.25-2.50) per ride. You can also rent songthaews for private hire
- Travel long distances with the VIP night bus with an average of 150,000 LAK (USD8) per one-way ticket. VIP buses are air-conditioned, have a toilet on board, and come with blankets and pillows
- Another option for long distances if a private car is not included in your tour is travelling by minivan which is a bit faster than the VIP bus. Rides usually cost around 50,000 LAK (USD6) and payment is collected once you are 5-10 km out of town. Keep in mind these vans can get VERY full and somewhat uncomfortable.
Respect the culture
What to wear?
- When visiting temples, men should avoid wearing shorts and slippers while women should not wear short skirts, see-through outfits, sleeveless shirts, skinny jeans or heavy make-up. It’s important to remember that visitors will be not allowed inside if violating these rules.
- Remove your shoes whenever you enter a temple, pagoda, house, or business.
Greetings and public etiquette
- When greeting Lao people, place two hands together in front of the chest with head slightly bent
- It is rude and inappropriate to show anger or disappointment in public, to touch someone’s head, to use the left hand to give an object to someone, or to speak loudly in public places
- Don’t point your feet towards any type of Buddha statue
- Dress cleanly and neatly while visiting temples and pagodas
- Walk clockwise around Buddhist monuments and never turn your back on Buddha
- Don’t take photos of monks without asking permission
- Always cover your shoulders and knees when entering sacred spaces
Eating and drinking tips
- Eat with the fork in the left hand and a spoon in the right, as chopsticks are reserved for noodle dishes
- Before eating, everyone must be invited, starting with the oldest at the table as a sign of respect and politeness
- The host or the eldest often pours the first shot of a bottle of wine on to the house’s floor to honor the house spirit and then drinks the second shot. Then he/she hands the third one to the person sitting on his/her left to drink
- Guests are expected to have (at least) nine drinks!
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