Laos Travel Essentials


The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a stunning landlocked country that is home to many different ethnicities. Lao people make up 60% of the population and minority groups and indigenous hill tribes account for the remaining 40% who mostly live in the foothills and mountains. Vientiane is the capital but Luang Prabang a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site is the town that draws the majority of visitors to Laos.


Lao Kip is the local currency, but in practice three are used: kip, Thai baht and US dollars. In larger cities and towns baht and US dollars are accepted at most businesses, while kip is preferred in smaller towns and villages. Most upscale hotels and shops in Luang Prang and Vientiane now accept Visa and Mastercard. Unless you want to keep kip as a souvenir, change your kip back into baht or dollars before departing Laos. ATMs are rare outside of major cities.

Holidays and Festivals

Harvests and Buddhism are the two main themes of Laotian public holidays. The Lao new year (mid April), falls on the same days as Cambodia’s, and is the biggest holiday of the year. However, as in Thailand and Myanmar, the festival has morphed into a giant water fight, with water guns and buckets being the weapons of choice. The party atmosphere is infectious, and you will have a fantastic (and wet) time if travelling over this holiday. In late May, villages around the country celebrate the near-arrival of the rains by launching small rockets and fireworks. Predating Buddhism’s arrival in Laos, the rockets are intended to ask the clouds for rain. It also seems to be a good excuse for a party, and travel in rural Laos in this period is a lot of fun.

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A Laos tourist visa is required unless you hold a passport from one of the following countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand or Vietnam.

Laos Pagoda

Citizens of other countries can get a visa on arrival if arriving at one the following international airports: Vientiane Wattay, Luang Prabang or Pakse. You can also obtain a visa before arrival at your Lao embassy but it must be used within three months of issue.

Buddha Park

Your passport must have at least six months of remaining validity.

You will need a blank page in your passport for the visa and two passport sized photos.

Visas are good for thirty days (and can be extended up to two times).

The visa on arrival fee is approximately $35 but varies somewhat based on your nationality and is payable in US$.

Citizens of the following countries cannot use visa on arrival and must arrange a visa prior to travel from their nearest Lao embassy:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, Nauru, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tonga, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Morning Monk
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The Laotians often refer themselves to "luk Khao niao", which can be translated to "descendants of sticky rice". Why? Because for them, it's all about rice and it is a staple that distinguishes Lao cuisine from that of its South-East Asian neighbors. Sticky rice is eaten with the fingers and most traditional dishes are designed to accompany it.

Oh Lam

The fertile floodplains of the Mekong River offer perfect conditions for growing vegetables, fruits and spices. Like the Vietnamese, Laotians like salty, sour and spicy, but the balance goes more towards the sour and even bitter. Ingredients such as lemongrass, basil, kaffir lime leaf, dill and coriander are abundantly used in cooking as well as served as an accompaniment.

Sticky Rice

Eating Customs

As with most Asian countries, starting the day with a warm breakfast is the norm and most breakfast dishes consist of noodle soup commonly served with a meat of choice.

Dishes are traditionally placed on the table at once for everyone to share. Larger meals usually consist of soup, a grilled dish, greens and a mixed dish such as Larb. Known as laap, lab or larp, this salad is the most famous among Lao culinary inventions; minced or finely sliced meat or fish mixed with lime juice, padeak, mint, coriander, spring onion, chili and ground, toasted rice. After the end of a meal, Laotians might share a plate of tropical fruits such as mangos, pineapples or dragon fruit.

Tam Mak Houng

If you are new to Lao cuisine, you will discover creative dishes of fused cuisines reflecting influences of neighboring countries but even a touch of French cuisine can be seen and tasted. Traditional dishes that allow you to discover real Lao cooking include Klaoniaw (Sticky rice), Laap (Meat salad), Tam mak houng (Papaya salad), Or lam (vegetable stew), and a popular snack is Kaipen (Fried Seaweed), served with jaew bong (chili paste).

Laos Sandwich
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The Mekong River valley region has rightly been labelled a cradle of human civilization.

From the 8th century BC until the 2nd century AD on the Xieng Khouang Plateau (the area now known as The Plain of Jars), a trading community flourished and produced the incredible megalithic remains that dot the area today. The tallest stone jars are over 3 meters high, yet little is known about these sarcophagi, or the civilisation that produced them. A proposed location for UNESCO World Heritage status, the amount of unexploded American ordinance in the region has limited access for archaeologists until recently.

Modern Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lanxang. It existed from 1357 - 1707 before splitting into three rival kingdoms — Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak. On becoming a French protectorate in 1893, these kingdoms were reunited to form present day Laos.

Initial French colonial control in Laos was focused on tax collection, road building, ending slavery and opium production. However, with most civil service positions occupied by Vietnamese, and an increasing focus on tax collection, the French presence was not fully supported, and some armed resistance, notably the Holy Man's Rebellion (1901-1910) and the Madman's War (1919-1921) ensued.

Laos briefly gained independence in 1945 after the Japanese occupation, and in 1953 Laos became independent, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. After independence, a series of coups and internal divisions led to long periods of instability.

Drawn into the Vietnam War, the Laotian government was supported by the USA, while at the same time the eastern part of the country was heavily bombed. Laos holds the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.

In 1975, when Vietnam was re-unified, and the Vietnamese supported Khmer Rouge took control in Cambodia, the Communist Pathet Lao movement rose to power in Laos, and have remained there ever since.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a major donor, forced Laos to open up its markets and borders as a condition of international support, and this most notably led to greatly improved relations with neighbouring Thailand.

Most recently the country has embraced tourism, and offers some of the most authentic travel experiences in South East Asia. Spared the rapid development of Thailand, UNESCO World Heritage site Luang Prabang regularly features on "must-visit" lists, and its limestone mountains, vast forests and waterfalls, make it a great travel destination for all with an interest in unspoilt natural beauty.

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