Currency: Lao kip
Time Zone: ICT/GMT+6
With its unkempt, jungle-like scenery and lack of world-famous monuments compared to its neighbours Thailand and Cambodia, Laos is a less obvious choice for an escorted tour. Still, it may be poor but what it lacks in money and ancient monuments it makes up for in hospitality.
Most Laos escorted tours will make a beeline for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prubang nestled on the Mekong with its old charm, Buddhist temples and market. Navigating this compact place is easy, in fact it's hard to believe that this is a city, and cycling makes a relaxing and safe way to get around. Keep your eyes peeled for bikes to hire while out and about. During your stay in Luang Prubang, try a massage or make the effort to rise early to watch the giving of alms, where locals line the streets to give offerings (usually sticky rice and bananas) to the city's orange-robed monks. If you're going to attend, bear in mind that this is a spiritual ritual; keep a respectful distance from the monks, stay quiet and if taking along offerings to donate it's polite to avoid eye contact.
Just outside of Luang Prubang, the cascading Kuang Si Waterfalls are an easy excursion on the tourist trail. There's a short walk to the falls but once there you can take in the falls from a picnic bench or even take a dip. As of 2011, there was also some species of sun bear kept here.
Busy capital Vientane is sometimes included in touring holidays to Laos. It has all the hallmarks of a city and has even got a local version of Paris's Arc de Triomphe, even if it has been dubbed the 'concrete monster'. For real eye candy whilst in Ventiane, head to the Mekong at sunset where the huge sun won't fail to disappoint.
Luang Prabang curfew
Not many know that there is a curfew in Luang Prabang which is strictly enforced, so bars and restaurants will be closed by 23:30 at the latest. Tales of the infamous after-curfew bowling alley abound and there’s also a club just a tuk tuk journey away that younger revellers find.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
One of the benefits of taking an escorted tour is that you're in safe hands in foreign lands. However, to help you have an enjoyable holiday in Laos take a look at these useful tips and advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
Health and Travel Insurance
Local Laws and Customs
Health and Travel Insurance
It is wise to contact your GP before travelling to Laos to check whether you need any vaccinations or preventative medication whilst you are away.
Medical care is very basic in Laos and outside Ventiane there are no reliable medical facilities. Medical evacuation can be extremely expensive so you should always have travel insurance before you leave. You should also ensure you have access to additional money in case you do end up having to pay for treatment whilst abroad or in extreme case, repatriation. If you are taken to a medical facility for treatment of any kind you should always ring your insurance company as soon as possible. Most tours offer the chance to purchase one-trip travel insurance at the time of booking.
In Laos, food bourne, water bourne and other infectious diseases can occur from time to time. They are fairly common but can be quite serious.
Should you need to contact an ambulance whilst in Laos ring 195 or 030 525 7239.
You should always be aware of your personal security when visiting Laos. Petty crime is a frequent occurrence, especially in the lead up to festivals. Passport theft has become a particular problem for tourists.
Never leave food or drinks unattended and always buy your own drinks when out.
Local Laws and Customs
Any involvement with drugs, be it possession, trafficking, manufacture or use is extremely serious. Those caught can be faced with the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences.
It is strictly prohibited for a Lao national to have a sexual relationship with a foreign national, the exception being if the couple have been married under Lao family law. The fine for such an offence can range between $500 to $5000 USD or even imprisonment.
Visiting or photographing military sites is banned, and if caught could result in arrest or detention.
When visiting temples and religious sites it is important to wear proper clothing out of respect. Women should cover their shoulders.
Laos's visa conditions change regularly so always check before you travel. However, as it stands you can purchase a visa on arrival into the country for $35 USD or 1,500 Thai Baht. Your tour operator will communicate any information you need to know required about how to get a visa.
When you enter Laos, make sure that your passport is stamped with the Laos entry stamp. Not having one could lead to being arrested or fined.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you enter Laos.
If you are arriving into Laos from a country which suffers with Yellow Fever you must have had your vaccination prior to entering.
Any other nationality looking to visit Laos must contact the local embassy to check visa requirements.
To find out more about Laos before you travel, visit the Laos Tourist Board at tourismlaos.org.
Escorted tours should cover all the highlights of this hospitable country, but here's a little more about our favourite corners of Laos:
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage city so just wandering around the streets will allow visitors to see the beautiful architecture on offer. The former capital of Laos is home to so many temples although Wat Xieng Thong stands out as one of the nicest and makes a peaceful and serene place to get away from it all. For early risers, an alms giving ceremony takes place at dawn where monks collect rice from villagers and often tourists. Kuang Si Falls is within easy reach of Luang Prabang and can be accessed by a tuk tuk ride. Even the journey to the waterfalls is pleasant passing through villages and admiring the green hilly scenery. Once there, the multi-stage waterfall is very impressive and a great place to relax may be even take a bathe in one of the various pools (there are even open air changing rooms!).
Ventiane is probably one of the most relaxed capital cities you can visit and a great place to spend a couple of days. As with most Asian cities there are many temples to visit, although Wat Si Sackhet, is the oldest and probably the most atmospheric. Pha That Luang is the most important monument in Laos and this three- layered golden stupa is also the national symbol of Laos. Make sure you dress appropriately to enter here as if not they'll provide you with a skirt to cover your legs! Some other attractions to visit are the Lao National Museum and Presidential Palace. Whilst looking around the city you may come across a similar looking Arc de Triomphe, known as Patuxai (Victory Gate). It has also been described by the some as a 'concrete monster', although however you rate its appearance it done have good views from the top.