Laos, land of a million elephants

The Lao People's Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR, is a country that moves to its own measure of time. Life flows along at a languid pace which mirrors the waters of the Mekong River that flows through the country. Towns are less hectic than elsewhere in Asia and the countryside is a rare combination of beauty and tranquillity. Read more...

Compared to the rest of Indochina, Laos remained largely hidden to the rest of the world for much for the 20th Century. Visitors today encounter an unfussed society with a strong spiritual tradition where the cacophonies of the modern world seem irrelevant.

Despite increased international interest, Laos remains the undiscovered gem of Asia. This landlocked nation of six million people exudes a delightful, almost other-worldly, charm and reminds visitors of a simpler, less harried past.

Travel tips

Many different factors can be attributed to Laos’ unique culture. One of these is that the nation has one of the lowest population densities in all of Asia. Laos also recognizes a large number of ethnic cultures and more than 80 languages spoken within its mountainous territory. Buddhism has a strong influence over daily life, and the Lao people are known for their reserved and content attitude.

Some of the most interesting Lao festivals are unique to small localities. When planning to travel to Laos, contact your travel consultant to see if any local festivals will occur during your itinerary. Some of the larger festivals in Laos are celebrated nationwide:

Boun Pi Mai: This is a traditional celebration of the Lao New Year that usually falls in mid-April. Houses and pagodas are cleaned and decorated in preparation and during the celebrations people joyfully throw water on each other to wash away the old year and bring good luck for the new year.

Buon That Luang: This festival is centred on the That Luang Stupa in Vientiane, which is believed to contain bones of Buddha. The holiday is marked in the capital by parades, almsgiving and votive offerings.

In general, there are no serious health or safety risks when traveling in Vietnam. However, it never hurts to take precautions. Please consult your healthcare provider to see if they recommend any vaccinations or other medications when traveling.

In large cities and other crowded areas, be mindful of your belongings such as cameras, mobile phones and wallets/purses.

The Lao Kip (LAK) is the national currency and the current exchange rate with the US Dollar is 1 = 8,100 LAK (as of February 2016). ATMs are available in larger cities and popular tourist destinations, and many of them work with overseas ATM cards. Some larger hotels and shops in cities also accept credit cards, and this method of payment is becoming more common. Keep in mind that some merchants may charge small fee and that international transaction fees may apply.

The Lao postal system can mail letters and postcards worldwide for reasonable rates. International shipping companies such as FedEx, UPS and DHL are available in Laos as well if there is a need to ship something quickly.

SIM cards for mobile phones are cheap and widely available. Short term data packages for mobile phones are very inexpensive and easy to set up. Get in touch with your travel consultant to arrange a SIM if you wish to use your mobile phone upon arrival.

Updating

A visa is required for entry into Lao PDR. A regular tourist visa is valid for up to 30 days, and may be issued upon arrival at Vientiane's International Airport or Luang Prabang International Airport for $18.00-42.00 US (depending on the passport holder’s nationality - Australians currently pay US$30.00. Visas can be obtained on arrival at the airport immigration counter without asking for an approval letter in advance. Please provide 2 colour passport photos and your passport must be valid at least 6 months in order to obtain a Lao visa.

For those wishing to extend their stay, it is possible to extend your visa at the Immigration Office in Vientiane or through travel agencies.

It is also possible to obtain a Visa-on-Arrival at the following international checkpoints for tourist visa validity for 14-30 days in Laos: The following are border entry gates to Laos.

CUSTOMS

If you have purchased silver or antiques in neighbouring countries, it is recommended you declare them at customs to avoid problems on departure. Importing firearms and drugs is strictly forbidden.

Antiques such as Buddha images and other old cultural artefacts are prohibited to be taken out of Laos. If you have already travelled in neighbouring countries, you are advised to declare your valuable items at customs to prevent any inconvenience upon departure. If you buy silver or copper items in Laos it is required to pay custom duties according to weight at the airport.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS

Arriving:  Visitors should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Visitors are authorized to bring the following items: 500 cigarettes, 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco, 1 litre of alcohol or two bottles of wine and an unlimited amount of cash, all for personal use, into Laos without taxation or penalty.

Laos does not allow visitors import drugs, weapons, explosives or pornography.

Important note: Drug smuggling carries severe penalties in Laos. Most convictions lead to life in prison or the death sentence.

Departing:  If visitors purchase silver or copper items during their stay, they might be required to pay duty upon exiting Laos, according to the weight of the items. Antiques, especially Buddha images or parts thereof, are not permitted to leave the country. Please declare your items to customs prior to departure.

VISA APPLICATION FORM

The passenger hands the completed application form with a photo and the passport to an officer. Once approved, the passport will be stamped and the passenger pays the visa fee.

IMMIGRATION

At immigration, the passenger presents their passport and immigration card. From there, passengers proceed to the luggage belt then continue on towards customs.

CUSTOMS (ARRIVAL)

The customs officer will check the completed customs form and the passport. Once he has stamped the form, the passenger will proceed towards the x-ray machine. After passing the entire luggage (including hand luggage, handbags, etc.) through the machine the passenger will be met by our English speaking guide.

CUSTOMS (DEPARTURE)

If you have purchased silver or antiques in neighbouring countries, it is recommended you declare them at customs to avoid problems on departure. Importing firearms and drugs is strictly forbidden.

It is prohibited to remove antique items such as Buddha images and other ancient cultural artefacts from Laos. If you have already travelled in neighbouring countries, you are advised to declare your valuable items to the customs to prevent any inconvenience upon departure. Anyone purchasing silver or copper items in Laos is also required to pay customs duty according to the weight of the item at the airport.

DISEMBARKATION

On the plane, the passenger will be given two forms to complete. The first is an Arrival / Departure Card. This card has two parts - the immigration officer will take one part, the other must be retained for use when the passenger departs. The second form is the Customs Declaration Form. This card should be filled out before arrival at the airport.

In the airport, the passenger will get a visa application form.

AIRPORT TAX

Airport departure tax is all included in passenger’s airfare

When traveling to Laos, remember to be flexible and keep an open mind. Many traveler frustrations begin with differing expectations and miscommunication. If there is an issue, try to stay pleasant, smile and enjoy the experience. The Lao people are very proud of their country and culture and are proud to showcase their nation and culture to international visitors.