– Area: 236 800 km²
– Population : 6.7 million inhabitants
– Capital: Vientiane
– Official Religion: Buddhism ( 67%)
– Languages: Lao , Thai dialects ( Hmong , Mon-Khmer , and Sino- Tibetan) , French and English
Events and Festivals
– Makha Busa – during the February Full Moon is marked by chanting, offerings and a candlelit processions. Vientiane and Wat Phu are the best places to be to witness the celebrations.
– Vietnamese Tet & Chinese New Year – sometime during January or February is marked by parties, fireworks and visits to temples. Best places to be are Vientiane, Pakse andSavannakhet.
– Bun Pi Mai– on the 14-16 April, also know as Laos New Year, is when people take to the streets and douse each other with water, wear traditional clothing and clean their houses! The best place to be for this is Luang Prabang due to the processions which take place. These include lots of traditional clothing and elephants.
– Visakha Busa – in May, Full Moon (15th day of the 6th lunar month), celebrates the day of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing into nirvana.
– Boun Bang Fai – in May, also know as the Rocket Festival, takes place along side Visakha Busa. Involves, huge homemade rockets, large wooden phalluses, music, dancing, drinking and cross-dressing.
– Bun Khao Phansa– in Jul,y Full Moon, is the beginning of the 3-month Rains Retreat when monks station themselves in a single monastery.
– Bun Awk Phansa – in October, Full Moon and Celebrates the 3-month Rains Retreat coming to an end.
– Bun Nam – in October, day after Bun Awk Phansa. Also know as the boat racing festival, boat races take place in most of the larger riverside towns
– Bun Pha That Luang – in November, Full Moon, is when Monks receive alms and floral votives. Processions take place between Pha That Luang and Wat Si Muang in Vientiane making it the best place to be. If you find yourself elsewhere in Laos you’ll experience fireworks, music and plenty of drinking.
– Lao National Day – on 2nd December is a Public Holiday.
All visitors require a visa to enter Laos. Tourist visa permitting a stay of 30 days can be obtained in advance at Lao Embassies and Consulates. Visa fee varies depending on nationality.
Visa-on-arrival is available at most border checkpoints if you are staying for 30 days or less. It is very easy and hassle-free. Two passport-size photos (4 x 6 cm) are required and the fee is US$35 (for most countries) + US$1added as an administration fee. They usually give you change in USD unless otherwise specified.
The kip has been the currency of Laos since 1952. Frequently used banknotes are in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 kip. Less frequently you may find banknotes with the denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 or 50,000 kip. There are also 10, 20 and 50 att coins, but these are rarely used.
ATMs are becoming increasingly common in the larger cities in Laos, including Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Viang Vieng and Luang Namtha.
Laotian is the official language of the country. Learning a few words can be helpful in big cities but once in the countryside it won’t go very far because half of the population of Laos does not speak Laotian as their first language or at home. Although Russian and French are spoken by older people, most of the younger people learn English as the common international language. Laotian is a non-tonal language with an alphabet based on the Thai one.
Like Cambodia unexploded ordinances can be a major issue in Laos. The issues with land mines is much lower but the USA dropped an amazing amount of bombs in very remote areas of the jungles. If you see and unexploded ordinance in the wilderness, such as bomb or even a bomb casing, do not touch it or get near it. Just walk away very slowly and report it to local authorities.
Most provincial capitals have internet access, particularly those that a more popular with tourists. Most hotels and hostels will provide wifi for free in touristic places. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane rates at an internet shop are usually very reasonable at about US$0.50 to US$1.50 per hour. In more remote towns where competition is low, rates are a fair bit higher at around US$3 to US$6 per hour. If you’re looking to save a bit of money, it’s best to save your emailing until you reach the larger towns and cities.
The country code for Laos is 856. To dial out of the country, the international access code is 00. There are plenty of public phone booths in Laos but these are pretty useless as phonecards are no longer sold and the technology is rather archaic. For long distance calls it’s much better to use a post office or internet cafe. The best place however is the local Telecom Office.
Mobile phone users can use their own GSM mobile phone in Laos. Roaming tends to be expensive, so if you’re planning on using your phone a fair bit it may well be worth buying a local SIM card and purchasing prepaid minutes. SIMs are normally around US$5 and both Lao Telecom and ETL have good network coverage.
For the best postal services, send your mail from Vientiane as the post in the provinces is less reliable. In general it takes anywhere from 1 to over 2 weeks to send post to/from Laos. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm, with some having shorter hours on weekend days as well. If you are going to Thailand, post from there as it’s more reliable and faster. If you are worried about sending home valuable items there is a Federal Expressoffice inside the main post office in Vientiane. You might also check possibilities with companies like DHL, TNT or UPS.