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The population of Laos estimated at 6 millions, is comprised of some 49 ethnic groups divided into 4 main linguistic families: Lao-Thai, Mon-Khmer, Tibeto-Burmese and Hmong-Loumien. Each group has its own distinct customs, culture, clothing and dialect. The official language is Lao. Vientiane is the capital and the largest city in the country. The major religion is Theravada Buddhism.

Geographically, Laos is divided into three main regions: the north, the Center and the South. While mountains and forests cover most of this land, the majority of the population is settled along the fertile Mekong River valley.

The main rivers are the Mekong (flowing 1,898 kms through Lao territory), the Nam Ou (448 kms), the Nam Ngum (354 kms), the Nam Xebanghiang (338 kms), the Nam Tha (325 kms) and the Sekong (320 kms).

AIRPORT TAX

International and Domestic Airport tax are included in the air carriers airfare.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Laos - Asia Horizons - Pat Parisot and Vincent Marchand

Laos - Lonely Planet - Joe Cummings

Luang Prabang -SEAMEO Regional Center for Archeology and Fine Arts - Barbara Pavlic

Treasures of Luang Prabang - Editions Routes de la Soie - H. Rattanavong, B. Siripaphanh, M. Derepas and P. Gay

Petit Fute Laos - Nouvelles Editions de l'Universite - Collectif

Laos Handbook - Footprint Handbook, Joshua Eliot and Jane Bickersteth

Treasures of Laos - Editions Routes de la Soie - H. Rattanavong, B. Siripaphanh, M. Derepas and P. Gay

Lao Textiles and Traditions - Oxford University Press - Mary F. Connors

A history of Laos - Martin Stuart – Fox

CLIMATE

Laos can be visited throughout the year. However, those planning to travel extensively by road in the Northern part of the country and/or in the south of the Boloven Plateau should avoid the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable.

Laos enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons. The dry or cool season begins end of October and lasts until end of February (average 20-25° C). Take along a pullover or jacket during the cool season, as nights can be cold, especially in the mountainous areas such as Luang Prabang, the Plain of Jars, Saravane and Houeixai (0-5° C). The hot season lasts from March to June, light cotton clothes and hats are recommended (average 35° C). From June to early October is the rainy season (average 25-30° C). Most precipitations come in the afternoon and in the evening. Rainfall varies considerably from area to area with the highlands in the Phou Louang range along Lao / Vietnam border receiving the more precipitation (300+ mms per year). Vientiane average 150/200 mms per year and Luang Prabang 100/150 mms per year.

CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE

The local currency is the KIP. Notes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000, 20.000 50,000 Kips. The rate of exchange as per the time of printing is approximately 8000 Kip to one US Dollar and 12000 Kip to one Euro (as at September 2009). In Vientiane, notes of most international currencies can be exchanged either at banks or at licensed moneychangers.  Outside Vientiane, most provincial banks and licensed moneychangers accept only US Dollars, Thai Baht and sometimes Euros. Only major banks accept traveler’s cheques. Credit cards are accepted only at major hotels and up-market shops and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

ATMs are available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang and can dispense a maximum amount of 700,000 Kip (US Dollar 70) a time to most card accounts with a withdrawal fee of approx. US Dollar 2.

CUSTOMS AND FORMALITIES

Arrivals at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse International airport are generally rather casual events. Carry-on bags are usually not inspected if that is all you have brought. For checked-in baggage, when claimed at counter, passengers are sometimes required to declare if they have brought antiques and silver items with them. Simple formalities should be observed also when entering the country overland.

Passengers have to complete immigration and customs declaration forms during the arrival flight or upon arrival and must submit these documents on arrival.  VIP TOUR ASIA.,JSC representative or a guide will meet travelers at the exit point in the arrival hall after immigration and customs clearance. Our representative or guide will display a VIP TOUR ASIA.,JSC signboard with the name of guests or group for easy recognition.

ELECTRICITY

The electric current is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles.

FOOD

Laos has abundant food supplies and the cuisine is simple and fresh. Sticky rice is the staple of the Lao diet and food is enhanced by such spices as lemongrass, hot chilly, peanuts, coconut milk and ginger. In addition to Lao cuisine, the larger hotels also serve a wide variety of Continental, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. In the smaller cities, when the hotels only have one restaurant, ordering a-la-carte may involve a slight wait, consequently it is advised that you take advantage of the large and diverse buffets available at these hotels to minimize any delay.

Bottled mineral water is available at all hotels throughout Laos. The most popular beverage in Laos is the domestically produced Beer Lao. Lao coffee, grown in the fertile south of the country, is some of the best in the world.

GENERAL ADVICE ON TRAVELING IN LAOS

Use an insect repellant against mosquitoes, especially when traveling up-country and in forested areas. Since Laos has a hot and humid tropical climate, casual and light clothing is best all year round, preferably made from natural fibers. A sweater or jacket may be useful in hill areas, particularly during winter months, when evenings can be cold. A windproof jacket is essential when touring along Mekong River during November to February. An umbrella or raincoat is recommended if visiting the country during the monsoon months (June-September). A hat and a high-factor sun block cream are advisable a protection against the hot tropical sun when sightseeing outdoors. Shoes are generally removed at the entrance to temples and private homes.

Color standard films and digital camera are available in the main cities. Photography and video in airports and near any military installations and government offices are forbidden and discretion should be observed when photographing people especially monks and hill tribes.

HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

An adequate supply of any essential medication should be brought along, as certain medicines may not be available locally. A spare pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses is also advisable. Extra personal insurance is recommended in case of illness, or situations where medical evacuation by air is required, as Laos hospitals are generally not up to international standards.

HOW TO GET TO LAOS

By air: Presently, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet are the four international airports.

Overland: The country can be entered or exited overland at the following immigration checkpoints, which are open daily from 08.30 AM to 05.00 PM

LAOS - CHINA

Boten, Luang Namtha province, from / to Bohan and Mengla (Yunnan, China)

LAOS - THAILAND

Friendship Bridge from / to Nong Khai (Thailand) crossing the Mekong River by shuttle bus (from 06.00 AM to 10.00 PM)

Houei Xay by crossing the Mekong River by ferry from / to Chiang Khong (Thailand) (from 08.00 AM to 06.00 PM)

Bolikhamxay from / to Bungkan District, Nong Khai province (Thailand) crossing the Mekong River

Thakek from / to Nakhon Phanom (Thailand) by ferry crossing the Mekong River.

Savannakhet from / to Mukdahan (Thailand), actually by second Friendship bridge, spanning the Mekong River

Vang Tao from / to Chongmek, Ubon Ratchatani (Thailand)

LAOS - VIETNAM

Muang Mai ( Sop Hun ), Phongsaly province from / to Tay Trang, Dien Bien Phu ( Vietnam )

Sam Neua ( Na Meo ) from / to Pa Hang on route N0 6 to Vietnam

Nonghet, Xieng Khouang province, from / to Nam Can (Vietnam)

Namphao, Borikhamxay province, from / to Cau Treo (Vietnam)

Naphao / Chalo, route N0 12, which links Thakek to Ving or Dong Hoi (Vietnam)

Denesavanh from / to Lao Bao (Vietnam)

Bo Keua, Attopeu province from / to Bo -Y, Kuntum province, High land (Vietnam)

LAOS - CAMBODIA

Dong Kalor from / to Strung Treng (Cambodia)

Note: visa on arrival at Houexay and at the Friendship bridge is possible. For most other border crossings the Lao Visa must be obtained prior to travel. For updated information please contact us.

INTERNET

Internet is available at most hotels and public internet cafes can be found in the main cities. Recommended sites are:

www.viptourasia.com

www.photos-of-laos.rg

www.vientianetimes.org.la

www.ecotourismlaos.com

LANGUAGES

The official language of Lao PDR is Lao. It is spoken throughout the country as well as the Vientiane’s dialect. In spite of the colonial past, French remains the second language and English is in common use among business sectors and young generations, even though they are not widely spoken except in the capital and in major tourist sites such as Luang Prabang.

LOCAL TIME

Laos runs at GMT + 7 hours, it lies in the same time zone as its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Working hours: Government offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 08.00 AM – 12.00 PM, and from 01.00 – 04.00 PM. Shop and private business offices open and close a bit later and usually stay open during lunchtime.

VIP TOUR ASIA.,JSC Laos opens from 08.00 – 12.00 PM, and from 01.30 – 05.30 PM from Monday to Friday. On Saturday, we open only in the morning from 08.00 – 12.00 PM.

NBCAS

The National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) system was established in Lao PDR in 1993. NBCAs are multi-purpose areas and not national parks in the conventional sense. This means people live inside the NBCA and harvest some animals and plants as rural livelihoods. There are 19 NBCAs in the whole country. Currently the NBCAs have very different levels of access to foreigners.

There are many unique animals still found in Laos, but they are hard to see, because they are still hunted. Several animal species are on the verge of extinction. To slow these declines, do not buy or eat wildlife in the restaurants and be very careful with fire especially during the dry season.

People living in the NBCAs often belong to minority ethnic groups. When traveling in these areas, please dress modestly and respect local traditions. Do not touch anything that may be of religious significance and always ask before taking close-up portraits. Also do not give anything to the children and do not give medicine but to a doctor or a nurse.

POST AND COMMUNICATION

The General Post Office (GPO) is located next to the Morning Market in Vientiane. Its branches are available in the main cities and almost in all the districts through the country. It offers postal services and public telephone for local, national and international calls. International roaming with major international communication companies is available and Lao communication companies offer SIM cards and prepaid phone cards at reasonable prices. Most hotels in the main cities have IDD lines. The normal mail service is inexpensive and generally reliable. For urgent or valuable mail  (either or to /from Laos), it is advisable to use DHL or other courier service.

PASSPORT AND VISAS

Visas are required by all nationalities (subject to exceptions for Japanese & Russian), For people holding a normal passport including ASEAN countries, the passport should be valid at least six months. Visas can be obtained from Lao Embassies and Consulates abroad or upon arrival at the following immigration checkpoints.

Important note: Travelers arriving from Cambodia overland must have their Lao visa arranged and stamped prior to arrival at the Laotian border.

Referring to the notice no 589 dated 11 February 2008 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning visa on arrival, please note that a number of nationalities will not be able to obtain a visa on arrival into Lao P.D.R., except those who have an official letter from the Lao government or Lao authorities concerned. Please do contact our offices for further information.

The visa on arrival fee depends on the nationality of the traveler but the minimum cost is US$ 30 per person and admitted to Laos for the stay of 30 days. Two passport photos are required for each visa application.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

1 January International New Year Day

8 March Internation Women's Day

22 March Lao People's Revolutionary Party Day

14 April Lao New Year

1 May International Labour Day

15 July Boun Khaophansa Festival / Beginning of Buddhist Lent Festival

23 August Liberation Day

28 August Boun Khao Padabdin Festival / Rice Growing Festival and Boat Racing Festival in Luang Prabang only!

12 September Boun Ho Khaosalak Festival / Ancestor Festival

12 October Independence Day

12 October Boun Okphansa Festival / End of Buddist Lent Festival

13 October Boat Racing Festival at Mekong River, Vientiane Capital

10 November That Luang Festival, Vientiane Capital

2 December Lao National Day

SHOPPING

Many handicrafts can be found at the common markets. The Morning Market (Talaat Sao) in Vientiane is known for its superior silk weaving, metal work, and woodcarving. The Central Market in Luang Prabang also offers a great variety of souvenirs, from silk weaving, Sa paper handicraft, silver items, basketworks to hill tribes' costumes and jewelry. In Luang Prabang, traditional Hmong embroideries are to be found at the ethnic market as well as at the night market. Up market handicraft stores are available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Travelers should avoid purchasing antiques and other cultural pieces, such as bronze drums or gongs and Buddha images. Since the export of antiques is subject to the approval of Ministry of Culture, souvenirs may thus be seized when leaving the country. If you travel in from a neighboring country and have bought any antiques or silver pieces, when arriving in Laos, you are recommended to declare these items to customs.

Bargaining is essential for all souvenirs shopping because most shops do not stick selling prices on the items.

Silk and cotton are woven in different styles according to the techniques of each province.

The artisans produce well-crafted carvings in wood, bone and stone. Subjects can be everything from Hindu and Buddhist mythology to themes from every day life. Pipes seem to be plentiful in Laos and sometimes have intricately carved bone or bamboo shafts, along with engraved ceramic bowls. To shop for carvings, look in antique or handicraft stores.

Please be aware that what may be described as authentic or valuable items such as gems, high value antiques or carpets are often fakes or highly overpriced. Several stores will offer you certificates of authenticity. In most Local shopping is always at the discretion of the traveler.

The Northern hill tribes and Luang Prabang people do some of the best silverwork in Laos. Gems such as sapphires and rubies are also sometimes available. However, jewelry is generally not up to international standards and buyers should use caution when purchasing gems.

TIPPING

Tipping for good service is always appreciated in Laos. It is widely practiced to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotels and station porters should also be tipped at the client’s discretion.

TRANSPORTATION

Depending on the road conditions of each province, visitors are provided with bus, minibus or car, most of the time with air-conditioning, for the excursions.

VACCINATION

Yellow fever: Not obligatory if the travelers come from Europe

Japanese encephalitis: Please consult your doctor before your departure for advice

Hepatitis A: Vaccination is recommended

Hepatitis B: Vaccination is recommended

Rabies: Advisable

Tenatus - Poliomylitis: Check if your vaccination is up-to-date

Typhoid: Please consult your doctor before your departure for advice

Malaria: the country is classified as a zone 3 countries: Please consult your doctor before your departure for advice