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Laos is a beautiful nation in Indochina, with various rivers, rugged mountains, forests, plains and plateaus. Laos has been unspoiled from the outside influences, so the tourist will get a singular view of conventional Southeast Asian life. With its fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley and the rugged Annamite highlands, Laos has got to be one of the highlights in Asia.
Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for travelling in Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat is a good idea in the rainy season. During the winter months warm clothing is needed for visiting the north of Vietnam and Laos. Visitors to Buddhist countries should not wear shorts, short skirts or other skimpy clothing when visiting religious buildings and shoes should be removed before entering a private home.
220V in the towns and 110V in country areas.
Lao cuisine has many similarities to Thai with lots of aromatic herbs and spices such as lemon grass, chillies, ginger and tamarind used to flavour dishes. Sticky rice, kao niao, is the main ingredient in Lao cuisine,
food usually served with fermented fish and a fish sauce similar to that used in Vietnamese cuisine called nam pa. Chicken and pork dishes are also popular but beef is expensive in comparison. Soups served with noodles, bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables can be found everywhere.
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions especially if travelling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are rather limited in all countries and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before travelling in case evacuation is needed.
HOURS OF BUSINESS
Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 08:00 until 16:00 and often close for lunch between 12:00 and 14:00. Shops open from Monday to Saturday between 09:00 and 17:00 and some also open on Sunday.
The national language of Laos is Lao, which is closely related to Thai and is spoken in many different dialects. Lao, like Thai, is a tonal language. French is still spoken by many government officials and educated members of the older generation but Thai and English are popular with younger people.
The Kip is the currency unit of Laos. US Dollars and Thai Baht are also accepted in many places and are certainly more convenient to carry than great wads of the local currency. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 15:00. Travelers cheques can be exchanged at banks and some hotels in the major cities. Visa Card and Mastercard are now accepted at the larger hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
As in the neighboring countries of Thailand, and Cambodia Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion and saffron-robed monks are a common sight in Laos. There are also a small number of Catholics and Protestants.
Boun Khoun Khao or Khoun Lan (Rice Ceremony)
It is a harvest festival held at Songkhon District in Savannakhet Province. “Basi” ceremony is performed in order to give thanks to the land.
Boun Khao Chi
The ceremony is held at the “Wat” (temple) in the morning, when a special “bread made of sticky rice” is offered. This festival is held during the third full moon of the lunar calendar.
"Boun Pi Mai" Lao’s New Year
Lao'sNew Year is celebrated at the same time each year (April 13-15). This year, the 16th in the first day of the New Year. On the 13th, Buddha images are taken out of the temples to be cleansed with scented water by devotees, and placed on special temporary alters within the compounds of “Wats” (temples). Devotees gather the scented water falling off the images, to take home and use it to pour on friends and relatives, as an act of cleansing and purification before entering the New Year. On the evening of the 15th, the images are returned to their proper shiners within the temples.
Boun Pimai is a time for much joyous celebration, with good deeds and prayers in anticipation the New Year.
The best buys in Laos are ethnic minority handicrafts and textiles. The Lao sarong or pha sin made from silk or cotton is popular souvenir. Other souvenirs to look out for include silverware, in particular from Luang Prabang, and wood carvings.
Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although be warned these services are expensive in all four countries. Away from the major cities it may not always be possible to make international calls. Internet cafes are becoming popular in the major cities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and many travellers now prefer to keep in touch by e-mail. Postcards can be bought at all the main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desk.
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in these developing nations. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.
Receiving visa on arrival is possible from Vientiane's Wattay International Airport, Luang Prabang International Airport, at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, at Pakse International Airport at the Chong Mek Border and at Houey Xay. You will need one photo and US$ 30 for the visa fees (US$ 1 supplement may be requested for overtime if you arrive on Saturday or Sunday). Please check your visa stamp before leaving the immigration.
The rainy season in Laos lasts from May through to October with hot and humid weather in the 30s Celsius. The dry season begins in November with cool temperatures of 10-20 oC giving way to hot and dry weather from March through to May when the temperature can reach the high 30s Celsius.
Most of the year is hot and humid. Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The rainy season is from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius, rising to a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius during April and May.
In Vientiane a minimum temperature of 19 degrees Celsius is to be expected during January. In mountainous areas, however, temperature drops to as low as 14-15 degrees Celsius during the winter months, and during cold nights, can easily reach the freezing point. The average precipitation is highest in Southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive over 3,000 mm. annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1,500-2,000 mm., and in the Northern provinces only 1,000-1,500 mm.
When to visit
- The best time to visit Laos is between November and April.
- The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos but bottled mineral is safe and available everywhere. Ice in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.
The trip has been very well organised with the right balance of cycling, sight-seeing and getting a taste for local culture. Reno always went beyond the duties of a guide to keep us informed and entertained, he has a great skill for interacting with many different people. Tsung was a very safe driver and always very efficient in getting us organised to start riding and never far away at anytime. I look forward to my next trip with Indotrek- Jason Fitzpatrick