only really opened its doors to tourism about
a decade ago and remains one of the least explored
and enigmatic countries in the world. While the
country has abundant natural and cultural attractions,
it is the people that make this destination so
special and spending time in Laos is as much about
soaking up the unique atmosphere as sightseeing
in the traditional sense.
Lovely Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane
are the most popular destinations in Laos, but
trekking areas in the north and the laid-back
south are emerging as areas to keep visitors in
the country for longer. Hotels have improved in
popular tourist centres, while infrastructure
is also improving steadily, making a trip to this
hidden kingdom easier than ever before. Visit
the land of a million elephants before there are
millions of tourists.
the revolution of 1975 which overthrew the monarchy,
Laos has been called the Lao People’s Democratic
Republic and has been governed by a Marxist-Leninist
party the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.
There is no opposition in Laos and the party remains
strongly influenced by the Vietnamese, although
economic reforms have been adopted.
population of Laos is about 5 million and growing
fast. Lao make up 50 percent of the population,
while a huge number of other ethnic groups make
up the rest. They include a diversity of groups
known as Lao Thai, related to the Thai minorities,
Lao Theung, mainly Mon-Khmer peoples thought to
have inhabited the area before the other groups,
and the Lao Sung, who live at elevations above
1000m and only migrated here in the last century.
There are also sizeable Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai
and Khmer communities.
national language of Laos is Lao, as spoken and
written in the capital Vientiane. Thai and Lao
are mutually intelligible, although the script
is different. English is the first language among
young students, while French is spoken by some
60% of the population of Laos follow Theravada
Buddhism. It was
introduced to Laos in the late 13th century. It
is enhanced by traditional animist beliefs and
spirit worship that were popular before Buddhism
and remain the pre-dominant faith among minority
groups in Laos.
is believed to have arrived in Laos in the late
13th or early 14th centuries and probably arrived
through Cambodia which controlled much of Laos
at that time. Buddhism became the state religion
under the first of the Lan Xang monarchs, the
great King Fa Ngum in 1356 AD, who symbolically
accepted the Pha Bang Buddha image from his Khmer
father-in-law Jayavarman. Buddhism was slow to
spread through Laos due to a belief in spirits
among many of the Lao highland minorities, but
finally began to be regularly taught from the
17th century. Therevada Buddhism, as practised
in Laos and much of mainland South-East Asia,
is believed by its followers to be a purer form
of buddhism than its Mahayana counterpart from
Tibet. According to the four noble truths of Therevada
Buddhism, all life is suffering and that suffering
is caused by desire. The way out of suffering
is to eliminate desire by following the eight-fold
path. The eight fold path is a code of ethics
for life and consists of right understanding,
right thought, right speech, right conduct, right
livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and
right concentration. The eventual goal for all
Buddhists is nirvana or the elimination of all
suffering, extinction and an end to the cycle
Landlocked Laos covers
235,000 sq km and shares borders with China to the
north, Vietnam to the East, Cambodia to the south
and Thailand and Myanmar to the west. The climate
in Laos is characterised by three distinct seasons.
The rainy season of the south-west monsoon extends
from June to November. It is followed by a short,
cool dry period from November to January, which
develops into a hot dry season from February through
May. Average daytime temperatures generally range
from 25C to 30C, but can drop to 10C in the mountainous
areas of the country in the north.
Local time is Greenwich
Mean Time (GMT) plus seven hours.
vaccinations are required for entry into Laos.
However, it is recommended that all visitors be
innoculated against typhoid, tetanus, and hepatitis
A and B. It is not wise to drink tap water. Prescription
drugs are available in urban areas. Precautions
against malaria, such as doxycycline or larium,
are are recommended when visiting most parts of
the country. Travellers should consult their doctor
before leaving for Laos.
visitors will find Lao cuisine to be similar to
that of neighbouring Thailand. Freshwater fish
is a popular part of most Lao diets, while in
remote areas wild animals are more likely to be
part of the diet than domestic animals. Local
specialities include laap, a salad of minced meat,
lime juice, garlic, green onions, mint and chillies.
Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food is also widely
available, as is a range of western cuisine in
Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
All urban areas have
minimum electricity (220 volts). Most sockets found
in hotels are French style two-pin. Power cuts are
offers a limited range of handicrafts when compared
with neighbouring Thailand, but Lao textiles are
among the most accomplished in the region. Different
minority groups produce different patterns and
items can be bought as clothing, tablecloths or
bags. Carvings in wood or stone are popular depicting
scenes from Hindu or Buddhist mythology, as well
a intircately carved opium pipes, although make
sure these not of ivory. Some Asian antiquities
are available in the tourist centres, but officially
there is a ban on the export of these items so
do not invest too much in any one item.
are now two international gateways to Laos. Wattay
Inter-national Airport serves the capital of Vientiane
and Luang Prabang International Airport acts as
a newly popular gateway to the north. Airlines
currently servicing Laos include flag carrier
Lao Aviation, as well as Thai Airways, Bangkok
Airways, Siem Reap Airways, Yunnan Airlines, Vietnam
Airlines and Silk Air. Direct flights to Vientiane
are available from Bangkok, Chang Mai, Hanoi,
Saigon, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kunming and Singapore.
Luang Prabang is connected to Chiang Mai and Danang,
but more routes are expected soon.
flights are available between Vientiane and a
number of provincial
destinations. Most popular is Luang Prabang,
but it is also possible to fly to Xieng Khuang,
Oudomxai, Luang Namtha, Huayxai, Samneua, Savannakhet
and Pakse. Luang Prabang is connected to Xieng
Khuang and Luang Namtha.
for international flights from Vientiane and Luang
Prabang and just 1000K for domestic flights.
Laos issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at several popular airports and land borders. Flying in, they are available at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse airports. For land borders, visas are currently available at all border crossings shared with Thailand, but not if entering Laos from Cambodia. When it comes to Vietnam, visas are currently available at the Donsavanh/Lao Bao and the Nam Phao/Cau Treo borders, but not at the other land borders. With sufficient notice, Hanuman can arrange a Lao visa to be issued in Vietnam or Cambodia for onward travel into Laos.
Visas on arrival cost US$30 to US$47 in US dollars, depending on nationality, plus two passport-sized photographs. However, regulations and prices change regularly, so itís worth checking online with the nearest Lao embassy before pitching up to some remote border.
Kip is the used as the official
currency of Laos (US $1 = 10,800K), but US dollars
and Thai Baht are widely accepted. Places in Vientiane
and Luang Prabang accept international credit
cards such as Visa and Mastercard.
Lao calendar is a mix of solar and lunar, the
year reckoned by sun and the months by moon, unlike
western countries where it is the sun alone.