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Laos Travel Guide

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is the only land-locked country in South-East Asia and is bordered by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. The Mekong River, almost half the length of which flows through Laos, forms most of the border with Thailand. Large population centers (including Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet) lie on the Mekong.

The capital city is Vientiane, the largest city of Laos, on the banks of the Mekong River near the border with Thailand. Its total land area, much of which is mountainous and densely forested, is approximately 237.000 km2.

Patuxai, the most iconic landmark of Laos

Main history events 

The earliest inhabitants of Laos were hunter-gatherers. Later they were farmers growing rice and pulses. The first farmers used stone tools; bronze was used in Laos from about 2000 BC and iron from about 500 BC.

From the 1st century to the 13th century, Laos was under the control of many regimes including Indian merchants, the Chams, Buddhist Indian Indonesians, the Khmers and the Thais Siam respectively. In the 14th Century, King Fa Ngum founded the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang (kingdom of a million elephants), ancestors of today's Laotians.

In the 16th century, Vientiane became the capital in 1563 due to fears of a Burmese invasion. In the 17th Century, Lan Xang Kingdom entered its most illustrious era. This golden age was followed by in-fighting for the throne, which led to the break-up of Lane Xang into the three kingdoms: Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Champasack. All of these civil wars weakened the kingdom, thus creating opportunities for new foreign aggressors to invade. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th Century until the late 19th Century.

The Buddhism, the most significant and sacred religion in Laos

From 1893, Laos became a French protectorate until 1945, when it is briefly occupied by the Japanese towards the end of World War II. Laos gains full independence as a constitutional monarchy. However, in 1946, French rule over Laos was resumed. In 1954, the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu marked the end of the French protectorate in Laos.

On December 2nd, 1975, congress representatives had a meeting, accepted the abdication of the king and proclaimed the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) the only legal political party.

Laos has strong political links with Vietnam. The 1977 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Laos and Vietnam covers defense arrangements, delineation of the border and Vietnamese economic assistance to Laos. Other important bilateral partners are China and Thailand.

Culture (ethnicity, living custom, religious belief, special tradition and festival, etc.)

The official language is Lao, a tonal language similar to Thai. Among younger Lao, English is now the most widely-spoken second language.

The population of Laos is diverse with 49 broad ethnic groups recognized by the Government of Laos, divided into 149 sub-groups and 80 different languages. About half of the population in Laos is Lao Loum people, "lowland Lao" who live in the river plains and mostly along the Mekong region.

Unidentified Alak tribe women in Laos

Collective tradition in Laos culture expresses in work or community tasks. They share equal responsibility in community tasks. The rich culture of Laos is rooted in immense spirituality, as the predominant religion of Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is followed by approximately 60 % of the population and a higher proportion of members of the Lao-Tai language ethnic groups. Animism is still widely practiced among a number of minority groups, especially in the more remote rural areas.

Laotians are truly people of heart. They may show shyness with strangers and rarely initiate a conversation with someone they do not know, except, perhaps, if they wish to practice their English. Laotian tends to keep more physical distance from each other than Westerners. However, if comfortable with you, a Lao person will touch you a lot, especially among women.

Weather

Without no coastline border, Laos' weather is relatively straight-forward compared to most of Asia. The temperatures average high, ranging from 15°C to the mid-30s throughout the year.
There are two distinct season including dry season from October to April and wet season from May to September. The early months of wet season, May to July, remain hot temperature and short-lived rainfall; whilst heavy rains last more constant in the latter months, significantly in the southern Laos.
The months between November and February is the best time to visit Laos, when the coolest and driest days give you more pleasant experiences as well as more country's vibrant festivals to enjoy.

Transportation

  • Getting to Laos: The most convenient way is fly to Laos via many international airways like Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, China Southern, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and EVA Air. If you're already in the region, check out the low-budget flights of Air Asia. Also you can seek the best flights gathered here. Most of international flights to Laos offer you transit at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, the central hub connecting to the airports of Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse. Aside from booking a flight, you can catch a night bus or train with more afordable costs from major cities in Southeast Asia. 
  • Getting around Laos: Buses, trains and taxi cabs are the most popular ways to travel in a long distance. Within cities or regions, you can take a taxi, tuk-tuk or rent a bycicle or motorbike which is available in most travel agents and hotels in Laos.

Travel tips

  • Lao visas: To request a Lao visa on arrival, you can contact to the Lao Embassy in your country for various fees depending on your nationality. The costs usually range from US $30 to US $45 for citizens from the American and European countries. You can stay in Laos up to 3 months without leaving the country with a visa extension. In case of asking for visa extension, you can go to the Immigration Department in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, the Police Station in Pakse and many other cities. It's noticed that extensions are not available in Savannakhet. The cost of extensions is 20,000 kip per day plus a small "form fee" varying from 5,000 kip to 25,000 kip. 
  • Electricity socket: The AC electricity is 230V with the power outlets of two-prong round or flat sockets. If you come from North America or Europe, the power adaptor will accommodate both kinds of plugs. It should be highly recommended to bring a universal travel adaptor to avoid the hassle of buying new adapters for everywhere.
  • Dangers: Known as one of the most secured Southeast Asian countries, Laos has a low crime rate according to international standards. However, visitors should be careful when going out in tourist areas. In case of emergency, you should contact one of these essential numbers consisting of ambulance (1195), fire (1190), police (1191) and tourist police (021-251-128). 
  • Money: The Lao currency is the kip (K) with nominal values varying from 500 to 100,000 kip. Changing money should be best done by licensed money-changing booths at a bank or at the airport. Find out some of the most reliable banks for currency exchange, which offer good rates and extended opening hours. It’s also able to exchange money at shops, hotels or markets for no commission but at good rates. US dollars and Thai baht are widely accepted in busy tourist areas while only large hotels, shop and restaurants accept credit cards.
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