Traveling Luck for Laos

Laos is located in Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam.

Laos has borders with China for 423km, Cambodia for 541km, Myanmar for 235km, Thailand for 1754km and Vietnam for 2130km.

Land in Laos is mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus.

Lao or Laotian land covers an area of 236800 square kilometers which is slightly larger than Utah

As for the Lao or Laotian climate; tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April).

Lao(s) or Laotian(s) speak Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages.

Lao or Laotian National Map

Lao or Laotian Map

Regions of Laos

Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For three hundred years Lan Xang included large parts of present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the control of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1986. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.


Laos Country Profile

The government of Laos, one of the few remaining official Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% in 1988-2004 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a primitive infrastructure. It has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications, though the government is sponsoring major improvements in the road system with possible support from Japan. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice, accounts for about half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid by the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food processing and mining. Construction will be another strong economic driver, especially as hydroelectric dam and road projects gain steam. In late 2004, Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US, allowing Laos-based producers to face lower tariffs on exports. This new status may help spur growth. In addition, the European Union has agreed to provide $1 million to the Lao Government for technical assistance in preparations for WTO membership. If the avian flu worsens and spreads in the region, however, prospects for tourism could dim.

Lao or Laotian natural resources include timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones

landlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand

Lao or Laotian religion is Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40% (including various Christian denominations 1.5%).

Natural hazards in Laos include floods, droughts.

Travel Advice on Laos

Laos

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Terrorism/Security, Entry Requirements and General sections.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • The threat from terrorism in Laos is low.  However, you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • There is no British consular representation in Laos.  Routine consular matters are covered by the Australian Embassy in Vientiane.  The British Embassy in Bangkok is responsible for non-routine consular matters.  The British Embassy in Bangkok is accredited to Laos.  For further details please see the ‘General’ section below.

  • Penalties for illegal drug importation and use are severe and can include the death penalty.

  • Unexploded ordnance in rural areas is an ongoing danger.

  • The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao family law.  Penalties for breaking these regulations can range from fines to imprisonment.

  • Most visits to Laos are trouble free.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Laos is for replacing lost or stolen passports.  You must carry an ID document or passport at all times, you will be heavily fined if you do not present any documentation on request by the authorities.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Terrorism/Security

The threat from terrorism in Laos is low.  However, you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including places frequented by foreigners.
In 2004, there were several bombing incidents, mainly in the capital Vientiane, thought to be carried out by a mixture of anti-Government groups and business disputes.  While the devices used were generally small and rudimentary, the explosions resulted in a small number of deaths and casualties.

A number of fatal armed bus attacks have occurred on Route 13, which links Vientiane to the north of Laos through Luang Prabang, on route 7 linking Phou Khoun and Phonsavanh; and route 6 near the north-eastern town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province.  In February 2003, two foreign tourists were killed in a bus attack on Route 13.  You should be particularly vigilant when travelling by road on Route 13 from Vangviang north through Phou Khoun, to south of Luang Prabang, on Route 7 from Phou Khoun to Phonsavan and on Route 6.

There continue to be small-scale skirmishes between anti-government groups and government troops in isolated areas along the Lao-Thai border.  There is a danger you may inadvertently get caught up in unpredictable acts of violence.

Local law enforcement agencies in Laos have limited capability to counter these threats.

There have been serious attacks in other parts of South East Asia.  In neighbouring Indonesia, Westerners were killed and injured following the terrorist attacks in Bali (October 2002 and October 2005) and Jakarta (August 2003 and September 2004).

Please read Security & General Tips and Risk of Terrorism when Travelling Overseas on the FCO website for further information and advice.

Crime

Violent crimes such as robbery, rape and other sexual offences are on the increase.  Foreigners have been assaulted after having their drinks drugged.  You should be careful about taking drinks from strangers.  The theft of passports is a particular problem.  You should have insurance cover for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, stolen cash, cards, passports or luggage.  There are reports of a visa scam affecting travellers to Laos.
 
Political Situation

Laos Country Profile.

Local travel

There is a risk of banditry in rural areas as well as the risk of further bombings and attacks (see Terrorism/Security section).

You should be aware of the dangers of unexploded ordnance, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), increasingly in Luang Prabang Province (as a result of scrap metal collection) and areas of the Lao-Vietnamese border, which were formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Mined areas are frequently unmarked.  You should therefore not stray off main routes in rural areas.

There is no curfew in Vientiane but you should be aware that people travelling in the city might be stopped by the police at any time, particularly in the evening.  You may be asked to show identification papers before being allowed to travel on.  You should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.

You will require a permit to visit Xaysomboune Special Zone, but currently none are being issued.

Seasonal flooding occurs in Laos starting at the end of July or early August, and continuing until November.  Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time.

Road Safety

The majority of roads in Laos are in a poor condition.  Travel should only be undertaken during daylight hours.  Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of an accident and vehicles often do not have lights.  Livestock often stray on to the roads causing accidents.

The numbers of road accidents and fatalities in Laos have risen sharply in recent years along with the increase in the number of motor vehicles, especially motorbikes.  If you are involved in a road accident you will generally be required to pay compensation for third party property damage and injury, even if you are not judged to be at fault.  Lao insurers will generally only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and will not cover this compensation, which can be the largest part of the expense.

If you are planning to travel by road or river you should check with a travel company on arrival for an update on local conditions.

River Safety

Travel on the Mekong River by speedboat is dangerous, particularly in the dry season, November to April.  Life-vests and crash helmets should be provided and worn.  White water rafting and kayaking are also dangerous.  Incidents of drowning have been reported.

Air Safety

Prospective air travellers should be aware of doubts about the maintenance procedures of internal flights.  Travel by Lao Airlines is strongly discouraged except on the ATR 72 aircraft and the Airbus 320.  Yuen-7 and Yuen-12 aircraft should be avoided whenever possible.  Since 2000, there have been several deaths as a result of domestic air accidents on Yuen-12 aircraft in Laos.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

Penalties for using illegal drugs (opium, heroin, amphetamine type stimulants including Ecstasy and marijuana etc) in Laos are severe.  You should avoid any perceived association with drug trafficking or use.  There have been several recent deaths as a result of drug abuse among foreigners visiting Laos.

In 2001, the death penalty was introduced for persons found guilty of the illegal production, possession, trafficking or trade of 500 grams or more of heroin, or 3 kilograms or more of opium, or 10 kilograms or more of marijuana.

The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law.  It is not unknown for Lao authorities to demand entry into hotel rooms or guest houses where they suspect this regulation is being broken.  Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be submitted in a formal application to the Lao authorities.  Penalties for engaging in prohibited sexual contact or failing to register a relationship range from US$500 to US$5,000 and may also involve imprisonment.

It is illegal not to carry an ID document or a passport, and fines for not having documentation for presentation on demand can be high.

Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and can result in arrest or detention.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Visa conditions change regularly.  Please contact the nearest Laos Embassy or Consulate for the most up to date information.

You should be aware of reports of a visa scam where travel agents are supplying 5-day or 15-day visas to customers who pay for 30-day permits.  Proper long-stay visas can also be obtained from the Laos Embassy in either Hanoi or in Bangkok.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic does not have an embassy in the United Kingdom.  You can make visa applications before arrival at the Ambassade de la Republique Democratique Populaire Lao, which is based in Paris, France.

When you enter Laos, you should make sure you obtain an entry stamp in your passport.  Immigration offices at some border crossings are sometimes difficult to identify.  Fines for not having a legitimate entry stamp can be high.

US$10 airport tax is payable in dollars on departure from Vientiane and Luang Prabang international airports.  You may also be charged a domestic airport tax of Kip3000 (approximately US$0.30) on internal flights.

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.  For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration, please check with the Laos Embassy in Paris.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.
If you have an unstable medical condition you should seriously consider not travelling to Laos.  Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies.  Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive.
You should seek medical advice about endemic diseases including HIV or AIDS before travelling.  Safe sex practices are essential.
You should also ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at:  www.dh.gov.uk

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

In May 2004, there were outbreaks of Avian Influenza (also known as Bird Flu) in poultry in Laos. In August 2006, an outbreak of Avian Influenza in poultry was reported on a farm in Vientiane.  No human infections or deaths have been reported.

The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low.  As a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

You should read this advice in conjunction with:  Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet on the FCO website.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see:  What We Can Do To Help.

There is no British consular representation in Laos.  Routine consular matters are provided by the Australian Embassy in Vientiane (please see below for contact details).  The British Embassy in Bangkok is responsible for non-routine consular matters.
If you require a new passport, application forms can be downloaded from the Internet. Applications for new and replacement passports are processed by the British Embassy in Bangkok and can be submitted by post or the local courier service (known as EMS). Where possible, you are advised to apply at least 15 working days before you need to use your passport.  In the event of an emergency, the Australian Embassy in Vientiane can issue an emergency travel document to allow you to enter Thailand, and will ask you to complete a lost/stolen report form. We strongly advise you to keep a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport, to avoid any complications.
If you are a British national and plan to stay for an extended period in Laos, you are strongly advised to register with the Australian Embassy in Vientiane upon arrival.
The Australian Embassy in Vientiane can be contacted at:  Rue J.  Nehru Quartier Phonexay, P O Box 292; (Tel;  +856 21 413 600; Fax:  +856 21 413 601).  E-mail:  laos.embassy@dfat.gov.au.  The opening hours are 08.00 to 17.00, Monday to Thursday and 08:00 to 12:45 on Friday.

Money


There are no reliable international ATM facilities in Laos.  Major credit cards are accepted at the larger international hotels and main tourist orientated establishments.  Travellers’ cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and major towns.  Most transactions are conducted in cash, American Dollars, Thai Baht or Lao Kip.  Western Union, United Kingdom freephone 0800 833 833, offers international money transfer facilities in Vientiane through a branch of the Bank of Ayudhya on Lane Xang Avenue.