Country Facts


Capital

Capital of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR is the official name of Laos) is Vientiane.

Size
Inland area: 236,800 Km2

Geographical Situation
Located on the eastern coast of the South-East Asian Indochinese Peninsula with no access to the sea, Laos shares its borders with China to the North, Myanmar to the North-West, Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the South and Vietnam to the East. An estimated 70% of the total area is dominated by rugged mountains, dense jungle and plateau. Peaks rise from 1500 to 2500 m, the highest one being the Phu Bia at 2820 m. The Mekong, which still remains the main transport link, extends 1800 km. Areas cultivated are located along the Mekong plain, where half of the population is concentrated.

Population
Laos has 5 million inhabitants with an average density of 21.1 inhabitants/km2.

48% of the population is Lao, 14% tribal Thai, 13% Sino Tibetan (including the Hmong and Yao ethnic minorities), 24% Mon-Khmer and 1% Vietnamese and Chinese.

There are actually a lot of different ethnic minorities groups (69) in Laos but most of them belong to the three main categories: The Lao Loum, the Lao Theung and the Lao Sung.
85% of the population live in the countryside.

The dominant religion is Buddhism (60% of the population). There is a small community of Catholics while the rest of the population is animistic.

Language
Lao is the official language although English is increasingly spoken by Laotians in main cities. Some people and especially the elderly still speak French, while the middle-aged speak Russian. A guide is, however, highly recommended as language can be a problem outside the main cities for people who have no knowledge of Laotian.

Currency
The official currency is the Lao Kip (L-KIP) although US dollars or Thai Bath are widely accepted in the whole country. So are the Euros in the banks, and for payment in the hotels and restaurants of major cities. At the time of writing exchange rate is US$ 1 = 10.700 L-KIP and 1 Euro = 12.600 L-Kip (click here to check daily exchange rate in all currencies).

Traveller's cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2 to 5% transaction fee.

Visa and Master cards are accepted now in most hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, a few restaurants and shops in the main towns (Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse), but can also be subject to 2 to 5% transaction fees.

You can also get cash advances with your credit card either from automated teller machines (ATM) in Vientiane BCL Bank or from foreign exchange offices (subject to 2 to 5% transaction fees).

Depending on the country you are travelling from, the best advise is to bring either cash in USD or Euro. Note that exchange rates for small and big notes vary, so we would recommend you to bring some small notes in USD dollars to cope with first expenses on arrival then either 100 USD or 100 Euro bank notes.

Be careful, banks and foreign exchange offices do not usually take old, scribbled or even stained bank notes.

Climate
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with two seasons: dry from October to April and rainy from May to September. Temperatures vary according to altitude and can be very cold in mountainous areas from November to February.

Vientiane Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Min °C 14 17 19 23 24 25 25 25 25 21 18 15
Max °C 28 30 32 34 32 31 30 31 31 30 29 29
Rain mm 5 12 38 99 267 300 260 293 300 112 15 4

Luang Prabang Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Min °C 13 14 17 21 23 23 23 23 23 21 18 15
Max °C 28 23 24 36 35 34 32 32 33 32 29 27
Rain mm 12 15 21 108 175 163 225 300 178 82 29 10

Click here to check the weather forecast.

Local Time
Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It is the same time zone as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Electricity
In Laos electric current is 220V, but sockets are not always standard. Adapters can be found in local markets. Note that one third of the country has not yet got electricity.

Water
It is advisable not to drink water from the tap unless it is boiled properly. Pure drinking water bottles are widely available. Note: ice cubes are all produced industrially from drinking water.

Telecommunications
International phone calls through the services-call 178 allow you to have discounted rates. This service is free but if you need to call from a hotel, it is advisable to check first with the reception.

For mobile phone users: only a few international operators have an agreement with Lao operators, but you will be able to buy phone cards on the spot. However, please keep in mind that the GSM cover does not reach yet the remotest provinces.

Note also that there are quite a lot of Internet shops in most of the big cities in all provinces of Laos, although the Internet connection is often running quite slow.

Health & Medical Facilities
No vaccination is required, but visitors are advised to receive inoculations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus, as to make sure of whether anti malaria treatment is necessary depending on the region they travel to. Inoculation for yellow fever is not necessary although doctors still usually recommend it.

Vientiane has good hospitals staffed with foreign medical personnel, while in Luang Prabang and Pakse there are only local medical staff. For life threatening injury it is advisable to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we therefore strongly recommended taking out medical travel insurance.

Transportation
There are three international airports in Laos: Wattay in Vientiane located 15 minutes from the town centre, Luang Prabang in the North, 10 minutes from the heart of the historic quarter, and Pakse in the South located 10 minutes from the town centre.

Road networks have improved but still need to be upgraded in some areas. By car or bus, it takes about 7-8 hours from Vientiane to reach Pakse and 8 hours from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

Driving
In Laos, we drive on the right side.

Owners of an International Driving license are allowed to drive a car.

Renting a motorbike is possible but can be, for security reason from time to time, temporarily forbidden in some areas by the local police.

Cooking
Traditional Laotian cuisine boasts over 350 specialities from different provinces. The most famous one is the Lap, a salad with thin slices of chicken, fish or pork. Meals are generally average spicy but make use of a wide array of interesting sauces. Main cities now offer an increasing selection of international restaurants.

Shopping
Although Laos is still under development, you can find all kinds of products often imported from Thailand. There is however a strong tradition of cotton and silk weaving. Beautiful fabrics and manufactured products can be found. Prices displayed are usually fixed, but in other cases do not hesitate to bargain.

Tipping
Tipping is not mandatory although it is appreciated. Note that prices in hotels and restaurants usually include 10% for VAT.

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