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Contact

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Tel:   84-4- 3997 5136

Fax:  84-4- 3984 5651

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GENERAL INFORMATION

Geography

Laos is a landlocked country covering 236,800 square kilometers and shares its borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. 70% of its total land area is comprised of mountains and plateaus. The Mekong River is Laos' primary geographical feature, running the entire length of the country and serving as a natural border with Thailand.

Climate and Seasons

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with wet and dry seasons. May is very hot with occasional rain; June to October is the humid and wet monsoon season; and November to April is the cooler, dry season.

 

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Vientiane

Max (C)

28

30

33

34

33

32

31

31

31

30

30

28

Min (C)

14

17

20

23

26

24

24

24

24

22

19

15

Rain (mm)

10

20

40

100

260

310

260

305

300

110

20

5

Luang Prabang

Max (C)

28

30

32

39

34

34

32

32

32

31

30

29

Min (C)

14

16

19

23

24

25

24

24

24

23

20

16

Rain (mm)

10

15

25

100

165

150

235

300

170

75

25

10

People

Laos' population of 6.7 million consists of more than 68 different ethnic groups, with most falling into three main categories: The Lao Loum who inhabit the lowlands, the semi-nomadic Lao Theung who live in the lower mountain ranges and the Lao Soung hill tribes originating from Burma, Tibet and southern China.

Language

The Lao language has varying dialects throughout the country. Interestingly, many ethnic groups don't speak any Lao. Other languages used in Laos are French, English, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Religion

The great majority of the Lao people are Theravada Buddhists. Many Laotian men attend Buddhist monasteries for training before entering secular life. Other religions practiced include various Christian denominations, Baha'I Faith and Islam. Animism is widely practiced among ethnic groups.

Festivals and Holidays

The vast majority of Laos’ festivals are linked to the seasons or Buddhist holidays. Pimai, the Lao New Year, is the country's most important holiday. The three-day celebration usually takes place in mid-April and is characterized by the ceremonial washing of Buddha statues in temples. Other noteworthy festivals include:

    • January - Bun Pha Wet. Falling on different dates throughout the month the festival commemorates the Jataka, the life story of Lord Buddha as Prince Vestsantara. The story is recited in temples throughout the country and this is considered a particularly auspicious time for ordination as a monk.

    • February - Magha Puja - Held on the night of the full moon to commemorate the original teachings of Lord Buddha given to over a thousand monks who came spontaneously to hear him speak. The festival is marked by grand parades of candle-bearing worshippers circling their local temples and much religious music and chanting. - Vietnamese Tet & Chinese New Year - Celebrated in Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet by the Vietnamese and Chinese communities who close their businesses for several days during this period.

    • March - Boun Khoun Khao - A harvest festival celebrated at local temples

    • April - Boun Pimai - This is the celebration of the Lao New Year and is a combination of merriment and meditation. Similar to other festivals at this time, in particular Thailand, Boun Pimai is celebrated with parades, dancing, singing and enthusiastic water-throwing. At Luang Prabang water pouring ceremonies are performed on Buddha statues. Temple compounds are further decorated with small sand Stupas, offered to bring good fortune and health.

    • May - Labor Day 1st May - public holiday. Boun Bang Fai (rocket festival) - With its origins in pre-Buddhist rain-invoking ceremonies, this festival now coincides with the Lao Visakha Puja celebrations. Parades, songs and dances all lead to an explosive climax as huge, ornate, homemade bamboo rockets are blessed and fired into the skies to invite the rains.

    • June/July - Children's Day (1st June - public holiday). Khao Phansaa - Marking the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent, which commences at the full moon in July and continues until the full moon in October.

    • August - Haw Khao Padap Din - Devoted to remembering and paying respect to the dead, it is marked by the macabre ceremony of exhuming previously buried bodies, cleaning the remains and then cremating them on the night of the full moon. Relatives then present gifts to the monks who have chanted on behalf of those who have passed away.

    • October - Awk Phansaa (Awk Watsa) - Marking the end of Buddhist Lent on the day of the full moon. Monks are at last permitted to leave the temple and are presented with gifts. Bun Nam (water festival) - In riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, the highly competitive Bun Nam boat races (suang heua) are held during the same time as Awk Phansaa.

    • November - Boun That Luang - Though celebrated at many temples around the country this festival is traditionally centered at That Luang in Vientiane. Fairs, beauty contests, music and fireworks take place throughout the week of the full moon and end with a candlelight procession (wien thien) around the temple of That Luang.

    • December - Lao National Day (2nd December - public holiday) - Streets strewn with national flags and banners, processions, parades, and speeches are the highlights of this celebration for the victory of the proletariat in 1975.

Handicrafts and Souvenirs

Laos has a strong tradition of cotton and silk weaving. In fact, several renowned European designers have recently started coming to Laos to purchase elaborate weavings. The weavings display a level of skill and artistry not seen anywhere else in the world. Artists from each province incorporate distinctive colors and patterns into their work. Such pieces can be bought in all the major markets, or directly from makers in silk weaving villages in Luang Prabang.

Travel Formalities

PASSPORT AND VISA
At least 6 month valid passport is accepted prior entering Laos. Visa is required for entry into Lao PDR. A regular tourist visa is valid for up to 30 days, and may be issued upon arrival at any land international immigration checkpoints to Laos including by air Vientiane's Wattay Airport, Luang Prabang Airport and Pakse Airport from US$18.00-US$45.00 per person subject to tourist passport holding (remember to bring a 2pcs of color photo as the same as passport size is required, application form is available at immigration counter)  
Guests may apply Lao visa at Lao embassy aboard prior traveling to Laos
Guests must obtain a copy of the visa approval before boarding the flight to Laos. If visas are needed, or if visas have already been approved, please provide Vidotour with passport and applicant details at least 10 days before the date of travel so that arrangements can be made / checked (as appropriate).

AIRPORT TAX
International Airport Tax is included all in your airticket
Domestic Airport Tax: Vidotour will absorb this tax.

DISEMBARKATION
On the plane, the passenger will be given two forms to complete. The first is an Arrival / Departure Card. This card has two parts - the immigration officer will take one part, the other must be retained for use when the passenger departs. The second form is the Customs Declaration Form. This card should be filled out before arrival at the airport.
In the airport, the passenger will get a visa application form.

VISA APPLICATION FORM
The passenger hands the completed application form with two photos and the passport to an officer. Once approved, the passport will be stamped and the passenger pays the visa fee.

IMMIGRATION
At immigration, the passenger presents their passport and immigration card. From there, passengers proceed to the luggage belt then continue on towards customs. Make sure your passport has been stamped by immigration officer before leaving the immigration counter

CUSTOMS (ARRIVAL)
The customs officer will check the completed customs form and the passport. Once he has stamped the form, the passenger will proceed towards the x-ray machine. After passing the entire luggage (including hand luggage, handbags, etc.) through the machine the passenger will be picked up by our guide.

MEET AND GREET
Our guide will be holding a sign with the name of the passenger or your company logo. After meeting passengers in the arrival hall, the guide will accompany the guests to the car for transfer to the hotel.

CUSTOMS (DEPARTURE)
If you have purchased silver or antiques in neighboring countries, it is recommended you declare them at customs to avoid problems on departure. Importing firearms and drugs is strictly forbidden.
It is prohibited to remove antique items such as Buddha images and other ancient cultural artifacts from Laos. If you have already traveled in neighboring countries, you are advised to declare your valuable items to the customs to prevent any inconvenience upon departure. Anyone purchasing silver or copper items in Laos is also required to pay customs duty according to weight at the airport.

Health

VACCINATIONS
No vaccinations are required. However, visitors are advised to have up-to-date inoculations for Cholera, Hepatitis A and B, Malaria, Typhoid, Tetanus, Tuberculosis and Japanese Encephalitis. Malaria is prevalent in most remote regions of Laos and it is best to consult with your doctor on the best preventative measures.
FOOD & DRINK
A typical Lao meal consists of steamed rice accompanied by fish, poultry or beef seasoned with chili or garlic. Fresh fruit and vegetables should always be peeled or washed thoroughly with purified water. Bottled water should be used at all times for drinking. Boiled drinks such as coffee or tea are fine. There are several restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang offering international cuisine, including Italian, French, Thai and Chinese.
MEDICAL FACILITIES
It is recommended that visitors bring a basic travel first-aid kit with band-aids, anti-infection creams, mosquito repellant, anti-diarrhea tablets, and the like. Guests should also bring any prescription or over-the-counter drugs they may need. There are internationally-run emergency medical clinics in Vientiane.
HOSPITALS CONTACTS
International medical clinic is operated by Mahosot Hospital, situated at the Bank of Mekong River on the Fa Ngum road. It is daily opened 24 hours at the following emergency contact numbers:

Australian clinic emergency contact                    Tel: (00856-21) 413603
International clinic emergency contact                 Tel: (00856-21) 214022
The Australian and Swedish Embassies each operate up-to-date medical clinics, primarily for Embassy staff. However, consultation, and/or treatment of non-Embassy staff is undertaken, with payment as prescribed, and circumstances warranting, may be refused.

Money

The unit of currency in Laos is the Kip which is available in 50000, 20000, 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500, 100 and 50 kip notes. U.S. Dollars, Thai Baht and the local currency are all accepted currencies. At the time of printing, the exchange rate was 8500 Kip = US$1.00 (exchange rates 22 April 2009) Traveler cheques and credit cards are accepted in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. If you are traveling to other places please ensure you have enough ‘hard currency’. Most major hotels and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard (but not American Express) credit cards. However, settling your bills in credit card could be applied for the local bank commission charge reach to 3-4% from the total bills.
24hrs ATM machines services can be found in many main tourist towns. The cash withdrawal made in local currency. 

ELECTRICITY
The electric current is 220 volts. Power blackouts are frequent even in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. In small towns, the current can be off for long periods of time. After dark, it's best to keep a flashlight or candles handy. In most hotels adaptors are necessary for French and American sockets.
GIFTS
Small, practical gifts such as a sewing kit, or pens and paper, are very welcome. It is best to present gifts with the right hand.
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
Light cotton and linen clothing is best in tropical climates. Long trousers are recommended for visits to temples and pagodas. Long sleeved shirts and socks should be worn at dusk for protection against mosquitoes. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are recommended for protection against the strong tropical sun. Bring a few items of warm clothing for trips to mountainous or highland areas where the temperature can be markedly cooler than in tropical lowlands.
PHOTOGRAPHY
It is best to bring your own film. Obtain permission before photographing monks or the interiors of pagodas and temples. 
GENERAL ADVICE
The Lao people are friendly and hospitable. A minimum of effort will make your trip smooth and memorable. Try to learn the traditional Lao "nop" greeting, a gentle raise of the hand, and the phrase "sabai dee".
Please respect local dress standards, particularly at religious sites (avoid wearing shorts or sleeveless tops). In general, Lao dress standards are conservative, especially in the countryside.
Like the Chinese and Japanese, the Lao are obsessed with clean floors and it's usual to remove shoes when entering somebody's home. Shoes must be removed inside most Buddhist temples. If a bunch of shoes are piled up near the doorway, you should pay heed.
The generally accepted form of greeting among Lao people is the Nop, placing one's palms together in a position of praying, at chest level, but not touching the body. The higher the hands are held the greater the sign of respect. This is accompanied by a slight bow to show respect to persons of higher status or age. The Nop is not only an expression of greeting, but also of thanks, of regret or saying goodbye. However, it is appropriate to shake hands with westerners.
As in many Asian cultures, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, and the soles of the feet are the lowliest. One should not touch a person's head nor use one's foot to point at a person or any object. Men and women rarely show affection in public. It is forbidden for a woman to touch a Buddhist monk.
It is customary to remove one's shoes or sandals when entering a Buddhist temple or private home. In Laos, homes are raised off the ground, shoes or sandals are left at the stairs. In a traditional home, one sits on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men may sits with legs crossed or folded to one side. Women sits with legs gracefully folded to the side. Guest may be served tea or fruit, which should not be refused. One should at least take a taste.
ZEN TRAVELLING
We suggest these tips for traveling successfully in Laos (and anywhere else, for that matter!):

    • Try your best to smile and be pleasant.

    • Don't complain loudly.

    • If you want to criticize someone, do it in a joking manner to avoid confrontation

    • Expect delays - build them into your schedule.

    • Never show anger - ever! Getting visibly upset is not only rude, it will cause you to lose face

TIPPING & BARGAINING
Tipping according to a percentage of the bill is not expected in Laos, but is enormously appreciated. For someone earning US$80 / month, a US$2 tip is about half a day's wages. You should also consider tipping drivers and guides. Typically, travelers on minibus tours will pool together to collect a communal tip to be split between the guide and the driver. About US$2 / day (per tourist) is standard. It is customary to make a small donation after visiting a pagoda, especially if a monk has shown you around.
Weaving - The art of weaving is still very much a cottage industry in Laos, where some of the finest silk and cotton weavers in the world can be found in the smallest of communities. Traditional designs and patterns vary from province to province, and the intricate work can be purchased much cheaper at the source than from many handicraft stores, markets and hotel shops. Antique woven pieces are still available but are becoming increasingly rare, often fetching very high prices.
Carving - From the simple and mundane to the aesthetic and highly spiritual, Lao craftsmen can carve a wide variety of attractive pieces from wood, bone and stone.
Jewelry - The crafting of gold and silver jewelry is another skill at which the Lao people excel. Many of the best examples of silver jewelry to be found in the country are the work of several of the hill tribes. However, it should be noted that some silver and copper items exported from Laos are subject to tax according to weight. Gemstones, such as sapphires, can also be found at reasonable prices.
Artifacts - The export of antiques, such as Buddha images and other artifacts, is prohibited. Any antique items that have been purchased in another country must be declared to customs on arrival in Laos.
Fabrics - Laos is famous for its woven silk and cotton which are found in varying designs throughout the country. Each area has its own specific design. Most products eventually find their way to Vientiane and can be found in the Morning Market - a rainbow of colors of silks and cotton. If you do not find what you like when traveling round the country, make sure that you visit the morning market in Vientiane before you leave.
Lao women wear the traditional phaa sin - a wraparound skirt, worn by all government and office workers and school and university students. The sin is worn with a silver belt. A huge choice of phaa sin, shawls, bags and wall hangings can be found in the morning market and around Vientiane. As well as traditional Lao weavings, you will find hill tribe embroidery and quilts that can be used as wall hangings.
DINING
Lao cuisine shares many similarities with that of its neighbor Thailand. It is dry, spicy and delicious. Lao food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice and with the fingers. In the countryside, people will eat on a communal basis, sitting on the floor and sharing the dishes. The food eaten in Laos is influenced by its neighbors and the colonial French. Here are some favorites:
Laap
A traditional Lao food made from chopped meat, chicken or duck is a favorite. The finely chopped meat, spices and broth are mixed with uncooked rice grains that have been fried and crushed. Laap is eaten with a plate of raw vegetables and sticky rice.
Tam Mak Houng
A salad made from sliced raw papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice - it can be extremely spicy, so be careful!
Som moo
So Moo is fermented pork sausage, found in many forms. The sausage is made from raw pork - sometimes lean, sometimes pork skin. Som moo may be eaten raw or cooked. A mixture of som moo, tam mak koung and laap make a popular Lao lunchtime meal. Barbequed som moo, served Vietnamese style is popular in Laos. Known as Naem Nuang, it is served with transparent rice paper, thin noodles and lots of herbs, vegetables, lettuce and a sauce. You take all the ingredients, and build your own spring roll - watch the locals to see how it is done.
Foe
Pronounced 'fur' is the name for noodle soup, which can be found everywhere in Laos. It is similar in style to the Chinese noodle soup found all over Asia. Usually it is accompanied with lettuce, slices of lime, mint and coriander for additional flavor.
Bread
French Baguettes are found in the larger towns, served for breakfast, filled as a sandwich with pate, moo yor (a pork lunchmeat), vegetables, and chili sauce. Baguettes are also dunked into coffee for breakfast.
Salad
As well as French bread, you will find a lot of salad in Laos. The traditional Lao diet includes a lot of raw vegetables - but the French left the tossed salad behind. In Luang Prabang, they make a delicious salad made from watercress.

 

 

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