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Lao - Fast Facts for the visitor:

  Getting to Lao via air

 Medicine & Emergencies

  Overland Routes to Lao

 Foreign Embassies in Lao

  Visa Information

 Weather & Clothing

 Time

 Money

 Lao Embassies Abroad

 Electricity & Phones

What follows are some of the key facts we discovered and found most useful on our trip, as well as during pre-trip planning. For comprehensive insight into the facts for the visitor, the typical guide books (Rough Guide, Lonely Planet,etc.) are a good place to start. Note that all of what follows is based on our findings and is accurate as of December 2000.

 

Getting to Lao via air:

You will not be able to fly directly to Lao with North American, Japanese or European carriers. Airlines from these countries do not serve Lao. The list below is constantly changing, but you will see that in general you will have to fly to Lao via a regional city in S.E. Asia or China. Even Singapore Air and Malaysian Air, as of this time, have halted direct flights to Lao. You can however still use Silk Air from K.L. or Singapore.

There are two entry points for international flights at the moment: Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Vientiane is the most significant entry point with a decent airport and many flight options. Luang Prabang is largely limited to one international airline at the moment, Bangkok based Angel Air (http://www.angelairlines.com/angelair.html). Angel Air has twice weekly direct flights from Bangkok (Wednesday and Sunday) and a few flights to Chiang Mai and I believe Chiang Rai. This is a small airline (two 737s and a Fokker 28-4000) with limited track record, so no guarantees on how long these flights or schedules will remain valid. Check their www site for more up-to-date flight schedules.

 

You can get to Vientiane from the following cities:

Bangkok by Lao Aviation, Thai Airways, Angel Air

Chiangmai by Lao Aviation and Angel Air

Hanoi by Lao Aviation or Vietnam Airlines

Hochiminh by Lao Aviation

Khunming by Lao Aviation or Yunnan Airlines

Kuala Lumpur by Silk Air (Malaysian Airlines not serving this route)

Phnom Penh by Lao Aviation or Silk Air

Rangoon by Lao Aviation

Singapore by Silk Air (SQ not serving this route)

 

Overland routes to Lao

You can save some money and see more interesting sights if you enter Lao via land. There are multiple overland entry points to Lao. As with the airlines, these entry points may change over time. Common modes of travel are bus and train, with the Nongkhai/Vientiane crossing being the most used land entry point.

From Thailand:

From Vietnam:

From China:

Nongkhai/Vientiane

Mukdahane/Savannakhet

Chiangkhong/Houeyxay

Ubon Rachathani/Pakse

Nakhorn/Savannakhet

Quangtri/Savannakhet

Vinh/Laksao

Jonghong Mengla/Luang Namtha

 

Visa Information:

Visas can be obtained in advance at a Lao, P.D.R. embassy or at most entry points. You may contact the Lao embassy in your country (I have compiled a list in this section) for the latest procedures. Note, the availability of visas at the border changes from time-to-time. Generally, it is easier to get the visa at the entry point rather than the embassy. Embassy may save you a few dollars, but it will take time and at least two trips (unless you use a service or agent).

You can get your visa on arrival at the following entry points: Wattay International Airport, Vientiane, Friendship Bridge, Luang Prabang Airport, Ban Muang Kao / Chong Mek. Visa on arrival requires a valid passport (make certain you have six months of life on your passport and some blank pages), one photograph and US$30.

Stories and rumors circulate throughout the tourist grapevine about where one can enter Lao and where visas are available. Be careful and plan ahead by doing research. As of this time, if you plan on entering Laos through any other international checkpoints, you will need to obtain a visa in advance of your arrival. This can be done in two ways - either through a tour company, or from a Lao P.D.R. embassy overseas.

TIP 1: At entry points to Lao, be careful of those trying to take you to 'visa offices.' These tend to be for profit agencies that will help you fill out the visa form and help process the application. This will likely cost you another US$15-20/application on top of the official US$30.. Skip this and head directly to the border crossing and the official immigration office for an application. These 'visa offices' may save you 20-30 minutes of time queuing up to get the applications at the border and filling them out and submitting, but I did not feel their services were worth the US$15-20 per person. The forms are in English and quite easy to understand.

TIP 2: Contrary to the L.P. and some other guides, the visa office at the Vientiane/Friendship Bridge border post only requires ONE passport size photo for the visa.

 

 Lao P.D.R. Embassies Abroad

I have assembled a partial list of Lao P.D.R. embassies abroad that we found when considering getting our visas in advance of our trip. You might want to contact them directly for the most up-to-date information re. border crossing points and/or visas in advance.

 

Medicine and Emergencies:

Make certain you are in good shape before setting out for Lao. In terms of international standards, medical facilities are limited in Lao. Basic medical care is available in Vientiane at one or more internationally staffed private clinics. As you will read in the guide books, the blood supply is not screened for HIV or AIDS. In case of a serious medical emergency while in Lao, contacting your embassy or that of a 'friendly' nation to your homeland would be recommended.

TIP 1: Remember to see your physician prior to leaving for Lao and get some Cipro or other broad spectrum antibiotics just in case. If you know what you need (not recommending this) you can purchase most common antibiotics etc. in the local pharmacies - but age and purity of what you get may be questionable.

TIP 2: Recommend you bring your own mini pharmacy/good supply with you in terms of plasters, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, etc. Wounds go septic twice as fast as in temperate climates. Things such as contact lens solutions which are readily available in Thailand are very difficult to find - so rely on glasses or bring your own supply.

TIP 3: Recommend you get medical evacuation insurance prior to leaving for Lao. It is relatively inexpensive and most policies generally cover doctors bills, hospital charges, provide air evacuation for serious injuries that cannot be treated in country, translators via phone, medical consultations via phone etc. We have taken out medical evacuation insurance from time-to-time through American Express Travel Medical Protection - but thankfully have not had to call on their services. S.O.S. and Liaison Traveler are other popular insurers.

 

Foreign Embassies in Lao, P.D.R. (click on link below)

I have assembled a partial list of foreign embassies in Lao. We found this useful when looking to contact our embassy to get some new pages inserted into our passports. Your embassy will also likely have the latest travel bulletins for the region as well. Some countries recommend you register with the embassy if staying in the country more than a month or so.

 

Weather & Clothing:

Much of this can be found in other travel guides, but general weather info is key information for your packing and worth including here. As with much of S.E. Asia, it can be hot and sticky much of the year during the mid-day. Recommend cotton and light fabrics. Shorts are not acceptable by local standards, nor are sleeveless shirts on men or women. You won't be stoned by the locals for wearing these things and one does see foreign tourists in beachwear around the cities. However, just be aware that it is not seen as appropriate dress by the Lao people and will only attract negative attention (if any).

TIP 1: Bring a good supply of clothes and or be prepared to launder frequently as the heat will take its toll and local standards are high in terms of personal hygiene. At least two changes of clothes a day would be recommended.

TIP 2: Skip the rain coats/slickers, and stick to rubber sandals and umbrellas for the rainy season. A good pair of athletic sandals (Teva) will prove invaluable.

 

Vientiane & Luang Prabang - Annual Rain and Temperature

Average Temperature - Vientiane

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

C

21.3

23.6

26.5

28.1

28.0

27.8

27.4

27.0

26.9

26.2

24.2

21.6

25.7

F

70.3

74.5

79.7

82.6

82.4

82.0

81.3

80.6

80.4

79.2

75.6

70.9

78.3

 

Average Rainfall - Vientiane

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

mm

7.3

18.0

41.2

87.7

211.9

215.7

208.8

253.8

244.3

80.8

15.5

5.3

1406.6

Inch

0.3

0.7

1.6

3.5

8.3

8.5

8.2

10.0

9.6

3.2

0.6

0.2

55.4

 

 Average Temperature - Luang Prabang

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

C

19.8

22.2

24.5

27.2

28.0

27.9

27.4

26.9

26.7

25.2

22.7

19.8

24.9

F

67.6

72.0

76.1

81.0

82.4

82.2

81.3

80.4

80.1

77.4

72.9

67.6

76.8

 

Average Rainfall - Luang Prabang

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

mm

22.9

21.2

38.9

91.3

130.0

166.2

204

266

164

74.3

22.9

8.4

1195

Inch

0.9

0.8

1.5

3.6

5.1

6.5

8.1

10.5

6.5

2.9

0.9

0.3

47

 

Money:

Currency is the Kip. No coins in the country. Notes are 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 100 and 50 kip. The exchange rate is roughly 8,000 Kip = 1 US$ as of December 2000. US$ and Thai Baht are also readily accepted in most places. No ATMs exist that take foreign cards (Cirrus, Plus, JCB, AMEX, Visa, etc.). Some hotels and nicer restaurants and shops will take Visa and AMEX cards. Travelers checks are accepted at most banks and some hotels/guesthouses. US$ or major foreign currency checks drawn on American Express or Visa are the most flexible and recognized in Lao. Kip is not a convertible currency and cannot be purchased or traded outside the country.

TIP 1: Recommend bringing a combination of at least a Visa card as well as US$ travelers checks and US$ notes.

TIP 2: Although there is a 3-5% mark-up for using credit cards in Lao, I recommend making use of them when possible, as it conserves precious paper currency/T.C. You are a long way from an ATM so conserve cash. Try paying for hotel/guesthouse or airline tickets if possible with a credit card.

TIP 3: If crossing into Lao at the Friendship Bridge border crossing near Vientiane, there is one last ATM on the Thai side of the border - literally outside the Thai immigration office. I believe it is a Thai Farmers Bank ATM. This would be the last chance to easily tap into your bank account for extra funds.

Time:

Same zone as Thailand, UTC + 7 (US Eastern Standard Time + 12).

 

Electricity & Phones:

Electricity is 220V and fairly reliable in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. We did not experience any interruptions at all during our time in these two cities!

Phone network is unreliable and density is poor by ASEAN standards (see table). According to some sources, there are over 20,000 telephones currently in service and an additional 48,000 expected by 2001. Cellular network is GSM 900 operated since 1994 by Lao Shinawatra Telecom. GSM cellular 900Mhz covers 8 major cities in Lao (see map below for major coverage areas). Roaming agreement with Thailand mobile network, AIS.

TIP 1: Recommend you forget about your mobile unless you are a subscriber of Thailand's AIS network, as very few other carriers have roaming agreements with the Shinawatra network.

Lao's GSM 900 network coverage at present is limited to a few major cities (see blue regions).

 

GSMWorld.com

 

Telephone Density (1996)

TELEPHONE SERVICE

Indonesia

Lao PDR

Myanmar

Philippines

Singapore

Thailand

Vietnam

No. of Telephone lines (Main)

6,428,717

17,980

187,631

3,352,000

1,531,302

6,635,191

1,350,000

Tel. Density (per 100 persons)

2.95

0.38

0.41

4.66

50.3

11.2

1.7

Cellular Subcribers

828,218

3,121

7,246

942,260

404,124

1,229,363

64,000

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