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About Laos

Overview

LAOS GENERAL INFORMATION
The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.
The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.
After decades of war and isolation, this landlocked and peaceful nation welcomes more and more curious visitors each day. Travelers to Laos, a place once known as the Land of a Million Elephants, are able to experience the many cultures and laid back hospitality of a relatively sparse population, whether in the cities or rural villages. Laos has also become a destination for those seeking outdoor fun, as the topography is covered with rivers, mountains, caves, and limestone formations. If you seek adventure, insight into a mystical place, or simply an enjoyable holiday, make Laos your destination.

Climate
Laos has a tropical climate with only two distinctive seasons. The rainy season lasts from early May until the end of September. The dry season runs from October to April. The average temperature is about 28 C/82 F, with the hottest temperatures at around 38 C/100 Foccurring in April. In the mountains, temperatures from December until February may dip down to 15 C/59 F.

Language
Lao, a monosyllabic and tonal language, is the official native tongue. English, French are also widely spoken.

Ethnic Groups
Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the H’Mong and Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese 1%

Festivals and Holidays
• January 1 - New Year
• April 13-15 - Lao New Year (Bun Pi Mai): this occasion is quite picturesque in Luang Prabang, with colorful costumes and elephant processions.
• May 1 - International Labor Day
• Mid-May - Visakha Busa: on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month – this is considered the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.
Beautiful ceremonies are centered on the wat.

• End of Apr - Rocket Festival: This is the rain ceremony celebrated to instigate the rainy
season for rice cultivation. Festivities include music, dance, folk theater, and bamboo rockets to open the skies.
• Mid-October - End of Buddhist Lent and national boat races
• Beginning of November - That Luang Festival in Vientiane
• December 2 - National Day

HISTORY

One of the earliest known kingdoms of Laos was called Chenla, around the 5th century. Its capital was near Champasak, close to the Khmer temple of Wat Phu. This region is believed to be the birthplace of the Khmer people who migrated south. Others, including Tai people, migrated out of southern China around the 8th century. The nation’s Golden Age occurred during the 17th and 18th century under King Suriya Vongsa, when the capital of Vientiane became known as a major center for Buddhist learning. Laos became a French colony in 1893, was briefly under Japanese rule during WWII, then returned to the French before ultimately gaining independence in 1953. Despite attempting to remain neutral, Laos found itself stuck in the middle of the Cold War when strife crossed its borders and bombs rained down. Today, Laos is at peace and looking forward with investment projects and more tourists visiting than ever before.

Art & Culture
One of the trademarks of Laos is the diversity of its people and cultures. There are a number of traditional arts and crafts that represent their way of life. Lao has a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic traditions.
There exists across the country a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is the That Luang, the great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos.

Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics (parts of Buddha's body).
Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body and then place the bones in the stupa, which are set around the grounds of temples, or wats. Different styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist Wats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Wats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike in Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the wats of Xieng Khouang where the temple roofs are not tiered.
Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors.
The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of India s epic Ramayana.
Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in wats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or Saw. The national folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.

LAO VISAS
• Passport must be valid for at least 6 months are required upon arrival Laos. If valid is expired in less than 6 months, you will be fined or not allowed to enter Laos.
• Required by everyone.
Visas can be applied on arrival at International Airports or International
Borders.

Over 10 International borders can also issue visas on arrival. Immigrations will provide you the filling form and this may take about 10-15 minutes and about 20 minutes at airports.
Tourist Visa valid for 30 days, you must have a passport, passport-size photo and Visa fees depend on nationalities from 30-42USD.

International Check point borders:
• China (Mohan) - Luang Namtha Province (Boten)
• Thailand (Chiang Khong) - Bokeo Province (Houay Xay)
• Thailand (Nong Khay) -Vientiane Capital (Friendship Bridge)
• Thailand - Xayabouly Province (Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge)
• Thailand (Nakhon Phanom) - Khammouane Province (Thakhaek)
• Thailand (Moukdahan) - Savannakhet Province (Friendship Bridge II)
• Thailand (Chong Mek) - Champasak Province (Vang Tao)
• Vietnam (Nam Kanh) - Xieng Khouang Province (Nong Haet)
• Vietnam (Kao Cheo) - Bolikhamxay (Nam Phao)
• Vietnam (Lao Bao) - Savannakhet Province (Dene Savanh)

Laos has three International Airports :
• Wattay International Airport in Vientiane Capital.
Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang Province.
Pakse International Airport in Champasack Province .

Culture

Local Etiquette
• Visit temple, should dress appropriately, covering shoulders and knees. Take off your shawl when go inside the “Sim” Buddhist culture, should not pointing your feet at some one. For example, by putting your feet upon a stool-is rude.
• Fewer local people give alms in the morning than in the past. Camera flashes in their faces are not appropriate practice at a time when they are quietly practicing their faith. Any time you see our culture hurt by a thoughtless individual, please speak up.
• Holding hands, and other displays of affection with the opposite sex are private acts that should not be done in public.
• Lao People are modest, and it’s uncomfortable to see people who are not. Nude bathing at the water fall, in the river or while rafting, is never appropriated.
• Don’t buy old objects or antiques as souvenirs; they were probably stolen from unprotected temples or historic sites. This is our national treasure leave it so others and our children may enjoy and be proud of what our ancestors left for us.
Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strong developed sense of courtesy and respect for all people.
The generally accepted form of greeting among Lao people is the Nop. It is performed by placing one’s palms together in a position of praying at chest level, but not touching any part of the body . The higher the hands, the greater the sign of respect. Nonetheless, the hands should not be held above the level of the nose. The Nop is accompanied by a slight bow to show respect to persons of higher status and age. It is also used as an expression of thanks, regret or saying good-bye. But with western people it is acceptable to shake hands.
The feet form the inferior part of the body (as much spiritually as physically). You must never indicate or touch another person or object with your foot.

Food
Lao cuisine is similar to Thai food with meat salad and papaya salad being popular dishes.
Vegetables, fish (mostly fresh water varieties, as Laos is landlocked), chicken, duck, pork, beef, and water buffalo are often grilled or roasted in lime juice, lemongrass, mint leaf, coriander, coconut milk, hot chilies, and other spices.


 

 

Cities

Vietiane - Laos’ capital city is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, and its sleepy vibe is the perfect introduction to Laos life. Although slightly disheveled with dusty, potholed streets the city offers many pleasant surprises for travelers. Situated on the Mekong River, directly across from Thailand, the city warrants two or three full days for traveling.

Northern Laos
is a mountainous region and fed by the waters of the Nam Ou and the Mekong Rivers. Traveling this region is filled with stunning scenery, as well as a way to observe the lifestyles of the locals who reside on the river banks and make their livelihood fishing and foraging in the area. Northern Laos is inhabited by several ethnic minority groups such as Khamu, Hmong and Akha. Although seemingly similar, these groups still retain certain traditions, way of dress, and dialects that delineate them from each other.

Heading north from
Luang Prabang
on the Mekong River, you reach Nong Khiaw. Set amongst dozens of limestone karsts, the town is full of stunning scenery. Within walking distance of Nong Khiaw are some Hmong villages where you can learn more about this ethnic minority.

Luang Nam Tha
village is the gateway to the Nam Ha Protected Area, where trekking and outdoor activities abound. The town is a quiet and peaceful place to relax before or after a trek or bike tour in the region. Surrounded by ethnic villages and ricefields, Luang Nam Tha reveals plenty of hidden charms in its tribal museum, local market, pagodas, and friendly locals. In Luang Nam Tha, Boat Landing Guesthouse is a unique eco resort set amongst the fields on a river bank. Not only is the accommodation spectacular, but the restaurant serves up the best northern Lao cuisine we have ever tasted!

Located in a fertile valley in the mountainous north,
Muang Sing
is a very charming town that served as a garrison during the French era. Muang Sing is very famous for its local ethnic hilltribe market. Here, the area’s various hill tribes such as Akha, Lanten, and Hmong, gather to trade and barter their various wares. Also in Muang Sing, take your time to enjoy the local architecture consisting of traditional Thai Lü, Thai Neua and Yunnanese styles as well as the informative tribal museum.

Nam Ha
protected area is the most famous and well-known ecotourism destination in Laos. Covered by primitive rainforests, valleys and mountainous areas, the park has a significant level of plant and animal biodiversity. In addition, this is the home of many hilltribes such as Akha, Lanten, and Khamu and one can learn about the unique cultures of these native people.

In the far northeast of the country, near the Vietnam border lies the town of
Viengxay
, the headquarters of the former revolutionary Pathet Lao. The town is surrounded by limestone karsts in which there are about 102 caves and during the American bombing campaign (1964-1973) some of these caves were occupied by villagers and politicians who were seeking shelter from the raids. For the truly adventurous, traveling from Viengxay in to Vietnam is a journey of a lifetime- mountainous roads, various ethnic minorities, and stunning scenery!



Central Laos is home to the capital of
Vientiane. About three hours north of Vientiane on the drive to Luang Prabang is the small town of Vang Vieng.
This small village is surrounded by limestone karsts and the beautiful Nam Song River. Its position between the country’s two main destinations means that Vang Vieng has emerged as a popular stop-over for tourists wishing to kayak or go caving.

To the Northeast of Vientiane, lies
The Plain of Jars
. The areas plains are covered by scores of mysterious stone jars estimated to be 2000 years old. Although their origin remains a mystery, wandering amongst the site is an incredible experience. Spend time wandering amongst the jars, enjoying an overnight stay at Auberge de la Plaine des Jarres, which is perched on a peaceful rural hillside. Another worthy stop in the area is at LMAG - Mine Action Group, a charity focused on clearing the area of landmines and other unexploded ordinances.

Southern Laos
is one of Asia’s hidden gems, where the people maintain their traditional ways of life and the scenery is unparalleled. The main town, Pakse, is a great starting point for travelers. It is serviced by an international airport and is not far from the Thai border. Although an interesting town, most travelers do not choose to spend much time there as there is not a lot to see.

Heading east from
Pakse, you enter the Boloven Platueau
. Here, in the cool highlands, Laos’ delicious coffee and tea is grown and harvested. The area is also filled with great waterfalls and is an ideal trekking destination for light day hikes.

South of Pakse is the town of
Champassak, situated on the Mekong River. Champassak is a blend of English and French colonial buildings and traditional Lao houses. This tranquil area is also home to the splendid Wat Phou. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Wat Phou is a spectacular pre-Angkorian temple that sits amidst the rice fields and waterways of southern Laos.

 

 

Travel Tips

Visa Information

In order to enter Laos, you will need a visa. When you book your holiday with Travel Authentic, we will send you an information pack including visa application forms and instructions for application.

 

Airport Departure Taxes

Airport taxes are now included in ticket prices for both domestic and international departures, and you should not have to pay anything at the airport.

 

Disruption to Air Services

Please note that for domestic and some international flights in Laos we are obliged to use Laos Airlines whose reputation for short-notice schedule changes and cancellations is well established, although the situation is now much improved. Although we will make every effort to carry out your agreed programme, short-notice changes may sometimes be unavoidable. Under these circumstances, we will make every effort to reinstate your programme to the best of our ability, by rearranging flights or hotels as necessary.

 

Money Matters

The currency in Laos is called the 'Laos Kip (LAK)'.
At the time of writing: US$1 = 8000 LAK approx.
There is no point in trying to obtain Kip in the UK, it is best to buy what you need on arrival. We recommend that you change only a modest amount into Kip, enough to cover your immediate needs.
The US dollar and the Thai Baht are accepted in many places. In summary, we recommend you carry US dollar bills and a credit card for settling hotel incidentals bills and major purchases.

 

Mobile Telephones.

If your mobile phone is enabled for roaming, you will find it works in the main towns and cities of Laos but may not work in more remote areas.

 

Health.

We strongly recommend you take medical advice from your doctor before visiting any part of Indochina. He or she will be be able to advise you on the latest health-related recommendations and preventative measures. Water is drinkable in major hotels, but we recommend you stick to bottled water which is available everywhere. When ordering beer or other drinks, it is best to avoid ice - just ask for drinks 'No Ice'.

 

Sensible Precautions.

Laos is a safe destination and visitors rarely experience crime or other difficulties, and the tourist 'hassle-factor' in Laos is low, but please remember that there are bad people everywhere and petty crime can be a problem. Please take sensible precautions as for any 'third-world' country.
Please do not carry passports, important papers or a lot of money when walking in the street: make use of hotel safes where available. Handbags and cameras are tempting targets for thieves, as is ostentatious jewellery or watches.

 

Weather.

Laos lies in the tropical zone and is suitable to visit all the year round. The weather is usually warm or hot but the months between late November and April are dryer and a little cooler. Please note that in December and January, cold weather can occur, especially in Northern Laos and in elevated or mountainous areas such as the Plain of Jars and the Bolaven Plateau. Light sweaters and jackets should be taken. From late May to late October rains can be expected, however it is not often that a whole day is ruined by rain: the tropical pattern is for short rainstorms, especially in the afternoon & evening.
Best time to visit: November to April.

Packing List:
Airtickets : check your departure times and date. Where possible buy e-tickets it saves you time when you inadvertently lose the document you can always pull out a copy from the computer or provide the ticket number. Paper tickets are more likely to get lost and end up having to wait for months to claim the lost ticket. Make sure you save a copy of your e-ticket in your traveling email.

Call your credit card company to inform them you will be traveling overseas and name of countries that the card will charged and the period that you will be using the card overseas to avoid identity theft and inconvenience that your card gets blocked when you travel.

Check your visa documents and passport size photos if you need them to get visa on arrival.
Make copies of your passport and visas scan it and send it to your traveling email in case your passport is lost or visas lost you can contact the proper authorities to provide those copies.

Make sure you have your health/accidental /emergency evacuation insurance. Most important is health /accident coverage. Make sure that the coverage will pay for you while you are in the hospital or need assistance in the country you are traveling. Costs are covered and not require you to pay first and claim later. From our experience insurance underwritten by AIG in the US and Lloyds of London in Europe has come through for our clients in times of emergencies with little inconvenience.

Check with your mobile phone carrier if they have roaming coverage in the countries you are traveling. Make sure your phone is compatible to receive or make calls in the country you will be traveling. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a local sim card in the country of arrival and put it in your phone to use locally. But it’s always good to have a back up to have your phone roaming coverage.

Make sure you have enough passport pages in your passport. Usually try to have at least 2 pages in your passport for each country you will be visiting (not transiting at the airports). This is if you will get your visa on arrival at the country you are visiting.

Make sure you have your travel agent’s mobile phone number in your phone or where you can access information in case of an emergency.

 

 

Do's and Dont's

Dos and Donts for Travellers To Laos.

  • In Laos, head is "high" and feet is "low", using your feet for anything apart from walking and playing sports is generally considered to be rude
  • The Laotian word for "hello" is "Sa Bai Dee" is usually said with a smile. Touching or showing affection in public will embarrass your host.
  • Lao people traditionally greet each other by pressing their palms together to "Nop", although it is acceptable for men to shake hands.
  • Touching someone's head is very very impolite
  • Lao people appreciate clean and neatly dressed visitors
    Please remember to take off your shoes before entering a Lao person's house
  • It is impolite to gentely crouch down when passing someone who is seated. Never step over someone in your path.
  • Kissing inpublic is impolite. Please be discrete!
  • Lao people speak softly and avoid confrontation. Please do not shout or raise your voice
  • Before taking photos, please ask people if it is ok.
  • Please do not distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging but give to an established organization or village elders instead.
  • Eat local food whenever you can as it helps local bussiness and Lao farmers.
  • Please show respect and dres neatly while visiting temples and taking photos.
  • There are many sacred items and sites in Laos, please dont touch or enter these places with prior permissions.
  • Monks are revered and respected, however, women should not touch a monk or a monk's robes.
  • Please help to keep laos clean and beautiful by not leaving litter. Picking up rubbish sets a good example for Lao youth.
    The illigal sale of wildlife and wildlife products endangers many species native to Laos. Help to protect Lao wildlife by refusing to buy wildlife products.
  • Laos loses a little of its heritage every time an entique is taken out of the country. Please do not buy antique Buddha or other sacred items. Instead, support local craftmen buying new and quality handicrafts.
  • Use of drugs is illigal and the consequeces may be very severe for you and Lao society.
  • Sex tourism is illigal and child-sex tourism is a serious crime. Please help to protect children in Laos from sex abuse and exploitations by reporting suspicious behavoirs.

Stories

 

Our differences

  •  We’re fully-licenced ground Tour Operator:

Travel Authentic is a fullly licensed tour operator by Vietnam Administration of Tourism. When you book with us, your money will be safe and you are dealing directly with the person on ground. That is why we can give you support on spot and our prices will be unbeatable for the quality.

  •  All of our holidays are Private:

You can pick your date of departure, choose what hotel you want to stay, decide what touring you want to do and how much free time you want to have. For all road journeys you will have your own car and driver, offering you the flexibility to stop off along the way if you see something of interest or wish to take a photograph. All sightseeing excursions are accompanied by your own private English-speaking guide. This means that you can ask as many or as few questions as you like and take sightseeing trips at your own pace focusing on your own personal interests.

  •  Our unique authentic experiences:

Our guide and driver will be flexible to give you chance to meet up with friendly locals and do authentic local things to explore the insights of their life and a sense of their cultures. Inspite of not being stated or costed in the itinerary, it is a part of our tour operation and will surely give you many nice surpises and contribute to your memorable holiday.


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