Thursday, 23rd April 2015
What to know before you go to Laos
A trip to Laos will undoubtedly be an incredible experience, packed with fantastic destinations and activities, but like all holidays it is a good idea to do some research in advance. Knowing more about a country will help you to get the most out of a visit. With this in mind, here is a guide to what you need to know before setting off to Laos.
Laos is a landlocked country in South East Asia with a population of around seven million people and its capital is Vientiane. After the constitutional monarchy was abolished in 1976, the country has had a one-party dictatorship in power and is officially a Communist state.
When it comes to religion, Laos is mainly Buddhist, although approximately 30 per cent of the population follow animist beliefs. This is particularly common in minority communities and among those who live in the highlands.
While the national language is Lao, the most well-known European language is English, with most visitors able to get by. The local currency is the Lao kip, although it is often possible to make some transactions in Thai baht and US dollars.
As a Buddhist country, it is a good idea to dress conservatively when travelling anywhere in Laos, but even more so when visiting temples or shrines. Men should never be seen shirtless in public and women should cover their arms and legs to enter holy sites. Shoes should also be removed on such occasions and wearing flip flops or sandals makes this easier.
Feet are considered unclean, therefore it is important not to accidentally stand on anyone or brush your feet against them. If this happens, be sure to apologise immediately. On the other hand, the head is thought of as sacred, so you should never touch anybody else's.
It is important to remember that Laos is a poor country and there can be places where electricity and the internet are intermittent or non-existent. Two-pin sockets with a 220 volt-AC electricity supply is standard in Laos, so this is the adaptor to pack. If heading off the beaten track also bring a torch as places you visit may only have electricity for a few hours a day.
The food in Laos is not wholly dissimilar to that of neighbouring Thailand, with flavours coming from the ubiquitous fish sauce, coriander, lemongrass, chillies and lime. Nearly everything is served with sticky rice and eaten with the hands. Markets, street stalls and noodle stands are great places to get a true taste of authentic food in Laos.
It's not safe to drink the tap water in Laos, so you should always keep a good supply of bottled water on you. Similarly, make sure that fruit and vegetables are not washed in contaminated water in order to avoid stomach upsets.
Malaria and mosquito-borne diseases are a widespread problem in Laos, so be sure to start taking anti-malarial medication before travelling. Once in the country, cover exposed skin in the evenings and use insect repellent, as well as a mosquito net at night, as preventing bites is the best way to avoid contracting a disease.
There are no mandatory vaccinations for travelling to Laos, but it is wise to have injections against hepatitis A, typhus, tetanus and polio before departure. Hepatitis B, rabies and Japanese encephalitis are among the others to consider.
Related news stories:
The Laos reading list (6th October 2015)
Laos: All the essential information you need (23rd January 2015)
Why has Laotian food not been widely exported to the rest of the world? (2nd April 2015)
10 reasons to make Laos your next destination (16th September 2015)