Vientiane Travel Information
Local time in Laos is GMT +7
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are used, including the European-style two-pin, the UK-style three-pin and the flat two-pin type.
Lao is the official language, but some English and French are spoken.
Those planning to travel to Laos should seek medical advice about vaccinations and endemic diseases at least three weeks prior to departure. There have been bird flu outbreaks in northern Laos provinces. Malaria exists throughout the country except in Vientiane, and typhoid and cholera occur in some areas. A typhoid vaccine is recommended for all travellers, except short-term business travellers who will restrict their meals to major restaurants and hotels. Other risks include hepatitis E, plague, dengue fever, and Schistosomiasis if swimming in the Mekong River. Travellers' diarrhoea is a problem for many visitors; only drink bottled water and avoid dairy products, uncooked meat and fish, salads and unpeeled fruit.
Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies. Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive. Travellers are advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance, and those who have an unstable medical condition should consider avoiding Laos. A yellow fever certificate is required by all entering from an infected area.
Tipping is becoming more widely practiced in tourist hotels and restaurants, where 10 percent is expected; elsewhere, there is no need to tip. Many of the more up-market restaurants tend to include a 10 to 15 percent service charge in their bill.
Most visits to Laos are trouble-free, but violent crimes such as robbery are on the increase. Foreigners have been assaulted after having their drinks or food drugged. You should be careful about taking drinks from strangers, and do not leave food or drinks unattended. Theft of passports is a problem and travellers are advised to take care, avoid carrying large sums of money and keep valuables and documents in a safe place. Making copies of important travel documents is also a good idea. Travel in some rural parts of Laos is dangerous because of banditry and unexploded ordnance, and visitors should never stray from well-worn footpaths. Visitors should also note that an ID document or passport should be carried at all times and should be presented on demand or else a heavy fine could be imposed. Visitors to Vang Vieng are advised to be particularly vigilant of their belongings, and aware of their personal security as there have been reports of petty theft in the area. Staying at a trustworthy and secure hotel or guesthouse while in Vang Vieng is recommended.
Although Laos is known for its laid-back and friendly atmosphere, the travel risk is somewhat increased by the lack of travel infrastructure and medical facilities.
Skimpy or revealing clothes are generally not acceptable. Public displays of affection are taboo in Lao society. Avoid touching anyone on the head or using your feet to point at anything. Appropriate dress and behaviour when entering places of worship is essential. The Laos government prohibits any sexual contact or relationships between Lao nationals and foreigners, unless married under Lao law; penalties may involve heavy fines or imprisonment. It is illegal not to carry an identity document. Photographing military sites is prohibited.
Laos has a hot, tropical climate and therefore when it comes to business, lightweight suits are common, worn with a tie. Visitors should bear in mind that the country is generally rather conservative and act accordingly. Business cards should be given and received using both hands and should be treated with respect. Handshakes are common, but a traditional greeting is the 'phanom' or 'wai', similar to the Indian 'namaste' where palms are placed together as if in prayer, and held in front of the chest or face. Surnames usually come before first names, which can be confusing for visitors. French is more widely spoken and understood than English, though translators are available. Business hours are usually from 8am to 12pm and 1pm to 4pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Laos is +856. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)21 for Vientiane and (0)71 for Luang Prabang. International Direct Dial is available in the major towns, but the service is expensive and inefficient. Hotels sometimes add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills: check before making long-distance calls. Mobile phones will only work in the major cities; it is advisable to check the coverage with your service provider before leaving as the local mobile phone companies have few active roaming agreements with other network operators. Internet cafes are widely available in tourist areas.
Travellers to Laos do not have to pay duty on 500 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 2 bottles wine; 1 bottle of other alcohol; and jewellery up to 500g, provided they are from countries not bordering Laos.
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