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Laos Information

General information:

Formal Name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Capital City: Vientiane
Main Cities: Luang Prabang, Savanakhet, Pakse
Population: 5,600,000 (2007)
Area: 236,800 km2
Currency: Kip (9,500 kip to 1 US dollar in Sep 2007)
Languages: Lao
Religions: Buddhist
Calling Code: 856

Time Zone: GMT+7

National Flag of Laos

 

Laotian Flag Description: The flag of Laos consists of three horizontal stripes with a white circle in the middle. The top and bottom stripes are equal width and are red; while the middle stripe is blue and equal to the width of the two red stripes.
Laotian Flag Meaning: The Red stripes represent the blood shed in the country's fight for independence. The blue stands for Laos' wealth and prosperity. The white symbolizes unity and justice. Another interpretation of the Laotian flag states the white circle symbolizes the full moon over the blue MekongRiver, which runs through and alongside the majority of Laos.
Laotian Flag History: The Laotian flag was adopted on December 2, 1975. The Laotian flag is based on the flag of the Lao Patriotic Front, which is usually referred to as the Pathet Lao, outside of Laos. Pathet Lao was a communist nationalist movement that fought for Laotian independence. In 1975 the Pathet Lao took over control of the Laotian government and abolished the country's monarchy. They set up a communist administration and changed the country's name to the Lao People's Democratic Republic and officially adopted the current national flag. Laos gained independence form France on July 19, 1949.
Interesting Laotian Flag Facts: The flag of Laos is one of the few communist-style flags that don’t feature a star on it.

 

Practicalities

 

Electricity: Lao PDR uses 220V AC circuitry; power outlets most commonly features two-prong round or flat sockets

 Weights & measures: The Laos PDR follows international metric system, gold and silver are sometimes weighed in baat.

 Internet Access: Internet access is available in the main cities but not in the remote areas. Prepaid Internet-access cards are sold in the main cities. Laptop travelers should buy a universal AC adapter, which will enable you to plug it in anywhere without frying the innards

 Telephone & Fax: International calls can be made from most Lao Telecom offices in most provincial capitals and post office. At most Lao Telecom offices or post offices fax services are available.

 Post: Main post office is open from 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm on weekday, from 8am to noon and 1pm to 4pm on Saturday and 8am to noon on Sunday. Laos has a reliable and reasonable post service throughout the country. Both DHL and FedEx have offices in Vientiane.

 

Exchange Money, Credit cards, Traveler Checks and ATM: Most major currencies can be exchanged in Vientiane, outside of Vientaine, most provincial banks will accept only US dollars or baht. Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao and Lao Development Bank are most organized for the local banks. Visa andMasterCard are acceptable in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, outside of theses towns credit cards are useless. However, a 2.5 to 3.5% commission charge on every transaction is pretty common. Traveler Checks can be exchanged at most banks in Laos, but normally only in exchange for kip. ATM is available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang

 

Visas and Visa Extensions:Tourist visas are valid for 1 month from projected date of arrival. Visas can be extended for 2 additional months, at extra cost, in the bigger towns which can be easier arranged by a travel agency. Tourist visa is available on arrival at all international airports (Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse) and several international land border crossings (contact us for more detail). 


Insurance: We highly recommend traveler to have travel insurance prior to departure. Laos is generally considered a high-risk area.

 

Airport Tax: US$10 for international departures and US$1 for domestic flights

 

When To Go

 

The best time to visit is between November and February - during these months it rains least and isn't too hot. This is also the main season for both national and regional bun (festivals). If you're heading up into the mountains, May and July can also be pleasant. Roads can be washed out during rainy season (July to October), but there's plenty of river travel opportunities. Peak tourist months are December to February and during August, although there are relatively few visitors at any time.

 Security Issues

Unexploded ordnance and incidents of banditry in rural areas are issues travelers should be aware of in Laos.

 Check local information regarding the security of travel through the western portion of Rte 7 in Xieng Khuang Province between Muang Phu Khun and Phonsavan, and Rte 13 between Vang Vieng north to Muang Phu Khun through to south of Luang Prabang.

Though the Saisomboun Special Zone is slowly opening up, the 'secret city' of Long Cheng remains off limits.

 

Weather Overview

 

The annual Asian monsoon cycle gives Laos two distinct seasons: May to October is wet, and November to April is dry. Temperatures vary according to altitude. In the MekongRiverValley, the highest temperatures occur between March and April (38°C/100°F) and the lowest between December and January (15°C/59°F). During most of the rainy season, daytime temperatures average around 29°C (84°F) in the lowlands and 25°C (77°F) in the mountain valleys.

 

Events Overview

 

Festivals in Laos are generally linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays. Some of the highlights include:

 Boun Pimai (The Lunar New Year) which begins in mid-April (14, 15 and 16) and the entire country celebrates. Houses are cleaned, offerings are made in wats and everyone gets dowsed by water to clean them of misfortune and bring luck in the coming year. The festival is particularly picturesque in Luang Prabang, where it included elephant procession and lots of traditional costuming.

 Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) takes place in May. It's an irreverent pre-Buddhist celebration with plenty of processions, music and dancing, accompanied by the firing of bamboo rockets to prompt the heavens to send rain.

 Bun Nam (Water Festival/ Boat Racing Festival) in October is held in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, as well as water fights and general good-natured mayhem, there are highly competitive boat races on the Mekong.

 The week-long That Luang Festival in Vientiane in November has the whole repertoire of fireworks, candlelit processions and music. Hundreds of monks receive alms and floral offering in the early morning of the first day of the festival

 

Health

 

Travelers arriving within six days from infected areas need to have a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Cholera is a bad and dangerous threat and precautions are strongly advised. Typhoid may exist. Poliovirus transmission has been controlled, but complete elimination is not yet certain. Malaria risk is present all year in the whole country, apart from Vientiane. The malignant falciparum form is present and is reported to be highly resistant to chloroquine.

Food & drink: All water should be considered as being possibly contaminated. Water that used for drinking, making ice or brushing teeth should first be boiled or otherwise sterilized. Milk is not pasteurized, so it should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is recommended; however, ensure that it is reconstituted with pure water. Avoid dairy products that may have been produced from un-boiled milk. Only eat well-done meat and fish, ideally served hot. Pork, salad and mayonnaise may carry increased risk. Fruit should be peeled and vegetables cooked.


Other risks: Hepatitis A and E exist; hepatitis B is extremely epidemic. Dengue fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and Japanese encephalitis also exist. Some vaccinations may be recommended. Liver fluke (opisthorchiasis) exists; avoid eating undercooked or raw fish.
Rabies
also exists. For anyone at high risk, vaccination prior to arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately.