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General Info about Laos

Visa Requirements
You must have a valid passport for at least 3 months upon entering Laos. Visas can be issued on entry for 15 days for a fee of US$30 (you must have this). If you get them at your nearest Laos embassy before travelling you will be granted a visa for 30 days.

The three places where they can be obtained on arrival are in Vientiane and Luang Prabang Airports and at the Laos-Thailand border crossing at the Mekong River near Nong Khai, Thailand.

Currency
Laos’ official currency is the ‘Kip (LAK)’. Notes come in denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000. There used to be coins in circulation, but since anything less than 50 kip is basically worthless, they were scrapped a few years ago.

Language
The official language spoken is Lao, which is very similar to that spoken in North Eastern Thailand (easern). Other languages spoken around the different provinces are French, English (particularly in touristy areas) and Vietnamese.

Climate
Laos enjoys a warm tropical climate and the year is divided into two seasons – the wet season which is from May to September, and the dry season which is from October to the April. Towards the end of the dry season temperatures can get extremely hot, going above 35˚C.

Medical Care
Unless you are travelling from a ‘yellow fever’ infected area, there are no immunisation requirements upon entering Laos. Even though no immunisations are compulsory, it is advised that you get them for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Polio and others. This applies to all South East Asian countries.

Time Zone
Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Opening Hours
Shops’ opening hours vary, but they are generally between 9pm and 6pm. Some close for an hour at lunchtime, while others don’t. Basically all shops close on Sundays.

Business hours are very similar to shop hours, but may be a bit earlier (8am-5pm).

The majority of banks open from 8.30am-4pm, Monday to Friday.

Tourist Offices
The NTAL (National Tourism Authority of Laos) have tourist offices in all the major cities and towns. Since the authority opened in the 1980s, its service has declined and, in many cases, you are better off going to a private operator. In saying this, the tourist offices still provide useful information, just not necessarily the best.

Tax
Turnover tax/value added tax starts at 5% and gets higher, depending on the goods.

Currency Exchange
Money/travellers cheques can be changed in all the big towns and cities and many smaller towns also, although it has been known in the past that banks have run short on the currency. It is a good idea to bring both US dollars and Thai baht with you also.

Credit cards and bank cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash, once they show the Cirrus symbol and credit card logos. This is sometimes the best way to get money.

Electricity
220 Volts/50 Hz.

Telephones
Laos’ country code is +856. When dialling a number from outside Laos, dial the country’s international access code, the country code, the area code (dropping the 0) and the local number.

When dialling an overseas country from within Laos dial Laos’ international access code (00) and then the country’s code etc.

Post Office
There are post offices in most areas around Laos and are yellow and white. Posting letters from Laos is generally cheap and hassle free. Receiving mail, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier and you have no guarantee that whatever is sent to you will eventually reach you.

Tipping
While tipping isn’t customary, it is still expected that you tip in some instances, particularly for services in the larger cities such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Public Holidays
Laos’ public holidays are New Years Day (January 1st), Pathet Lao Day (January 6th), Army Day (January 20th), Chinese New Year (February 1st), International Women’s Day (March 8th), Day of the people’s party (March 22nd), Lao New Year (April 13-15), Labour Day (May 1st), Birth of Buddha (May 15th), Children’s Day (June 1st), Khao Pansa/first day of Buddhist Fast (July 13th), Day of the Free Laos (August 13th), Buddhist Fast Ends (October 5th), Day of Liberation (October 12th), National Day (December 2nd).

It is worth noting what the national holidays are as the majority of businesses and shops close on this day.

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