Laos in detail

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Accessible Travel

With its lack of paved roads or footpaths (sidewalks), Laos presents many obstacles for people with mobility or vision impairments. Wheelchair users will need to use the roads, along with other wheeled transportation of all kinds. Rarely do public buildings feature ramps or other access points for wheelchairs, nor do many hotels provide access for travellers with disabilities, the few exceptions being at the top end in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, which are also the only places you'll find an accessible toilet. Most sights also lack accessibility. Public transport is particularly crowded and difficult, even for the fully ambulatory.

For anyone with access needs, a trip to Laos will require a good deal of advance planning, fortitude and the willingness to improvise. As in most developing countries, a lack of infrastructure can often be overcome with people power: wheelchairs and their users can be lifted over obstacles or into vehicles if you're willing to take the risk. Reports from wheelchair-using travellers to the country, however, suggest that locals may be less quick to offer assistance than in other Southeast Asian nations.

There’s not much in the way of useful online resources, but the Lao Disabled People’s Association (http://ldpa.org.la) lists organisations affiliated with particular disabilities that may be able to offer travel advice.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Bargaining

Bargaining in most places in Laos is not nearly as tough as in other parts of Southeast Asia. Lao-style bargaining is generally a friendly transaction where two people try to agree on a price that is fair to both of them. Good bargaining, which takes practice, is one way to cut costs.

More Information

Most things bought in a market can be bargained for, but in shops prices are mostly fixed. The first rule to bargaining is to have a general idea of the price. Ask around at a few vendors to get a ballpark figure. Once you're ready to buy, it's generally a good strategy to start at 50% of the asking price and work up from there. In general, keeping a friendly, flexible demeanour throughout the transaction will almost always work in your favour. Don't get angry or upset over a few thousand kip. The locals, who invariably have less money than foreign visitors, never do this.

Climate

The annual monsoon cycles that affect all of mainland Southeast Asia produce a dry and wet monsoon climate, with three basic seasons for most of Laos. The southwest monsoon arrives in Laos between May and July and lasts into November.

The monsoon is followed by a dry period (from November to May), beginning with lower relative temperatures and cool breezes created by Asia's northeast monsoon (which bypasses most of Laos) and lasting until mid-February. Exceptions to this general pattern include Xieng Khuang, Hua Phan and Phongsali Provinces, which may receive rainfall coming from Vietnam and China during the months of April and May.

Temperatures also vary according to altitude. In the humid, low-lying Mekong River valley, temperatures range from 15°C to 38°C, while in the mountains of the far north they can drop to 0°C at night. Particularly cold years see snow falling in the mountains.

Dangers & Annoyances

Over the last couple of decades Laos has earned a reputation among visitors as a remarkably safe place to travel, with little crime reported and few of the scams often found in more touristed places such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. However, in more recent years, there has been a small rise in petty crimes, such as theft and low-level scams, which are more annoying than dangerous.

Queues

The Lao people follow the usual Southeast Asian method of queuing for services, which is to say they don't form a line at all but simply push en masse towards the counter or doorway. The system is 'first seen, first served'. Learn to play the game the Lao way, by pushing your money, passport, letters or whatever to the front of the crowd as best you can. That said, it is nowhere near as chaotic as in some of the bigger neighboring countries.

Road & River Travel

Better roads, better vehicles and fewer insurgents mean road travel in Laos is quite safe, if not always comfortable. However, while the scarcity of traffic in Laos means there are far fewer accidents than in neighbouring countries, accidents are still the main risk for travellers.

As motorbikes become increasingly popular among travellers, the number of accidents is rising. Even more likely is the chance of earning yourself a Lao version of the 'Thai tattoo' – that scar on the calf caused by a burn from a hot exhaust pipe.

The speedboats that careen along the Mekong in northern Laos are as dangerous as they are fast. We recommend avoiding all speedboat travel unless absolutely necessary.

Armed Attacks

With the Hmong insurgency virtually finished, travel along Rtes 7 and 13, particularly in the vicinity of Phu Khoun and Kasi, is considered safe, although there was a deadly attack on a Chinese national in this area in early 2016. Ask around in Vientiane or Luang Prabang to make sure the situation is secure before travelling along Rte 7 to Phonsavan or Rte 13 between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Rte 1 from Paksan to Phonsavan is still considered a risk due to occasional banditry.

Theft

While theft is much less common than elsewhere in Southeast Asia, it has been on the rise in recent years. Most of the reports we've heard involve opportunistic acts that are fairly easily avoided.

Money or items going missing from rooms is becoming more common, particularly in rural bungalows, so don't leave cash or other tempting belongings on show. If you're on a crowded bus, watch your luggage and don't keep money in loose trouser pockets. When riding a bicycle or motorcycle in Vientiane, don't place anything of value in the basket, as thieving duos on motorbikes may ride by and snatch a bag.

Motorcycle theft is a growing problem. Always lock up your bike when out in the countryside or at night, and pay for parking whenever you can.

Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)

Large areas of eastern and southern Laos are contaminated by unexploded ordnance (UXO). According to surveys by the Lao National UXO Programme (UXO Lao) and other nongovernment UXO clearance organisations, the provinces of Salavan, Savannakhet and Xieng Khuang are the most severely affected provinces, followed by Champasak, Hua Phan, Khammuan, Luang Prabang, Attapeu and Sekong.

Statistically speaking, the UXO risk for the average foreign visitor is low, but travellers should exercise caution when considering off-road wilderness travel in the aforementioned provinces. Stick only to marked paths. And never touch an object that may be UXO, no matter how old and defunct it may appear.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hotspots.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)

Canadian Government (www.voyage.gc.ca)

German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen.mofa.go.jp)

Netherlands Government (www.minbuza.nl)

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz)

UK Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)

US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)

Drugs

Most of the more obvious drugs are found in Laos, but are also illegal, carrying the risk of stiff fines or, in the case of stronger substances, a lengthy prison sentence. Travellers may commonly dabble in a happy shake (a shake made with marijuana or magic mushrooms) and occasionally opium where it is still found in remote areas. However, police set-ups and police busts are not unknown, leading to large fines and deportation or imprisonment. So proceed with caution or stick to the Beerlao.

Embassies & Consulates

There are about 25 embassies and consulates in Vientiane. Many nationalities are served by their embassies in Bangkok (eg New Zealand and The Netherlands), Hanoi (eg Ireland) or Beijing.

Australian Embassy Also represents nationals of Canada.

Cambodian Embassy Issues visas for US$30.

Chinese Embassy Issues visas in four working days (less for a fee). Some travellers report sudden and unannounced 'changes in policy' preventing them from applying for visas.

French Embassy

German Embassy

Myanmar Embassy Issues tourist visas in three working days for US$40, but can turn a visa around the same day on request if you already have a ticket to travel.

Thai Embassy For visa renewals and extensions, head to the consulates in Vientiane or Savannakhet, which issue tourist and non-immigrant visas (1000B).

UK Embassy

US Embassy Based in a new building to the south of the city.

Vietnamese Embassy Issues tourist visas in three working days for US$55, or in one day for US$65. The Luang Prabang consulate issues tourist visas for US$50 in 24 hours or US$40 if you wait three days. At the consulate in Pakse, visas cost US$60.

Emergency & Important Numbers

To dial listings from outside Laos, dial your international access code, the country code and then the number (minus ‘0’, which is used when dialling domestically).

Laos' country code856
International access code00
Ambulance195
Fire190
Police191
Tourist Police192

Etiquette

The Lao people are generally very gracious hosts, but there are some important spiritual and social conventions to observe.

  • Buddhism When visiting temples, cover up to the knees and elbows, and remove your shoes and any head covering. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing them at Buddha images. Women should never touch a monk or his belongings; step out of the way and don't sit next to them on public transport.
  • Local greeting Called the nop, the local greeting in Laos involves putting your hands together in a prayer-like manner. Use this when being introduced to new Lao friends.
  • Modesty Avoid wearing swimsuits or scanty clothing when walking around towns in Laos, particularly after tubing in Vang Vieng. Wear a sarong or similar to cover up.
  • Saving face Never get into an argument with a Lao person. It's better to smile through any conflict.

Insurance

A good travel insurance policy, as always, is a wise investment. Laos is generally considered a high-risk area, and with limited medical services it's vital to have a policy that covers being evacuated (medevaced), by air if necessary, to a hospital in Thailand. Read the small print in any policy to see if hazardous activities are covered; rock climbing, rafting and motorcycling are often not.

If you undergo medical treatment in Laos or Thailand, be sure to collect all receipts and copies of the medical report, in English if possible, for insurance purposes.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Internet Access

Free wi-fi is pretty standard these days and available in most guesthouses, hotels and cafes in the main tourist destinations around Laos. Internet cafes are still around in Vientiane but are increasingly rare elsewhere. If you can find one, it's generally possible to get online from 5000K to 10,000K per hour.

LGBT Travellers

For the most part Lao culture is pretty tolerant of homosexuality, although lesbianism is often either denied completely or misunderstood. In any case, public displays of affection, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are frowned upon.

While there are no laws criminalising homosexuality, the gay and lesbian scene is certainly more hidden these days and not nearly as prominent as in neighbouring Thailand. Authorities sometimes shut down drag shows in Vientiane and have banned gay-friendly establishments from marketing themselves as such with rainbow flags. That doesn't mean they've disappeared!

Check out Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com) for gay travel information and contacts in Laos, including some local gay terminology.

Maps

The best all-purpose country map that's generally available is GT-Rider.com's Laos, which has a scale of 1:1,650,000. It's available at bookshops in Thailand and at many guesthouses in Laos, as well as online at www.gt-rider.com.

Chiang Mai-based Hobo Maps has produced a series of good maps of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. The Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICT) has also created a few city maps; pick one up at the tourist information centre in Vientiane.

Media

Vientiane Times (www.vientianetimes.org.la) The country's only English-language newspaper follows the party line. Published Monday to Saturday.

Le Rénovateur (www.lerenovateur.la) A government mouthpiece in French; similar to the Vientiane Times.

Lao National Radio (LNR; www.lnr.org.la) Broadcasts sanitised English-language news twice daily.

Radio Short-wave radios can pick up BBC, VOA, Radio Australia and Radio France International.

TV Lao National TV is so limited that most people watch Thai TV and/or karaoke videos.

Money

The official national currency in Laos is the Lao kip (K), but Thai baht (B) and US dollars (US$) are also commonly accepted.

ATMs

ATMs are now found all over Laos. But before you get too excited, ATMs dispense a maximum of 700,000K to 2,000,000K (about US$85 to US$250) per transaction, depending on the bank, not to mention a variable withdrawal fee. If you also have to pay extortionate charges to your home bank on each overseas withdrawal, this can quickly add up.

Credit Cards

A growing number of hotels, upmarket restaurants and gift shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang accept Visa and MasterCard, and, to a much lesser extent, Amex and JCB. However, many places will also pass on the transaction fee to the customer, usually around 3%. Outside of the main towns, credit cards are virtually useless.

Banque pour le Commerce Extérieur Lao (BCEL) branches in most major towns offer cash advances/withdrawals on MasterCard and Visa credit/debit cards for a 3% transaction fee. Other banks may have slightly different charges, so it might be worth shopping around in Vientiane.

Currency

Laos relies heavily on the Thai baht and the US dollar for the domestic cash economy. An estimated one-third of all cash circulating in Vientiane, in fact, bears the portrait of the Thai king, while another third celebrates US presidents. Kip is usually preferred for small purchases, while more expensive items and services may be quoted in kip, baht or dollars. Anything costing the equivalent of US$100 or more is likely to be quoted in US dollars.

The majority of transactions will be carried out in kip, however, so it's always worth having a wad in your pocket. Notes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 kip. Small vendors, especially in rural areas, will struggle to change 100,000K notes.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$15885K
CanadaC$16523K
Euro zone€19500K
Japan¥1008050K
New ZealandNZ$15520K
Thailand10B2803K
UKUK£110,595K
USUS$18610K
Vietnam10,000d3690K

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Moneychangers

After years of volatility the kip has in recent times remained fairly stable at about 8500K to the US dollar. Don't, however, count on this remaining the same.

Generally exchange rates are virtually the same whether you're changing at a bank or a moneychanger. Both are also likely to offer a marginally better rate for larger bills (US$50 and US$100) than smaller bills (US$20 and less). Banks in Vientiane and Luang Prabang can generally change UK pounds, euros, Canadian, US and Australian dollars, Thai baht and Japanese yen. Elsewhere most provincial banks usually change only US dollars or baht.

Licensed moneychangers maintain booths around Vientiane (including at Talat Sao) and at some border crossings. Their rates are similar to the banks, but they stay open longer.

There's no real black market in Laos and unless there's an economic crash, that's unlikely to change.

Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Laos except in tourist-oriented restaurants, where 10% of the bill is appreciated, but only if a service charge hasn't already been added.

Travellers Cheques

Travellers cheques can be cashed at most banks in Laos, but normally only in exchange for kip. Cheques in US dollars are the most readily acceptable. Very few merchants accept travellers cheques.

Opening Hours

Bars & Clubs 5pm to 11.30pm (later in Vientiane)

Government Offices 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm Monday to Friday

Noodle Shops 7am to 1pm

Restaurants 10am to 10pm

Shops 9am to 6pm

More Information

Business hours for restaurants vary according to their clientele and the food they serve. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed on Sunday.

  • Shops selling noodles or rice soup are typically open from 7am to 1pm.
  • Lao restaurants with a larger menu of dishes served with rice are often open from 10am to 10pm.
  • International restaurants offering both Lao and falang (Western) food, which serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, usually open their doors from 7am until 10pm.
  • Tourist restaurants that don't open for breakfast generally serve from 11am to 11pm.

Photography

Lao officials are sensitive about photography of airports and military installations.

In rural areas people are often not used to having their photos taken, so ask if they mind before taking any shots. In tribal areas always ask permission before photographing people or religious totems when trekking, as photography of people is taboo among several tribes. Breaking such taboos might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is important to respect local customs.

Post

Sending post from Laos is not all that expensive and is fairly reliable, but people still tend to wait until they get to Thailand to send parcels. If heading to Cambodia, it's probably smarter to post your parcels from Laos.

Leave packages open for inspection by a postal officer. Incoming parcels might also need to be inspected and there may be a small charge for this mandatory 'service'.

The main post office in Vientiane has a poste restante service.

Public Holidays

Schools and government offices are closed on the following official holidays, and the organs of state move pretty slowly, if at all, during festivals.

International New Year 1 January

Army Day 20 January

International Women's Day 8 March

Lao New Year 14–16 April

International Labour Day 1 May

International Children's Day 1 June

Lao National Day 2 December

Smoking

While a large number of people smoke in rural Laos, towns and cities are becoming increasingly smoke-free. Almost all hotels in Laos offer nonsmoking rooms and there is a ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Taxes & Refunds

There is currently no VAT refund system in place in Laos.

Telephone

With a local SIM card and a 3G/4G or wi-fi connection, the cheapest option is to use internet-based messaging and call apps. Topping up a phone for as little as 50,000K can give you enough data to last a month.

International calls can be made from Lao Telecom offices or the local post office in most provincial capitals and are charged on a per-minute basis, with a minimum charge of three minutes. Calls to most countries cost about 2000K to 4000K per minute. Office hours typically run from about 7.30am to 9.30pm.

Mobile Phones

Roaming is possible in Laos but is generally expensive. Local SIM cards and unlocked mobile phones are readily available.

Coverage & Costs

Lao Telecom and several private companies offer mobile phone services on the GSM and 3G/4G systems. Competition is fierce and you can buy a local SIM card for as little as 10,000K from almost anywhere. Calls are cheap and recharge cards are widely available. Network coverage varies depending on the company and the region.

Phone Codes

The country code for calling Laos is 856. For long-distance calls within the country, dial 0 first, then the area code and number. For international calls dial 00 first, then the country code, area code and number.

All mobile phones have a 020 code at the beginning of the number. Similar to this are WIN satellite phones, which begin with 030.

Time

Laos is seven hours ahead of GMT/UTC. Thus, noon in Vientiane is 10pm the previous day in San Francisco, 1am in New York, 5am in London and 3pm in Sydney. There is no daylight saving time.

Toilets

While Western-style toilets are now found in most midrange and top-end accommodation, budget travellers should expect squat toilets when staying in some guesthouses and particularly homestays.

In places where sit-down toilets are installed, the plumbing may not be designed to take toilet paper. In such cases there will usually be a rubbish bin for used paper.

Public toilets are uncommon as soon as you leave the main north to south tourist trail and head into more remote areas. While on the road between towns and villages, it's perfectly acceptable to go behind a tree or use the roadside.

Tourist Information

The Department of Tourism Marketing, part of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICT), has tourist offices all over Laos, with the ones in Vientiane and Luang Prabang particularly helpful.

Many offices are well-stocked with brochures and maps, and have easily understood displays of their provincial attractions and English-speaking staff to answer your questions. Offices in Tha Khaek, Savannakhet, Pakse, Luang Namtha, Sainyabuli, Phongsali and Sam Neua are all pretty good, with staff trained to promote treks and other activities in the area and able to hand out brochures and first-hand knowledge. They should also be able to help with local transport options and bookings. Alternatively, you can usually get up-to-date information from a popular guesthouse.

The MICT also runs three very good websites that offer valuable pre-departure information:

Central Laos Trekking (www.trekkingcentrallaos.com)

Ecotourism Laos (www.ecotourismlaos.com)

Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (www.tourismlaos.org)

Travel with Children

Travelling with children in Laos can be a lot of fun as long as you come prepared with the right attitude. The Lao people adore children and will shower attention on your offspring, who will find playmates and a temporary nanny service at practically every stop.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Luang Prabang

Beyond the beautiful old town are family-oriented eco-resorts, waterfalls, boat trips, farm visits and, for older kids, mountain biking and ziplining.

  • Vientiane, Vang Vieng & Around

The capital offers some good accommodation with swimming pools. However, Vang Vieng is the real draw with stunning scenery and some soft adventures in the countryside beyond, including scenic natural pools among the karsts.

  • Northern Laos

Nong Khiaw is popular thanks to its striking scenery and close proximity to Luang Prabang. The boat journey from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is also a relaxing option.

  • Central Laos

Tham Kong Lor is memorable for older children, but long journeys and fewer child-friendly sites means this is one region that could be skipped.

  • Southern Laos

This is a rewarding area for adventurous families to explore thanks to waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau and relaxing riverside fun among the many islands of Si Phan Don.

Laos for Kids

The Great Outdoors

If boredom sets in for kids when travelling in Laos, the best cure is always the outdoors. Waterfalls in Luang Prabang and on the Bolaven Plateau are a big draw. And both Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang have emerged as big adventure centres where it is possible for older children to try anything from rock climbing to ziplining, not forgetting more commonplace activities such as mountain biking and kayaking. Boat trips are usually well received too.

Dining Out

Children's menus are pretty rare beyond the main tourist centres of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but most restaurants, cafes and bars are very welcoming to children of all ages. There are some good supermarkets in Vientiane for stocking up on snacks and comfort food, but the options thin out very quickly once in the provinces.

Getting Around

Moving little ones around in Laos can be a challenge. In the cities, footpaths can be crowded with vendors, making it tricky to navigate a larger pushchair or pram, so something more compact is smarter. In smaller towns and villages, there probably won't be a pavement (sidewalk) so prepare to walk along the roadside and consider a more durable style with sturdy wheels. Portability is the key, as it is handy to be able to carry pushchairs around easily and fold them away when necessary, for example if you want to hop in a tuk-tuk.

A baby pack is also useful, but not necessarily the full-on high carries that some hikers prefer, as these leave the child's head higher than yours and there are lots of hanging obstacles poised at forehead level.

Health

For the most part parents needn't worry too much about health concerns, although it pays to lay down a few ground rules – such as regular hand-washing or using hand-cleansing gel – to head off potential medical problems. Children should be warned not to play with animals encountered along the way, as rabies is disturbingly common in Laos.

Safety

Do not let children stray from the path in remote areas of Laos that were heavily bombed during the Second Indochina War. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) remains an everyday threat in some regions and children are usually the most common victims, as the the small cluster bombs known as 'bombies' resemble tennis balls and could look like toys.

Amenities

Child-safety seats for cars, high chairs in restaurants or nappy-changing facilities in public restrooms are few and far between in Laos, pretty much limited to a handful of places in Vientiane or Luang Prabang.

Children's Highlights

Adventures

Tham Kong Lor Journey to the centre of the earth with a boat trip through this 7km river cave system.

Vang Vieng Kayak or tube down the Nam Song River taking in the stunning karst scenery along the way.

Nong Khiaw Jungle Fly Try the 'Tarzan swings' or glide over the bamboo forests around Nong Khiaw.

Gibbon Experience This iconic zipline adventure includes a night in a treehouse in this protected area.

Animal Encounters

Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, Luang Prabang Meet Sun and Moon Bears in this wildlife protection centre at the beautiful Kuang Si Falls.

Laos Buffalo Dairy, Luang Prabang Learn to milk a buffalo, help feed and wash buffaloes and meet the resident rabbits at this working farm.

Elephant Conservation Center, Sainyabuli Stay overnight at the leading elephant conservation centre in Laos where you learn all about these noble creatures.

Gibbon Experience, Huay Xai For older kids, this is the ultimate treetop encounter with gibbons in their jungle home with a night in a treehouse.

Waterfalls

Tat Kuang Si, Luang Prabang The most iconic (and photographed) waterfall in Laos thanks to its turquoise waters with plenty of small swimming holes for relaxation.

Nahm Dong Park, Luang Prabang This spectacular series of waterfalls in the jungle is also a base for lots of fun activities like mulberry paper-making and dream catcher classes.

Khon Phapheng, Si Phan Don The largest waterfall in Southeast Asia should impress the kids providing you haven't already visited Victoria, Iguazu or Niagara falls.

Tat Somphamit, Si Phan Don Older kids can literally fly over the Mekong on this zipline that crosses a Mekong waterfall.

Tat Lo, Bolaven Plateau A popular waterfall with some good swimming holes under the falls.

Planning

What to Bring

  • A supply of nappies if your child wears size 3 or larger; available sizes at Laos supermarkets tend to be small.
  • A sufficient supply of any specialised baby products, such as nappy rash cream to combat the humidity, when travelling in rural areas.
  • Adaptors for charging devices for older children on the road, as there will be some long drives on a journey through Laos.

Accommodation

  • Luang Prabang's old town is good for couples and independent travellers, but there are not many heritage hotels with swimming pools, so consider staying a little further out to cool off after a long day.
  • Extra beds are not that common outside of the smarter hotels in the main centres, so prepare to share double or twin beds or plan ahead for rooms with connecting doors or adjacent rooms.

Volunteering

Volunteers have been working in Laos for years, usually on one- or two-year contracts that include a minimal monthly allowance. Volunteers are often placed with a government agency and attempt to help advance development in the country. These sort of jobs can lead to non-volunteer work within the non-government organisation (NGO) community.

The alternative approach to volunteering, where you actually pay to be placed in a 'volunteer' role for a few weeks or months, has yet to arrive in Laos in any great capacity. A couple of groups in Luang Prabang need volunteers occasionally, and there are also local projects in places as diverse as Huay Xai, Muang Khua and Sainyabuli.

Australian Volunteers International (www.australianvolunteers.com) Places qualified Australian residents on one- to two-year contracts.

Global Volunteers (www.australianvolunteers.com) Places qualified Australian residents on one- to two-year contracts.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO; www.vsointernational.org) Places qualified and experienced volunteers for up to two years.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures The metric system is used for measurements. Gold and silver are sometimes weighed in baht (15g).

Women Travellers

Laos is generally an easy country for women to travel around, although it is necessary to be more culturally sensitive when compared with Southeast Asia's more developed destinations, as much of rural Laos is still very traditional. Violence against women travellers is extremely rare, but if travelling solo, it may be useful to team up with other travellers on long overland journeys into remote areas of the country.

It's highly unusual for Lao women to wear tank tops, short skirts or shorts. It may be common to see foreign visitors dressed like this in places like Vang Vieng for river tubing or at the Kuang Si Falls, but in most rural areas it is best to dress more conservatively to avoid people staring. If you're planning on bathing in a village or river, a sarong is essential.

Traditionally women didn't sit on the roofs of riverboats, because this was believed to bring bad luck. These days most captains aren't so concerned, but if you are asked to get off the roof while men are not, this is why.

Work

With a large number of aid organisations and a fast-growing international business community, especially in energy and mining, the number of jobs available to foreigners is increasing, but still relatively small. The greatest number of positions are in Vientiane.

Possibilities include teaching English privately or at one of the handful of language centres in Vientiane. Certificates or degrees in English teaching aren't absolutely necessary, but they do help attract a better rate of pay.

If you have technical expertise or international volunteer experience, you might be able to find work with a UN-related program or an NGO providing foreign aid or technical assistance to Laos. These jobs are difficult to find; your best bet is to visit the Vientiane offices of each organisation and enquire about personnel needs and vacancies. For a list of NGOs operating in Laos, see the excellent www.directoryofngos.org.