Travel Tips Laos
www.asiaphoto.de > Laos Pages > Travel Tips
The information below is from my trips to northern
Laos in December 1998 and southern Laos in December 2002 and updated from time to time.
Visas and Bordercrossing
Visas are usually issued at the border (land-crossings and airports). At
the Nong Kai / Vientiane Friendship Bridge with a valid passport and US$
30 you will get a visa valid for 2 weeks. Extensions or longer visas are
possible. There is no need for an expensive visa-service supplied by some
travel agents. Just go to the Thai immigration office at the border and
then take the shuttle bus to the Lao immigration across the river.
Another popular entry point is Chiang Khong / Huayxai, where you can get an overnight visa service from your guesthouse, if you haven't got one already.
The official national currency is the Kip. There are still some hotels
and restaurants (most at a higher price level) that charge in US Dollar
or sometimes Thai Baht. More expensive services like package tours or car
rental are usually paid in US Dollar. There are no coins, the biggest banknote
is 5.000 Kip. You will get used to carry a thick wallet...
Banks who change traveller cheques are available in bigger towns, cash
is more flexible in most places. It's a good idea to carry Baht and Dollar
with you, especially when you enter from/leave to Thailand. Credit Cards
aren't very useful except in some upscale hotels/shops in Vientiane and
perhaps Luang Prabang.
Exchange rate in Dec 2002: 1 US$ = 10.700 Kip
To find a bed for the night is no problem, even in the smallest village
there is often a basic guesthouse. In bigger cities as Vientiane or Luang
Prabang accomodation is available in every category. Prices range from
1.000 Kip for a dorm bed up to 100 US$ in one of the (few) more upscale
hotels. The typical traveller guesthouse will charge you 5.000 - 12.000
Kip for a double room with fan and shared bathroom. Many of these have
appeared on the scene during the last year or so, you normally do not find
them in the guidebooks. I was surprised to find many new, good guesthouses
even at remote places like Muang Sing up in the north.
Laos has got a rudimentary road system with a main axis from south to north.
Route 13, which I took from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, was the only surfaced
road of "good quality" I've seen on my trip. It has been completed (a Swedish
and a Korean project) short time ago. All other roads I've seen were in
a more deteriorated condition. See
my travelogue for details on road 3 from Luang Namtha to Huayxai.
Buses, trucks or smaller pickups usually leave early in the morning at
markets. Longer distances (100-200km) are normally served once a day, cars
for shorter rides leave several times when there are enough waiting (and
paying) passengers. Travel is slow, it's not unusual to spend the whole
day on a truck for a 100 km ride. However, I could make all my way up to
the Chinese border using public transport!
A (sometimes) faster and more comfortable way to travel is by boat.
Mekong, Nam Ou and Nam Khan are the main river highways. On the Mekong
river, there are slowboats (cargoboats), a very relaxed way to enjoy the
scenery. Bring some food along! A price example: I paid 19.000 Kip for
the 1,5 day trip from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng. Smaller Thai speedboats
do the same trip in only 3 hours, but they are less comfortable, much louder
and almost double as expensive.
Even air travel in Laos can be an adventure these times. I heard rumours
saying that NGO workers were not allowed anymore to use Lao aviation because
safety and maintenance is at a low level. Small Chinese (Y12) and French
planes (ATR72) are used. As I heard, they still don't use radar systems.
Travel in Laos is interesting and exciting, regardless of how you do
Excellent and everywhere, as in most South East Asian countries. Lao and
Thai cuisine are similar in many ways. All
kinds of vegetables, pork, chicken, duck, beef, fish are combined with
rice or noodles. Lemon grass, mint, coriander, chilies, tamarind, onions,
garlic create the spicy taste. Fermented fish mixtures are often used for
seasoning. Most tropical fruits from durian to watermelon are available
on the markets. French bread (baguette) is sold in the morning, excellent
for breakfast or in combination with fresh salad.
What to drink? Water, fresh fruit juice/shakes, tea, coffee, rice whisky
and (of course) the excellent Beerlao.
Prices for food range from a few hundred Kip for market food up
to 10.000 Kip or more for a meal in a restaurant. A typical foe (noodle
soup) is served at foodstalls on the street for 1.000-2.000 Kip. Softdrinks
are sold for about 2.000 Kip, a bottle of Beerlao costs 3.000-4.000 Kip.
Tropical monsoon climate with rainy season from May to November (south-west
monsoon). A good time for travel is the dry season from December to April.
From November to February the bypassing north-east monsoon creates relatively
low temperatures. A warm pullover can be very useful, especially for early
morning bus or boat rides.
Travel Info South Laos
last update Feb 2003
For those of you who want to visit the south including the 4000 islands region, I have put together some useful tips and tricks after returning from there in Feb 2003.
From BKK night train to Ubon Ratchathani.
Bus to Piboon Mangsahan for (20 Bt), then change to
Bus to the border at Chong Mek (25 Bt).
At Lao immigration stamp fee 50 Bt.
Take a pickup / Tuk Tuk from border to Pakse across the new bridge.
Guesthouses / hotels are north of the taxi station.
Boats from Pakse to Champasak leave 8-9 am, the second stop is near the guesthouses
Tuktuks to Champasak (7000 Kip) leave from southern Busterminal. They go across the river directly to the guesthouses.
The boat to Don Khong arrives about 10 am in Champasak, coming from Pakse. Price to Don Khong is 30.000 Kip. (The ride with the bus is 15.000 Kip and a bit faster)
The boats drops you on Don Khong in Muang Khong, a small village on the west coast. There are some nice guesthouses with great sunsets.
The boat to Don Det and Don Khone leaves around 8am from Muang Sen (east cost), and is a bit overprized with 20.000 Kip per person.
You can choose if you want to get off at Don Det or Don Khone.
Both islands are quiet small and connected by the old French railway bridge. From here all the interesting places can be explored as: Old railway engine, railheads on both islands, small Mekong Falls, big Mekong Falls, Irrawaddy Dolphins, hiking.
To continue to Cambodia, you can hire a small boat, leaving from Don Khone (delphin harbour) to Veung Kham. The whole boat will cost 50.000 Kip.
As alternative, you can take a ferry back to the mainland and then go by tuktuk / bus to Nakasang and Veung Kham.
1$ exit stamp Laos, immigration 200 m up the road from the boat landing in Veung Kham.
Speed boats leaving from Voeng Kham between 8 and 12am. costs about 30$ for whole boat. Sometimes more expensive when many passengers, max. 6 per boat. Bargain hard with these bastards!
This boat will take you across the river to the small Cambodian immigration booth.
Friendly immigration officers ask for 5$ tea money ( umm, fee for entry stamp)
It takes only 1h with the speedboat to Stung Treng.
Want more information about Laos ?
I recommend to get up-to-date information from travel newsgroups on the Internet.
The rec.travel.asia newsgroup is really helpful to get first hand info about travelling in Laos.
For additional or updated info please email your experiences. Do you run your own travel or photo related site? Why not exchange links? Please feel free to give comments or useful info for other travelers by using my guestbook.