Laos can be reached by land, air and river from neighboring Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. There is regular air service to Laos on Thai International, Viet Nam Airlines, Lao Airlines, China Southern and Bangkok Airways. The busiest entry-exit point is the Friendship Bridge that connects Vientiane to Nong Khai, Thailand. Another popular overland border crossing is Houeixai that links northern Thailand's Chiang Rai province to northwestern Laos at the center of the infamous Golden Triangle.
To enter the country, visitors need a passport with at least six months validity. Thirty-day visas are available from Lao Embassies and consulates abroad. A
30-day visa on arrival
may be obtained by passport holders at the following international border crossings:
Botene in Luang Namtha (Laos-China)
Houeisai in Bokeo (Laos-Thailand)
Na Meo in Houaphan (Laos-Vietnam)
Namkhan in Xieng Khouang (Laos-Vietnam),
Nam Phao in Bolikhamxai (Laos-Vietnam)
Thakhaek in Khammouane (Laos-Thailand)
Na Phao in Khammouane (Laos-Vietnam)
Dene Savan (Laos-Vietnam)
Dan Savanh (Laos-Thailand) in Savannakhet
Vang Tao in Champassak (Laos-Thailand).
Travelers who already have a visa may enter Laos from Cambodia at Veun Kham. Visa extensions are possible and best handled by one of the many tour companies in Vientiane , Luang Prabang or Pakse.
With the enactment of the ASEAN Tourism Agreement, ASEAN nations are moving towards establishing a visa-free tourism zone for ASEAN nationals. Citizens of ASEAN countries should check with the Lao Embassy as to whether or not a visa is required to enter Laos.
Laos generally enjoys a mild tropical climate, but it can get quite chilly in the cool season. Temperatures range from 10 - 40 degrees Celsius in the Mekong Valley , and may dip below zero in the mountains and on the Xieng Khouang and Bolaven Plateaus. There are three distinct seasons: cool from November-February; hot from March-May and rainy from June -October. Most people visit from October to February, however the rainy season offers lush green landscapes, and is crowned by the colorful Lao New Year's festival in April.
Laos' main geographic features are low mountains, the Xieng Khouang and Bolaven plateau and the Mekong River Valley. Of the country's 237,000 sq km, about 70% is mountainous, with the highest peak, Phou Bia, reaching just over 2,800 m.
The national language is Lao as it is spoken in Vientiane , but English is commonly used in major tourist centers. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai are widely understood. French, German, Russian and a number of other European languages are also spoken by many educated Lao as several received university training in Eastern Europe during the 1970s-1990s. In addition, there are over 220 indigenous languages spoken by Laos' 47 ethnic groups.
The official currency of Laos is the kip. Major travelers checks can be cashed at banks. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and a limited number of upscale shopping establishments. ATMs accept Visa, Mastercard and several cards with inter-bank access, and dispense kip notes. Thai baht and US dollars are generally accepted in larger urban centers.
There are post offices in all provincial capitals, from which to send letters and parcels to your home country. Vientiane 's main post office offers a post restante service, and both DHL and FedEx have offices in the capital. Internet access is wiely available in all major tourism centers, and all but the most remote population centers.
International Direct Dial is widely available and travelers can send and receive faxes from all post offices and many private businesses. You can also purchase a local SIM card for your mobile phone.
24-hour electricity is now available in all major population centers and many district capitals. Laos uses 220 volt AC.
Guidebooks on Laos include the Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Footprint Guidebooks, the German language Stefan Loose, Frommers and Let's Go series.
Government offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:30-12:00 and from 1pm to about 4:30. Private businesses are generally open later, especially restaurants and entertainment venues. Except for restaurants, most businesses are closed on Sunday.
Laos is a safe, quiet country with a lot to explore for both adults and children. Lao people love kids, and bringing yours along will arouse attention and curiosity that will open the door for priceless cultural interactions.
Laos has only basic health care and visitors should check with their physicians regarding which vaccinations and health precautions to take before coming. The World Health Organization recommends the following vaccinations for Southeast Asia: diphtheria and tetanus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella, polio and typhoid.
For those taking special medications, be sure to bring along an adequate supply to last the length of your trip. Precautionary measures like eating only well-cooked food, drinking bottled water, staying hydrated, avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes and wearing protective clothing will help prevent most common ailments.