GENERAL INFORMATION FOR LAOS
It is always a good idea to inform yourself before traveling to any country and your trip to Laos deserves to dedicate a little previous preparation to be able to enjoy with total tranquility of your holidays in this wonderful country. All you have to do is compile some practical information such as the ones described below and we will take care of the rest so that you can enjoy an unforgettable stay in Laos.
Some useful information to prepare your trip to Laos:
Official Name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
Population: 6.5 million distributed among more than 60 ethnic groups
Capital of Laos: Vientiane (population 750,000 inhabitants)
Currency: Kip (KN)
Time: GMT + 7 or Madrid +5 and Madrid +6 depending on the summer / winter time.
International prefix to call Laos: +856
We gather here some more detailed information that will be useful to prepare your trip to Laos. Sightseeing in Laos, as in any other country in the region, requires a minimum of preparation. With the assistance of Buffalo Tours, sightseeing in Laos will be a pleasant experience and you can enjoy this mystical and spiritual country.
Laos is a country with a strong spiritual tradition, is located between five countries and enjoys spectacular natural landscapes still little explored. It has approximately the same area as Great Britain but with less than six million inhabitants, which makes it one of the least populated countries in the world.
The two main cities of Laos are Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Each one has a river that passes through the middle of the city and the French colonial past has left influences in both cities. Vientiane enjoys a quiet atmosphere while Luang Prabang, an ancient royal capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a charming city with golden temples and monks with saffron colored clothes.
The highlights of Laos
Most travelers to Laos want to see the best of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. However, if you have time and if you are interested in nature, the natural beauty (although popular with backpackers) of Vang Vieng, the splendid scenery of the Bolaven Plateau and the 4000 islands in the south of Laos are worth visiting. The more adventurous can choose more remote destinations such as Luang Namtha, where you can do various excursions and treeking, Muang Xay, the capital of the plurilateral province of Oudamxay and Nong Khiaw, located in the north of Luang Prabang and where you can see magnificent formations calcareous and ethnic peoples.
In Luang Prabang, there are several standards of boutique accommodation, fantastic restaurants, craft markets, silk shops and silverware. From Luang Prabang it is possible to visit the caves of Buddha Pak Ou, as well as certain ethnic minority towns and waterfalls. Quiet and relaxing, it is one of the favorite destinations of Paseo Cambodia in Indochina.
Compared to the other bustling capitals of Southeast Asia, Vientiane is a small, quiet and charming city. Once you have seen the temples, it is best to take a walk through the riverside gardens and relax with a fresh Beerlao - the national Laotian beer - and watch the beautiful sunset over the Mekong.
A very popular city among backpackers where they come to do inner tubing (downhill on tires) by the Nam Song River. It is possible to avoid this scene and take private kayak trips, cave visits and excursions in the surrounding mountains.
Thousands of megalithic jars are scattered across the plateau of Xieng Khouang. Various investigations carried out in the early 1930s associated jugs with prehistoric funerary rites. In the following years, Laotian and Japanese archaeologists made excavations that confirmed this interpretation. They discovered human remains, goods and ceramics near the stone jars. The Plain of the Jars goes back to the Iron Age and is one of the most important and fascinating sites about the prehistory of Southeast Asia. Normally, jar sites are visited from Phonsavan.
In the Bolaven Plateau, where the climate is cooler, you can see tea and coffee plantations, visit ethnic minorities, go on excursions and see spectacular waterfalls. The accommodations in the region are rustic.
45 minutes from the Bolaven Plateau is the city of Pakse from which travelers can explore the region of the 4000 islands with its waterfalls, pre-Angkorian temples of the 10th century, the ruins of Champassak - a UNESCO World Heritage site - as well as small islands where the inhabitants preserve a traditional way of life. In general, tourists opt for cruises to visit the 4000 islands.
Huay Xai in the north of the country. It is located between the Mekong and the Thai border.
Pakbeng. The ships that sail between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang make a stop in this city for travelers to spend the night.
Tha Khaek, in the southeast of Vientiane and on the banks of the Mekong. From Tha Khaek, you can explore the national park of Phou Hin Boun, the famous cave of Konglor and Vieng Xai, a small village in the middle of the rice fields and calcareous mountains. There it is possible to visit the caves from which the leaders of the Laotian nationalist party directed operations against the West.
Visa to travel to Laos
If you arrive by plane to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, you can buy a tourist visa upon arrival. The validity of the visa is 30 days, and the price ranges from 30 dollars to 42 (depending on nationality) and is renewable. It is possible to obtain a visa at most international borders but as conditions change every day, it is best to check with the embassy beforehand.
Arrivals in Laos
By air: The main international airport is Wattay in Vientiane. The following companies fly to Vientiane: Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Vietnam Airlines, Southern China Airlines and Air Asia. Regular flights allow to go to / from Bangkok, Phom Penh, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Kunming and Kuala Lumpur.
There are also direct flights to Luang Prabang from Hanoi, Siem Reap, Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The departure rate is included in the ticket price.
You can enter Laos from neighboring countries. Between Laos and Thailand, there are several border posts: Houeixay in the Bokeo Province, the Friendship Bridge near Vientiane and the second Friendship Bridge in Savannakhet. Between Laos and Vietnam, you can cross the border in Laksao, Na Meo and Lao Bao.
Money and currency in Laos
The official currency of Laos is the Kip. There are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 50000 kip bills. You can change all the major currencies in the banks but more particularly the US dollar and the Thai baht. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the many private offices offer very interesting exchange rates. There is a change point at the Wattay airport in Vientiane.
The exchange offices and the banks change the traveler's checks for the largest currencies. In addition, you can withdraw money with a Visa card in many domestic and foreign banks in Vientiane. Numerous restaurants and hotels accept major credit cards. If you plan to go to a more remote area, we advise you to bring a good supply of kips.
The exchange rate is currently 1 dollar for 8400 kips
Pay attention that the kip can not be changed outside of Laos
The weather in Laos
In Laos, there are three stations. From May to November, it is the monsoon season. Then, between November and March, it is the dry season. From March to the beginning of the monsoon season, it is the hottest period of the year. From November to February, it is the best period to visit Laos, when it does not rain a lot and the temperatures are more pleasant.
Note that the high tourist season is from October to April, the low season from May to September and the very high season from November to February.
Security in Laos
Traveling in Laos is generally very safe. Most of the hotels have a safe at the reception or in each room, and sometimes even in both. But for better security use your common sense.
Gastronomy and food in Laos
Traditional Laotian food is dry, strong and delicious. The most used ingredients are lemon juice, lemon balm and coriander. Most Laotian dishes are made up of fresh vegetables and freshwater fish. Other dishes include chicken, pork, duck and cow. They are traditionally accompanied by glutinous rice. In the countryside, people eat in community, sit on the ground and share food.
One of the main delicacies of Laos is the Laap. It is a traditional dish, a broth with chicken or duck slices mixed with lemon juice, garlic, chili and uncooked rice grains that have been fried and crushed before. The Laap is generally accompanied by vegetables, vegetables and glutinous rice. Another popular dish is Tam Mak Houng, a salad with sliced raw papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, lemon juice and fermented fish sauce, attention It's very spicy! The roasted Som Moo is also delicious. It is a fermented pork sausage very often served Vietnamese. When it is called Naem Nuang, it is served with transparent rice crackers, fine noodles and many herbs, lettuce and sauce. Everyone can thus make their own spring rolls.
Clothes for your trip to Laos
The way of dressing in Laos depends a lot on sex and age. However, to attend important ceremonies, women often wear a silk skirt, a blouse and a handkerchief while men wear a sarong or pants. We advise visitors to wear comfortable clothes, light and easy to wash. As it can get quite cold during the winter and the rainy season, bringing a jacket may be a good idea. It is also preferable that they bring good walking shoes and sandals that can be easily removed to enter temples and private homes.
Population and demographics of Laos
Approximately 6 million people live in Laos. 85% of the inhabitants still live in rural areas. The population can be divided into four categories: the Lao Loum (50%), the Lao Thai (15%), the Lao Theung (25%) and the Lao Sung (10%). The difference is based on the location. For example, "Lao Loum" means "Laos Low" and refers to the part of the population that traditionally lives in the Mekong valley. "Lao Theung" means the "Laos of the highlands" and "Lao Sung" means the "High Laos". Subcategories exist within each category, particularly for mountain dwellers.
The official language is Lao or Lao. The ethnic communities of the country speak different dialects that are generally not understandable by another ethnic group. The lao is part of the linguistic group tai, sometimes called tai-kadai or kadai. Most Laotians understand Thai since they watch TV and listen to Thai radio.
Only some people speak French, English, Russian or Chinese. Generally, it is the elders who can speak a little French and it is the young people who can speak a little English or Russian.
Holidays and special events in Laos
There are numerous cultural and religious festivals in Laos. Here are some of the most important:
The Sikhottablong festival (February)
This religious festival takes place in the stupa of Sikhottablong in the Khammouan region.
Festival of Wat Phou (February)
This festival is celebrated during the full moon period of the third month of the lunar calendar and takes place in the charming pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Phou in Champasak. The activities are: elephant races, buffalo fights, rooster fights and traditional Laotian dance and music shows.
Lao New Year (April)
The Lao New Year or "Pi Mai Lao" is usually celebrated in April. They are the most important holidays in the country and everyone participates in the festivities. People take the Buddha images of the temples to anoint and clean them with perfumed water. People are also sprinkled with water in the streets. It is a purification rite to anticipate the end of the dry season that takes place mostly in Luang Prabang.
Vientiane Boat Racing Festival (October)
At dawn, people make donations and offerings in the temples of the city. At night, the population parades around the temples in the light of the candles and throw hundreds of candles with flowers and incense in the waters of the Mekong River. The next day, a boat race takes place by the Mekong.
That Luang Festival (November)
This religious festival takes place in the splendid stupa of That Luang and its surroundings. Hundreds of monks gather to beg and receive the flower offerings of the faithful. The festivities include a large firework at night and a trade fair to present Laotian products during the day.
You will arrive at Luang Prabang, a sacred place, dotted with golden temples and populated by monks dressed in saffron robes. The city is located in a mountainous area on the Mekong River, and its religious monuments offer many opportunities to delight your eyes. You can spend the afternoon discovering the site on your own, at the relaxed pace of the Laotians.
You will have the pleasure of sailing in the morning on the Mekong River to access the caves of Pak Ou. The inhabitants placed there Buddha representations from the sixteenth century, and thousands can be seen today. At nightfall, you can visit the night market to buy local handicrafts and souvenirs.
Your children will be entertained a lot discovering the amazing and enigmatic statues of the Buddhas park located only 25 kilometers from Vientiane. The site originates from the eccentric idea of the monk Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a very mystical shaman of Hinduism and Buddhism. They will take a look at the skeletal Buddhas in particular, and about a giant pumpkin with a demon head.
You will visit the mysterious site dotted with huge pots, from sunrise to noon. Little is known about these giant urns, because archaeologists have only recently been able to initiate their investigations. In the 1930s, a French scientist did preliminary work revealing that the jars were probably used for funerary purposes.