FOOD AND DRINKS
Fiery and fragrant, with a touch of sour, Lao food owes its distinctive taste to fish sauce, lemongrass, coriander leaves, chili and lime juice. Eaten with the hands along with the staple, sticky rice, much of Lao cuisine is roasted over an open fire and served with fresh herbs and vegetables. The most famous dish is probably laap, a salad of minced meat, ground rice and mint, lime juice and chili. Beer Lao is a recommendation.
Laos’ weather consists of a dry season (October to late April) and a wet season (May to late September). Within each season there are variations in temperature, with the dry months leading up to the wet season (March and April) and the early wet season (May and June) typically being the hottest of the year.
North, central and Eastern regions are at a higher altitude than those in the South. Temperatures throughout the country are also greatly affected by altitude with much of the country at a level that reduces the country’s average temperatures by several degrees Celsius.
The average temperature in January, coldest month, is a bit above 20 °C; and in April, usually the hottest month, around 30°C.
Unlike Cambodia, where USD’s are widely accepted, Laotians seem to prefer local currency, Kip. USD and Thai Bath are 2 other acceptable currencies while traveling around Laos. If you find it confusing when to use what currency, our suggestion is Laos Kip for cheap accommodations, foods and drinks, snacks, etc.; Thai Bath is for mid-cost goods and services; use USD as the payment for expensive, high-class goods and services like luxurious resorts and hotels. Also, USD is good for several areas where people accept payment via credit cards. Interestingly, it might not be a good idea to use USD all the time, since you might pay more than necessary.
At the time of this article, USD 1 equals 8300 LAK (Laotian Kips)
PHONE AND INTERNET
Generally speaking there is good Internet, Wi-Fi and mobile phone coverage in main towns and cities, but please note that more remote areas may not be fully covered. More and more hotels now offer Wi-Fi access in the lobby, or sometimes your room. Larger hotels may charge for this, but many smaller hotels include Wi-Fi access in their rates.
Unless you have a suitable tariff, avoid using your phone provider to use the Internet as data roaming charges can be very expensive. If using a local Internet connection on your mobile / tablet ensure the settings are Wi-Fi enabled.
PASSPORT AND VISA
It is required that visitors to Laos have a valid 10 year passport and that the passport has at least six months validity from the date of your entry into Laos. Please check that your passport complies with this decree well in advance of travel.
The Laotian Government requires passport holders to have a visa for entry into Laos and the easiest way to do this is apply for your visa on arrival in the country. You will need USD 35 in cash and two recent passport photos for a single-entry visa. Visas are issued for a stay of 30 days. For those arriving by air, visas are available upon arrival at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, at Luang Prabang International Airport, and at Pakse International Airport. Immigration formalities are relatively simple - the whole process usually takes 10 - 20 minutes, a bit longer if several planes land more or less simultaneously.
In addition, visas are issued on the spot at these international overland checkpoints: Chongmek, Huay Xai & Mukdahan (if arriving from Thailand), Namkhan & Lao Bao (coming from Vietnam), and Boten (from China). Again, the price is US$35 and they are valid for 30 days.
Public transport is relatively comprehensive and inexpensive, but slow. Driving standards are woeful and seatbelts are close to non-existent, but speeds do tend to be slow. Motorcyle taxis are a very common way to get around -- always wear a helmet. Road quality, especially in the mountainous North, can be very patchy and in wet season landslides are not uncommon.