Laos

This sleepy country of gilded temples, tangerine-robed monks, rice paddies and friendly people is unlike any other. Whether it’s ecotrekking in pristine jungles, meandering down the Mekong River or living it up in the old Indochinese capital of Luang Prabang, the choices are endless. Now is the best time to visit this rapidly developing country, where the typical rustic scenes that await you are much the same as those that greeted the French colonials many years ago.

When to Visit

The ideal time to visit Laos is from November to March when there is little rain and less humidity. The monsoon season extends from May to November, however while it rains heavily the downpours are often brief and long periods of sunshine follow.

Highlights

WAT PHOU The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wat Phou is a spectacular pre-Angkorian temple built by the rulers of the Khmer Empire. The temple was built to demonstrate the Hindu interpretation of the relationship between nature and humanity.

LUANG PRABANG Nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and surrounded by jungle-clad hills, Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, is the former royal capital of Laos and an exquisite example of cultural heritage and preservation.

PLAIN OF JARS The Plain of Jars is covered with mysterious jars, thought to be around 2,000 years old. Speculation as to their use has ranged from brewing and storing rice wine to being used to collect rainwater but evidence suggests they were part of prehistoric burial practices.

4000 ISLANDS 4000 Islands or Sipandon is a section of the Mekong River that fans out into a 10 kilometre wide labyrinth of shallow waterways and islands. This is the best area to view the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin.

VIENTIANE Far away from the hustle and bustle of other Asian cities, charming Vientiane is one of the quietest capital cities in the world. Despite its recent growth and slick new cocktail bars and restaurants, the slow pace of the city still permeates.

LIPPI FALLS The locals believe the impressive Lippi Falls, on the peaceful island of Don Khone, act as a trap for bad spirits. To allow access over the waterfalls, a railway and bridge were built - the perfect place to soak in the view.

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Useful Information

Visa's

Official travel advice regarding visas is available by calling 04 439 8000 or visiting their website www.safetravel.govt.nz

Customs

Among all groups, but particularly among the ethnic Lao, a high value is placed on the avoidance of conflict and actions likely to cause emotional discomfort. Careful attention to one's place in the social hierarchy is important, with inattention or deliberate flouting of the hierarchy being a major cause of conflict. The greeting of superiors by clasping one's hands in a prayerful motion combined with a slight bow was discouraged after the revolution, but has made a come-back in social interaction. Hierarchical interaction also involves polite forms of speech and body movements. Public body contact, especially between men and women, is avoided.

Health

The following information is intended as a guide only and in no way should it be used as a substitute for professional medical advice relative to a travellers individual needs and vaccination history. No guarantee is made as to its accuracy or thoroughness. For further information, please contact The Travel Doctor on (+64) 9 373 3531. Vaccination against Hepatitis A is recommended for travellers to Laos. Vaccination against Hepatitis B, Rabies (particularly if working with animals) and Typhoid (particularly when travelling to areas with poor sanitation and  hygiene) should be considered, especially by frequent or long stay travellers. Cholera is reported in Laos but vaccination is generally not recommended, care with food and beverage selection is far more important. There is a medium risk of Malaria in Laos and Dengue Fever also occurs, thus insect avoidance measures and anti malarial medication may be necessary depending on itinerary. Japanese Encephalitis is present in Laos, vaccination should be considered by travellers spending more than four weeks in rural areas of the transmission zones. Please consult a medical practitioner or contact The Travel Doctor for your specific risk to these preventable diseases and the appropriate avoidance measures. New Zealanders travelling to Laos should ensure that they have adequate travel insurance to cover the length of their stay. Medications that are legal in New Zealand may be illegal in other countries. 

Electricity

Electrical Socket: European, Japanese and USA sockets. Voltage: 220-240 volts (same as New Zealand). Modem Plug: USA Source: Korjo Travel Products. Please view the Korjo adapter guide at www.korjo.com.au for further information on this matter.

Communications

Country Code for Laos: +856 Offical Travel Advice: Visit www.safetravel.govt.nz Emergency Services in Vientiane: Police - 191, Fire - 190, Ambulance - 195 The emergency services may not have English speaking staff. To avoid delay it may be best to seek the assistance of a Lao speaker to call the emergency services. Australian Embassy Clinic: (021) 35 3840 Open 8.30-12.30 and 13.30-17.00 Mon - Fri. This medical clinic is for citizens of Australia and certain other countries.

Shopping

Laos is an excellent destination for anyone interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts. Hill-tribe silks, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewellery and couture quality textiles dominate the market. Although many of these products are available in Thailand, some of the things listed above are unique to Laos and its hill-tribes. In buying traditional crafts such as silks and carvings, tourists are invariably helping to support a still-growing and fragile economy. Shopping hours: Times vary but generally Mon-Sat 0800-1700 with private shops open longer hours. Some also open on Sunday.

Tipping

In most places in Laos, tipping is not expected though as always it is appreciated. If you want to tip, 10% percent is pretty generous.

Getting around

Small and mountainous, carved with strong flowing rivers and berated by annual monsoons, travelling in Laos is sure but slow. Don't be misled by short distances on Google Earth -- getting around in Laos takes time, and usually more than you may have planned. That said, while the transport network (aside from flying) is slow, it is comprehensive. So unless you're planning on visiting Hmong in the jungle around Long Tien, you should be able to get just about anywhere you want easily and affordably.

Language

Lao is the official language. English is commonly used in major tourist centres. French & Chinese are also spoken alongside various other ethnic languages.

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