Laos

6 M
Population
Kip
Currency
When is the best time to visit Laos?
  • The very best time to go is from December to March (neither hot nor cold)
  • A good time to go is the whole year (if you pack the right clothes)
  • This is purely from a climate point of view of course.
Safety and security

Crime

The local equivalent to the UK ‘999’ emergency lines are: 1190 for fire, 1195 for ambulance and for police: 1191, 241162, 241163, 241164, and 212703. The Tourist Police can be contacted in Vientiane on 021-251-128.

Petty crime, including bag snatching occurs frequently, especially in tourist areas. Take sensible precautions, keep hold of your bags and do not have valuables on display.

Safes provided in hotels and guesthouses aren’t necessarily secure. Consider using your own lock where possible. Take care of your possessions if you’re travelling long distances, or overnight, by public transport. Be particularly vigilant travelling at night by bicycle or motorcycle, especially if you’re alone. Stick to well-used, well lit roads and carry a personal alarm if possible. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid unlit roads, especially if you’re alone.

Local law enforcement responses to crimes, even violent crimes, are often limited. Foreigners attempting to report crimes have reported finding police stations closed, emergency telephone numbers unanswered, or police lacking transportation or authorisation to investigate crimes that occur at night.

Political situation

Specific events or political disputes may trigger violent protests. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people. Keep yourself informed of local developments.

Local travel

Unexploded mines and ordinances are a hazard throughout Laos, and kill about 50 people each year. The risk is particularly high in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), Luang Prabang Province and areas of the Lao-Vietnamese border, formerly the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Mined areas are often unmarked. Don’t stray off main routes in rural areas, and don’t pick up metal objects.

Take care near the border with Burma. This is a well-known drugs trade-route where armed groups operate.

There have been small-scale clashes between anti-government groups and government troops in isolated areas along the Lao-Thai border. The local law enforcement agencies have limited capability to counter these threats.

You should get permission from the village chief, district head, provincial governor or national tourism authority for any travel perceived as out of the ordinary, including business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind.

You may be stopped by the police at any time, particularly in the evening, and asked to show identification papers before being allowed to travel on. You should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Xaisomboun Province and along Route 13 from Kasi to Phou Khoun as there have been a number of violent attacks in the area.

Drugs

There have been some incidents where tourists have had drinks or food spiked with drugs. Never leave food or drink unattended. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers at bars, clubs, restaurants and parties.

Air travel

A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

In 2015 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Laos.

We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.

A departure tax is now included in the price of the air ticket and is no longer paid separately in cash.

Road travel

Roads in Laos are in poor condition and vehicles are not generally maintained to UK standards. Other road users might not show the same level of consideration as in the UK. Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of an accident as vehicles often do not have lights. Livestock also stray on to the roads causing accidents.

Motorbike rentals might not automatically provide a helmet. Take extra care when using public transport or shared vehicles, which might be overcrowded and unsafe. You can report road accidents to a dedicated police number +856 20 5666 9090.

If you are involved in a road accident you will have to pay compensation for third party property damage and injury, even if you are not at fault. As a general rule, the Lao authorities will overwhelmingly find in favour of Lao citizens, regardless of the situation. Lao insurers only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and will not cover this compensation.

Water-based activities

Travel on the Mekong River by speedboat and slow-boat can be dangerous, especially when water levels are low. Make sure you travel with a company that provides lifejackets.

White water rafting, kayaking, tubing and other water-based activities, including swimming in the Mekong, are dangerous and incidents of drowning and serious injuries have been reported. Laos does not have the same health and safety expectations as in the UK. There might not be warning signs or safety advice provided, even where it’s needed. Take great care and check your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for these activities.

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

Visa conditions change regularly. For the most up to date information, contact the nearest Lao Embassy or Consulate.

You can get a visa on arrival for around US$35 or Thai Baht 1,500.00. You will need one passport photo. Alternatively, you can get a visa by contacting the Lao Embassy in London. Or if you are in the region, you can get a long-stay visa from the Lao Embassy in Bangkok or Hanoi.

When you enter Laos, make sure you get an entry stamp in your passport. Not having a legitimate entry stamp could lead to arrest or a large fine.

Regional travel

Recent changes to visa requirements for Thailand may affect travellers wishing to make regular crossings at the land border between Laos and Thailand. See Thailand Travel Advice for further information.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Laos.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents can’t be used to enter Laos. You can leave Laos using an Emergency Travel Document. If your passport has been lost or stolen, you must report the loss or theft to the nearest police station and get a police report. You’ll then need to get a certificate of loss from the Immigration Department in Vientiane which usually takes 1 to 2 working days.

After getting an Emergency Travel Document from the British Embassy, you’ll need to get an exit visa from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs which takes up to 3 days.

Local laws and customs

Don’t get involved with drugs. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of drugs are serious offences. Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty.

The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao family law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao national must be submitted in a formal application to the Lao authorities.  Penalties for engaging in prohibited sexual contact or failing to register a relationship range from US$500 to US$5,000 and may also involve imprisonment. It is not unknown for Lao authorities to demand entry into hotel rooms or guesthouses where they suspect this regulation is being broken.

Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and can result in arrest or detention. This includes photographing anything that can be perceived as a military site like bridges or airfields.

When visiting temples and religious sites, wear suitable clothing and be respectful of the Lao culture. For example refrain from photographing monks around temples and during alms giving ceremonies. Women should also cover their shoulders, including when swimming in waterfalls.

Health

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies. Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 1195 or 030 5257239 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment. You may be asked to pay for the use of an ambulance and any treatment you may require in advance. Usually you will get a receipt that can be used to claim on your insurance.

Voluntary ambulance services also operate in Vientiane free of charge. Make sure anyone attending an accident is wearing a uniform identifying themselves as ‘Vientiane Rescue’ or ‘Lao Red Cross’. There have been reports of bogus companies who aren’t trained in first aid charging for attending accidents.

Vientiane Rescue (telephone: 1623 or (0)20 5666 8825).

Lao Red Cross Rescue (telephone: +856 (0)20 5996 6111 or (0)20 2200 5563.

Please be aware that these phone lines and emergency services telephone numbers are not staffed by English speakers.

Water borne, food borne and other infectious diseases are common and serious outbreaks occur from time to time.

There have been outbreaks of avian influenza (also known as bird flu) in poultry in Laos. The risk to humans is very low, but as a precaution you should avoid contact with domestic, caged or wild birds and make sure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

Natural disasters

Monsoon season

The rainy season in Laos normally runs from May to November, coinciding with the typhoon season in South East Asia. Mountain areas are particularly vulnerable to landslides in the rainy season and flooding may occur along the Mekong river basins and elsewhere. The Mekong River Commission posts official updates on the Mekong River on their website. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time. Monitor local news and weather reports, and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation. See Tropical cyclones