Introduction to Laos
Here is a brief background on
Laos, the little-known South East Asian country locally referred to simply as
Lao, or Lao PDR.
The official name is Lao People's Democratic Republic. Learn a
little about Lao's recent political history.
As can be seen on the map of Laos below, the country with an area of
236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles) is landlocked, surrounded by
Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar).
The mighty Mekong River is the main waterway for the country. The Lao population
in 2006 was around 6.4 million people from 47 different ethnic groups.
It has been increasing at 2.4% annually to an estimated 7
million in 2010.
Over eighty percent of the population of Laos inhabit the rural and
mountainous areas and rely on subsistence farming. Development
in 15 of the 19 provinces has been hampered partly by the dumping of
600,000 bombs by US forces during the Vietnam War.
below to see more Lao maps with greater detail.
Areas of interest to
are likely to be either the current capital
or the tiny capital of the former Lao Kingdom, now a UNESCO World Heritage
is a small but growing tourist location, popular with foreign
students and backpackers who fill its many cheap restaurants,
internet cafes and shops and more than a hundred guesthouses. River
tube-rafting 'pub-crawling' and swimming are popular daytime activities. Vang Vieng is a three-hour bus ride
from Vientiane on a scenic drive north towards Luang Prabang and beyond
to Vietnam and China. The road south from the capital follows the
Mekong River to Savannakhet and Pakse with several
crossing points into Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
The countryside is Lao's most attractive feature, and seeing the
simple existence of the local inhabitants of the rural areas –
mostly subsistence rice farmers. The
country is primarily unspoilt and although road and river trips may
be long and rather slow, the scenery makes it all worthwhile.
the residents of Vientiane is very different from that of the rural
folk, especially those in the poorer areas of the North, because as the
capital and seat of government, it contains a relatively small but visible class of prosperous
urban elite, drawn from French colonial and royalist
government days, government personnel as well as foreigners from the
various international joint venture and aid projects now in
Laos Travel Adventures
by Janet Arrowood
Land-locked Laos, listed
as one of the world's poorest countries, has been dependent on
foreign assistance for its economic survival since 1975, the year it
became a socialist republic, modelled along the lines of its
neighbour and ally Vietnam. The Lao Foreign Minister
declared on Radio Vientiane that the Lao PDR received an
estimated $3.465 billion in foreign aid from the former Soviet Union
and other donors between 1975 to 1990, and nearly $3 billion from
foreign donors between 1991 and 2005. Since the demise of the USSR,
Laos has turned increasingly to Western donors such as the World
Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, United
Nations and Western democracies in the aftermath the collapse of the
Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Within Asia, China and Vietnam as
well as Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand all play important
A dry-season 'beach' on the Mekong
It is estimated that foreign aid
accounts for 70 - 80 percent of the Lao annual budget.
Private enterprise is increasing significantly as a more Thai/Western-style consumer-oriented
'middle-class' evolves, such as has already taken place 'across the river'.
New businesses are springing up around the main urban areas and
roads systems are improving (with foreign assistance). The economy appears to be thriving, when
observed from cities.
October 2010, the Lao Securities Exchange Commission opened
its new building which is located almost opposite the Lao ITECC
Centre. The Laos Stock Exchange is a joint venture between
Laos (51%) and South Korea (49%) and will begin
trading early in 2011.
About 30 companies are expected to be listed
including Electricité du Laos (EDL), Lao Telecom (LaoTel), State
Fuel Enterprise, Lao Air, Lao Airlines, Enterprise Telecommunication
Lao (ETL), Lao World Group, Dao Heuang Group and the Lao Brewery
Learn more about
Lao life, including night time entertainment, and
Vientiane and Luang Prabang accommodation and restaurants.
View from the 6th floor (top) of Vientiane's
ANZ Laos bank building.
First impressions are often the most lasting
visa on arrival
for the Lao PDR
is now available at any border crossing or river port-of-entry for
between US$30 and $45 depending on nationality.
While it may seem a little rash to visit a new country for the first time
and then just decide to stay, some want to do just that!
They enjoy themselves so much, they are reluctant to leave. Lao
has that effect on some people!
Compared to many countries in Asia and
beyond, the cost of living is very low. You can choose a style of
living to suit any budget. If you're concerned only with the basics you
rent a room (even a whole house – with some
buying your food already cooked in the many shops and restaurants, or fresh from local markets,
surviving on a few hundred dollars a month if you needed to. Many Lao people live on
far less than that – and party with their friends often! At the other end of the scale are modern Western-style houses
for $500 upwards per month, and serviced apartments in the city. Even this type of accommodation is a fraction of the price
of the equivalent in many other Asian countries.
As far as staying in the Lao PDR is concerned, one should definitely pay a holiday visit
first before deciding on a permanent move. You can check prices and make bookings for recommended hotels in
Luang Prabang, some of which will offer rates for long term
residence too. But it's wise to spend a few nights before committing
yourself! Booking online gets you much better rates than walking in to the
Road or River Entry into Lao
crossings on the Mekong River, from Thailand or Vietnam, but the most
popular by far is at Nongkhai in Thailand, accessible by
sleeper train from Bangkok or by
bus. Thai Airways and discount
carriers fly from Bangkok and Chiangmai, and now Singapore, to Udonthani.
From there it's a 40 minute airport bus ride to Nongkhai on the Mekong River
which forms the border between Thailand and Laos. A shuttle bus
service operates across the river using the Friendship Bridge. Then
it's 25km to the centre of Vientiane by tuk tuk, taxi or bus.
In December 2006 a
second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge opened in the south of the country
linking Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand. The
East-West Corridor route originates in central Vietnam's shipping port of
Da Nang and runs north along Vietnam's National Highway 1 to Dong Ha,
linking Vietnam and the Lao PDR via National Highway 9. The new 1.6 km
bridge connects Vietnam and Thailand via Laos,
giving Lao access to ports in both countries. Cars travelling across the
bridge are charged 50 baht and
trucks 350 baht.
International flights to Lao operate from
Thailand, Vietnam, China (Kunming) and Taiwan;
Luang Prabang or Bangkok to
which is quickest and easiest, but
more expensive. Many airlines fly into Bangkok of course, so Lao is
Lao travel and
for further detail, and other pages on the menu bar.
wanting to spend time in the Lao PDR
(or any foreign country) should consider a medical insurance plan from a reliable international
insurer like Goodhealth Worldwide who offer
free instant quotes
and online application for various levels of cover. Laos in particular has
very limited medical facilities.
Visitors are now welcomed in
As a tourist or more permanent resident,
there's no need to be unduly concerned about the police or personal safety, provided you
are not involved with political dissent, religion or drugs. Visiting places and following the usual pursuits, neither tourists nor residents will attract undue interest from the local authorities.
Embassy and travel warnings of terrorist insurgents on some roads are not
only exaggerated but often out of date.
can be considered as low-paid government employees rather than civil servants. They rarely solve problems or
offer assistance in emergencies.
In the cities especially, they supplement their income by 'spot' fining drivers
for misdemeanours. You might be stopped and asked to show your papers because they will
say these are not in order or insist you have done something wrong, such as
making an 'illegal' free right turn or run a red light; locals do it all the time of course.
They are just ‘hungry’ and want you to pay for their next meal. You
smile, offer them up to five dollars, even if they ask for more, and can
usually be on
alternative is confiscation of your licence which will need to be retrieved
it from the police station on payment of a heavier fine. This will be more
time-consuming and frustrating than smiling and offering to pay on the spot. It's just one of the irritations
of many Asian countries including Thailand, Indonesia (especially Bali), and the Philippines.
Buddha Caves on the Mekong River near Luang
who visits Laos finds it both intriguing and enjoyable
Travellers in Asia have always found Lao a fascinating place to visit, with attractive, friendly
and hospitable people and a wide range of accommodation for all pockets. Visit a
Laos travel forum to confirm this. In spite of losing some of its backwater charms,
Laos has not changed too much for the worse, and is still
a long way behind Thailand in terms of infrastructure and public services.
Although things move slowly in general, technology has advanced
quickly, with ubiquitous mobile phones and internet cafes
in most centres including some WiFi hotspots in main towns.
ADSL and wireless broadband are
available in Vientiane.
There are Western-style super
and mini markets, with fresh bread, milk and imported toiletries and other
items, of interest to tourists and residents alike. All in all, Vientiane is still a unique jewel in Asia. Anything unavailable locally can
easily be bought in
has a full range of shops including a large well-stocked Tesco
(Lotus), and just a short trip across the Friendship Bridge. This is
an easy way to get a
new tourist visa too. For long term stay, $30 or more every month, although not
excessive, will fill up your passport pages pretty quickly. There are better options
one-year business visa.
You will learn more after settling in about Lao
government bureaucracy, and ways around it! Our Lao
Travel page has more information on visas and transport.
BTOS is jointly managed by EDF-Lao and EDF-Thailand,
a decades-old registered NGO that has distributed educational support to
over 300,000 needy children. You can help too.
Vientiane and Laos
Best places to see and stay in Vientiane (traveller reviews).
More about Vientiane Hotels
Vientiane by Night and Making Friends in Lao