Laos

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ShermansTravel experts rely on years of collective travel experience to bring you the best money-saving tips for your vacation. We take a discerning look at all the attraction passes, public transportation options, and other local bargains to make sure you get the most bang for your buck while traveling.

Laos Money-Saving Tips

Visa

Visas are issued on arrival at the airports and at the Friendship Bridge border crossings for US$35. An additional passport photograph is required. Visas are valid for one month. There is also a $10 departure tax at airports.

Currency

The Laos currency is the kip, currently somewhere around 10,000 to $1. Money can easily be exchanged at booths in most towns. However, Thai baht and US dollars are accepted in most shops and restaurants.

Moving around town

The ubiquitous tuk-tuk is a good option for zipping around Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Ensure that you settle a price before you begin the journey. Drivers can also be hired for a day. The most convenient way to travel around Vientiane is to rent a scooter or bicycle. A good motorcycle can be rented for $6 a day.

Traveling by bus

Bus travel in Laos is cheap and easy. Buses leave on regular schedules from all major towns. The most comfortable option is the VIP air-conditioned bus. There are also several reputable private tour companies that offer the service of a minivan and driver. Minivans can also be booked through all travel agents in major towns (see More Info).

Language

At travel agencies, restaurants, boutiques, and with taxi drivers, you will be understood in English, but elsewhere it can be struggle. This is especially so in small towns and villages. Phrase books are available, but as Lao is a tonal language, you will find them as good as useless. For travel in rural areas you are advised to hire an English-speaking guide through a local tour company.

Where to buy silk

Laos is renowned for the quality of its hand-woven silk. When in Vientiane, head for the morning market, known locally as the Talat Sao, for the best selection of silk in the country.

Massage

After a long day of sightseeing or traipsing around the morning market, there is no better way to relax than with a traditional Lao massage. There are many massage shops scattered around Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Guesthouses and hotels across the country can also arrange massages for guests.

Safety

In general, Laos is an extremely safe country. The people are welcoming and friendly. Disagreements can easily be diffused with a smile. Theft, however, is becoming increasingly common in Vientiane and you should exercise a little caution and common sense when travelling alone at night.

The cuisine

Lao food is a delicious, spicy and healthy cuisine that includes steamed fish, grilled meats, and a variety of vegetables accompanied by steamed or sticky rice. Although most of it will be unfamiliar, be adventurous. Fur is a staple noodle broth, usually containing beef and served with bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Try sin savan (sundried buffalo meat with jaow, a roasted chilli paste). The Vietnamese dish naem nueang is a great communal meal, and involves wrapping meatballs up in rice paper with herbs and spices.

Local customs

Lao people are very welcoming, and your attempts understanding the culture will make your visit all the more rewarding. Spiritually, the head is the highest point of the body and Lao people are very sensitive about being touched here. Do not touch someone’s head, even in jest. Likewise, the feet are the lowest part of the body, so don’t touch people with your feet or point to things with your feet.

Dress appropriately

Always dress appropriately when visiting temples (no shorts or strap T-shirts) and act in a respectful manner, removing your shoes before entering the main buildings.

Get wet at New Year!

If you are in Laos during April, expect to get wet! The Lao New Year (Boun Pi Mai) is celebrated from April 13-16 and involves cleansing Buddha images in the temples and mass water fights in the streets.

Alms Giving Festival

That Luang, one of the biggest religious festivals in Vientiane, should not be missed if you’re in the city in November. Held at the That Luang temple, hundreds of monks gather to accept alms from the people.

Beer Lao

Laos is rightly proud of its beer. Indeed, it’s one of the best brews in Southeast Asia. Beer Lao accounts for 95 percent of beer sold in the country.

Baguettes for Breakfast

A legacy of the French colonial days is the baguette. Sold on street corners all over Vientiane, it is given the Lao touch with a filling of pate, pork, raw papaya and chilli sauce. A memorable and totally delicious breakfast!

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