Flag of Laos

Laos for beginners

The country in a nutshell


Lao currency is called kip (LAK). The exchange rate is around 8,000-9,000 to US$1. US cash and Thai baht is commonly used for larger purchases. Kip is a non-convertible currency, meaning once you have left Laos, it's useful only as wallpaper. Banks outside Laos will not accept nor exchange kip. International access ATMs dispensing US dollars can be found in most major tourist centres across the country.


Despite being one of the poorer nations on earth, Laos is a very safe country to travel in. Petty theft, particularly the snatch and grab variety, is a bit of a problem, but only really in the capital Vientiane. Drugs are readily available in some centres, notably Vang Vieng. Partakers should exercise a great degree of care as overdoses and deaths are not unheard of -- not to mention buying is illegal.


While corruption is an issue in Laos, the police can be of moderate assistance. Don't expect to be extorted as may happen in Cambodia. Most police will not speak English.


Anything more serious than a papercut or a hangover, get to Thailand for seriously good healthcare. Do not, repeat do not, undergo any serious medical treatment in a Lao hospital if you can avoid it. You have travel insurance right? This is what it is for.


Public transport is relatively comprehensive and inexpensive, but very, very 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 (if you can get your hands on one). Road quality, especially in the mountainous north, can be very patchy and in wet season landslides are not uncommon.


Yes, you will need a visa for Laos. See our Laos visa page for details.

Lao language

If you already speak some Thai, you'll find the basics of Lao not difficult to pick up. The two languages are related, but not all that close -- think Spanish to Italian rather than Spanish to French. Lao speakers tend to understand more Thai than Thais understand Lao, though that may have something to do with Lao being better listeners (and the economic underdogs)!


There are two seasons: the hot dry season and the hot wet season. Chances are if you're from anywhere outside the tropics, you'll find Laos to be very hot -- and sweaty. For detailed weather info, see our Laos weather page. The exception is the far north, especially Phongsali province, which can get downright cold, especially in the evenings.

Laos is a developing country

Don't expect the bus to leave on time, nor for your mojito to have ebough mint in it. The tourism industry is developing and considerable resources are being poured into training, particularly in Luang Prabang, but it will take time for Laos to really shine. Outside of the main tourist centres, don't be surprised by the complete lack of tourist infrastructure.

Laos is a wonderful country

Don't let the slow buses put you off. Laos is a fascinating destination. It takes a long time to get around -- especially in the north -- so don't try to bite off more than you can chew. In Laos, less is more: See fewer places for longer stretches and you'll have a better time.

  • Laap, the national dish of Laos

    Laap, the national dish of Laos

    Many of the standard dishes served around Laos are adaptations from Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese food ... Read more.

  • Staying safe in Laos

    Staying safe in Laos

    On the whole, Laos is not a dangerous country and Vientiane is safer than most Western capitals. Gang violence and sexual assault of travelers is virtually unheard of. ... Read more.

  • Holidays and festivals in Laos

    Holidays and festivals in Laos

    Laotians enjoy nothing more than a celebration. An exceptionally sociable lot, the Lao will use any occasion to gather together to eat, drink and be merry; here are a few of the most popular festivals and holidays in Laos ... Read more.

  • Swimming in Laos

    Swimming in Laos

    Laos is hot. Being landlocked and far from the sea leaves many wanting for the refreshment of a cool breeze and splash in whatever water they can find. ... Read more.

  • A guide to social etiquette in Laos

    A guide to social etiquette in Laos

    With their laidback attitude and a deep aversion to confrontation, the Lao are pretty tolerant of foreigners failing local social etiquette ... Read more.

  • Tam mak hoong: Spicy Lao papaya salad

    Tam mak hoong: Spicy Lao papaya salad

    Of the many dishes Laos has to offer, few epitomize Lao cuisine better than tam mak hoong, or papaya salad; it’d be difficult to avoid tasting this delicious dish at least once while travelling in the country. ... Read more.

  • Fresh fruit in Laos

    Fresh fruit in Laos

    Eating delicious fresh fruit is one of the great joys of travelling in Southeast Asia ... Read more.

  • Wet markets in Laos

    Wet markets in Laos

    Wet markets might be slowly disappearing, but for now they remain a pillar of Southeast Asian culture in many parts of the region. ... Read more.

  • Caffeine in Laos: A coffee (and tea) primer

    Caffeine in Laos: A coffee (and tea) primer

    Laos produces some exceptionally good coffee; some locals boast that it’s the best in the world ... Read more.

  • Love in Laos

    Love in Laos

    Courtship has its rules and customs in all countries and it helps to be aware of unforeseen cultural expectations. Here are some ground rules to keep in mind in Laos. ... Read more.

  • Awkward healthcare questions in Laos

    Awkward healthcare questions in Laos

    There are certain pharmaceutical and medical needs that travellers may have that are slightly awkward to satisfy — say, asking around Vientiane whether you can get the morning-after pill or miming to a pharmacist that you have intestinal worms ... Read more.

  • 3G internet in Laos

    3G internet in Laos

    Accessing the internet in Laos is possible pretty much right throughout the country via several options, including some hotels in the more remote towns, such as Phongsali, which offer decent WiFi connections ... Read more.

  • Healthcare in Laos

    Healthcare in Laos

    Laos has a rustic appeal to many travellers who enjoy getting away from the sealed and packaged amenities of the West ... Read more.

  • Loy Khatung: the night of the Naga

    Loy Khatung: the night of the Naga

    Every year the Lao observe Buddhist Lent for a three-month period, in which they (attempt to) abstain from alcohol and meat to honour the Buddha’s months of ascetic contemplation before he reached enlightenment under the bodhi tree ... Read more.


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