First on your list should be an open mind and a sense of humour. Don't come with too many preconceived ideas about what Laos is like, as media and friends' experiences have a habit of distorting reality.
Otherwise, bring as little as possible. Most things can probably bought in Bangkok if you're passing through on your way in. Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your sacred belongings, even in your hotel room.
Essentials start with a day pack and a raincoat or umbrella in the rainy season. You will only need a couple of changes of clothes as you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Remember dark clothes do not need to be washed as often, as long as you do not have a BO problem or sweat profusely. Sandals are a good idea as the climate is too hot for boots. These are best bought before arriving. Pack shoes you can easily and frequently remove such as flip flops, thongs or sandals, for when you enter houses, temples and some shops.
A good map is a good idea. GT-Riders produce a detailed one of all the roads in Laos, with decent town centre information. This is widely available incountry.
Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won't have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Travel scrabble can be great, or a pack of cards. Cigarette rolling papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Tampons are not commonly available, and can be bought only in a few expat grocery stores.
A spare pair of prescription glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription is a good idea. Bring a book you're prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as music is fairly easily available.
Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Condoms, of course. Passport photos come in handy for visas.
If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Vientiane. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.
Aside from the above, the following are essential:
Passport with minimum 6 month validity left
Blood donor/type card
Details of your next of kin
Prescriptions for any medication you require. Most chemists will sell medicine over the counter without a script, but if you are searched by immigration it's good to be able to show you require what you're carrying.
A second photo ID other than your passport
Please find below some of the more frequently asked questions (FAQ) people have about travelling to Laos. We've tried to answer all the most frequently asked questions, but if you have another query about Laos, please try our Travelfish messageboard.
Is it possible to rent rooms or dormitories for longer periods of time while travelling in Laos?
Rooms: Is a fan room ok, or should I budget for air-on?
Should I take my own padlock for the door of my room while travelling in Laos?
What should I do if a bag is stolen from my room or dormitory while travelling in Laos?
What standard of accommodation can I expect for US$5 in Laos?
Why are there so few dormitories in Laos?
Why are there so few hostels in Laos?
Can I drink the tap water in Laos?
How can I avoid MSG in Laos?
How do I avoid peanuts in Laos?
I have a food allergy -- what should I do when travelling in Laos?
Is there good vegetarian food in Laos?
Is western food available in Laos?
How reliable is the public bus system?
Is it easy to hitch-hike in Laos?
Is it easy to rent a car or motorcycle in Laos?
Should I get a tourist minibus in Laos?
Which is better, speedboat or slow boat?
Are credit cards accepted in Laos?
Are there ATMs in Laos?
Can I send money out of Laos?
How can I have money sent to me in Laos?
Should I bring travellers cheques, credit/debit cards or cash to Laos?
Should I tip in Laos?