Having never enjoyed the same distinction as a travel destination as some of its more frequent neighbours like Thailand and Vietnam, Laos offers many treasures for the traveler seeking to get away from the bustle found elsewhere.
From the laid-back capital of Vientiane, the rich monastic tradition of Luang Prabang, the mysterious Plain of Jars and the backpacker haven of Vang Vieng, Laos benevolent beauty is a medicine that should be tasted.
Here are a collection of pointers from those who've been to help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time while in Laos.
1. Stay on the Beaten Track
Many people worry about landmines, but if you stick to heavily touristed areas, they have been cleared. Exercise more caution should you decide to do more independent ventures. As usual for developing countries, leave expensive jewelry, purses, etc., at home. While it seems and sounds remote, Laos is a quick flight from Bangkok, where one can receive world class medical care.
2. Boiled and Well-done
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
3. Needles Needed
Hepatitis E occurs and hepatitis B is highly endemic and dengue fever, tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis are known to occur so be sure you are up to date on your vaccines before you travel.
4. Cash is Still King
Have a few spare notes of US Dollars or Thai Baht just in case, but the local currency the Kip is now widely acceptd and trusted. Laos has ATM machines, but they can be sparsely located in Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vientianne and Vang Vieng. Credit cards can be used in higher end tourist shops, hotels and restaurants, but keep cash with you. With the exchange rate it's easy to be a Kip millionaire, try to not let all those zeroes confuse you. If you're changing currency at the kiosks in major cities, make sure to count all the notes to make sure you haven't been short-changed.
5. Mindful Motorcycling
Motorcycle travel in Laos is not without risks but the rewards of truly independent travel are great. There are several rental shops in Vientiane only and bike rentals in other parts of the country are few. Quality of machines varies from shop to shop so you need to fully inspect your new friend before you head out on the road. There are many good roads and many paved ones and touring Laos is done easily. Most bikes in Laos are Honda Baja or XR 250 dual purpose bikes and anything else is usually mechanically questionable. Helmets are not only mandatory in the country but a valuable item in a place where traffic rules are made up by the minute. Police have been cracking down on people who do no have a motorcycle license, so expect to pay a fine if caught without one.
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