Laos

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Introduction to Laos

Visas: Fifteen-day visas are now available for 30.00 on arrival at all official border crossings and at international airports in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, though you'll need to meet a series of conditions to get one. Fifteen-day and 30-day visas are generally issued through embassies, consulates and authorised travel agencies.

Health risks: cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario – only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don’t succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time), dengue fever (The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), Japanese B encephalitis (This mosquito-transmitted viral infection of the brain is a risk only in rural, rice-growing areas, and is thought to be a very low risk for travellers. It can be fatal, however, and may cause permanent brain damage in those who recover. There is an effective vaccine, and you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7

Dialling Code: 856

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

The best time to visit is between November and February - during these months it rains least and isn't too hot. If you're heading up into the mountains, May and July can also be pleasant. Roads can be washed out during rainy season (July to October), but there's plenty of river travel. Peak tourist months are December to February and during August, although there are relatively few visitors at any time.

Festivals in Laos are generally linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays. The Lunar New Year begins in mid-April and the entire country comes to a halt and celebrates. Houses are cleaned, offerings are made in wats and everyone gets dowsed by water. Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) takes place in May. It's an irreverent pre-Buddhist celebration with plenty of processions, music and dancing, accompanied by the firing of bamboo rockets to prompt the heavens to send rain. The week-long That Luang Festival in Vientiane in November has the whole repertoire of fireworks, candlelit processions and music.

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Fifteen-day visas are now available for 30.00 on arrival at all official border crossings and at international airports in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, though you'll need to meet a series of conditions to get one. Fifteen-day and 30-day visas are generally issued through embassies, consulates and authorised travel agencies.

Health risks: cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario – only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don’t succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time), dengue fever (The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), Japanese B encephalitis (This mosquito-transmitted viral infection of the brain is a risk only in rural, rice-growing areas, and is thought to be a very low risk for travellers. It can be fatal, however, and may cause permanent brain damage in those who recover. There is an effective vaccine, and you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7

Dialling Code: 856

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Festivals in Laos are generally linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays. The Lunar New Year begins in mid-April and the entire country comes to a halt and celebrates. Houses are cleaned, offerings are made in wats and everyone gets dowsed by water. Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) takes place in May. It's an irreverent pre-Buddhist celebration with plenty of processions, music and dancing, accompanied by the firing of bamboo rockets to prompt the heavens to send rain. The week-long That Luang Festival in Vientiane in November has the whole repertoire of fireworks, candlelit processions and music.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit is between November and February - during these months it rains least and isn't too hot. If you're heading up into the mountains, May and July can also be pleasant. Roads can be washed out during rainy season (July to October), but there's plenty of river travel. Peak tourist months are December to February and during August, although there are relatively few visitors at any time.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kip

Meals

Budget: US$0.50 -1

Mid-range: US$1-2

High: US$2-3

Deluxe: US$3+

Lodging

Budget: US$2.50-10

Mid-range: US$10-20

High: US$20-40

Deluxe: US$40+

Staying in Vientiane will cost you more than accommodation elsewhere - expect to pay from USD5.00 in the capital and about USD1.75 in the country for a basic room. In a flashier tourist hotel you'll pay from about USD15.00 a night, up to around USD60.00. An average meal will set you back less than USD2.00. All up, you could get by on USD8.00 a day, but that's for the rockiest of rock-bottom budgets. If you want air conditioning, hot water and foreign food, you'll be paying between USD25.00-USD75.00 a day.

The Lao kip is the only legal currency, but Thai baht and US dollars are regularly accepted, particularly in the cities. Often you'll be asked for kip for cheap purchases, baht for mid-range buys, and dollars if you want something expensive. In Vientiane you'll be able to change most major currencies, but in the country you should stick to US dollars or baht - you may also have trouble with travellers' cheques outside the capital. Banks will give you a better rate than moneychangers, and you'll get more for travellers' cheques than cash. If you're running low, the BCEL bank in Vientiane (tel: 213 200; cnr Th Fa Ngum and Th Pangkham; open daily) has an ATM which allows cash withdrawals from international credit cards.

There's no need to tip in Laos, except at upscale restaurants where around 10% is expected. If you're buying things in markets or hiring a vehicle, always bargain; at shops it's usually worth a try. Keep it low-key: Laotians are generally gentle hagglers.

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Attractions

Vientiane

The capital city and seat of government sits on a bend in the Mekong River amid fertile alluvial plains. Despite its chequered past, Vientiane (pronounced 'Wieng Chan' by the locals) is a laid-back city with a number of interesting wats and lively markets.

The most important national monument in Laos is Pha That Luang (the Great Sacred Stupa), which is a symbol of both Buddhism and Lao sovereignty. Other sights of interest include Wat Pha Kaew, a former royal temple which is now a museum, and Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in Vientiane.

Luang Prabang

This 'city' is just barely waking from a long slumber brought on by decades of war and revolution. Luang Prabang has only 16,000 residents and few concessions to 20th-century living, save for infrequent electricity and a few cars and trucks.

Its main tourist attractions are its historic temples - 32 of the original 66 built before French colonisation still stand - and its lovely setting encircled by mountains at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers. Sights include the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunlat. Just 25km (15.5mi) along the Mekong River are the famous Pak Ou caves, some of which are filled with Buddha images, while 29km (18mi) south of the town are the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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