These are just a few thoughts based on our month in Laos, it’s not a definitive guide, just a few of the things we learned on our travels, and answers a few of the questions that always seem to be asked in the Forums. In no particular order :
Laos currency is the “Kip” and it’s a nightmare. 100 Pounds or Euros very roughly equates to 1,000,000 Laos kip. Good luck with all the banknotes! Coins aren’t used. Make sure you check the amount of zeros on your notes when you’re paying for something. We came to Laos armed with lots of US dollars, and while these do seem to be accepted in places, the Laos Kip is the main currency in use. Credit cards are accepted in a few places but probably the exception rather than the rule.
ATMs – there’s always plenty of ATMs about, however you’ll always be charged 20/30,000 kip (£2/ £3) for each withdrawal. Be aware however, there are no ATMs on the 4000 Islands, make sure you take all the cash you’re likely need, else you’ll have to hop on a ferry back to the mainland and ATMs.
Getting around – there are no trains in Laos so unless you’ve got your own transport, or you’re going to fly, it’s all down to buses, vans, Songthaew, and Tuk Tuks. The main bus network is pretty good, where ever you go you’ll see boards setting out the main towns and cities usually with the prices for the buses and vans. We’d recommend if you going to book a long distance trip, do it through the hotel you’re staying at and they’ll make sure you get picked up on time. Well – sort of on time, don’t expect anything to happen exactly when it should! If you’re going really long distances the sleeper buses are actually quite good, and with flat mattresses you can really get some sleep on the journey. If you’re single however, watch out, you might find yourself sharing your skinny mattress with a stranger! For the smaller local journeys the local bus network is great, just turn up at the bus stations and find the bus that’s going to your destination. Where there’s not a bus, or sometimes working alongside the same routes as the local buses, are the songthaews,. These are basically vans, that have been converted to have seats in the back truck bed. Expect to be sharing your journey with lots of locals, their weekly shopping, and maybe the odd chicken or two! As with the tuk tuks, make sure you ask the price before you set off on your journey, and pay when you arrive at your destination. Enjoy, the Songtheaw are a fun way to travel
Dogs! Where ever you go there’ll be loads of dogs, everywhere! Laos people seem to love their dogs and there’s always lots of big dogs and little pups running around. There seems to be a perennial train of male dogs marching along the roads with some sort of purposeful destination in mind, usually a female, who can often be found sitting with their backs to the wall. By and large, the dogs just ignore everybody, and for the amount of dogs about there’s surprisingly little mess. Ignore the dogs, and they’ll ignore you, but take a few tips on how they cross the road, they’re experts.
SIM Cards – There’s plenty of phone shops around even in the smallest villages, and it’s easy enough to get yourself a local Laos SIM card. We travel with a small MiFi box, it cost us £22 for a SIM with 60G of data for 30 days. There were lots of cheaper options available. for less data or less days. If you don’t want to buy a Sim card, pretty much all of the hostels, hotels and eateries provide free Wi-Fi.
Safety – In our travels in Laos we’ve only ever seen two policemen but we’ve never ever felt nervous for our safety. When we travel, we like to walk a lot, through all parts of the towns and villages, the nicest parts as well as the poorest parts. We take the same sensible precautions as we would at home, don’t go wandering down dark unlit alleyways at night etc, but in our experience we’ve found Laos extremely safe.
Beer. BeerLao is the national beer, it’s very drinkable and not expensive – a 660ml bottle in a restaurant won’t cost much more than £1.40.
Dust. Laos is a really dry country, and the roads are really dusty. The fine red dust can be really unpleasant at times. If you’re doing a lot of travelling along the roads, consider getting a couple of face masks from the pharmacy.
Medicines – there are tons of pharmacies about where you can buy most of the everyday medical supplies you’re likely to need very cheaply. If you need some advice, go to one of the larger pharmacies – they usually speak good English.