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Laos travel guide

BORDER CROSSINGS

In addition to the international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse, there are numerous land and river crossings into Laos. The busiest is the Friendship Bridge, which spans the Mekong River 29 km (12 miles) east of Vientiane. Other border crossings from Thailand to Laos are: Chiang Khong to Huay Xai (by ferry across the Mekong River); Nakhon Phanom to Tha Khek; Mukdahan to Savannakhet; and Chongmek to Vang Tao. You can also enter Laos from Cambodia at Voeung Kam; and from Mohan, in China's Yunnan Province, at Boten.
Border crossings are open daily 8:30 to 5, except for the Friendship Bridge, which is open daily 6 to 10.

GETTING ORIENTED
 
Boxed in by China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos is geographically divided into three regions, each with its chief city: northern Laos and Luang Prabang, central Laos and Vientiane, southern Laos and Pakse. About 90% of Laos is mountainous, so once you leave Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and the southern lowlands you're in true off-the-beaten-track territory. Luang Prabang is the best base for single or multiday trekking, biking, and river-rafting expeditions.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Laos's health care is nowhere near to Thailand's. If you will be traveling extensively, consider buying international health insurance that covers evacuation to Thailand.
 
Take the same health precautions in Laos that you would in Thailand. Pharmacies are stocked with Thai antibiotics and often staffed with assistants who speak some English. Vientiane is malaria-free, but if you're visiting remote regions, consider taking prophylactics. HIV is widespread in border areas. Reliable Thai condoms are available in Laos.
 
Laos is fairly free of crime in tourist areas. Pickpocketing is rare, but you should still be careful in crowded areas. Never leave luggage unattended.
 
Penalties for drug possession are severe. Prostitution is illegal, and $500 fines can be levied against foreigners for having sexual relations with Lao citizens (how this is enforced is unclear, but even public displays of affection may be seen as shady behavior).
 
In the countryside, trekkers should watch out for unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War, especially in Xieng Khuang and Hua Phan provinces, and in southern Laos. Don't wander off well-traveled trails. Better yet, trek with a qualified guide. Do not photograph anything that may have military significance, like airports or military installations.

MONEY MATTERS

The currency is the Lao kip (LAK), which comes in relatively small notes (the largest denomination equals about $12). Though the kip has stabilized in recent years, and most prices are now listed in kip, we've chosen to list all hotel rates in U.S. dollars. The Thai baht is accepted in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and border towns. It's best to carry most of your cash in dollars or baht and exchange relatively small amounts of kip as you travel. At this writing, the official exchange rate is approximately 260 kip to the Thai baht and 8,000 kip to one U.S. dollar.
 
There are now ATM machines throughout the country so changing money isn't a big issue anymore. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and some restaurants, but few shops. Banks in major tourist destinations will provide a cash advance on a MasterCard or Visa, typically for a 5% service charge. Western Union has branches in Vientiane and other major towns.

TRANSPORTATION
1.Air travel

Most of the country's mountainous terrain is impenetrable jungle; the only practical way to tour the country in less than a week is by plane. Bangkok Air has daily flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang; Thai Air flies to Vientiane; and Lao Airlines runs frequent (and slightly more expensive) flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, as well as provincial cities including Pakse and Savannakhet.
 
A cheap and convenient route to is to fly Air Asia from Bangkok to either Ubon Ratchatani or Udon Thani and then cross the border by land, putting you in Vientiane or Pakse in less than an hour.

2.Boat travel
 
Running virtually the entire length of the country, the Mekong River is a natural highway. Because all main cities lie along the Mekong, boats offer an exotic but practical way to travel. The most popular water route is between Huay Xai (on the Thai border) and Luang Prabang. More adventurous travelers can board boats in Huay Xai or Pak Tha to travel up the Nam Tha River to Luang Nam Tha. Two luxury vessels ply the Mekong: the Vat Phu(Pakse) and the Luang Say(River Journey to Huay Xai).
 
3.Bus travel
 
A network of bus services covers almost the entire country. Though cheap, bus travel is slow and not as comfortable as in Thailand. VIP buses, which connect Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse, are somewhat more comfortable—they have assigned seats and more legroom, and make fewer stops. Minivans have also become common between cities, and are priced about the same as buses and a bit quicker, not to mention they pick up directly from hotels. There are now sleeper buses between Vientiane and Pakse, though beds are less than 6 feet long and tall folks may want to buy both spots (in what is essentially one shared small bed).

4.Car travel
 
Although it's possible to enter Laos by car or motorbike and drive around on your own, it's not recommended, as driving conditions are difficult: nearly 90% of the country's 14,000 km (8,700 miles) of roads are unpaved; road signs are often indecipherable; and accidents will invariably be considered your fault. A better alternative is to hire a car and driver for about $50 per day. 
 
5.Songthaew And Tuk-tuk travel
 
Tuk-tuks and songthaews cruise the streets and are easy to flag down in most towns. Lao tuk-tuk drivers can be unscrupulous about fares, especially in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Do not believe the "official" prices placard displayed by drivers in Vientiane. Don't get into a tuk-tuk before you've agreed on a fare and don't negotiate in dollars (get a quote in kip or baht). Finally, never pay more than you would for a comparable ride in Thailand.
 

 

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