Laos travel advice

Cultural advice

Lesley Schofield from our supplier, All Points East, shares her advice on local culture:
“Though Lao people have a reputation for tolerance toward their foreign visitors, local people can be easily offended or embarrassed by visitors’ behavior. Basically, the way to behave correctly whilst in Laos is a matter of common sense and good manners – no different from how you would behave as guests in your own country, but a few specifics are worth pointing out. It is not necessary to learn a lot of vocabulary to be polite but a few words and a smile are always appreciated. Don’t speak or shout loudly, it is considered very bad manners. Do praise and thank people. Don’t get too drunk in public and do act discretely - overt shows of affection in public are also a no-no.”

Food advice

Amy Poulton from our supplier, Wayfairer Travel shares her Laos travel advice for foodies:
"Lao cuisine must be one of the most underrated in the whole of Southeast Asia. The people of Laos rely heavily on agriculture, so ingredients are always fragrant, fresh, farm-grown and packed full of flavour. Staple dishes feature meat such as buffalo, seasonal vegetables and indigenous herbs. Mealtimes are for sharing, with woven baskets of sticky rice served next to plates piled high with fiery papaya salad, hearty meat stews, smoky eggplant dip, spicy salsas, river weeds and stir-fried noodle dishes. You’ll most likely be sitting on cushions on the floor around a communal table. Roll your rice into a ball and eat with your hands, as the locals do.

The best way to sample traditional Lao food is with a cooking class, where you’ll pick your ingredients or buy them at a local market, before learning authentic techniques from Lao cooks. When eating out at restaurants, choose sharing platters of dips, fondue or other Lao favourites – and don’t miss out on larb, the national Lao dish, comprised of minced meat or fish with garlic and ginger. For desert, choose exotic fresh fruit, delicate French-style pastries, mango sticky rice with butterfly pea, or moreish coconut pancakes – then wash it all down with a classic Beerlao."


Packing advice

Lesley Schofield from our supplier, All Points East shares her advice on packing for Laos:
“In the north of Laos I think it surprises people that from November through to January can be chilly, so it’s best to pack fleece weight clothing if you’re heading north and for any trip it’s best to pack layers. Also, if you’re anywhere in Southeast Asia during the rainy season then take a small umbrella – coats are useless because it may be raining, but it’ll be hot. It’s better to pack long sleeves and long trousers too because Laos is a conservative country and it’s respectful to cover up where possible.”

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Health & safety in Laos

HEALTH

Visit your GP or travel clinic at least 6-8 weeks before departure to ensure you have all the necessary vaccinations and that they are up to date. The quality of medical care in Laos is generally poor. Most healthcare providers are badly equipped and unhygienic, with a limited supply of drugs. There is no guarantee that equipment will have been properly sterilised, especially in rural areas. You should avoid all but basic treatment or essential treatment in the event of an emergency Getting hold of medicines in rural Laos is practically impossible, it’s worth taking a first-aid kit with you. Include bandages, plasters, painkillers, rehydration sachets, medication for upset stomachs and antiseptic cream. The most common health hazard in Laos is water borne stomach infections and diarrhea, usually in a mild form, but uncomfortable given the lack of developed bathroom facilities. In both instances, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and replace lost salts with rehydration sachets. Tap water in Laos is generally not safe to drink. You should drink only bottled water and only accept ice that you know is from a safe source. Don’t underestimate the strength of the sun across the country, especially when travelling along the river. Temperature and humidity can take time to adjust to, so apply sunscreen regularly, wear loose clothing and drink lots of water.

SAFETY

Fortunately, travel in Laos is relatively safe and still largely free of the major bane of travel in other parts of Asia: begging. It’s never a bad idea to stay as safe as you can and there are ways to ensure your trip is as enjoyable and trouble free as possible. Your biggest threat in Laos is the country’s large problem with unexploded ordnance (mines) and certain rural areas remain off-limits because of this. Stick with your tour group and never wander off. It’s recommended that travellers to Laos keep their passport and valuable in a concealed money belt that they should wear at all times. Carry some photocopies of your passport incase identification is needed. Bag snatching has been known to occur in rural Laos. Never put your bag in the basket of a bicycle. Vang Vieng has become a bit of a hotspot for petty crime, so if you are part of a tour that visits there, just keep your wits about you and don’t drink too much! As with anywhere tainted by communism, the political situation in Laos is sensitive, so it’s best avoided as a topic of conversation in unfamiliar company. Homosexuality is not illegal in Laos, but is misunderstood and frowned upon. It’s advisable that same sex couples act discreetly at all times. For further information on health and safety in Laos, please visit the FCO or the CDC websites.

Laos tips from our travellers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Laos travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.
There is no hard walking or trekking - but you still need to be reasonably fit to climb mountainside steps.
- Vinod Mehta
“Travel light as there are a lot of one night stays” - Gillian Brassington

“A trip to Laos is a good mix of cultural and tourist places, adventure and something a bit special and unique from experiences with the locals.” - Amy Worthington

“Don’t worry too much about dirt, squat toilets and the like, just be prepared!” - Sarah Beddow

“Relax and go with the flow. Chill out for a while and watch the world go by you can be amazed at some of the sights right in front of you.” - David Conway
You don't have to eat anything you don't want to, but it is a real shame to be picky because sometimes the weirdest offerings are the most amazing!
- Alice Ross
“Go with an open mind, embrace the bargaining, the food and the culture.” - Matthew Blank

“I found the quality of the accommodation to be high, I had expected more basic sleeping arrangements.” - Peter Heath

"Have a sense of adventure and realise that Asia is different in so many ways to our western way of life.” - Bridie Brittain

“Be prepared for long bus journeys; we travelled 12 hours on a bus to Vientiane and 6 hours the next day to Vang Vieng. It was a bit much.” - Lucy Charlotte Brand
Written by Polly Humphris
Photo credits: [Page banner: NICOLA MESSANA PHOTOS] [Cultural advice: bluebird666] [Food advice: Takeaway] [Health & Safety: Francisco Anzola] [Vinod Mehta quote: McKay Savage] [Alice Ross quote: r chelseth]
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