Laos is 7 hours ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight saving.
The voltage in Laos is 220AC, 50HZ. Plugs are not standard as many electical products are imported from China and Thailand. As such all sort of socket variations exist. The most common types found are: 2 flat prong (type A), the 2 round pin (type C) plugs. To cover all bases, it is best to pack an international travel adaptor!
The official Laos currency is known as the Lao Kip, although three currencies are used interchangeably for everyday transactions. These are Kip, Thai baht and US Dollars. All major currencies are exchangeable in the main towns but USD is the most useful currency (cash) to hold as it can be exchanged and used in most places. Dollar bills must be in good condition and not torn or ripped.
In smaller towns and villages, Kip is usually preferred. The rule of thumb is that for everyday small purchases, prices are quoted in Kip. ATMs are only available in Vientiane, Vangvieng and Luang Prabang and dispense a maximum of approx USD$70 (in Kip) at any one time - it isn't advisable to rely upon them as they are commonly not working. Licensed money changers exist in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Their rates are similar to the banks and they stay open longer. We recommend you take a mixture of cash (preferably USD) and credit/ debit cards for ATMs.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Laos from your local health practitioner and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Tetanus, Typhoid, Hep A, Diptheria and Polio are recommended.
There is the risk of malaria in parts of Laos so it is very important to check with your doctor before you go, to see whether malarial medication is required for the areas you are visiting. Yellow fever is not present in Laos but a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from those travelling from an infected region.
Tap water in Laos is not considered safe to drink. It's recommended to only drink bottled mineral water, which is readily available in hotels, shops and restaurants.
Lao food, like its Thai neighbour, is simple, fresh and flavoursome. Sticky rice rather than steamed rice is the main staple. Almost all of Lao dishes are cooked with fresh ingredients whether they are vegetables, chicken, duck, pork, fish and beef. Som tum, a spicy green papaya salad is a signature dish as is Larb, made with diced chicken, pork, fish or vegetables tossed with lime juice, garlic, powdered rice, green onions, mint leaves and chillies.
With a French colonial influence delightful French pastries and croissants can be found on most street corners in addition to local favourites of barbecued pork, beef jerky (Sinh Savan) and meatballs. International cuisine is also popular and top gourmet restaurants without the price tag can be found in most major cities and tourist hot spots.
Beer Lao is the lager of choice. Whiskeys, vodkas and wines are also served in hotels and restaurants though air on the side of caution as the quality does vary. Strong black coffee is drunk with condensed milk as it is in Vietnam and Cambodia though often comes accompanied with warm water or a light tea. Fruit juices are easily available and taste good. Fresh fruit juices pulped in front of you are even better. International brand soft drinks, imported from Thailand are inexpensive and can be found everywhere.
Popular souvenirs from Laos include handicrafts and textiles. One of the largest and best markets in Vientiane is Talaat Sao where you can get everything from electrical goods, fabrics, silverware, gems and gold. Local markets and minority villages are a good place to shop at bargain prices, while cities and towns also have larger tourist markets and shops that offer a wide range of local handicrafts from around the country.
The art of weaving is still very much a home industry in Laos, where some of the finest silk and cotton weavers in the world can be found in the smallest of communities. Antique woven pieces are still available but are becoming increasingly rare, often fetching very high prices.
Hand woven textiles are made from locally produced silk and cotton and traditional designs and patterns vary from province to province. Saa paper is made from the mulberry tree and its bark. Like many things in Laos, it is made by hand and is very labour intensive. However the results are intricately layered sheets of paper produced to make photo albums, notebooks and paper and envelope sets.
The crafting of gold and silver jewellery is another skill at which the Lao people excel. Many of the best examples of silver jewellery come from the hill tribes, the standouts being chunky bangles, pendants, belts and earrings. In more remote areas the language barrier can restrict negotiations!