Laos

Landlocked and to some extent ‘culture-locked’, Laos possesses both Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment and possibly its most culturally intact heritage.

More than any other destination a visit to Laos provides the visitor with a sense of going back to a more relaxed time where the urgency of modern life is wonderfully absent.

Even in the capital Vientiane, life ambles along only a little faster than the languid Mekong river flows by the city’s charming riverfront.

In the historic royal city of Luang Prabang – a Unesco World Heritage site – hundreds of monks in saffron robes glide between centuries old temples unperturbed by the growing number of visitors gazing on in silence at a scene they thought only existed in films.

Luxurious boutique hotels in Luang Prabang serve exquisite food in historically preserved settings, drawing on French and local culinary traditions.

Beyond the cities visitors can discover the haunting Plain of Jars and the majestic Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don) where the Mekong river expands and its waters gather pace.

For the more intrepid traveller more active, but no less rare, experiences of tropical adventure can be had in jungles seemingly untouched by the passage of time.

In fact wherever you go in Laos there is a sense that this chapter in its history where locals and foreigners can meet with such equanimity may not last long.

So visit now, for the unique appeal of Laos will soon reach far and wide and inevitably a rush of sightseers will impact what, for the moment, remains a most beguiling and inspiring land.

Click any city on the map to view city's information and attraction highlights

Capital city

The capital city of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR is the official name of Laos) is Vientiane.

Size

Inland area: 236,800 Km2.

Geographical Situation

Located towards the east of the peninsula of what was known as Indochina with no access to the sea, Laos shares its borders with China to the North, Myanmar to the North-West, Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the South and Vietnam to the East. An estimated 70% of the total area is dominated by rugged mountains, dense jungle and plateau. Peaks rise from 1500 to 2500 m, the highest one being the Phu Bia at 2820 m. The Mekong River, which still remains the main transportation link, extends 1800 km. Areas cultivated are located along the Mekong plain, where half of the population is concentrated.

Population

Laos has 6.5 million inhabitants with an average density of 27 inhabitants/km2.

48% of the population is Lao, 14% tribal Thai, 13% Sino Tibetan (including the Hmong and Yao ethnic minorities), 24% Mon-Khmer and 1% Vietnamese and Chinese.

There are actually a lot of different ethnic minorities groups (69) in Laos but most of them belong to the three main categories: The Lao Loum, the Lao Theung and the Lao Sung.

85% of the population lives in the countryside.

The dominant religion is Buddhism (65% of the population). There is a small community of Catholics while the rest of the population is animist. 

Language

The official language is Lao. In addition to the dialects of Lao, numerous closely related languages (or dialects, depending on the classification) are spoken throughout the Lao-speaking realm in Laos and Thailand, such as the Nyaw, Phu Thai, Saek, Lao Wieng, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng.

Currency

The official currency is the Lao Kip (L-KIP). US dollars or Thai Baht are accepted in the main cities as are Euros in banks and for payment in some hotels and restaurants in major cities.

The exchange rate is US$ 1 = 8167 Laos KIP, and 1 Euro = 8751 Laos KIP (Exchange rate update in September 2015).

Traveller’s cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2% to 5% transaction fee. 

Visa and Master cards are accepted now in most hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and in a few restaurants and shops in the main towns (Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse), but can also be subject to 2% to 5% transaction fees.

You can also get cash advances with your credit card either from ATMs or from foreign exchange offices (subject to 2% to 5% transaction fees). 

Depending on the country you are travelling from, the best advice is to bring either cash in USD or Euro. Note that exchange rates for small and big notes vary, so we would recommend you to bring some small notes in US dollars to cope with initial expenses on arrival then either 100 USD or 100 Euro bank notes.

Be careful, banks and foreign exchange offices do not usually take old, scribbled or even stained bank notes. Please check opening hours, as some banks close at 4 pm.

Climate

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with two seasons: dry from October to April and rainy from May to September. Temperatures vary according to altitude and can be very cold in mountainous areas from November to February.