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Laos Travel guides

The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of Laos’ terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.

The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.

CLIMATE
Most of the year is hot and humid. Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The rainy season is from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius, rising to a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius during April and May.

In Vientiane a minimum temperature of 19 degrees Celsius is to be expected during January. In mountainous areas, however, temperature drops to as low as 14-15 degrees Celsius during the winter months, and during cold nights, can easily reach the freezing point. The average precipitation is highest in Southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive over 3,000 mm. annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1,500-2,000 mm., and in the Northern provinces only 1,000-1,500 mm.

LOCATION & TERRAIN 
The Lao P.D.R. is located in the heart of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It lies between latitude 14 to 23 degrees North and longitude 100 to 108 degrees East. It is the only Southeast Asian country without direct access to the sea, stretching North to South 1,700 kilometers.

Laos encompasses a total of 236,800 square kilometers with the terrain characterized by three distinct regions – mountains, plateaus, and plains. The mountains and plateaus make up three-quarters of the total area.

High mountains rising to an average height of 1,500 meters dominate the Northern region. The three highest mountains in the country are all located in the Phou Ane Plateau in Xieng Khouang Province. They are Phou Bia at 2,820 meters, Phou Xao at 2,690 meters and Phou Xamxum at 2,620 meters. The Phou Luang (Annamite Range) stretches from Southeast on the Phouane Plateau down to the Cambodian border; the others are the Nakai Plateau in Khammouane Province and the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos, which is over 1,000 meters above sea level.

The plain region consists of large and small plain areas distributed along the Mekong River. The Vientiane Plain, the largest, is situated on the lower reaches of the Nam Ngum River. The Savannakhet Plain is situated on the lower reaches of the Sebangfai River and Sebanghieng River, while the Champasack Plain on the Mekong River stretches out to the Thai and Cambodian borders. Blessed with rich and fertile soil, these plains represent one quarter of the total area known as the granaries of the country.

The Lao PDR is criss-crossed with a myriad of rivers and streams. The largest is the Mekong River, flowing for 1,898 kilometers from the North to the South, with 919 kilometers of the river forming the major portion of the border with Thailand. It is estimated that some 60% of all the water entering the Mekong River system originates in Laos. These rivers and streams provide great potential for hydropower development with 51% of the power potential in the lower Mekong basin contained within Laos.

PEOPLE & POPULATION
– Population: 6.5 million.
– Density: 23 people/square kilometer.
– The population consists of 49 ethnic groups, in 4 main linguistic.

  • The Lao-Tai Family includes 08 ethnic groups: Lao, Phouthai, Tai, Lue, Gnouane, Young, Saek and Thai Neua.
  • The Mon-Khmer Family includes 32 ethnic groups: Khmu, Pray, Singmou, Khom, Thene, Idou, Bid, Lamed, Samtao, Katang, Makong, Try, Trieng, Ta-oi, Yeh, Brao, Harak, Katou, Oi, Krieng, Yrou, Souai, Gnaheune, Lavy, Kabkae, Khmer, Toum, Ngouane, Meuang and Kri.
  • The Tibeto-Burmese Family includes 07 ethnic groups: Akha, Singsali, Lahou, Sila, Hayi, Lolo and Hor.
  • The Hmong-Loumien category has 02 main tribes: Hmong and Loumien (Yao).These multi-ethnic people are scattered across the country each with their own unique traditions, culture and language.
RELIGION  
Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century A.D., as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at Hor Pra keo Museum. After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King Fa Ngum (14th Century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon Animism or other beliefs such as the Cult of Spirits. His policy meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: Theravada Buddhism.
Today, Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of Lao people. Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will become a monk for at least a short time in his life.
Traditionally, men spent three months during the rainy season in a Wat (Buddhist temple). Today, however; most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors. The “Calling for Rain” posture of Buddha images in Laos, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, can not be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of India’s epic Ramayana.Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in Wats.
TRADITIONAL DANCE
Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors. The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of India s epic Ramayana.Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in wats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or Saw. The national folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.
WHEN TO VISIT
– The best time to visit Laos is between November and April.
– The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible.Clothing During the hot season, January to April, bring light clothes in cotton and linen, sunglasses and a hat all year long. Sunscreen and bug repellant is also recommended. From November to December, the cold season, it is a good idea to bring warm clothing such as sweaters and jackets for the morning and evening, and even more so if you are visiting the mountainous regions of the North. From May to October, during the rainy season, it is best to have waterproof clothing. It is best to wear easily removable shoes or sandals when visiting the temples.Tourist visa
The 30-day tourist visa for Laos can be issued at some entry points, via a travel agency or through a Lao embassy or consulate. Via an embassy, the visa should cost between US$30 to US$37 depending on your nationality and the office you use. Some nationalities, notably ASEAN members, may get a visa-free stay — check with a Lao consulate or embassy for the very latest information.Visa on arrival is reliably available at most overland crossings between Thailand and Laos, including the Huay Xai, Vientiane, Savannakhet, Tha Khaek and Chong Mek entry points. It is also available at both Vientiane and Luang Prabang airports (US$37, cash only, one passport photo). It is available at the Boten crossing with China and at the main international crossings with Vietnam.Visa on arrival is not available at the Paksan crossing, but it is now available at the popular southern crossing from Cambodia.
Extensions
Extending a tourist visa is straightforward and can be arranged at the immigration office in Vientiane. An extension costs US$2-3 per day depending on whether you handle it yourself or work through a travel agent. This means an extra 10 days will cost you $30.Validity issues
All tourist visas are single-entry only. The visa sticker for visas issued from an embassy are full page, so bear that in mind if you do not have many pages left in your passport. If you want to stay in Laos longer than a month, it’s no big deal to exit to Thailand and come back in on a new tourist visa for another 30 days.Overstays
While it isn’t a big deal to overstay a visa in Laos, at US$10 a day, it is expensive. If you’re looking at an overstay of anything more than a couple of days, you’re better off leaving on time and coming back on another visa.Things to watch out for
If you get your visa beforehand from a Lao embassy, it should be valid for 30 days, but be wary of being stamped in for 15 days instead.Departure tax
There is no departure tax if using a land crossing, though on weekends and evenings you may be required to pay a small “overtime fee”, generally not more than $1. If you’re flying out of Vientiane or Luang Prabang international airport, there is a departure tax of US$10, but as of early January 2009 this fee was being incorporated into the price of airline tickets, so there’s no longer any need to pay in person at the airpo
Currency
Lao Kip (LAK; symbol ₭) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of ₭50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1.Currency Exchange
Thai Baht and US Dollars are the easiest currencies to exchange. They are also widely accepted in shops, markets and hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Major credit cards are accepted in the more upmarket hotels and restaurants only.Traveller’s Cheques
Limited acceptance. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller’s cheques in US Dollars or Thai Baht.Currency Restrictions
Restrictions apply.
Banking Hours
Mon-Fri 0830-1600. Some banks remain open during lunch.
Time
The time in Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +7).

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