Cities

Vientiane

the still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River

Houay Xai

in the north, on the Mekong and the border with Thailand

Luang Namtha

capital of the north, known for its trekking

Luang Prabang

a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market

Muang Xay

also known as Oudomxay, the capital of the multi-ethnic province of Oudomxay

Pakbeng

halfway point on the overnight slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang

Pakse

gateway to the Wat Phu ruins and the "four thousand islands" (Si Phan Don)

Savannakhet

in the south on the Mekong, connected by bridge to Mukdahan in Thailand

Tha Khaek

a popular base for exploring Phou Hin Boun National Park including the famous Konglor Cave

Other destinations

Ban Nalan Trail

a two-day ecotourism trek in the north of Laos

Bolaven Plateau

highland with waterfalls, jungles and farmland

Champasak

Wat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Angkor-style Khmer temples

Nong Khiaw

beautiful karst cliffs where you can discover hilltribe villages, kayak, bike ride or just hang out

Plain of Jars

Iron Age cemetery sites near Phonsavan; also one of the main locations to learn about the "Secret War".

Si Phan Don

the "four thousand islands" are nestled within the Mekong near the Cambodian border

Vang Vieng

backpacker hangout for exploring limestone caves and tubing on the Nam Song river

Vieng Xai

remote cultural oasis and symbolic cradle of Marxism; see the caves where the Pathet Lao leaders ran their operations in defiance of the West

Sights

Thailand

constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia

Vietnam

republic in Southeast Asia

Vientiane

capital of Laos

Vang Vieng

town in Laos

Luang Namtha

city

Si Phan Don

river

Luang Prabang

city located in north central Laos

Plain of Jars

megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos, consisting of thousands of stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau

Phonsavan

town

Angkor Wat

Hindu/Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia

Oudomxay Province

province of Laos

Pakse

human settlement

Nong Khiaw

Someday

guide to

Laos

Laos (ສປປ ລາວ), officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic (ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ) (Lao PDR), is a nation in Southeast Asia, known for its mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements, and Buddhist monasteries. A mountainous and landlocked country, Laos shares borders with Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Myanmar and China to the north.

Arriving

Visas

Visas are not required by citizens of: Brunei and Myanmar (14 days), Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland (15 days), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (30 days)

The website of the foreign ministry does not prove too helpful in obtaining up-to-date visa information. But the website of Tourism Laos provides more useful information on this topic.

Visa on arrival

A visa on arrival is available to most nationalities entering at the airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet. These land border crossings offer visa on arrival: Boten (China), Houay Xay / Nam Ngeun / Kenthao / Vientiane / Thakhet / Savannakhet / Vangtao (Thailand) which includes all friendship bridges, Ban Leui / Nam Kan / Nam Phao / Dan Savanh (Vietnam) as well as Veun Kham (Cambodia). One passport photo is required although you may be able to pay a US$1 fee for your passport photo to be scanned upon arrival.

Prices range from US$30-42 depending on nationality -British US$35, Americans US$35, Canadians US$42, Australians US$30, New Zealand US$30. Irish US$35. Paying in Thai baht (1500 baht=US$44) is possible too, but the mark-up means that travellers should try to bring US dollars. Lao kip are not accepted for the visa fee. A US$1 "out of office hours/overtime" surcharge at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, and a small possibly 10 baht to US$1 entry stamp fee, might also be charged.

Visa from the embassy

Visas can be obtained in advance from Lao embassies/consulates. The fee varies by nationality/embassy; US$40 is common, although can be as high as US$63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing times also vary; 2-3 days is typical, though you may be able to pay an extra small amount (around US$5) to receive the visa in as little as one hour. In Phnom Penh the travel agencies can arrange the visa the same day (but may charge as much as US$58) while getting it from the embassy takes a few days. Getting a visa from the embassy in Bangkok costs around 1,400 baht for most nationalities, plus 200 baht more for "same day" processing. It's cheaper and quicker to get a visa at the border.

Visas are also available at the Lao PDR consulate in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Thai and limited English are spoken by consular staff. Hours are Monday-Friday, 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. Several changes took place in Feb 2012, with prices have increased and are now the same to those charged by the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok.

Visas for Americans, British and citizens of several EU countries cost 1,400 baht/US$40, Australians and New Zealanders pay 1,400 baht/US$40, Canadians pay 1,700 baht/US$50 while Chinese pay 600 baht/US$17. Officially, visas can be picked up the next day, or pay an additional 200 baht to have the visa issued within 1 hour. Officially, only baht is accepted although if you don't have baht, they may take US dollars. A 30-31 baht to the US dollar rate has been reported, making it more expensive than getting one on arrival and paying in US dollars. Given that a visa for many countries can cost US$20-42 at the border, getting a visa at the border is cheaper and quicker. If you are taking the direct Khon Kaen to Vientiane bus and you require a visa for Laos, the bus company will not sell you a ticket unless you have a visa already issued.

Visa extension

Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as "visa extensions") are available from the Immigration Department in Vientiane, the Immigration Department in Luang Prabang, the Police Station in Pakse, and possibly other cities. Extensions are not possible in Lao's second city, Savannakhet, although you can do a border run from there to Thailand to get a new 30-day visa. The cost is US$2.50 per day plus a small "form fee" ranging between 5,000 kip (Pakse) to US$2 (Luang Prabang). The process is very easy; turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they do this for you) and come back in the afternoon for your extension.

If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to nip over the border (entry to Thailand is free for most western nationalities) and return immediately to get a new 30-day Lao visa: a 30-day visa extension costs US$75.

Visa extensions are possible at the Immigration office in Thakhek (opposite the Rivera Hotel) Vientiane. The cost is US$2.50 per day. you can also get a visa extension via agencies elsewhere in Laos. They will courier your passport to Vientiane and back again for a big fee. The minimum visa extension is 30 days.

By train

There is a bridge across the Mekong from the Thai town of Nong Khai to Tha Naleng near Vientiane. There are two shuttle services per direction per day, with one timed to connect to the night trains to/from Bangkok. Visa on arrival is available when crossing the border by train. The train is not a very attractive option because the railway station is in the middle of nowhere, however, there are shuttle buses to take you the rest of the way. Plans are underway to extend the line further into Laos, making it useful for domestic traffic, too.

By land

Most border crossings open for foreigners, with an indication where visas on arrival can be issued, are listed on the web site of the National Tourism Administration. This list is unfortunately incomplete.

Cambodia

Visa on arrival for Laos is now available (as of Feb 2010) when entering from Cambodia overland, with an official "Visa on Arrival" office incorporated into the checkpoint. The nearest Cambodian town is Stung Treng, and the border is a 90-minute speedboat or bus ride away. The border is lightly used, with almost no onward public transport available at the border (therefore book through transport from Stung Treng to Ban Nakasang for Si Phan Don/Don Det) and both customs officers and transport providers have a reputation of gouging foreigners, although this seems to have improved. Both Cambodian and Laos border officials request US$1 stamp fee per country. Crossing the border (Oct 2010) the Cambodia officers will ask for US$1 for exit stamp. You can tell them you don't have any and they will still stamp it. On the Laos side officials will demand US$2 for an entry stamp, if you refuse they will not stamp it, and so you have no choice than to pay the bribe as you will need the stamp when leaving the country. If you cross the border by boat, you will have to return by road to the border checkpoint to officiate your arrival by stamping your passport.

Two pitfalls at the Lao-Cambodian border are that you will often have four changes of bus (some are small minibuses where passengers have to sit on each other's laps), and hours spent driving to remote guesthouses to pick up backpackers. If your luggage has been sent in a bus you are not on, because of "lack of space", it will sometimes disappear. The "King of Bus Company" is known to do this.

China

The land crossing between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible (US$37 for UK citizens) or you can get in advance at the Lao consulate in Kunming. Daily bus service operates from Mengla to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. Buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha leave from the North bus station. The first bus leaves around 08:00 and costs about ¥40.

Generally speaking, it is not possible for independent travellers to cross from China to Laos via the Mekong River, not least because there's a chunk of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at Xieng Kok does not issue visas on arrival. Travel agents in China, including Panda Travel, run irregular cruises from Jinghong (China) via Chiang Saen (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos), but schedules are erratic and prices expensive.

Myanmar

The Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge connects Shan State in Myanmar with Luang Namtha Province in Laos.

Thailand:

There are eight border crossings open to all between Thailand and Laos. From north to south:

Vietnam:

There are at least six border crossings that can be used by foreigners. These include:

By motorbike from Vietnam

The border crossing on a Vietnamese motorbike at Tay Trang is very easy and straightforward. You arrive after going over some hills at the Vietnamese border where very friendly guys handle your case easily and with no hassle. You fill out the form for "temporary export of a vehicle", show them the Vietnamese registration card for the bike (which is usually in the owners name) and pay US$10. Then you proceed to the police, show the papers to them and get the exit stamp.

You then have to drive for 6 km over the mountains to get to the Lao checkpoint. There some not so friendly border guards there who expect you to pay 5,000 kip for general fees and 25,000 kip for importing a vehicle. They fill out the form themselves.

More information available on Wikivoyage

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