Completely landlocked and bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and Myanmar (Burma), Laos is a developing country upon the Indochinese peninsula that has quite a few things to show. Harbouring nearly 7 million inhabitants and stretching upon an area of 237,955 square kilometres, it is known locally as Muang Lao – the term Laos was actually coined by the French during the times when the area was still a part of French Indochina. So, now that we have gotten through the basic details, let us see what this place has to offer in terms of pros and cons!
This is an absolute must-understand: all water in Laos should be considered contaminated. While such an assertion may be unfair when compared to actual statistics, it is better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Water is extremely unclean and should in all cases be boiled – even if all you want to do is brush your teeth with it. The same goes for products that use water such as sauces and drinks. And here comes the worst part: this extends to milk too and all products that use it – it is essentially unpasteurised. Take extra precautions and your liver will thank you for not contracting Hepatitis.
There are plenty of things that westerners are used to and tipping is one of them. However, if you travel to Laos, you should under no circumstances offer more than what the price tag says – tipping is by no means part of the local culture. If you round up a bill or be a little generous, all you achieve with it is confusion. This, however, does not apply to reputable hotel chains where porters and cleaners may be tipped a bit. But even in those cases, the amounts should be minimal.
3. Language barriers:
Before we get into what you can speak in Laos, you should understand that the official language there is Lao. The younger generation, however, is already well-oriented towards English and most of them speak it quite well. Most schools raise their pupils with it but, generally, proficiency in English is rare. French, the language left behind by the colonial days, is better spoken by the older generation but it is gradually dying – the younger generation is by no means interested in it. So, English and French would be your best bet as a foreigner but if you are from south-eastern Asia, you might try Thai as well as most Laotian people understand it.
There is an axiom that every single traveller in the world has to keep in mind: developing countries are not exactly fond of ATMs. What this directly translates into in Laos is that you are going to have to produce cash no matter where you go. Paying with credit cards is near-impossible. Some high-end hotels may have card options but otherwise, stick to the good-old-fashion way (wink)!
5. Highway to the danger-zone:
While the song itself is fun (Highway to the Danger-zone), the reality of it in Laos isn’t exactly so. As a developing country, abandoned war-time machinery can still end up in your way if you stray off the beaten path. This literally means landmines and you do not want to step on one by accident. Hitting the wilderness alone is by no means recommended and you should always think twice before marching off roads and trails.
6. Medical mayhem:
This, unfortunately, still has not been fixed – the medical care in Laos is terrible and it will take some time for it to catch up. This might not seem like a problem at first sight but if you do end up needing instantaneous care, you are better off flying to Bangkok (Thailand) than hitting some would-be hospital in Laos. The local medical facilities are in terrible condition and the staff is also somewhat laid-back. When you need help, that is exactly the kind of attitude that you do not need on your plate.
Did you enjoy our list? How was your trip to Laos and what memory stuck with you the most? Would you go there again were you given the chance? Share your experiences with us below in the comment section and be sure to leave nothing out! See you on our next adventure! Safe travels!