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Laos

If you’re travelling to Laos, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Always get comprehensive travel insurance that will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you travel. We can’t pay for any emergency expenses you may incur on your trip so travel insurance may save you a lot of money if things go wrong. Remember to read the small print in your policy and make sure it covers everything you’re planning to do including water sports and other outdoor activities.

The theft of passports is a particular problem in Laos so make sure your insurance covers you for unexpected losses such as stolen passports and cancelled flights as well as stolen cash, cards, or luggage.

Overview

Security Status

We advise you to take normal precautions.

We advise against all travel to Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars) and the Lao-Vietnamese border areas that were crossed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Emergency Assistance

Because there is no Irish Embassy or Consulate in Laos, we’re limited in the help we can offer you in an emergency. However, if you need assistance, you can contact the Irish Embassy in Hanoi.

We suggest you learn as much as you can about Laos before your trip from travel agents, tour operators and guide books. The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems when you’re in Laos, try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.

Other EU embassies

You can contact the Embassies and Consulates of other EU countries represented in Laos for emergency consular assistance, advice and support.

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates 
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Unrest

There are ongoing security concerns related to ethnic conflicts, banditry, and unexploded munitions in Laos and you should exercise caution if you plan to travel to the country. Skirmishes between government forces and unidentified groups have taken place along the Lao-Thai border and there have been armed attacks on some routes, including Routes 6, 7 and 13.

Landmines

Landmines and unexploded munitions are a risk, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), and at the Lao-Vietnamese border areas that were formerly crossed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Avoid these areas and don’t venture off well-used roads.

Crime

Petty Crime is common in Laos, particularly in urban areas you should take sensible precautions at all times and especially during the summer peak travel period;

  • Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport and original birth certificate (as well as travel insurance documents and other important documents) with family or friends at home;
  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together, leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place;
  • Be aware that bag snatching occurs frequently and there is a significant increase in theft in the lead up to local festivals;
  • Avoid placing bags in the front basket of bicycles;
  • Bag snatchers on motorbikes are also a problem;
  • When travelling by air, bus or train, stay vigilant against petty theft, particularly in busy rail and bus stations and in crowded airports.

Lost or stolen passports

If your passport is lost or stolen, report this to the Police immediately and obtain a Police Report. Irish Citizens should be aware that if this occurs, it will delay your travel plans considerably, and cost you money. Along with the time taken to arrange a new travel document, you will subsequently need to get a replacement visa and an exit visa from immigration and this can take at least three working days and may delay your onward travel plans considerably. Please be aware that the nearest Irish Embassy is in Hanoi, Vietnam, dealing with a lost or stolen passport can be extremely inconvenient for you and can take time to resolve.

Contaminated food or drink

There have been a number of incidents where tourists have had their drinks or food drugged. Some restaurants in popular tourist destinations offer drug-laced food and drink, which has led to the victim being assaulted. These products can contain harmful substances and consuming them can result in serious injury or even death. Never leave food or drink unattended.

Date rape drugs

There have been incidents of drug-related rapes reported by foreigners. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers and be wary at bars, clubs, restaurants and parties.

Reporting crime

If you’re a victim of a crime while in Laos, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Hanoi if you need help.

Driving

If you’re planning to drive in Laos, you should be extremely careful. The number of road accidents in Laos has risen sharply in recent years along with the increase in the number of motor vehicles, especially motorbikes. Most roads in Laos are in very poor condition and you should only travel during daylight hours.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driver’s licence and your international driving licence and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance
  • Be aware that vehicles often don’t have lights and cattle tend to stray on to the roads

Hiring a vehicle

If you’re hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Water safety

Activities

Be extremely cautious if you’re planning any river-based sporting activities, particularly in Vang Vieng. Tourists have been killed or seriously injured while taking part in activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. You should carefully consider your personal safety and take appropriate precautions.

Mekong river

Travel on the Mekong river by speedboat is dangerous, especially during the dry season, and we advise you to wear life-vests and crash helmets. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris in the river can make diving or jumping into the river dangerous.

Health and safety requirements

You should also be aware that the health and safety requirements in Laos are nowhere near as stringent as in Ireland, and they’re often neither observed nor enforced. Therefore, the risk of a serious or fatal accident in the course of these activities is much higher than it would be in Ireland.

Insurance

Before taking part in any water-based sports or activities, including inner-tubing, please check that your travel insurance will cover you in the event of death or injury to yourself or a third party. In the event of an accident, even where you’re not at fault, you are likely to be required to pay compensation for third party injury/damage.

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Personal identification

During your stay you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times. It’s illegal not to carry an ID document or a passport, and there can be high fines if you can’t produce it on demand.

Law enforcement

The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law.Fines for engaging in prohibited sexual contact can be severe and penalties may also include imprisonment.

Illegal drugs

Don’t get involved with drugs of any kind. There have been several deaths as a result of drug use among foreign nationals visiting Laos. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of drugs are serious offences in Laos and can include the death penalty

Natural disasters and climate

Flooding

The rainy season in Laos normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the typhoon season in South East Asia. Mountain areas can be particularly vulnerable to landslides at this time and flooding may occur along river basins and elsewhere. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted.

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

If you’re unsure of the entry requirements for Laos, including visa and other immigration information, ask your travel agent or contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Laos. You can also check with them how long your passport must be valid for.

Passports

All visitors to Lao PDR must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the time of entry into Laos and contain at least one blank page for a visa stamp.

It’s advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you. During your stay you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times.

Keep your passport safe as getting a new passport and exit visa can cause considerable delay and expense.

Health

Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Laos.

Please note that all visitors (planning to stay more than one month) are encouraged to be fully vaccinated against polio prior to arrival in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. An order from the Office of the Lao Prime Minister on 13 January 2016 declared a public health emergency due to a Polio outbreak.

Medical facilities

If you have an unstable medical condition you should seriously consider not travelling to Laos. Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies.

Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Cholera

To avoid cholera and diarrhoeal illnesses the World Health Organisation advises everyone travelling to the province to practise good hygiene: wash hands with soap before and after eating, cooking and going to the toilet, eat only thoroughly-cooked foods and drink only safe water (bottled or boiled).

Dengue fever

Dengue fever, particularly in Vientiane, is common. There’s no vaccine against this disease.You should take care to avoid mosquito bites during the day, especially just after dawn and just before dusk by using bed nets and repellents, and wearing closed shoes, long sleeves and trousers. You can get more information on dengue fever from World Health Organisation.

Malaria

Malaria is also present in Laos. Your doctor can advise you on appropriate prophylactic measures or vaccines, depending on the length of your stay and the areas you intend to visit.

Avian influenza

The risk to humans from avian influenza is believed to be very low. No human infections or deaths have been reported. As a precaution, however, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

Money

Major credit cards are accepted at the larger international hotels and main tourist-orientated establishments. Travellers’ cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and major towns. International ATM facilities are increasingly available. Most transactions are conducted in cash using US Dollars, Thai Baht or Lao Kip.