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Laos

Laos

 Area:                236,800 sqkm

 Population:    6,4 million

 Capital:             Vientine

 Language:       Lao, French

 Currency:         Kip

Often overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors, landlocked Laos remains one of Southeast Asia's most beguiling destinations. Caught in the middle of the two Indochina wars and long isolated from the rest of the world, the country retains a slow, rather old-fashioned charm and its people, incredibly laid back and friendly even by Asian standards, are undoubtedly one of the highlights of any visit.
Laos Overview
Laos is a favorite destination in bucket list of many travelers in over the World in recent years because of its authentic beauty and simple lifestyle. 

Laos is a landlocked country which is within the bounds of four sides, such as the north by China, the south by Cambodia, Vietnam to the east, the west by Thailand and a 146 miles Mekong River border with Burma. 

Stretching from the forest-clad mountains of the north to the islands of the far south, Laos is surely a favorite destination for adventure lovers as the natural landscape is ideally suited to trekking and cycling. However, Laos is slowly opening its rural region to visitors with new developments to its infrastructure, more airline service, and accommodation options, it means more opportunities to discover this country in its prime through many Laos package tours.
Laos History
Laos gathered many scattered tribal communities during ancient history, and there was not much information about this period. Until the century of 4th and 5th, the information was recorded, and Chinese donated Laos during this time. After that, Laos was influenced by the Hindu Khmer Empire, which spread across the country before founding its capital at Angkor in neighboring Cambodia.
 
Next, Chinese was displaced by Tai people from Thailand, and Hinduism slowly gave way to Buddhism. The Khmer Empire eventually collapsed into warring city-states, paving the way for the independent kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in 1353 at Luang Prabang.
 
The Lan Xang Empire lasted for three centuries, fighting off successive invasion attempts from Vietnam, Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Internal power struggles in the 18th century were exploited by its neighbors, notably Thailand, which finally conquered Vientiane in 1779, absorbing southern Laos into the Kingdom of Siam.
 
The Siamese were the dominant power until the arrival of the French in the 1870s. Joining Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos became part of French Indo-China, and colonial administration saw plantations established across the country. The Japanese occupation in WWII weakened French control and Laos finally achieved independence in 1953.
 
The restoration of the monarchy under King Sisavang Vong was initially welcomed, but resistance grew, spearheaded by the fighters of the Pathet Lao and the Laotian Patriotic Front (LPF) the Pathet Lao, who were allied to communist forces in Vietnam. The Lao Civil War mirrored the Vietnam War, and vast quantities of ordnance were secretly dropped on Laos by the US military to weaken the communist uprising.
 
When Vietnam adopted communism in 1975, Laos followed suit, abolishing the monarchy and redrawing the economy along austere communist lines. Laos became dependent on military and economic assistance from Vietnam, and other neighbors close relations with the Lao regime, leading to more than a decade of isolation.
 
Tensions finally began to ease in the late 1980s, and Laos slowly opened up to the outside world. Today, the country is mostly at peace and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) remains firmly in control, though some rebel groups are still active. Despite limited political reforms in the 1990s, Laos still languishes behind its neighbors on most economic indexes.
 
Laos Transportation
Plane
Flying is the best option for saving time, and but it expensive compared to other means of transportation. 
 
Bus
On popular routes in Laos, you basically have a choice between public buses and tourist minibusses. Generally, the minibusses are probably preferable, but it really comes down to personal choice. Neither will be comfortable for a long period of time.
 
Outside of the popular routes, you will usually only have public buses. They are old, small, cramped, noisy and on the windy, mountainous roads in the north, they will be filled with locals (and often a few tourists as well) throwing up into little plastic baggies. They will also generally try to overcharge foreigners by a few dollars, so find out what your ticket should cost before going to buy it.
 
Boat
Once a good alternative to the horrific roads in Laos, these days few boat routes remain in steady use and the ones frequented by tourists are incredibly overpriced. Personally, I only took one boat in Laos (as a form of public transport, anyway)—the hour-long trip from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi—and while the scenery was nice, I prefer buses.
 
The boat from Huay Xai on the border with Thailand to Luang Prabang has become part of the standard Southeast Asian backpacker loop and most people I met in Laos had entered the country this way. Most loved the scenery, but none enjoyed spending two days on a little boat (or 6 hours on a much less comfortable and much more dangerous speed boat)
Things to do and see in Laos
One of the best sites must see when you travel to Lao might Laos tour or Indochina tour package. Please see the site ' suggestion below for exploring best  attractions in Laos

1. Vang Vieng
 
Vang Vieng is (in)famous for it’s crazy parties, where young “backpackers” come and do things they are not allowed to back at home. For some this may be a good idea to visit the place, but it scares many off. What many travellers don’t realise is that Vang Vieng has much more to offer than just insane parties. With an amazingly beautiful scenery, there’s a lot of cliffs for climbing, rivers for boat/tube riding, caves to be discovered and religious places to see. Don’t miss your chance to see this gem of Laos.

2. Luang Prabang
 
Luang Prabang, the former capital city of Laos, is currently an UNESCO World Heritage city, often missed out by many travelers. This place is an amazing example of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures. The top 3 places worth visiting in Luang Prabang is Haw Kham (the former royal palace and now national museum), Phou Si (the main hill in the city from which you have an incredible view of the whole area) and Vat Xieng Toung ( one of the oldest and most extraordinary monasteries in the city).

What of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is to jump in the stunning waterfalls and explore caves. Kuang Si Falls is a massive waterfall which can be easily reached by bike or motorbike (around 25km away from the city). It looks extremely beautiful so you can spend there a couple of hours before heading to Pak Ou Caves, called by locals the “Buddha caves”. If these two attractions do not meet up to your expectations, there is also a famous Tad Thong Waterfall and Nature Trail to explore or, for example, Tad Sae Waterfalls.
 
3. Vientiane
 
Vientiane is perceived by locals and tourists as one friendliest places in the whole country. When you finally get there, the first place to sightsee should be the Golden Stupa- one of the biggest and most magnificent stupas in Laos and also one of the most recognizable. It is also very different from stupas and temples you can discover in Thailand, so you must give it a try to find out!

Vientiane will also welcome you with beautiful pagodas. One of the most impressive pagodas, in my opinion, is Pha That Luang, but do not miss out Ho Pra Keo -a small, quiet temple with some good photo opportunities.

Vientiane is also a place where COPE Visitor Centre is located. The shebang is labeled with great English so you don’t need to worry about not understanding a thing while visiting this place. You can read really emotion-churning stories here and watch some documentaries. One of the biggest advantage is that it’s totally free, although donations are very appreciated. Once you’ve been there, I’m quite certain you want to give them a little extra. An excellent exhibition about a difficult subject!

If you are a big fan of history, you definitely need to visit Lao National Museum. Exhibits range from Indochina in the neolithic period to recent history with an emphasis on the rise of the Lao Communist Party and 20th c. wars. Although you might not fancy spending there a whole afternoon, 1 hour would be more than enough to pick up the most interesting facts on Laotian history.
 
4. Pakse
 
Pakse is the capital of Champasak province, a town which is developing at breath-taking speed offering locals and travelers a lot of activities, historical sights to explore and delicious spicy cuisine. Short day trips from Pakse can go to Ban Saphai and Don Kho, weaving centres 15km north of town so if you are nearby, take a day or two to see what Pakse is like.

5. Bokeo

Bokeo is a peaceful rural province in northwestern Laos. Rich in natural resources with hilly mountains, tropical forest and farmland, Bokeo is also home to many ethnic groups who still preserve their traditional lifestyles and culture.
 
Although Bokeo is the smallest province in Laos, it harbours a large number of interesting minority groups (approximate 30 ethnicities). The province split off from Luang Nam Tha and was created in 1983. The name Bokeo translates as 'gem mine' and the city is known as the 'land of sapphires'. Panning for gold, and digging for precious stones is a major occupation here.

The name Bokeo translates as 'gem mine' and the city is known as the 'land of sapphires'. Panning for gold, and digging for precious stones is a major occupation here.

However, Bokeo's real economic strength is tourism. A holiday among a network of hunts and shelters built on top of trees in primary monsoon dry deciduous forest is a decidedly appealing one. A perfect spot where one can observe the forest's rare habitants from above. Besides fascinating attractions and delightful activities, Houay Xai is also known as the gateway to explore the rest of Laos, a famous stopover spot for most arrivals before boarding a boat and heading southeast to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang. A trip up north on Bokeo's winding and bumpy roads will lead to Luang Namtha and beyond.

6. Buddha Park

Buddha Park (aka Xieng Khuan) is a famous sculpture park with more than 200 religious statues including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha image. The best spot for photography here is on top of the giant pumpkin structure standing about three stories high. The entrance is crafted to look like a demon’s mouth (about three metres high) with a stone ladder inside leading to a bird's eye view of the entire Xieng Kuan Park.

7. The Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars is considered the most distinctive and enigmatic of all Laos attractions. The large area around Phonsavan, the main city of Xieng Khouang Province is dotted with stone jars but no one has a clear idea as to why they are there. The mysterious jars were.

The mysterious jars were carved from both sandstone and granite in various sizes from very small to about 3.5 metres high and are thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Legend has it that they were made to store rice wine while some believe they were for storing the dead. Until today the function of the jars is still disputed.

8. Wat Phu

Wat Phu (meaning ‘mountain temple’), is situated on a hillside and offers stunning views over the surrounding land and Mekong River. Visitors who appreciate art and history will be amazed by the magnificent workmanship in this ruined Khmer temple complex in the form of temple pillars, barays, lintels, pediments, terrace, courtyard, walls, doorways, sanctuary, shrine, library and palaces.
 
 
9. That Ing Hang Stupa in Savannakhet

That Ing Hang Stupa is about nine metres high with beautiful carving and decoration. It’s reported to house a relic of Buddha’s spine. The 16th century stupa is located in Savannakhet, Central Laos. Savannakhet itself is famous as the birthplace of Laos’ popular former leader, Kaysone Phomvihane. It was also known as a French trading outpost back in colonial times therefore there are a number of vintage French colonial and Sino-Franco buildings in the business districts.
 
 
 

Laos Travel Tips
As a guideline, if you are travelling alone we would recommend that you tip your guide between $7-8 per day, if travelling in a couple then allow $8-10 per couple per day.
 
When traveling in a group of 3-4 then tipping in the region of $10-15 per group per day is appropriate, when travelling in groups larger than four then allow an increase roughly equating to 10% more for each additional person in the group. For your driver please tip around half of the total tip given to your guide. If your itinerary is more intensive and incorporates more specialised elements such as trekking or overland journeys then increase these guidelines by 20% or more depending on your satisfaction level. For porters a tip of $1 per person per bag is appropriate and it is useful to have several dollar bill notes to hand for your convenience, alternatively, an equivalent amount in local currency will suffice.
 
We use the best guides and drivers available in Laos but if for any reason you are not satisfied with the service you receive then please speak to our agents who will be able to provide a different guide or driver to accompany you.
 
Money and expenses
 
The Laos currency is the Laotian New Kip. One Kip (Kp) is equal to 100 cents. Thai and US currency is widely accepted in shops, markets and hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There are no restrictions on the import or export of foreign currency, although banks will only accept Thai Bahts, GB Sterling or US Dollars.
 
The import and export of local currency is prohibited. There is a money exchange facility at the airport, and several licensed bureaux in major towns. A few businesses and restaurants will accept travellers' cheques. Major banks in town will also cash travellers' cheques. It is best to always use cash - that way you also get the best bargains!
 
Credit cards, are accepted in most hotels, gift shops and more up market restaurants, and can be used in major banks for a cash advance. There is an ATM at the BECL bank in Vientiane. The withdrawal will be in local currency.
 
Social, ethical and environmental issues
 
The majority of Laotians are Buddhists and it is particularly advisable to dress modestly in Luang Prabang, one of Southeast Asia's most spiritual destinations. If entering a temple, you will be expected to leave your shoes outside and have shoulders and knees covered. It is also forbidden to point your feet towards a Buddha image and women cannot touch a monk. There are many sacred sites and artifacts throughout Laos, please do not enter or touch these without permission. In Laos your head is considered 'high' and your feet 'low', it is generally considered rude to use your feet for anything other than walking and sport. Please respect Lao culture by removing footwear before entering a private home and avoid touching a person's head as this is extremely impolite.
 
Please take the normal environmentally friendly steps you should take anywhere in the world, but especially in the third world - use water and electricity supplies carefully, re-use towels in hotels, try to use recyclable goods such as water carriers rather than plastic bottles, protect Laos' wildlife by refusing to buy wildlife products, etc. Try to set an example to Laos' impressionable youth by taking litter away for disposal and not dropping it in the street. Laos loses a little bit of its heritage every time an antique is taken out of the country, avoid buying antique Buddha images and other sacred items, instead try to support local craftsmen by purchasing new, quality handicrafts. Please try not to distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging, instead try to give to an established organisation, or village elders.
Vieng Xai
Vieng Xai city belongs to Hua Phan Province is just 55 km from the Vietnam border and fairly close to the Provincial Capital of Sam Neua. This region of Laos suffered intensive bombing during the Vietnam War sometimes just because as it was perceived as an ally of the enemy so dropping unwanted bombs was acceptable.
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Phongsaly
Phongsaly Province is one of the remotest of the Lao PDR Provinces and is dominated by rugged, mountainous terrain and an abundance of thick forests and fast-flowing rivers. It is inhabited by 25 different ethnic groups, each with their own culture, traditions, costumes, and languages.
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