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LAOS - Exercise a high degree of caution
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Laos. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to ongoing security concerns related to banditry and unexploded munitions.
The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.
Street crime is prevalent in cities and towns including Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, and occasionally involves violence. Bag theft occurs frequently. Thieves on motorcycles grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, other motorcycle drivers and their passengers. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not show signs of affluence and avoid travelling late at night. Break-ins at hotels and guesthouses occur. Armed robberies occur occasionally in Phou Khao Khouay National Park.
Sexual assaults occur, particularly in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Vang Vieng. Be particularly vigilant along hiking trails. Consult our publication entitled Her own way - a woman’s safe-travel guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.
Local police may not have the capacity to respond to crimes, especially at night.
Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and follow the advice of local authorities.
Spiked food and drinks
Never leave your food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Some food and drinks, such as “happy pizzas” and “special shakes,” may contain unspecified amounts of opium and other unknown substances. These items are sold in areas frequented by tourists, particularly in Vang Vieng. While these items may be easily accessible, taking any amount of opiates can be dangerous. Foreigners, including Canadians, have died as a result of drug overdoses.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance constitute a risk across the country, particularly in the Plain of Jars, in the province of Xieng Khouang , as well as in the Laotian-Vietnamese border areas, including those formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Follow the advice of local authorities, and only travel on well-used roads and paths.
Road travel in Laos can be hazardous, as vehicles are often poorly maintained and road conditions are poor, especially during the rainy season. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Livestock often stray onto the roads, causing accidents. Travel should be undertaken only during daylight hours. Travellers involved in traffic accidents have been required to pay compensation for property damage or injury, regardless of who the police judge to be at fault. Laotian insurers will generally only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and refuse to cover compensation, which can be the largest expense.
Do not leave your passport as collateral when renting vehicles, including motorcycles. Read rental contracts thoroughly to ensure that the vehicle is correctly insured to cover damages and theft. Only rent from reputable companies, as some companies have been known to “steal” the vehicle, particularly motorcycles, and claim for the loss. If your passport is inaccessible or stolen as a result of misuse, you may be subject to investigation by Passport Canada and may receive limited passport services.
Public transportation is unreliable and limited after dark. River travel is common in Laos; however, travel by boat on the Mekong River from Vientiane to Luang Prabang is unreliable. Safety standards are minimal. Speedboat travel is especially dangerous during the dry season (November to May). Lifejackets and helmets should be provided to and worn by passengers. Do not travel on or across the Mekong River after dark. In some areas, the Laotian military has been known to shoot at boats after dark.
See Transportation Safety in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.
River-based sporting activities
Exercise extreme caution and carefully consider your safety when engaging in river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng. Travellers have died or been seriously injured while taking part in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping/diving into the river. River levels can fluctuate considerably and debris can make river-based activities dangerous.
General safety information
Canadians are encouraged to register with the Embassy of Australia in Vientiane in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect their safety.
Tourist facilities outside Vientiane and Luang Prabang are limited. International telephone and email facilities are available in Vientiane but are extremely limited elsewhere. Even where available, these services are often unreliable and expensive.
Comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks. Travellers are subject to search, detention and the possibility of fines by authorities if suitable identification is not presented. Security authorities may place foreigners under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, fax machines and email messages may be monitored. Personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Dial 191 to reach police, 195 for ambulance or 190 for fire fighters.
The Vientiane Tourist Police can be reached at +856 021 251 128.
It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter. Canadian consular officials cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet entry requirements. The following information on entry and exit requirements has been obtained from the Laotian authorities. However, these requirements are subject to change at any time. It is your responsibility to check with the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic for up-to-date information.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
Canadians must present a passport to visit Laos, which must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected entry into that country.
Canadians must also be in possession of a visa. A tourist visa can be obtained upon arrival at Wattay International Airport, Luang Prabang International Airport, Pakse International Airport and most “international” (that is, open to all foreign nationals) border crossings. Confirm whether tourist visas are available with the nearest Laotian embassy or consulate. Two passport photos and US$42 are required to obtain a visa upon arrival.
Tourist visa: Required
Business visa: Required
Student visa: Required
Immigration offices at some border crossings are difficult to identify. Ensure that you obtain an entry stamp into Laos; failure to do so can result in serious fines, detention and deportation.
Travellers are required to obtain permission from local authorities prior to travel to certain parts of the province of Xaisomboun. You may be refused entry to some areas of the province, particularly around Long Tieng.
Dual citizenship is not legally recognized in Laos, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. See Travelling as a dual citizen for more information.
Children and travel
Children need special documentation to visit certain countries. See Children for more information.
See Health to obtain information on this country’s vaccination requirements.
Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending a large amount of time outdoors) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world. Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
Yellow Fever Vaccination
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
|* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.|
|Country Entry Requirement*|
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Southeast Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southeast Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
Cholera is a bacterial disease that is most often spread by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated. It causes diarrhea and in severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.
Most travellers are at very low risk. Travellers at higher risk include those visiting, working or living in areas with limited access to safe food, water and proper sanitation, or to areas where outbreaks are occurring. Travellers at higher risk should discuss with a health care provider the benefits of getting vaccinated.
Schistosomiasis can be spread to humans through freshwater sources contaminated by blood flukes (tiny worms). The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in freshwater sources (lakes, rivers, ponds). There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.
- Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers at high risk visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care provider about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
- Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- The risk of dengue is higher during the daytime, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Southeastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
There have been human cases of avian influenza in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread quickly and easily among birds and in rare cases, it can infect people.
Avoid high risk areas such as poultry farms and live animal markets including areas where poultry may be slaughtered. Avoid contact with birds (alive or dead) and surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them. Ensure all poultry dishes, including eggs, are well cooked.
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.
For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.
Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.
High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.
Medical services and facilities
Medical facilities throughout Laos are scarce and operate below Canadian standards. Medical evacuation to Thailand is required, except for basic medical conditions and injuries, in order to obtain acceptable standards of treatment. Such evacuations are very expensive and difficult to organize. Seek immediate assistance in Vientiane and consider leaving if you experience medical problems while in Laos.
Canadians may visit the Embassy of Australia’s clinic (tel.: +856 21 353 840), located in the same building as the Australian chancery, or the International Clinic (tel.: +856 21 414 022), which is attached to Mahosot Hospital.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws & culture
Laws & culture
You are subject to local laws. See Arrest and detention for more information.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict and may include the death penalty.
Non-marital sexual relationships between foreigners and Laotian citizens are against the law, as are various forms of cohabitation with Laotian nationals. Convictions for such offences can lead to prison sentences and large fines. Improper registration of a relationship to a Laotian national can lead to similar penalties. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Laotian citizen must be submitted in a formal application to Laotian authorities.
You can be fined for not carrying proper identification, such as your passport, at all times, and for not having an entry stamp in your passport.
Photography of government buildings and vehicles, as well as bridges, airfields, and military installations or personnel, is prohibited. Violators may be arrested and their equipment, seized.
Laos is tolerant of a diversity of religions. However, religious proselytizing or distributing of religious material is strictly prohibited. Violators may be arrested or deported.
An International Driving Permit is recommended.
Public displays of affection, such as kissing, whether between opposite or same-sex couples, are not considered proper or polite.
Consult the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service if you intend to do business in Laos.
The currency is the kip (LAK). It is not easily obtained or exchanged outside of Laos. U.S. dollars and Thai baht are widely accepted. There are very few automated banking machines in Laos that accept foreign cards, and those that do are often out of order. Major credit cards are accepted at some international hotels and tourist establishments. Cash advances can be obtained from some banks, although the bank commissions are high. Traveller’s cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and other major towns. Western Union provides services in several major cities and towns across the country.
Natural disasters & climate
Natural disasters & climate
The rainy (monsoon) season extends from May to November. During the rainy season, provinces along the Mekong River in southern Laos are prone to severe rainstorms that can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and hampering the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities. See Typhoons and monsoons for more information.
There is no resident Canadian government office in Laos. You can obtain consular assistance and further information from the Embassy of Australia in Vientiane (under the Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement).
Vientiane - Embassy of Australia
Bangkok - Embassy of Canada
For emergency assistance after hours, call the Embassy of Australia in Vientiane and follow the instructions. You may also make a collect call to the Emergency Watch and Response Center in Ottawa at +1 613 996 8885.
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