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A landlocked country often overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbours including Thailand and Vietnam, Laos may be the continent’s most underestimated destination. Packed with vibrant villages, unblemished landscapes and countless attractions and adventures that could keep you busy for weeks, this crossroads of Asian culture makes for a fascinating trip and should feature on any travel itinerary to southeast Asia.
However, having found itself caught in the middle of two Indochina wars, you may be wondering how safe this less-developed piece of land really is. Although it may have been isolated from the rest of the world for longer than Asia’s other travel favourites, Laos is now a safe destination for travellers to visit.
Whether you stay in a hotel or a hostel, spend two days or two weeks exploring; as long as you’re careful and cautious, you can fully immerse yourself and discover that Laos has something for everyone. We’ve collated all the essential safety information you need for your journey, including the top ten tips for anyone who’s planning their trip to Laos should consider.
Quick Laos Facts: Essential Information
Currency: Lao kip. The US Dollar is also widely accepted in cash form.
Language: Lao, similarly spoken to Thai. French and English are the most spoken European languages.
Climate: The country has a tropical monsoon climate, with the wet season from May-October and dry season from November-April.
Is Laos safe right now?
Generally, Laos is a very safe place to visit. The Lao people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet in southeast Asia, with many happy to immerse you in their culture and way of life. However, the country’s elevated level of poverty means petty crime rates are extremely high.
Pickpocketing is almost an ordinary occurrence when wandering through busy streets in locations like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, with bustling markets and jam-packed shopping streets proving easy targets for thieves. Petty theft and violent crime rates tend to increase around the time of festivals, such as Lao New Year in April, so it’s best to be extra vigilant during these periods.
Try to always keep an eye on your belongings and don’t leave money or valuable obviously on show — watch out for distraction techniques too, an innocent conversation can unfortunately often have an ulterior motive.
In terms of safety to your health, travelling to Laos doesn’t come without risk. Water borne and food borne diseases are particularly common, with more serious outbreaks occurring in rural regions occasionally.
Bird flu (avian influenza) can also be prevalent in the country’s poultry too, so it’s important to be cautious of what you’re consuming when eating out on your trip. Insect and mosquito borne illnesses including Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and Zika Virus are endemic in Laos, and while you should receive vaccines protecting you against these before travel, it’s a good idea to carry a mosquito net and insect repellent when travelling.
If you do unfortunately become ill when travelling in Laos, it’s important to remember that their healthcare system is extremely poor, so the need to have travel insurance that will cover the costs and help with any medical issues is vital.
Is Laos safe for solo female travellers?
You shouldn’t let being a single female traveller discourage you from visiting Laos — it’s a relatively safe country for women travelling alone.
In the capital of Vientiane and other more modernised cities, women are welcome to explore independently alongside other travellers and local people. However, when visiting more rural areas in Laos, it’s important to be culturally sensitive to the traditional values of the country.
It’s recommended to dress conservatively to avoid any conflict with Lao locals, so it’s a good idea to swap revealing tops for something long sleeved. You’ll also often see Lao people swimming fully clothed or covered up in a sarong, whilst it’s also not culturally acceptable for men or women to walk around in their swimwear — basically, remember to pack your cover up to avoid any confrontation.
If it’s your first time travelling in Asia or you feel unnerved by being alone in these remote locations, you could connect with other travellers for the more isolated journeys on your trip. Like anywhere you travel, it’s also advisable for women to consider simple safety precautions that can avoid you finding yourself in scary situations: don’t walk alone home after dark, don’t flaunt valuable items, and try to ensure a family member or friend has a copy of your travel itinerary so your whereabouts are never a mystery.
Is Laos safe to live?
Living in Laos provides a mostly laid-back lifestyle and a safe spaces to live. Although unfortunate government corruption can make some elements of living in the country challenging, if you’re simply seeking a cultural immersion surrounded by boundless natural beauty, Laos is pretty hard to beat.
Many choose to live in Vientiane where most of the country’s commercial activities take place — meaning more opportunities for work — but more scenic and cultural locations like Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang provide more tourist-based jobs like instructors or guides.
Although not as affordable to live in as nearby countries like Thailand, even living in the capital of Vientiane feels far from the typical Asian city rush; this less-developed location means you can eat good food with good value for money, but you won’t feel overwhelmed or unsafe whilst mingling amongst others in the busy streets. Getting around is relatively easy by taxi or tuk tuk, or by boat if you’re living along the coast; it’s best to avoid walking the streets alone, even if you think you’ve familiarised yourself with your surroundings.
Is Laos safe at night?
Laos is a vibrant destination when the sun goes down, and with busy streets and attractions throughout, it’s usually a safe place to explore at night.
From magical night markets and street food stalls sprawling the length of the Mekong, to open-air bars and restaurants in the capital of Vientiane, many venues close by 11.30pm or midnight, so it’s never as if you should be crawling the streets in the early hours anyway.
Generally, the rule is to stick where there’s plenty of people and you should be fine. Most Lao people attend the night markets to show off their handmade souvenirs, but it’s important to remain cautious of what you’re purchasing. It’s prohibited for travellers to purchase Lao antiques and Buddhist artefacts to take home, so make sure to only purchase replica ornaments and potteries or you could receive an unwelcome fine when trying to depart.
As in any country, you should be extra cautious when drinking alcohol at night too; try to remain aware of your surroundings and don’t accept drinks from strangers, even if they seem friendly. It’s also not unheard of for locals to try and invite travellers into their homes for an ‘authentic’ experience of dining and meeting their family. However, this can be yet another scam to catch you out by night; you’re often invited into a card game — which are illegal in Laos — that results in you handing over money, or even having your bank account wiped. At the end of the night, make sure to take a well-lit route home by taxi or by bus, and remember that there’s always safety in numbers.
Is the tap water in Laos safe to drink?
It’s best to avoid drinking directly from the tap whilst in Laos. With no modern water infrastructure in place, much of the country’s drinking supply tends to be sourced from lakes and rivers which can be unknowingly polluted by human, animal and agricultural waste. Although not all water may be contaminated, it shouldn’t be consumed unless sterilised or boiled beforehand, just in case.
You can buy bottled and purified water in bulk from most shops, which you can then use for drinking and brushing your teeth, but it’s still advisable to specify you’d like bottled water when eating out at restaurants too. It’s also worth remembering that fresh milk in Laos is unpasteurised, so purchasing powdered or tinned milk is a good idea if you plan to consume any of the white stuff whilst visiting to minimise the risk of illness.
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Are taxis in Laos safe?
Like many countries in Asia, it’s important to look after your own safety when taking a taxi in Laos. Try to book or flag down a taxi with seatbelts, or helmets if travelling by motorcycle — traffic tends to be slow moving but driving standards can be questionable, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Public bus routes in Laos tend to only service the country’s largest towns, meaning if you want to explore little-known gems and cultural villages, taxis are a necessity.
However, don’t automatically anticipate a car when you order your ride; like many countries in Southeast Asia, mountainous roads and narrow village tracks mean tuk tuks are the common choice of transport. How much they cost will vary from town to town, as will whether your driver is willing to negotiate. However, it’s worth paying the price in areas of the country like the Mekong, where attractions can be challenging and time consuming to locate without the assistance of a well-travelled driver.
Laos Travel Insurance
Always make sure to get travel insurance! Even if you’re only going for a short time, you should always take out travel insurance. Take our word, travel insurance can save you thousands of pounds – so make sure to get it before you leave.
We highly recommend using Safety Wing, but there are many insurance companies to choose from so make sure to shop around to find the best deal.
Top 10 Laos Safety Tips
Don’t go exploring without a guide – While seemingly safe in terms of crime, exploring landscapes in Laos without local knowledge can prove deadly. Over two hundred million cluster bombs were dropped in Laos at height of Vietnam War by the US Army, and with thousands still laying unexploded in the countryside, the phrase “watch your step” has never been so literal!
Keep valuables out of sight – Anything of value is best left securely locked in your hotel’s safety deposit box to avoid temptation for thieves. Only carry enough cash as you need at a time and ensure your credit cards are kept secure. It’s also worth remembering that petty crime like bag snatching is prevalent, so keep you eyes peeled for suspicious behaviour wherever you can.
Be cautious of scams – Transport pricing usually proves to be one of the most popular scams in Laos, with drivers hiking fares at bus or train stations where only the locals or returning travellers may know the real cost. Researching reasonable prices online before you travel or pre-booking with a reputable company can help you avoid being ripped off when out and about!
Don’t deal with drugs – Of course, they’re illegal. However, drugs are extremely prevalent in Laos and many tourists fall into the trap of being persuaded to buy from aggressive dealers. Avoid getting tangled up in the wrong crowd and stick to the right side of the law — the Lao police are very strict about punishment so it’s best to avoid any encounters with them if you can.
Make digital copies of your travel documents – It’s well worth making a digital copy of your personal and travel documents in case anything is lost or stolen, including your passport, itinerary, insurance and photographic ID. You could always forward a copy to a member of your family or a friend too, who could then provide assistance if you can’t access your phone or a computer for any reason.
Respect the country’s cultural values – While Lao people are wonderfully laid-back, it pays to respect their beliefs whilst visiting. Remove your shoes before entering a place of worship or someone’s home, don’t engage in public displays of affection and never touch a monk; it’s considered rude and is particularly frowned upon if you are a woman.
Follow the rules of the road – The roads in Laos are far from safe — many people, including children, drive unlicensed — so it’s important to exercise caution if you do decide to get behind the wheel. Motorbikes are an ideal mode of transport for the country’s narrow roads, but it’s vital to know the risks, wear a helmet and check over your bike before you set off.
Stay vigilant when out at night – Although it may seem obvious when visiting anywhere new, your safety is most at risk after dark in Laos. Known for having drink drivers on the streets and a small minority of scammers who’ll prey on travellers’ naivety, you’ll need to keep your wits about you; remember to hail a taxi when it’s time to go home too, especially if you’re alone.
Do not drink the tap water – As mentioned, Laos’ lack of water infrastructure means most water that directly comes from the tap can be polluted by human, animal and agricultural waste. Even locals drink water from the bottle or a purified source, so follow their lead and steer clear of getting yourself a nasty stomach upset.
Be careful what you buy – Not only will some merchants attempt to overcharge travellers for particular items, you could also be caught out by buying prohibited items. It’s illegal to take ivory, animal products, Lao antiques and Buddhist artefacts out of the country, so always ensure you’re only purchasing replicas or you could receive a fine upon departure.
Emergency Contact Numbers in Laos
If you find yourself requiring any form of emergency assistance whilst in Laos, you should call 1190 for fire, 1195 for ambulance and for police: 1191, 241162, 241163, 241164, and 212703. As a traveller, you can also contact the Tourist Police in Vientiane by calling 021-251-128 for an English-speaking officer.