Laos – Getting There
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, with the Mekong River forming a large part of its western boundary with Thailand, the Annamite Range of mountains forming most of its eastern border with Vietnam, and the Luang Prabang Range forming its northwestern border with the Thailand highlands. Two plateaus — the Xiangkhoang and the Bolaven Plateau can be found in its northern and southern ends respectively.
The country’s landscape is mostly thickly forested with rugged mountains, plains, and plateaus. Laos is divided into 17 provinces or khoueng and one prefecture or kampheng nakhon, which includes the capital city of Vientiane. The provinces are further subdivided into districts or muang, and then into villages or ban.
Currently, Laos has three international airports: the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, the Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang, and the Pakse International Airport in Pakse. Airline carriers that offer flights into the country include the country’s national carrier — Lao Airlines, and other airlines including Vietnam Airlines, China Southern, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, and EVA Air.
Aside from flights and travel arrangements, another thing to consider is how to legalise your stay in Laos. Here are a few things you should know regarding Laos’ Visa, immigration, and customs:
Several countries around the world have amicable relations with other countries that can ease up travel regulations, and Laos is no exception. As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), citizens of its member nations are permitted free access to the country. Russia, South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland also enjoy the same privileges. Nationalities that are not African or Middle Eastern are offered visas on arrival, but if your home country is not one of the aforementioned, then you should apply for a visa in advance.
Lao government-issued tourist visas typically have a maximum duration of 30 days, whether it is offered upon arrival in any airport or border crossing or applied for in advance. Visas upon arrival are granted by providing a few simple requirements: one passport-sized photo, the name of your place of stay, and an amount of USD 30 to 42 in cash – those without a photo are charged an additional dollar or two. Visas applied for in Lao Embassies and Consulates, on the other hand, cost the same but you’ll have to wait around three working days to receive it.
Tourist Visas are also eligible for an extension of up to 90 days at a price of LAK 20,000 or USD 2.40 per day. While the amount might not be that much upon conversion, the bad news is that extension can only be done in major cities around the country. So what happens if you’ve overstayed your visa and forgot to extend? You’re going to be fine, but not your wallet. You will then have to pay — overstayed visas are charged USD 10 for each day of extension, which is paid prior to departure at the immigration checkpoint.
The other kind of visa is the business visa, which has a 30 days duration, extendable up to a year. You can easily obtain it if a Laotian agency sponsors you.
When two different cultures clash, the one with a favour to ask has to have the longest patience. The same holds true for the immigration atmosphere in Laos. You will be subjected to multiple paperwork, lengthy questioning, and might be required to present additional proofs of identity – which is most probably your visa and passport. After these procedures, you’re free to go and explore the country. Patience, endurance, and understanding of cultural differences are the essentials to not allowing external pressures ruin your whole vacation experience.
The Lao Customs Regulations inspectors are pretty lax when it comes to their responsibilities, especially when your luggage is light. If it’s not, then be prepared for your belongings to be inspected thoroughly. Just remember that no more than 500 cigarettes and 1 litre of alcohol or distilled spirits will be allowed to enter with you. The stricter side of the regulations skews towards drugs, deadly weapons, and pornographic materials. Having any of these three is equivalent to ruining your whole vacation, so do not even attempt it.
Entering a foreign country, especially for the first time can make anyone feel anxious. So it’s important to arm yourself with the right information for a hassle-free vacation.