Indochina

Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

 

 

 

 

OVERVIEW

Vietnam

Vietnam has opened its doors to tourism in the last two decades and has become one of the most popular destinations in Asia. People are warm-hearted, humble and very friendly though their history has been scarred by frequent wars. Its economy is one the fastest growing ones and the pace of development is quite visible as you drive in the cities. Modern buildings are coming up among up replacing old houses. Away from the metropolitan cities, you can see the beauty and serenity of the country-side, green patches of rice paddies and young boys riding on water buffaloes – it’s all looks very picturesque.

 

Destination Info

This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.

 

Best time to go: Vietnam is year-round destination – there is not really a “best time”. Climate varies considerably from North to South due to wide range of latitudes and altitudes. North Vietnam generally has four seasons. Winter is from December to February when it can be cold (daytime temperature can be around 10 deg cel) in Northern region and you need to be prepared accordingly. Between July and November, short to heavy downpours are expected, often resulting in floods. Central region is also prone to cyclones during these months. 

Ruou ran (snake wine), a Vietnamese specialty of rice wine with a pickled snake inside, allegedly can cure any sickness.


Visa: New Zealand passport holders need a Visa to enter Vietnam. A Single Entry Visa currently costs NZD 120 per person plus any other related costs. Your passport has to be valid for a minimum of 6 months from your expected departure date from Vietnam. Please contact Vietnamese Consulate for more details. We can also arrange Visa Approval Letters through our Vietnam Office to facilitate your Visa-on-arrival.

In Vietnam, bells and not gongs are used to call children to school.


Currency: Local currency of Vietnam is called Dong. Currency comes in bank notes in denomination of 200, 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dongs. You can use US Dollars as well in most of your transactions – either in Hotels or stores or on street as well. Exchange rate can vary every day. As in December 2012, the exchange rate was USD 1 = 19,000 dongs.

NZ Dollars is not a popular currency in Vietnam and it is advisable to carry US Dollars, preferably in smaller denominations for quick transactions. ATMs can be easily located in bigger cities like Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An. Major credit cards are accepted by Hotels and big stores but small shops do not have facilities for credit cards.

Lizard fishing is one of the most popular pass-times in Vietnam. 


Health: Vietnam does not have any particular health risk but general hygienic conditions are not the same as in New Zealand. There are a few precautions recommended – avoid eating food exposed to natural elements, ensure that mineral water bottle is properly sealed when you buy it, cover arms and legs in the evening to avoid mosquito bites. Carry your general medication with you and consult your doctor well in advance to prepare for the trip.

Vietnam has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Third World.


Food and drinks: Its cuisine is one of the highlights of Vietnam. The menu mainly comprises chicken, beef, duck, pork, fresh seasonal vegetables and seafood. A few dishes have the bearing of their French colonial legacy. Vietnamese food is always freshly cooked using very little oil and generally served in typical Vietnamese Fish Sauce. Excellent seafood dishes, rice noodles, fried rice dishes as well as vegetarian dishes are all very reasonably priced. You could try out local Vietnamese restaurants in the cities. Vietnamese beer is the main alcoholic beverage and is good – local beer is almost half the price as international brands. Local beers - especially Tiger and Larue are highly recommended.

Avoid drinking tap water in your Hotels. Always drink mineral water and ensure that bottles are properly sealed when you buy it. Most Hotels provide complimentary mineral water bottles in the room, replenished daily.

Vietnam is the largest exporter of cashews in the world, and the second largest exporter of rice.


Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.

Iced tea is free in most restaurants. Some have hot tea; others have both.

 

Clothing: Casual and light clothes are recommended unless you are visiting northern or mountainous region during winters. In plains, expect a tropical weather most of the times and therefore, shorts, t-shirts are advisable. In the evening, you can wear smart casuals for dinner. Please take good walking shoes with non-slip sole as you will be required to walk frequently during your sightseeing programs and sometimes on uneven surface.

Everyone's birthday is celebrated on New Year’s Day.


Language: Traditionally, Vietnamese language has been influenced by Chinese and even now, there are a few traditional shops with Chinese architecture and signage. Modern Vietnamese language is a mix of Chinese, Khmer and Thai languages. English is fast becoming popular among local people but in smaller cities, you may not have a clear communication while shopping on road sides.

Takraw, or kick volleyball, is a traditional sport in Vietnam.


Gratuities: Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you. Before you tip, please check if the service charge has been added in the bill. If not, we can recommend 8%-10% of the total bill as tip. For your local guide and the driver, we can recommend a tip of USD 2.00 per person each per half day of service. To the Hotel Bell Boys, USD 1.00 on arrival or departure is sufficient.

Nguyen is the most popular surname in Vietnam


Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure. Domestic taxes are also included in the air tickets.

Potbelly pigs are kept as pets in Vietnam.

 

Internet: Internet is common in hotel rooms and a lot of hotels also have internet facilities at their Reception or Business Centre for use by guests at a small fee. Cyber cafes are popular and can be found near your Hotel. Some Hotels provide internet facilities on complimentary basis in the lobby for their in-house guests.

Vietnamese have a life expectancy of 72 years.


Telephone: Mobile network cover almost the entire country – even in Halong Bay. Calling from Vietnam is cheap but Hotels generally charge 5-6 times the general call cost. Dialing code for Vietnam is +84 and if you are calling New Zealand from Vietnam, the code is +64. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary. It is recommended to buy a mobile SIM card on arrival if you need to be in regular touch with people back home.

Vietnamese national flower is Lotus flower.


Time Difference: Vietnam is 5 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 6 hours from October to March.


Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited. If you are taking photos of local ladies, please politely ask for prior permission.


Electricity: Voltage supply in Vietnam is 220 volts and round 2-pin plugs are used. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Also advisable to carry a small torch as power cuts are frequent in Vietnam. Please visit this website for more information on plugs: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

About 7,500 women served in the Vietnam War.


Postage: Postal system in Vietnam is rather slow and you mail can take 2-3 weeks to reach. Postage is cheap and the Hotel staff will be happy to direct you to the nearest post-office.


General: Usual business hours are from 8.00 am till 5.00 pm and offices generally close for lunch between 12.00 pm till 2.00 pm. Shops usually open till late even on public holidays. Vietnam is a shopper’s paradise and most shopping actually done in streets, markets and small stores. Vietnam is very popular for ceramics, lacquer ware, clothes, shoes, hand bags and paintings. Hoi An is particularly popular as the “tailoring capital of the world’ where you can get a dress made overnight at a fraction of the normal price at home. You can try your bargaining skills in the markets as most of the prices have a reasonable scope of bargaining.

An estimated ten million motor bikes travel on the roads of Vietnam every day.

 

Cities of interest:

 

Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam.  It's a bustling, dynamic and industrious centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter.  The streets, where much of the city's life takes place, is a myriad of street markets, shops, pavement cafes, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling wares spread out on sidewalks.  The city churn6s, ferments, bubbles and fumes.  Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.

 

Hanoi
Hanoi means `City on a River Bend' and the city has been inhabited since Neolithic times.  In 1010 AD the Emperor made Than Long (`City of the Soaring Dragon') his capital and today it remains the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  Hanoi has been known as the Eastern Capital and as Tonkin by Europeans. The city's variety of beautiful architecture, historical sites and pleasant atmosphere is conducive to exploration on foot.  Take a stroll or cycle through the Old Quarters of "36 streets and 36 wares" where artisans still ply their century-old trades, and visit the many souvenir shops and art galleries located nearby.

 

Hoi An
Hoi An was a bustling seaport until the 19th century when the river silted up and Danang took over.  The heartland of the Champa Kingdom, it was the site of the first Chinese settlement in South Vietnam.  The architecture of the city reflects the influence of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, French and British traders.  Today, Hoi An is popular for its quaint charm and interesting mix of architecture dating as far back as the 18th century.  Hoi an is best explored on foot - visit its ancient quarters which feature Chinese temples, original wooden houses, souvenir shops and art galleries. Hoi An has also acquired fame as being the tailoring capital of the world where exact replica of a dress can be made on order overnight at fraction of the normal price by scores of tailoring shops.

 

 

Halong Bay
Halong Bay is Vietnam’s most stunning natural treasure and a World Heritage Site.  In the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay is comprised of approximately 3,000 islands which rise from the emerald waters forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars.  Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by man. The exceptional esthetic values of this site are complimented by its great biological interest. The bay is also dotted with numerous grottoes and caves filled with a variety of stalagmites and stalactites.

 

Nha Trang
Nha Trang is a good place to go for sun and sea. With crystal-clear turquoise waters (except for the wet season), snorkeling, diving and fishing are the prime activities and just lazing on the town beach is an experience in itself.   You'll be offered everything from lunch to a manicure.  When you tire of the beach, there are some interesting sites nearby such as the Long Son Pagoda and, 2 km to the north of town, are the Cham Towers of Po Nagar, built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site that had been used for Hindu worship as early as the 2nd century.

 

Hue
Hue was Vietnam's political capital under 13 Nguyen emperors from 1802 until 1945.  Situated on the Perfume River, it was always a cultural, religious and educational centre with many pagodas, the tombs of the emperors and a citadel built in 1687.  During the French period many artifacts disappeared and, in the 1968 Tet Offensive, countless lives were lost. Regarded as a unique city due to its retention of original architecture and relics of its royal history as well as being an important centre of Buddhism with hundreds of temples and pagodas, Hue has been recognized as an invaluable `museum' and, to that end, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

 

Cambodia

OVERVIEW
You will be amazed to see and hear about 4000 years of history of this little-known kingdom, which kept its doors closed to international tourism till a few years back. After about 35 years of non-stop war, this beautiful country is finally re-emerging from the darkness. Since the time of the Vietnam war in the sixties followed by the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge, a Vietnamese takeover, and a further 20 years of civil war. War of late 60’s destroyed much of the already-struggling economy but it stabilized after a new regime took power in 1979. A series of reforms started in 1992 have seen the country make a steady progress to catch up with times. Cambodia is among the fastest growing economies in the region.

Cambodia conjures up images of a glorious and mysterious history and rich cultural heritage. For most, Cambodia will be synonymous with the great ancient temple city of Seam Riep. Besides the marvellous temple complexes of Angkor Wat and Bantay Srei, a trip to Cambodia is incomplete with a visit to Phnom Penh.

All arrangements are provided with private air-conditioned vehicles and local English speaking guides. Our local operators are leading inbound tours company in Cambodia with years of faultless operations and maintain a very high service standard with attention to details.

From the following packages, you could either choose any one of them or combine two or more or modify any one of them to suit your requirement or let us create a tailor-made program for you. We sell what we know the best….nothing is too much or too little for us….


DESTINATION INFO
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc. as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.

Best time to go: Cambodia is year round destination. It is generally warm and humid all the time and it rains, generally in the afternoons in short-spells between May and October. December to February is a bit more pleasant when temperatures drop down a bit.

Visa: New Zealand passport holders need a Visa to enter Cambodia. Visa can be obtained on arrival at the airport or a land border costing USD20.00 pp and you also require one passport size photo. This process may take at least 20 minutes. If you are arriving in Cambodia by flight, you can get a prior E-Visa through their official website : http://mfaic.gov.kh/mofa/ . E-Visa costs USD25.00 pp and you will need to attach a digital photo. Confirmation of E-Visa can take anything from one hour to two working days and this Visa is valid for a stay up to 30 days.

Currency: Main currency in Cambodia is Riel but US Dollars is also considered as alternate currency and is accepted everywhere. It is difficult to exchange New Zealand Dollars in Cambodia, hence it is advisable to carry US Dollars from here, preferably notes of small denominations. If you wish to change US Dollars into Riels, you can change at your Hotel. All major credit cards are accepted by Hotels and big stores but you will need to carry cash for tuk-tuks and for bargains on the streets and markets. ATMs are located in town centre in Siem Reap and main shopping areas of Phnom Penh.

Health: A reasonably good health is required to visit Cambodia since it involves a fair amount of walking and climbing big steps during sightseeing programs. Cambodia does not have any particular health risk but general hygienic conditions are not the same as in New Zealand. There are a few precautions recommended – avoid eating food exposed to natural elements, ensure that mineral water bottle is properly sealed when you buy it, cover arms and legs in the evening to avoid mosquito bites. Carry your general medication with you and consult your doctor well in advance to prepare for the trip.

Food and drinks: Cambodian or Khmer cuisine is generally influenced by Thai though a few dishes are traditionally Khmer. The menu mainly comprises chicken, beef, fish and fresh seasonal vegetables. Khmer food is always freshly cooked using very little oil. Excellent meat dishes, rice noodles, fried rice dishes as well as vegetarian dishes are all very reasonably priced. You could try out local Khmer restaurants in the cities. Beer is the main alcoholic beverage and is good – local beer is almost half the price as international brands. Local beers – especially Angkor is highly recommended.

Avoid drinking tap water in your Hotels. Always drink mineral water and ensure that bottles are properly sealed when you buy it. Most Hotels provide complimentary mineral water bottles in the room, replenished daily.

Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.

Clothing: Casual and light clothes are recommended. Expect a tropical weather most of the times and therefore shorts and t-shirts are advisable. In the evening, you can wear smart casuals for dinner. Please take good walking shoes with non-slip sole as you will be required to walk frequently during your sightseeing programs and sometimes on uneven surface. Most of the tourist vehicles keep umbrellas in case of downpours, so you do not need to carry one from home.

Language: Official language in Cambodia is Khmer but English is fast becoming popular. Most people understand and can speak English in cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap though older generation may be comfortable with French as Cambodians were taught French in schools till early 70’s.

Gratuities: As one of the poorest countries of the world, salary levels are extremely low in Cambodia and people of hospitality industry rely mainly on tips. Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you. Before you tip, please check if the service charge has been added in the bill. If not, we can recommend 8%-10% of the total bill as tip. For your local guide and the driver, we can recommend a tip of USD2.00 per person each per half day of service. To the Hotel Bell Boys, USD1.00 on arrival or departure is sufficient.

Airport tax: Domestic airport tax is included in the air tickets but for international departures, there is an airport tax of USD25.00 pp for adults and USD13.00 pp for children payable directly.

Internet: Internet is common in hotel rooms and a lot of hotels also have internet facilities at their Reception or Business Centre for use by guests at a small fee. Cyber cafes are popular and can be found near your Hotel.

Telephone: Mobile network covers main cities but quite erratic in the country-side. Calling from Cambodia is cheap but Hotels generally charge 8-10 times the general call cost. Dialling code for Cambodia is +855 and if you are calling New Zealand from Cambodia, the code is +64. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary. It is recommended to buy a mobile SIM card on arrival if you need to be in touch with people back home.

Time Difference: Cambodia is 6 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 5 hours from October to March.

Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited. If you are taking photos of local ladies, please politely ask for prior permission.

Electricity: Voltage supply in Cambodia is 220 volts and round 2-pin plugs are used. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. It is advisable to carry a small torch as power cuts are frequent in Cambodia though all Hotels have their own stand-by generators. Please visit this website for more information on plugs: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

Postage: Postal system in Vietnam is rather slow and you mail can take 2-3 weeks to reach. Postage is cheap and the Hotel staff will be happy to direct you to the nearest post-office.


CITIES OF INTEREST
Phnom Penh 
Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital retains an undeniable charm despite its tumultuous and often violent past. The crumbling colonial architecture makes an attractive backdrop to bustling street-side cafes and the redeveloped riverfront precinct – a particularly lively part of town on Friday and Saturday nights. The city has several impressive wats (temple-monasteries), including Wat Ounalom, Wat Phnom and Wat Moha Montrei. Pride of place goes to the spectacular Silver Pagoda, one of the few places in Cambodia where artefacts embodying the richness of Khmer culture were preserved by the Khmer Rouge.


Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a small colonial town just north of Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Tonle Sap. The town itself is charming and pleasant to roam around, with some fine examples of French colonial architecture, though modern developments have been swift here in recent years since the demise of the Khmer Rouge. Now that the town is safe again, visitors have been flocking in, using it as a base for visits to nearby Angkor ruins. The most famous of the entire temple complex must be Angkor Wat. It was built under King Suryavarman II, who reigned from 1113 to 1150, who intended the temple to present him to his people as the incarnation of Vishnu, an Indian god. When most of Angkor was abandoned in the 15th century, the temples were gradually cloaked by forest until they were uncovered by French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1861. The jungle setting and silence enhance the mystery of the temples and many of them remain in good condition. Some are under restoration and visitors can get a first-hand look at the painstaking efforts underway to preserve the relics.


Rattanakiri
Ratanakiri is located, 636Kms from Phnom Penh. A sparsely populated province, it is renowned for its unique natural beauty and wealth of natural resources. The physical and environmental characteristic of the province forms an impressive range including undulating hills and mountains, a level plateau, watershed lowlands, crater lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Forest cover varies from area to area, from the dense impenetrable forest in the northern reaches, which are still rich in wildlife, to the drier and sparser forest, found in the southwest.


Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is an inspiring beach destination in Cambodia. Bearing a history of a little more than half a century, the small but fascinating city holds a charm of its own which leaves the visitors absolutely enticed. The port city had become a much sought after destination since day one with its pristine beaches and unexplored terrains. Sihanoukville now witnesses hordes of visitors who are attracted to the tranquil ambience and serene beauty of this Asian city. Moreover the city falls short of nothing that you would find in any other tourist destination like hotels, resorts, beaches, mountains, waterfalls, National parks, pulsating nightlife and of course friendly people.

Laos

OVERVIEW
Laos is located in the centre of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North, Myanmar to Northwest, Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the South and Vietnam to the East. Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometres of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos.

Laos, the Jewel of the Mekong, is rapidly becoming a new and exciting tourism destination. The country offers a diversity of unspoiled ethnic lifestyles and traditions, as well as some of the richest and most extensive ecosystems of the Indochina Region.

This land-locked mountainous country is gaining a reputation as an ecotourist destination. Its many rivers criss-crossing the country and unspoilt national parks are ideal for activities such as trekking, kayaking and caving. The capital, Vientiane, and the other major towns have been spared major modern developments with traditional and colonial architecture still dominant.

Laos has one of the most pristine natural landscapes in Southeast Asia. An estimated half of its woodlands consist of primary forest, in particular the tropical rainforest. In addition to its fascinating vegetation, Laos plays host to a diverse animal kingdom. Several exotic mammals are endemic such as leopard cats, Javan mongoose, goat antelopes as well as rare species of gibbons and linger, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear and gaur.

A shopper’s paradise from high-end boutiques to humble market stalls, Laos is a haven for souvenir hunters. . Silk and cotton fabrics, objects made from wood (sculptures, cut-out figures), pottery and traditional instruments are part of the rich tapestry of Laotian craftsmanship. Both Luang Prabang and Vientiane are teeming with gorgeous boutiques showcasing high quality hand-woven textiles.

In Laos, wellness – both physical and mental – is holistic. The concept of a stress-free and contented life is nothing new. After all, this is a place many travellers have described as somewhere you can’t help but relax. Laos is where you will find a tranquillity rarely found elsewhere. Even better, this internal peace can be complemented with a physical well-being – why not try a traditional Lao massage. Thai massage is also readily available in many cities and with a wide range of spas, especially in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, you won’t have to travel far to pamper yourself.

 

DESTINATION INFO
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc. as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.


Best time to go: Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The rainy season is from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius, rising to a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius during April and May. The best time to visit Laos is between November and April. Though it’s warm and humid round the year, season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible. 

Visa: New Zealand passport holders can get a Tourist Visa on arrival at the Airport in Laos or at one of its specified border checkpoints. Visa can also be requested in advance from Laos Consulate in Canberra. Passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the expected date of departure from Laos. 

Currency: The Kip is the official currency of the Lao PDR and the following bank notes are currently in circulation: 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000 and 50,000 Kip. The best currencies to use when exchanging money are: US Dollars, Euros and Thai Baht. You can exchange your currency at the bank, airport or at a foreign currency exchange office. Visa is the most common credit card accepted. Master Card and American Express are accepted at most banks in the larger towns (such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang) and in the big hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops but it’s advisable to keep some amount of cash handy for petty expenses. 

Health: All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

Bug repellent is highly recommended as dengue and few mosquito-related illnesses are quite prevalent in Laos. Health insurance is essential and should include cover for air evacuation. 

Food and drinks: Laotian food is based on fish, buffalo meat, pork, poultry and especially herbs. It is always being freshly prepared and not being preserved. Laotian food is very rich in vegetables and is often browned in coconut oil. Rice, sweet or sour or fermented, is the staple of Laotian food. Lap is a traditional dish. It consists of minced meat accompanied by citronella, onions, and spices and mixed with a fish sauce and roasted rice. Lap means “happiness and luck”. The sticky rice is always served with the hot sauce or a spicy fish or shrimp based sauce. Laotian cooking not only uses cultivated vegetables, but often wild fruit or vegetables picked from the forests are used. Laotian food has a unique flavour and some dishes can be a bit spicy. 

Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page. 

Clothing: Casual and light clothes are recommended. Expect a tropical weather most of the times and therefore, shorts, t-shirts are advisable. Weather can be a bit cold during November and December and it is recommended to carry light woollens. In the evening, you can wear smart casuals for dinner. Please take good walking shoes with non-slip sole as you will be required to walk frequently during your sightseeing programs and sometimes on uneven surface.

When visiting temples (call “Wat”) you must be dressed decently and remove your shoes before you enter the religious buildings. Avoid wearing short and sleeveless shirts. When entering a Wat or a private home, it is customary to remove one’s shoes. In Lao homes raised off the ground, the shoes are left at the stairs. In traditional homes, one sits on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men usually sit with their legs crossed or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering, guests may be served fruit or tea. These gestures of hospitality should not be refused. 

Language: The official language is Lao. English is fast becoming popular among local people but in smaller cities, you may not have a clear communication while shopping on road sides.

Gratuities: Most of the restaurants include service charge in the bills, hence you do not need to tip the waiters. Hotel Bell Boys, guides and your driver would expect some gratuities. Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you. 

Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure. 

Internet: Internet access is available in Hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang only and work is in progress to connect other cities as well. 

Telephone: Dialling code for Laos is +856 and if you are calling New Zealand from Laos, the code is +64. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary.

Time Difference: Laos is 6 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 5 hours from October to March. 

Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited. Please avoid taking photos of local ladies in traditional dresses as some of them can take an offence to it, which may have serious consequences. 

Electricity: Voltage supply in Laos is 220 volts and 2-pin or 3-pin (round pins) are used. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Please visit this website for more information on plugs: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

 

CITIES OF INTEREST

Luang Prabang
The ancient town of Luang Prabang is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site describing it as “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.” Considered as being the heart of Laotian culture, the tiny town is encircled by mountains and is at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It’s Laos’ premier tourist destination and one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful spot. Its palm-lined riverbanks, ochre daubed houses, terracotta roofs and saffron-robed monks all come together to form a picture postcard increasingly difficult to find in Southeast Asia.

Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until administration was moved to Vientiane in 1545. It showcases its amalgamation of crumbling French architecture, glistening temples, extensive natural beauty and imparts on visitors an especially unique vibe. The city centre has most of the attractions with everything from former royal palaces to over 33 Wats (temples) in the vicinity. This former Royal capital still remains the main centre for Buddhist learning in Laos and is the perfect location for spiritual contemplation.

Littered with dozens of wats, colonial buildings and trading houses, its tree-lined banks, dotted with temple roofs and the rising peak of Mt Phousi, Luang Prabang has enchanted those who arrive by boat for centuries. Its peaceful feel masks its fascinating history of conquest and recapture, and only hints at the intricate culture and complex traditions that take place here every day.

With an outstanding range of restaurants, guesthouses and hotels, a gorgeous location and super-friendly people, it does have a frequent habit of wrecking tightly planned itineraries – be sure to allow at least a few days to really take this wonderful town in. 
 

Vientianne
With a population of just over half a million, Vientiane is the centre of Laos culture, commerce and administration and is considered as being “mad busy” in comparison with the other Laotian towns. Hugging a bend of the Mekong River, the low-rise capital of Laos is a quaint and easy-going place compared to Southeast Asia’s other frenetic capitals, looking more like a rambling collection of villages than a city. However, in the mere decade since Laos reopened its doors to foreign visitors, Vientiane has changed with dizzying rapidity; new businesses are popping up all over the place, and scores of old shade trees have been cut down to accommodate an ever-multiplying number of cars and motorbikes. The city’s history has been a turbulent one, frequently seen invasions and occupation by various forces.

The central boulevard is reminiscent of the Champ Elysees, another telling sign of the city’s French heritage. Vientiane is relatively small so moving around can de done with ease. Accessing sights such as Wat Sisaket, That Luang and Buddha Park, can be done by hiring a song-teow, a pushbike or even going on foot. As for dining out; fringing the Mekong River there are an abundance of inexpensive food choices with everything from Indian, Thai, French, and Mediterranean readily available.

Rice and vegetable fields are well hidden behind tree-lined pathways, where French-style buildings stand next to Buddhist monasteries and monuments, each telling a story of the country’s rich, cultural and somewhat troubled past. The city was rebuilt by the French after the Siamese army left it in virtual ruins in 1828. The local penchant for producing stomach-filling baguettes and fragrant coffee clearly shows that the influence of the French still lingers on.

 

Champassak
About 1400 years ago, Champasak was the centre of power in the lower Mekong basin, later a revered outpost of the Khmer Angkor empire and still later one of the three kingdoms to rule over the remains of Lane Xang. The city carries an interesting story about a queen who ruled over this region in mid-17th century.

Southern Champasak Province features the Four Thousand Islands, which are considered to be the largest complex of waterfalls and rapids in the world. Vat Phou temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which predates Angkor Vat in Cambodia, is one of Champasak’s main attractions and is considered one of the finest Angkor-inspired edifices outside of Cambodia.

The Mekong River north of Pakse (capital of Champasak province) opens the door to interesting cultural attractions, most notably silk weaving on Don Ko Island, a former French colonial administrative centre.

Rafting and kayaking through this amazing stretch of Mekong waterfalls, up to 14 km wide. Also not to be missed are the Irawaddy fresh water dolphins which can be seen from Don Kone island.

In northern Champasak Province, the Pu Xieng Thong National Protected Area recently opened a one-day trek led by village guides. The trek covers some of the major natural and cultural sites of Pu Khong Mountain, located inside the protected area, which is best known for its diversity of orchid and mushrooms species.

 

Xien Khouang (Plain of Jars)
In the northeast of Laos, is the province of Xieng-Khouang, which is becoming more and more famous among tourists to Southeast Asia, as it is the place to view the mysterious Plains of Jars. From the early 19th century until 1975, central Xieng-Khouang and the plain of jars was a recurring battle zone. It’s estimated that more bombs were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, than in the Second World War. For much of its history, Xieng Khouang has been something of a battleground, the reason mostly due to its location, between the capitals of Laos and Vietnam. As it is a highland plain, the weather here is pleasantly cool, and during the end of the year, can get quite chilly at night.

The hundreds of giant stone jars, some as large as 3.25 metres high are strewn all over the plateau – carved out of solid hunks of rock from surrounding mountains, no one really knows why they are there. Theories range from the view that they were made to store wine for a huge party to celebrate the conquest of Pakhanh City (Xieng Khouang). Other archaeologists believe they were made to store dead human bodies, as was the practice of ancient believers. They are estimated to be 2,500 to 3,000 years old.

The countryside in Xieng Khouang is breathtakingly beautiful, untouched, and as of now, still not fully exploited by tourism. It offers the awesome beauty of high green mountains and rugged karst formations. Its distance off the main tourist paths is a main reason why Xieng Khouang has been kept so pristine. However, the number of visitors to the Plain of Jars – which Unesco is working to establish as a World Heritage Site – has been on the increase year after year.

The hot springs at Meuang Kham district are worth visiting, and Tham Piu cave is a sobering historical site, used as a bomb shelter by the villages during the Vietnam War. Because of the altitude (average 1200m) in Xieng Khouang, the climate is not too hot in the cool season and not too wet in the rainy season. Consisting of elevated green mountains and luxuriant valleys, the beautiful landscape is somewhat marred by the bomb craters. The war debris and unexploded bombs that are spread across the central and eastern areas of the province are the deadly legacy of the Vietnam War.

 

 

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