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Laos Travel Guide

The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a country of 236,000 square kilometres, located between Vietnam and Thailand. The area contains around 5.5 million people, who are mainly of Lao Loum, Lao Theung and Lao Sung descent and Buddhist and animist religion. The inhabitants speak Lao, English and French and make their living from tobacco, rice, tin mining, opium and coffee trading mainly with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan.

In the latter half of the 18th century, Laos was governed by Thailand, but 100 years later the country became a part of French Indochina, with the 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaty defining a border between Lao and Thailand in the early 20th century. Sixty-eight years later, the Communist Pathet Lao took over the running of the government, ending a 600-year-old dominion. The close-knit attachment to Vietnam and socialisation were substituted with a slow return to personal ventures, a release from overseas investment laws and entry into the ASEAN, in 1997.

The country’s capital of Vientiane is a very modern city, full of trendy cafés but only a few interests for tourists, so after a quick visit visitors should head off to Louang Phabang, situated north of the country, which can only be reached by bus or plane. If going by bus travellers can stop off at Vang Viang, to see its karsts and rice paddies. Once in Louang Phabang, visitors will be faced with a striking array of gold-covered temples and windswept shop-houses. Other areas of interest include the Plain of Jars near to Phonsavan, a town in the northeast, where an array of bomb craters have very old funerary urns spread amongst them. Further to the south there is the region of Wat Phou, where one of the Khmer temples is situated, not forgetting the many river islands of Si Phan Don, which sit alongside the Mekong river and a place where visitors may get the rare pleasure of seeing a Irawaddy dolphin. Any travellers that are tired of looking and want to do some ‘doing’ should set off into the highlands, in the country’s far north, where hiking is at its most interesting. Walkers can trek to the hill tribe villages of Muang Sing then along the Mekong River to Houayxai, where tourists arriving from Thailand appear in search of a scenic boat trip south to Louang Phabang.

In Laos, visitors can travel round every single part of the country, by public transport. Buses travel frequently from Savannakhet to Luang Prabang and vice versa, with rougher terrain taking passengers in trucks fitted with carriages and seats. Travelling by river is a lovely, scenic way to get about with main access from the Mekong, Nam Khan, Nam Ou, Nam Ngum, Se Don and Nam Tha rivers. Shorter trips have river taxis or speedboats for hire but with the increased amount of road development a lot of people are opting for travel by vehicle, with cars and three-wheeled motorcycles available for hire and for very short distances, pedicabs and bicycles.

There are direct flights available to Vientiane's Wattay airport from countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, with other countries having to connect at one of these places. It is also possible to get into the country via border crossings, which are open from 6am to 6pm. The weather in Laos is lovely from November through February, as these are the months with the least rain and the most manageable heat, with May through June also being a good time for hikers.

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