South African passport holders do require a visa for Laos. For details please contact our office.
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane
Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang
There is an electricity supply of 220 volts throughout Southeast Asia, in the cities and most towns. 240-volt appliances will work safely with this supply. However, there is no universal power point; they vary not just from one country to the next but from one hotel to another. You can buy adaptors, also known as conversion plugs, from hardware, department and duty free stores. In Laos – vertical two-pin (US) plug.
We recommend you also check weather conditions before you depart.
The countries of Indochina have a subtropical climate; the months of December, January and February are equivalent to their winter with it being the coolest time of the year. In southern and central Vietnam, Cambodia and southern Laos, the days can still be warm but the evenings cooler and dryer. The mountain areas of northern Laos, and all of northern Vietnam can get quite cold and experience light rains at this time of year. You will need a pullover or jacket in the mountainous areas of Laos (such as Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Saravane and Houeixay) and northern Vietnam.
The months of April, May, September, and October enjoy warm temperatures, with April and May being their equivalent to spring; September and October being autumn. These four months enjoy almost identical weather conditions, with usually mild and warm weather. However, it can get extremely hot and humid in
Cambodia during April, just before the relief of the wet season rains come.
March & November also enjoy warm temperatures, with March being early spring and November being late autumn. These two months enjoy almost identical weather conditions – mild and less humid weather. However in November, Central Vietnam experiences occasional storms and Laos has cooler temperatures and you will need a pullover or jacket in mountainous areas like Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Saravane and Houeixay.
During June, July & August it is the wet season for most parts of this region; their equivalent to summer, experiencing warm temperatures and humidity which is relieved by the monsoonal rains that take place most afternoons.
Suggested Packing Lists
Consider your packing carefully. You will need to bring clothing suitable for sun exposure and mild temperatures, as well as water/windproof clothing for the cooler, wetter weather. Generally, casual clothes are recommended for your holiday. Loose fitting, lightweight cotton materials are the most comfortable for humid weather. The dress code throughout the tour is casual however, it is important that all passengers dress conservatively. Smart casual clothes are highly recommended for evening banquets and shows.
Example packing list:
- Your travel documents and passport- including a photocopy of your passport in case it is lost or stolen while you are abroad. Keep one photocopy at home and take another photocopy on your trip with you.
- Main luggage & luggage padlocks.
- ‘Day bag’ – a smaller bag to carry with you during the day, both while driving and sightseeing. E.g. drinking water, hat, sunscreen, toilet paper, insect repellent, camera and spare batteries, jacket.
- Money belt to carry passport, cash, credit cards, airline tickets, etc.
- Lightweight trousers or shorts/skirts (for women) – please remember to respect local customs (knee length is recommended).
- Shirts or long-sleeved tops of light cotton material.
- Light jumpers – great for layering.
- Thermals, thick socks, gloves and scarf – particularly if you are travelling during the winter months November – February.
- Walking shoes and socks, or sandals – it is important to have sturdy and comfortable shoes for sightseeing every day.
- Swimming costume.
- Sun protection – hat, sunscreen and lip balm.
- Personal medical kit including insect repellent.
- Antibacterial wipes or gel to clean hands before eating.
- Tracksuit/similar outfit of soft material is recommended for the overnight train journeys.
- A water/windproof jacket.
- Umbrella/raincoat/poncho – particularly if you are travelling during the rainy season June – October.
- A ‘modesty shawl’ or sarong to wear in Muslim or conservative areas (for women).
- Torch, conversion plug and spare batteries – batteries available to buy in Southeast Asia tend to be unreliable.
- Scarf or bandana – useful to protect your face against dusty winds at high altitude.
- Spare glasses – it is difficult to get any prescription lenses repaired or replaced in Southeast Asia.
- Small bath towel is useful for overnight train journeys.
- Toilet paper – not all sightseeing public toilets will provide this.
- Snacks – tea bags/coffee, milk powder or sachets, instant soups or noodles, or anything else you can’t live without!
- Camera and spare film/memory card – film available in
- Sleeping sheet & small bath towel – handy for home stays (although linen is provided, it may not always be clean)
- Toiletries (soap, shampoo, lotion) – for personal use during homestays
In addition, if your tour visits the mountainous region of northern Laos, or northern Vietnam:
- Light jumpers or thermals
- A warm water/windproof jacket
- Thick and warm socks, gloves, scarf and a hat
The local currency is the kip, however the economy runs on USD and Thai baht. It is available in notes of 1,000kip up to 20,000kip.
Usually you will be given kip as change for amounts under US$1.
You will need to have a supply of USD notes of US$20 or less, as the locals often do not accept notes above that value.
We recommend you take cash in USD which can be exchanged at major (Thai) banks in Vientiane, or at upmarket hotels in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It is easier and you will get a better conversion rate if you buy USD before leaving South Africa.
There are only a small handful of ATMs in Laos, mainly in Luang Prabang. The most convenient are those found at the airport and the bank near the post office. Only a few upmarket hotels and tourist shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard (but will charge high commission).
Customs & Duty Free
You can bring in up to 1L of alcohol, 500 cigarettes, 1 bottle perfume/cologne and unlimited amounts of Lao and foreign currency (declare this on the customs form). Exporting antiques such as old Buddha images or bronze drums are illegal and these items will be the shop.
Keeping In Touch
Decades of war and slow regional development have left Southeast Asia’s landline phone system decades behind the rest of Asia so, rather than repair it; the governments are looking to mobile phone networks for the future. In most parts of Southeast Asia, the phone system is quite easy to use, although expensive.
International and national calls can be made from hotel rooms, or from central post offices for a slightly lower charge. The negative aspects are that call rates are expensive compared to South Africa, connections can be unavailable and disconnections can occur mid-sentence. Phone cards bought in South Africa or in Southeast Asia can be used in most public pay phones, but if you plan to use these to call from your room – always check the costs and procedure with hotel reception beforehand. If the hotel does enforce a call charge, you will be unable to refute it after making your call. IDD international direct calls from hotel rooms cost approx ZAR45/minute + surcharge of at least 10%. Operator assisted calls can be made at each town’s central post office, with a minimum charge of 3 minutes. There are no public phone cards or reverse call charge (trunk call) services in Laos. Laos’s phone system can be unreliable (international dialling was only introduced there in the mid-1990’s) and is not very user-friendly. Laos’ country code is 856. From South Africa: dial 00856 followed by the area code (omit first zero) then the number.
Mobile phone coverage is available in cities and towns, however is not reliable in mountain and rural areas.
Internet & Email
Internet cafes can be found in all major cities and even in some small towns. This is often the easiest and cheapest way to stay in touch. Most hotels have a business centre with internet access, but at a slightly higher rate.
Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos are 5 hours ahead of South Africa.
A health certificate is not required for entry into Southeast Asia. Visit a doctor before travelling. We strongly recommend that you see a doctor for the latest health advice at least six weeks before your holiday to allow time for any necessary vaccinations etc. Remember to take your itinerary with you to the appointment.
We strongly recommend you do not drink the tap water, and avoid ice in your drinks. There will usually be a kettle or flasks of boiled water in your hotel room and on board trains. Boiled water is suitable for drinking and cleaning teeth. Safe, bottled drinking water is readily available for sale everywhere – from small shops, supermarkets, restaurants and hotels. It is not customary for hotels to provide complimentary bottled drinking water. Always ensure that the seal is unbroken.
Toilet facilities are very basic throughout Asia and it is rare that you will find a ‘western’ style toilet (except in hotels). ‘Squat’ toilets are very common in public places and toilet paper is never supplied. We suggest that you carry toilet paper in your day backpack as well as not turn down the opportunity to use a ‘nice’ toilet when you see one!
Personal Medical Kit
Take all pharmaceutical products that you may require on your tour; do not rely on being able to purchase these during your holiday. You will see pharmacies all over Southeast Asia, but they stock local traditional medicine and many unregulated brands of western medicine. You are also very unlikely to find anyone who can speak English, nor any products with English writing.
Consider taking a ‘personal medical kit’ containing any medication or medical equipment you may need during your time in Southeast Asia: All prescribed medication (with a cover note from your doctor), Headache tablets, Anti-diarrhoea tablets, Cold and flu tablets, Travel sickness tablets, Lozenges, Insect repellent and sunscreen, Antibacterial hand wipes and/or hand wash, Spare pair of glasses/contact lenses.