Are you planning on going to Laos? Great! Make sure that you know everything you need before leaving. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about Laos.
Currency is not exchangeable
The currency in Lao is KIP. 1 000 000 KIP equals around $110. Be very careful when you withdraw money and calculate what you are going to spend. If by the end of your trip you end up with a bunch of KIP it will be very difficult to exchange it to any foreign currency. All of the banks only buy USD and EUR, they do not sell them (even though they clearly display the price at the entrance). The hotels that offer currency exchange will also only buy your dollars.
There is one place in Vientiane where you can still exchange your KIP if you are in a jam. It’s a currency exchange office in front of the MayBank on Lane Xang in Vientiane. The exchange rate is poor, but it’s better than nothing.
Do not take the KIP out of the country, unless you want it as a souvenir. It will be almost impossible to exchange it.
Sleeping buses in Laos consist of 24 small beds, so you can really lie down and sleep. Plus they are really cheap. Sounds great, right? Wrong. What you don’t know as a first-time traveler to Laos is that those beds are meant to be shared. If you are traveling with a friend, make sure to occupy the same bed. If you are alone… well, you might end up sharing the bed with a small Lao lady or a tall, fat stranger, you never know.
Distances are huge
The quality of roads in Laos is very poor. Thanks to that you can spend 13 hours on a bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane while it’s only 324 km away. Minivans are quicker, you can get to Vang Vieng in 5 hours and to Vientiane in 8 hours if you are lucky. Internal flights are quite affordable and a good option to get around if you don’t have a lot of time.
Lao people are superstitious
Some villages around Laos still cultivate their old traditions. They will raise protective gates made from wood and bamboo around their village in order to protect themselves from evil spirits that might be waiting outside. Some of the gates will have “guards” – scarecrows made our of wood with human-like appearance with sharp teeth and swards to scare unwanted guests. Read my article about Protective Magic used by Lao People if you would like to learn more.
House rental is illegal
If you are visiting Laos for a few weeks you will probably we staying in Hotels or Hostels and that’s fine. Although if you need a place to stay for longer you will need a special permit in order to rent an apartment (and you will need to register with the head of the village).