The main language in Laos is Lao, which is close to Thai. Most Lao can easily understand Thai, but Thais have a harder time understanding Lao. Older Lao people tend to speak French, but that is becoming less common nowadays. In the tourist areas, most people will speak some English. The proximity to China also means that Chinese is growing in popularity, but to get around, especially in rural areas, it is beneficial to learn a few key Lao phrases.
The kip is the official currency of Laos. There are no coins, with bill denominations ranging from 500 kip to 50,000 kip and a 100,000 note is expected to be introduced at some point. It is possible to pay in US dollars or Thai baht, but the government is clamping down and telling vendors to only accept kip. ATMs provide kip; but when changing cash, head to the market, where better exchange rates can be found than from banks. Kip is not a freely convertible currency, so try to change back your money or spend it before leaving the country.
Laos is located in Southeast Asia, in the GMT +7 time zone (the same as Bangkok).
Just like neighboring Thailand, Laos uses electricity at 230V/50Hz. Most plugs are two pronged, either with two flat or two round prongs. Those traveling from North America will have to check whether their electronics are compatible, otherwise a converter will be required.
The dialing code for Laos is +856. City codes are as follows: Vientiane 21, Luang Prabang 71, Pakse 31 and Savannakhet 41. There are four mobile phone operators in Laos: Lao Telecom, Beeline (formerly Tigo), ETL Mobile and Unitel. If coming from Thailand, it is possible to use Thai mobile along the Mekong River area. The laws allowing visitors to buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards continue to change, but Lao SIM cards will typically fit in US or European cell phones.
When entering Laos via an international airport, customs enforces duty-free limits of up to 200 cigarettes, one liter of alcohol, 250 ml of perfume, and gifts up to a value of US $50 duty-free.
Lao National Tourism Administration, Vientiane: +856-21-212-248 or http://www.tourismlaos.org
Consulates in Laos US Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-267-000 German Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-312-110 Australian Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-353-800 (Canadian and British citizens’ services) French Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-215-253 Japanese Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-414-400 Russian Embassy, Vientiane: +856-21-312-219
Emergency services: 195 Police: 191