American Express -- The country's one Amex representative is Diethelm Travel, Namphu Square, Setthathirat Road, Vientiane (tel. 021/213-833 or 215-920).
Business Hours -- With a few exceptions, hours are 8:30am to noon and 1:30 to 5pm on weekdays and 8am to noon on Saturday. Restaurants are open from about 11am to 2pm and 6 to 10pm daily, and many are closed for lunch on Sunday.
Doctors & Dentists -- Medical care in Laos is primitive by Western standards. For major problems, most foreigners choose to hop the border to Thailand for the Nong Khai Wattana General Hospital (just over the Friendship Bridge). In an emergency, call tel. 66-42/465-201. Vientiane has one 24-hour International Medical Clinic, Mahosot Hospital, on Fa Ngum Road at the Mekong riverbank (tel. 021/214-022). For emergency evacuation, call Lao Westcoast Helicopter Company in Vientiane at tel. 021/512-023.
Drug Laws -- Opium is openly grown in northeast Laos and is easily available, as is marijuana. Neither are legal, and although you might see many travelers indulging, it is highly recommended that you don't. You could face high fines or jail if you're caught.
Electricity -- Laos runs on 220-volt electrical currents. Plugs are two-pronged, with either round or flat prongs. If you're coming from the U.S. and you must bring electrical appliances, bring your own converter and adapter. Outside of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, electricity is sketchy, sometimes available for only a few hours a day. A surge protector is a must for laptops.
Embassies U.S.: -- Thatdam Bathrolonie Road (tel. 021/212-582; fax 021/212-584). Australia: Nehru Road, Bane Phonsay (tel. 021/413-600). The Australian embassy also assists Canada, New Zealand, and U.K. nationals.
Emergencies -- In Vientiane, for police dial tel. 191; for fire, dial tel. 190; and for ambulance, dial tel. 195. For medical evacuation, call Lao Westcoast Helicopter Company at tel. 021/512-023.
Internet/E-mail -- You can find Internet access in the main tourist towns. Prices vary with proximity to Vientiane because most service is patched throughout the capital; it's often overpriced and too slow to be worth it. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the connections are generally not bad and prices are reasonable.
Language -- The national language of Laos is Lao. If you've picked up a bit of Thai, feel free to use it here because many understand (the languages are similar and Thai TV is popular). Many people in Vientiane and Luang Prabang speak English. A rare few also speak Russian and French, and Mandarin Chinese is growing concurrently with the Chinese population (mostly in the north).
Post Offices/Mail -- A letter or postcard should take about 10 days to reach the U.S. Overseas postage runs about 21,000 kip ($2.10) for 100g, and up to 92,000 kip ($9.20) for 500g. Postcards are 4,000 kip (40¢). The mail service is unreliable, however, so if you're sending something important, use an express-mail service. FedEx (tel. 021/223-278) and DHL have offices in the major cities.
Safety -- Buddhist Laos is an extremely safe country by any standard. Violent or even petty crime is not a big risk for tourists. There have been rare instances of robbery or rape in remote areas. Solo travelers should take care when getting remote, even on a day hike. Some of the country's highways, like Route 13 near Kasi and Route 7 in the northeast, have seen rebel and bandit attacks in the past. Ask around before going too far off the beaten track. Of course, petty crime does exist. Watch your belongings, and don't leave valuables in your hotel rooms.
When trekking in the north near the Plain of Jars or in the south around the Ho Chi Minh Trail, beware of unexploded bombs. Don't stray into remote areas, and don't touch anything on the ground.
Telephone & Fax -- The international country code for Laos is 856. Phone rates are as follows: 1 minute to the U.S., the U.K., or Canada: 23,000 kip ($2.30); to Australia: 11,500 kip ($1.15); and to New Zealand: 22,000 kip ($2.20). Buy a stored-value phone card at any post office or telecom center to use at international phone booths (there are just 300 phone booths in the whole country, and only a small percentage are international). Most newer hotels have international direct dialing at surcharges of about 10%. Collect calls are impossible anywhere, and the long-distance companies haven't made it to Laos yet. Internet cafes often have Internet phone service at 5,000 kip (50¢) per minute and charge 2,000 kip (20¢) for callback service. See the "Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance" box below for more information. Local calls are 100 kip (1¢) per minute. Like the international phone booths, local phone booths accept only prepaid phone cards. Laos has no coins.
Mobile phones have come to Laos. If you have a GSM phone with a replaceable SIM card, you can arrange prepaid service in any telecom outlet in the country. Coverage is surprisingly extensive. Lao Telecom (www.laotel.com) and Tango (tel. 021/253-001) are the best.
Time Zone -- Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, in the same zone as Bangkok. That makes it 12 hours ahead of the U.S. and 3 hours behind Sydney.
Tipping -- Tipping has arrived in Laos, particularly in Vientiane. Feel free to tip bellhops, chauffeurs, and tour guides, and to leave 5% to 10% or round up your bill in upscale restaurants. Foreign currency, especially U.S. dollars, is appreciated.
Toilets -- You'll find Western toilets (sit-down style) in most hotels for foreigners. Out in the boonies it's mostly Asian-style (squatty-potty). Bring your own paper, and sanitary hand wipes are a good idea too. You'll notice a bowl and a pail of water nearby for flushing (put two or three buckets in). On rural roads, buses just pull to the side for bathroom breaks. In villages, find a convenient tree.
Water -- Drink only boiled or bottled water, available everywhere for 1,000 kip (10¢). Be wary of ice in any but the finest restaurants. Some even use boiled or bottled water for tooth brushing.
Telephone Dialing Info at a Glance
To place a call from your home country to Laos, dial the international access code (011 in the U.S., 0011 in Australia, 0170 in New Zealand, 00 in the U.K.), plus the country code (856), plus the city or area code (21 for Vientiane, 71 for Luang Prabang) and the 6-digit phone number (for example, 011 + 856 + 21/000-000).
To place a call within Laos, dial the city or area code preceded by a 0, and then the 6-digit number (for example, 021/000-000). A local call costs 45 kip (1¢) a minute from a phone booth. You must use a phone card, which you can buy at the post office, the telephone office, and minimarts.
To place a direct international call from Laos, dial the international access code (00) plus the country code, the area or city code, and the number (for example, 00 + 1 + 212/000-0000).
International country codes are as follows: Australia: 61; Burma: 95; Cambodia: 855; Canada: 1; Hong Kong: 852; Indonesia: 62; Malaysia: 60; New Zealand: 64; the Philippines: 63; Singapore: 65; U.K.: 44; U.S.: 1; Vietnam: 84.
Source: Frommers on Laos