you'd wish you would not have to see that...
UXO is one of the reasons for Laos being so poor country. It takes painfully slow to safely remove them, and still today many people get handicaped or killed by them. On bomb and land mines infested land you cannot do anything, but people risk their life in order to grow some agriculture there usually becuase they have no other place.
UXOs are found on daily basis, especially in remote Northern and Middle Laos. Take time to watch documentaries in MAG centre if you want to learn more about the legacy of so called secret war in Laos. It is most tragic thing that happened in last century, with visible reminders today.Related to:
essentials to know before planning elephant rides
On the link given here from NGO ElefantAsia there are few very imortant things to consider before you wish to do any elephant related activity like riding them or just seeing them.
Despite their size they're very sensitive animal and they are very intelligent too and at times they can be also very dangerous. Everyone who has at least once in their lifetime came close with an elephant can only confirm this, but still... despite all, they are going to extinct soon since there is so much pressure for the ivory in first place, and with their habitat destruction. Stories from the news are depressing and saddening, and no - it's not getting any better. In matter of fact things in last decades are worse than ever, so at least what we can do to remaining ones is to treat them with most care.
Do have a look to this well written brochure given out by elephant veterinerians, and when optiong for an elephant ride try your best that you choose those companies or organizations that won't pose unnecessary threat to elephant's welfare.Related to:
- Family Travel
- National/State Park
Although drugs seem to be freely available in some parts of the country if you are caught the minimum fine is $500 or jail time if you are caught with too much. The only people that are allowed to smoke opium are the hilltribes so be careful. Also be careful should you buy from a local as they may turn you in to the authorities.
We won't go into details what you can 'get from' mosquitos and unpleasnties related to the insect - but it's good to have a repellent with you, or handy mosquito net (though - you'll need to pack and construct it each time).
Check in the room of your guesthose if they have screens or the net (not all have them, especially cheapest rooms) - or you might gonna be suffering being beaten by them all night (especially if you're near water and vegetation). I think you won't be buying sprays, these things are poison to the lungs as you're inhaling toxic fumes. Either way, the best soultion is mosquito net.
Also hats with the net (such as beekeprs have) are very good if you're going to forest.
Sometimes there is specail coal available that repel some, but not all mosquitos.
Good thing about nets is also, that cockroach cannot go through it (well, if you're staying in cheaper rooms especially in cities, there is great chance you'll see one - and they also come to good hotels from time to time). Best to pretend you don't know about it, haha!
On the photo: usual dealing with pest is the best, friendliest method: mosquito net as here is sold in kind of umbrellas and it's constructed very easy if you sleep on the floor.Related to:
- Farm Stay
- National/State Park
be practical when travelling in Laos
I often mention in forums that travelling by local/VIP buses or driving in Laos is generally safe but there are some concerns you might want to consider before you do your trip whether by bus or private car.
The busiest road in the state is Road 13 which begins at China border and goes deep into South, but most traffic happens between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, then Vientiane to Pakse.
The Northern part of the state is mostly mountainous and except of the main rd. (Road 13) and road between Oudomxay - Pakbeng, then Luang Prabang - Botene (at China border, which is also part of Rd. 13), and Botene - Houay Xay ( at Thai border) most other roads are not paved - and I think most people won't be interested into taking them (because there won't be much public transport anyways, plus it is difficult terrain to travel with all the things related included).
Lots of accidents happen on the hilly part where road is narrow, there is relatively dense traffic and some drive very fast (ha! and many men gets driving licence too easy and has no proper driving skills). In case of accidents you may need to wait few hours before the obstacles are cleared. But what if someone have serious injury? Bare in mind that it will be most difficult for any ambulance to reach any distant place from Vientiane or Luang Prabang, in best case it will take a few hours. In this case good medical insurance is welcome if it happens to traveller, locals don't have any and are in hand of the fate and others who might know how to help them.
I also recommend any trip you take bring some extra water (warm is better than none) if not, 4 hrs waiting (or less or more, that all depends on many factors, especially remoteness and terrain) on little liquid can be nightmare, and it's also great to have some fruit or light snack to eat.
As for those travelling by cars, petrol can be bought from petrol stations (growing numbers of it already), or from bottles which are sold by small local road side make-shift car (petrol) shops, but the quality vary. It is always best to buy it from official petroleum gas stations where they don't mix it with water and sell it like real. Of course best to fill it full before you continue into mountains.
Now.. it's up to you how you will do the trips of course; accidents in the hills on main road do happen often in Laos, although you may not have seen it on your trip.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Road Trip
slash and burn is common practice
In general there's nothing to worry about if you're tourist; the main problems related to slash and burn agriculture hit locals and wilderness. But you will notice it when travelling in dry season because it is just so obvious.
When you travel North Laos many of hilly or mountainous areas have been cleared off the forest by giant fires. This is still common practice to gain more land, and then use it for few years to grow crops. Most often after land is exhausted people will leave and clear another patch of land somewhere else. Those parts will be then left to nature, or as in many cases - to be used for plantations (most common rubber and teak).
Fire travels fast but it is somewhat controlled. On the other hand that doesn't exclude some fire dangers in case when it went too strong, but again that usually happens in rural and remote areas, again problem for local not tourist (well, mainly).
However, you may feel being influenced by this practice in some other way: thick and dry air in some places (most notable in Luang Prabang and when driving pass burning slopes) can irritate (red eyes, asthma) sensitive persons. But then again, you will be lucky to leave in couple of days when others will just continue to bear it untill next wet season.Related to:
- National/State Park
Don't let them get away with it.
I was not quite sure what category to place this tip in but I thought it best fitted here.
This is a tip about a very distasteful subject but I am of the opinion that burying your head in the sand will not make it go away. I have mentioned elsewhere on VT that Lao is the 23rd most impoverished country in the world and, inevitably, poverty brings exploitation, including the foul sexual exploitation of children. I have witnessed it in neighbouring Cambodia, and in India where I made the probably stupid move of showing a pimp the error of his ways, but never in Lao, although I have read that it undeniably goes on.
Fortunately, some people seem to be making an effort against this pernicious trade in human misery and there are numerous stickers around Phonsavanh urging you to 'phone the number shown should you have any suspicions about child sex tourists. Oddly, this is the only place in Lao I have seen them, so I don't know if it is a local initiative or not but I would think a call to the relevant number about anywhere in the country should bring about the desired result.
It seems almost fatuous to post this tip as I am sure 99.99% of VT members are right thinking people and properly abhor this abuse but, should you see something untoward on your travels, I urge you to give them a call. You might just give a child back their childhood.
Be careful of scams and tourist inflation
I would say more systematic headache is the rampant foreigner cost or everything. Granted, it may only be a few dollars here and there, but it adds up quickly over time. And yes, it is still SE Asia, so costs are much less than developed western countries.
Knowing the real value and cost is irrelevant if they think you can pay more. Yes, its only a couple dollars, but it has added up to a lot over a 3 week holiday. Take my advise and do not be pressured into a sale and never, never purchase at the first place you find. Search around and get a feel for average price and try to assess what the "real" cost is.
I did not factor that foreigners would have to pay minimum 3~4x local prices for things like taxi & tuk-tuk. And in some places, scams charge unsuspecting travelers 50% more than actual costs for things like food and buses. And compared to my friends who traveled Laos previously, they say the tourist inflation has doubled the prices from a few years ago.
For example, in Luang Prabang, we crossed the river to Ban Xieng Mene. On the way over in morning, locals were paying less than 2,000 kip. I paid 4,000 kip. That to me is not quite even, but acceptable since after all the rumor is that white men are made of money... However, on the way back, the driver demanded 10,000, and when I told him I paid 4,000 in the morning, he refused to let us off the boat and returned us back to the far side of the river. When we got there he yelled at all other boat drivers. Nobody would take us for 2hrs for less than 20,000 kip.
Tuk-tuks to/from the bus terminal may only cost locals 2,000 kip depending on the town, but cost 30,000 for foreigners as a standard. If you refuse, the next guy in line knows what happened and will demand 35,000kip...
Bus tickets between cities/town are not easily purchased by foreigners directly from the bus terminals or the bus operators. Locals may purchase tickets for a dollar or two, but tourists are forced to purchase through any one of the thousands of travel agents in town. All of these agencies are selling tickets on the same bus/van, but prices vary greatly. A local may pay $3, but a foreigner may very well likely to get a 'good deal' at $10 or more...
Don't get ripped off exchanging money
When arriving in Laos from chang kong thailand by crossing the mekong, be very careful when exchanging money into loation kip upon arrival. Make sure you have an idea of the exchange rate and count the money you receive before leaving the currency exchange counter. The two people I was travelling with were shorted about the equivalent of 15USD (alot in SE asia). They were able to get their money back by approaching the counter where the man working was willing to give them the correct amount. It was abvious upon observing this, that the this was his plan in hopes that people would not notice the money missing until later.
Thefts from travellers in Northern Laos
In 3 days I witnessed recently, 2 thefts from travellers undoubtedly by locals in Northern Laos. In Muang Kwai, at the boat/bus terminal, a traveller's camera was stolen when he put it down briefly. There were no travellers close enough to have stole it. According to some locals, this has happened before as has the next case: In Muang Ngoi, travellers on their bungalow balcony were talking at night by candlenight with a bag on the floor behind them. Someone, came from underneath the deck (as it's on stilts on a slope) and took the bag without them seeing. In Muang Ngoi, you are advised to keep all belongings in your room at night and door locked. What does that tell you?!!?
So, just cos it's friendly Laos doesnt mean it's completely safe.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Choppy water and possible wet stuff
If you are travelling by boat up river in Laos, there are patches of white water in many of the rivers. The boats are low in the water and lower when full of tourists plus bags (often). This means that the boats sometimes hit these patches causing water to come on to the boat. Bags do get wet. Protect your stuff with plastic bags at least.Related to:
- Budget Travel
slow boat from Huayxai
We chartered a boat from Houayxai to Louang Namtha from a guest house (I could name it, but I think the problem is not limited to this GH). The trip was to take 2 days. On the second morning they told us that they would take us 1 hour further upriver, but that the levels were too low to go right to LN and that we would have to take a bus - at our expense. In LN, we were told this was a common scam. You may want to try to pay some money upfront and pay the rest upon arrival or get some sort of guarantee of arrival.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
The medical system in Laos is very primative. It is recommended for you to purchase emergency medical insurance before you come here. I highly recommend this. If you get sick, you do not want to go to the hospital in Laos. Many hospitals don't have access to clean syringes and other medical equipment. If you do get sick in Vientiane, it is recommended to cross the Friendship bridge and go to a hospital in Thailand. For a little money, you can get health insurance and they will evacuate you and send you to Bangkok. If you have children and they are coming with you to Laos, i wouldn't think of going there without this.Related to:
- Women's Travel
- Family Travel
Laos is not a modern country and you may have to expect breakdowns with utitlities, mostly electricity. When we were in Luang Prabang, our electricity went out a few times during the night. Only places that have a generator, will have reliable electricity. You may want to bring a torch or flashlight with you just in case.
Slowboats Versus Speedboats
Boat travel is common in Laos as there are so many rivers. I traveled both by speedboat and slowboat when I was there.
There are many postings and tips suggesting that speedboat travel can be dangerous. Yes, indeed, it could lead to some danger, more than traveling by the slowboats. To me, it was quite a thrill having to travel by speedboat from Muang Khua to Muang Ngoi, especially when the boat hit the rapid waters along the way. My boatman was waering his helmet. He did offered but… nah… On a positive note, it saves you a lot of time.
Being slow doesn’t mean traveling by slowboats is guaranteed safe too.Related to:
- Budget Travel
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