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  • Getting around | About Laos | Rough Guides
    too small to support a local bus system transport within Lao towns and cities is left to squadrons of motorized samlaw literally three wheels vehicles more commonly known as jumbos and tuk tuks Painted in primary reds blues and yellows the two types of samlaw look alike and both function as shared taxis with facing benches in the rear to accommodate four or five passengers Jumbos are the original Lao vehicle a home made three wheeler consisting of a two wheeled carriage soldered to the front half of a motorcycle a process best summed up by the name for the vehicle used in the southern town of Savannakhet Skylab pronounced sakai laeb after the doomed space station that fell to earth piece by piece in the late 1980s Tuk tuks offspring of the three wheeled taxis known for striking terror in Bangkok pedestrians are really just bigger sturdier jumbos the unlikely product of some Thai factory which take their name from their incessantly sputtering engines Lao tend to refer to these vehicles interchangeably Although most northern towns are more than manageable on foot the Mekong towns tend to sprawl so you ll find tuk tuks particularly useful for getting from a bus station into the centre of town To flag down a tuk tuk wave your hand palm face down and parallel to the ground Tell the driver where you re going bargain the price and pay at the end Tuk tuks are also on hand for inner city journeys Payment is usually per person according to the distance travelled and your bargaining skills Rates vary from town to town and are prone to fluctuate in step with rising petrol prices but figure on paying around 5000K per kilometre In some towns tuk tuks run set routes to the surrounding villages and leave from a stand usually near the market once full Chartering tuk tuks is also a good way to get to sites within 10 to 15km of a city Boats With the country possessing roughly 4600km of navigable waterways including stretches of the Mekong Nam Ou Nam Ngum Xe Kong and seven other arteries it s no surprise to learn that rivers are the ancient highways of mountainous Laos Road improvements in recent years however have led to the decline of river travel between many towns with buses and sawngthaews replacing the armada of boats that once plied regular routes The main Mekong route that remains links Houayxai to Luang Prabang Since the upgrading of Route 13 boats very rarely ply the stretches of river between Luang Prabang Pakse and Si Phan Don Aside from the larger so called slow boats on the Mekong routes smaller passenger boats still cruise up the wide Nam Ou River Muang Khoua Hat Sa the Nam Tha Luang Namtha to Pak Tha and a few others provided water levels are high enough Slow boats and passenger boats The diesel chugging cargo boats that lumber up and down the Mekong routes are known as slow boats heua sa Originally hammered together from ill fitting pieces of wood and powered by a jury rigged engine that needs to be coaxed along by an on board mechanic these boats once offered one of Asia s last great travel adventures but you ll need to speak Lao to arrange a trip Much easier is to take advantage of the passenger boats with seating for a couple of dozen people which have been introduced on the river journey most popular with Western visitors namely Houayxai to Luang Prabang On smaller rivers river travel is by long narrow boats powered by a small outboard engine Confusingly these are also known as slow boats although unlike the big Mekong cargo boats they only hold eight people and never attempt major Mekong routes They never have a fixed schedule and only leave if and when there are enough passengers Due to the casual nature of river travel in Laos the best way to deal with uncertain departures is to simply show up early in the morning and head down to the landing and ask around Be prepared for contradictory answers to questions regarding price departure and arrival time and even destination Given variations in currents and water levels and the possibility of breakdowns and lengthy stops to load passengers and cargo no one really knows how long a trip will take On occasion boats don t make their final destination during the daytime If you re counting on finding a guesthouse and a fruit shake at the end of the journey such unannounced stopovers can take you out of your comfort zone as passengers are forced to sleep in the nearest village or aboard the boat It s also a good idea to bring extra water and food just in case The northern Mekong and Nam Ou services Houayxai Pakbeng Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang Nong Khia Muang Ngoi Muang Khoua Hat Sa are somewhat better managed with tickets sold from a wooden booth or office near the landing buy tickets on the day of departure Fares are generally posted but foreigners pay significantly more than locals Always arrive early in the morning to get a seat Southern Mekong services Pakse Champasak Don Khong have now all but stopped thanks to the improved state of Route 13 and most trips south now combine a bus journey along this road with a quick ferry ride across the water Travelling by river in Laos can be dangerous and reports of boats sinking are not uncommon The Mekong has some particularly tricky stretches with narrow channels threading through rapids and past churning whirlpools The river can be particularly rough late in the rainy season when the Mekong swells and uprooted trees and other debris are swept into the river Speedboats On both the Mekong and its tributaries speedboats heua wai are a faster but more expensive alternative to slow boats Connecting towns along the Nam Ou and the Mekong from Vientiane to the

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/laos/getting-around/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Accommodation | About Laos | Rough Guides
    000 70 000K in Vientiane and Luang Prabang Dorm beds only usually found in the main tourist areas can be had for as little as 25 000K per night At these prices rooms can be pretty shabby although there are a few diamonds in the rough For 100 000 200 000K you can buy yourself considerably more comfort whether it s the luxuries of a standard hotel or the cosiness and hospitality of an upmarket guesthouse with a garden tucked away in a quiet side street If you re willing and able to spend around 25 you can actually get something quite luxurious with wi fi and a flat screen TV Moving further up the scale a whole host of expensive hotels has appeared on the scene and with many of them struggling to fill rooms managers can be amenable to discounts especially in low season Before settling on a price at mid range and high end hotels check whether service charge and tax are included in the quoted price Most places are open to negotiation especially in the low season so it s a good idea to try and bargain your case will be helped if you are staying for several days Not all accommodation places have phones which is why some listings in this Guide don t have numbers alongside Online booking services include w www laos hotels com and w www laos hotel link com Budget accommodation The distinction between a guesthouse and a budget hotel is rather blurry in Laos Either can denote anything ranging from a bamboo and thatch hut to a multistorey concrete monstrosity There s very little that s standard from place to place even rooms within one establishment can vary widely although in tourist centres the cheapest bet is generally a fan room with shared washing facilities As you tack on extra dollars you ll gain the luxury of a private bathroom with a hot water shower and an air conditioner In small towns in remote areas you ll find that the facilities are often rustic at best squat toilets and a large jar of water with a plastic scoop with which to shower though this is rapidly changing The further off the beaten track you go the greater the chances are that you ll be pumping your own water from a well or bathing in a stream Mid range accommodation Mid range hotels have been opening up in medium sized towns all over Laos over the last few years greatly improving the accommodation situation Most of these hotels are compact of up to five storeys and offer spacious rooms with tiled floors and en suite bathrooms with Western style toilets for between 100 000 200 000K The mattresses are usually hard but at least the sheets and quilts are consistently clean The bathroom fittings in such hotels are usually brand new but a few don t have water heaters Because the standard of construction is poor and there is no concept

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/laos/accommodation/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Food and drink | About Laos | Rough Guides
    of fish in salt in earthen containers for several months and then straining the resulting liquid which is golden brown Good fish sauce it has been said should attain the warm salty smell of the air along a beach on a sunny day Most Lao use nâm pa imported from Thailand While nâm pa is found in cooking across Southeast Asia a related concoction pa dàek is specific to Laos and northeastern Thailand Unlike the bottled and imported nâm pa thicker pa dàek retains a home made feel much thicker than fish sauce with chunks of fermented fish as well as rice husks and possessing a scent that the uninitiated usually find foul However as pa dàek is added to cooked food it s unlikely that you ll really notice it in your food and its saltiness is one of the pleasurable qualities of the cuisine Use of monosodium glutamate MSG is also common The seasoning which resembles salt in appearance sometimes appears on tables in noodle shops alongside various other seasonings it s generally coarser and shinier than salt Standard dishes If Laos were to nominate a national dish a strong contender would be larp a salad of minced meat or fish mixed with garlic chillies shallots galangal ground sticky rice and fish sauce Traditionally larp is eaten raw díp though you re more likely to encounter it súk cooked and is often served with lettuce which is good for cooling off your mouth after swallowing a chilli The notion of a meat salad is a common concept in Lao food although in Luang Prabang you ll find Lao salads closer to the Western salad with many falling into the broad category of yam or mixture such as yam sìn ngúa a spicy beef salad Another quintessentially Lao dish is tam màk hung a spicy papaya salad made with shredded green papaya garlic chillies lime juice pa dàek and sometimes dried shrimp and crab juice One of the most common street vendor foods tam màk hung is known as tam sòm in Vientiane stalls producing this treat are identifiable by the vendor pounding away with a mortar and pestle Each vendor will have their own particular recipe but it s also completely acceptable to pick out which ingredients and how many chillies you d like when you order One of several variants on tam màk hung is tam kûay tani which replaces shredded papaya with green banana and eggplant Usually not far away from any tam màk hung vendor you ll find someone selling pîng kai basted grilled chicken Fish pîng pa is another grilled favourite with whole fish skewered stuffed with herbs and lemongrass and thrown on the barbecue Soup is a common component of Lao meals and is served along with the other main courses during a meal Fish soups kaeng pa or tôm yám paw when lemongrass and mushrooms are included frequently appear on menus as does kaeng jèut a clear mild soup with vegetables and pork which can also be ordered with bean curd kaeng jèut tâo hû A speciality of southern Laos and Luang Prabang well worth ordering if you can find it is mók pa or fish steamed in banana leaves Other variations including mók kheuang nai kai chicken giblets grilled in banana leaves and mók pa fa lai with freshwater stingray are also worth sampling though they appear less frequently on restaurant menus Restaurants catering to travellers can whip up a variety of stir fried dishes which tend to be a mix of Thai Lao and Chinese food and are usually eaten with steamed rice Fried rice is a reliable standby throughout the country as are Chinese and Thai dishes such as pork with basil over rice mũ phát bai holapha chicken with ginger khùa khing kai and mixed vegetables khùa phák Noodles When the Lao aren t filling up on glutinous rice they re busy eating fõe the ubiquitous noodle soup that takes its name from the Vietnamese soup pho Although primarily eaten in the morning for breakfast fõe can be enjoyed at any time of day and in more remote towns you may find that it s your only option The basic bowl of fõe consists of a light broth to which is added thin rice noodles and slices of meat usually beef water buffalo or grilled chicken It s served with a plate of fresh raw leaves and herbs usually including lettuce mint and coriander Flavouring the broth is pretty much up to you containers of chilli sugar vinegar and fish sauce and sometimes lime wedges and MSG are on the tables of every noodle shop allowing you to find the perfect balance of spicy sweet sour and salty Also on offer at many noodle shops is mi a yellow wheat noodle served in broth with slices of meat and a few vegetables It s also common to eat fõe and mi softened in broth but served without it hàeng and at times fried khùa Many other types of noodle soup are dished up at street stalls Khào biak sèn is another soup popular in the morning consisting of soft round rice noodles slices of chicken and fresh ginger and served in a chicken broth though it s hard to find outside bigger towns More widely available and a favourite at family gatherings during festivals is khào pûn a dish of round white translucent flour noodles onto which is scooped one of any number of sweet spicy coconut milk based sauces These noodles also find their way into several Vietnamese dishes such as barbecued pork meatballs nâm néuang and spring rolls yáw in which they are served cold with several condiments and a sauce There s also a Lao incarnation of khào soi the spicy noodle curry eaten throughout northern Thailand and the Shan States of Myanmar the version common in Laos in Luang Prabang and certain northwestern towns consists of rice noodles served in almost clear broth and

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/laos/food-drink/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Health | About Laos | Rough Guides
    occur in Laos The initial symptoms are a sudden onset of watery but painless diarrhoea Later nausea vomiting and muscle cramps set in Cholera can be fatal if adequate fluid intake is not maintained Copious amounts of liquids including oral rehydration solution should be consumed and urgent medical treatment in Thailand should be sought Like cholera typhoid is also spread in small localized epidemics The disease is sometimes difficult to diagnose as symptoms can vary widely Generally they include headaches fever and constipation followed by diarrhoea Mosquito borne illnesses Malaria caused by the plasmodium parasite is rife in much of Laos Symptoms include chills a high fever and then sweats during which the fever falls the cycle repeats every couple of days These symptoms aren t so different to those of flu making diagnosis difficult without a blood test if you think you ve contracted malaria check into a Thai hospital immediately Vientiane is said to be malaria free but visitors to other parts of Laos should take all possible precautions to avoid contracting this sometimes fatal disease Night feeding mosquitoes are the carriers so you ll need to take extra care in the evening particularly at dawn and dusk High strength mosquito repellent that contains the chemical compound DEET is a necessity although bear in mind that prolonged use may be harmful A natural alternative is citronella oil found in some repellents Wearing trousers long sleeved shirts and socks gives added protection If you plan on travelling in remote areas bring a mosquito net Most guesthouses provide nets but some of these have holes gather up the offending section of net and twist a rubber band around it Many hotels have replaced nets with screened in windows which is fine if the room door remains shut at all times but doors are usually left wide open when maids are tidying up the rooms between guests If you can t get hold of a mosquito net try pyrethrum coils which can be found in most markets and general stores in Laos For added insurance against malaria it s advisable to take antimalarial tablets Though doxycycline and mefloquine are the most commonly prescribed antimalarials for Laos the plasmodium parasites are showing resistance to the latter drug While none of the antimalarials guarantees that you will not contract malaria the risks will be greatly reduced Note that some antimalarials can have unpleasant side effects Mefloquine in particular can sometimes cause dizziness extreme fatigue nausea and nightmares Pregnant or lactating women are not advised to take mefloquine Day feeding mosquitoes are the carriers of dengue fever The disease is common in urban as well as rural areas and outbreaks occur annually during the rainy season The symptoms are similar to malaria and include fever chills aching joints and a red rash that spreads from the torso to the limbs and face Dengue can be fatal in small children There is no preventative vaccination or prophylactic As with malaria travellers should use insect repellent

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/laos/health/ (2016-02-16)
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  • The media | About Laos | Rough Guides
    Information and Culture the Vientiane Times focuses primarily on business and trade issues although interesting cultural pieces do slip in from time to time and the occasional column showcasing people s opinion on a selected social topic is a worthwhile read You ll also find ads for restaurant specials and local teaching jobs There are two Lao language dailies and five weeklies Of the two dailies Wieng Mai and Pasason the latter is more widely read Both get their international news from KPL the government news agency and for the most part have their own reporters who file domestic news Neither is known for independent minded reportage In fact it s fair to say you ll find much more news about Laos online a list of recommended websites appears below than you can in the country Foreign publications are extremely difficult to find outside Vientiane and even in the capital there are scant copies Newsweek The Economist Time and the Bangkok Post are all sold at minimarkets in Vientiane Online news about Laos w www vientianetimes org la The official website of the Vientiane Times contains most of the stories from Laos s only English language newspaper w www laosguide com News gathered from around the world with a strong bias towards issues affecting Laos w www laosnews net Daily news updates from Laos including links to stories about its economy and tourist industry w www muonglao com An online magazine running articles that focus on the people and culture of Laos w www bangkokpost net The website of Thailand s leading English language daily which often runs stories about Laos w www asianobserver com This lively web forum has news and debates on all things Laos Television and radio Lao television s two government run channels broadcast a mix

    Original URL path: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/laos/media/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Sports and outdoor activities | About Laos | Rough Guides
    of mounting a professional expedition several have been developed for eco tourism and have visitor centres and guided walks The best developed NBCAs for tourists are Phou Khao Khouay Nam Ha and Phou Hin Poun all of which can be reached by road Watersports While most river journey enthusiasts are satisfied with a slow boat down the Mekong between Houayxai and Luang Prabang many opportunities exist for exploring Laos s faster waterways Several companies offer whitewater rafting trips out of Luang Prabang on a number of northern rivers including the Nam Ou the Nam Xuang and the Nam Ming Even more popular are river kayaking adventures ranging from easy day trips for beginners to multi day adventures down rivers with grade 5 rapids Professional guided kayaking tours are currently operated on a regular basis on eight northern rivers as well as the Ang Nam Ngum Reservoir near the capital and in Si Phan Don The best bases for kayaking tours are Vientiane Vang Vieng Luang Prabang and Luang Namtha Another fantastic region for kayaking is the Khammouane Limestone NBCA Among other scenic wonders this NBCA features a 7km long natural river tunnel through the heart of a mountain and is becoming popular for organized tours out of Vientiane Caves and rock climbing With its great forests of limestone karst scenery receding into the distance like an image in a Chinese scroll painting Laos is a great destination for cave exploring spelunking and rock climbing Prime areas for limestone karst scenery in Laos include Vang Vieng Kasi Thakhet and Vieng Xai For most tourists cave exploring is limited to climbing up to and wandering around in caves that are fairly touristy and have clearly defined pathways Serious spelunkers can find vast cave and tunnel systems to explore in the Khammouane Limestone NBCA and the Hin Nam No NBCA but should seek local permission before launching any major expeditions as many caves have yet to have archeological surveys done With so many awesome unclimbed and unnamed peaks rock climbing is one sport that seems to have a huge future in Laos At present the sport is still in its infancy but new routes continue to be opened up around Vang Vieng Mountain biking With some of the best untamed scenery in Southeast Asia many unpaved roads and little traffic Laos is becoming a very hot destination for cross country mountain bike touring A lot of independent travellers do self organized mountain bike touring in northern Laos bringing their bikes with them from home Route 13 from Luang Prabang to Vientiane seems to be the most popular route but be warned that despite the beautiful scenery the route is also extremely mountainous crossing several large ranges before reaching the Vientiane Plain There are much better routes in Houa Phan and Xieng Khuang provinces where you ll find fantastic landscapes plenty of remote villages and paved roads with very few vehicles on them It s a good idea to plan carefully What appear to

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  • Alternative therapies | About Laos | Rough Guides
    France In an essay about traditional Lao medicine written in the 1950s by a former Minister of Health the traditional Lao doctor is repeatedly referred to as the quack But renewed interest partially fuelled by a similar rekindling of enthusiasm in neighbouring China has seen a resurgence of confidence in traditional techniques Tourism has been partially responsible for renewed interest in traditional massage and herbal sauna though these alternative therapies are generally limited to larger towns and cities Besides the obvious physical benefits the Lao massage and sauna afford the recipient administering massage and sauna to others is believed to bring spiritual merit to those who perform the labour making Lao massage and sauna a win win proposition for all involved Lao massage Lao massage owes more to Chinese than to Thai schools utilizing medicated balms and salves which are rubbed into the skin Muscles are kneaded and joints are flexed while a warm compress of steeped herbs is applied to the area being treated Besides massage Lao doctors may utilize other exotic treatments that have been borrowed from neighbouring countries One decidedly Chinese therapy that is sometimes employed in Laos is acupuncture fang khem in which long thin needles are inserted into special points that correspond to specific organs or parts of the body Another imported practice is the application of suction cups kaew dut a remedy popular in neighbouring Cambodia Small glass jars are briefly heated with a flame and applied to bare skin air within the cup contracts as it cools drawing blood under the skin into the mouth of the cup Theoretically toxins within the bloodstream are in this way brought to the surface of the skin Lao herbal saunas Before getting a massage many Lao opt for some time in the herbal sauna This usually

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  • Culture and etiquette | About Laos | Rough Guides
    be counterproductive in dealings with Lao authorities such as when applying for visa extensions at immigration When in urban areas or visiting Buddhist monasteries or holy sites visitors should refrain from outfits that would be more suited to the beach Women especially should avoid wearing anything that reveals too much skin or could be conceived of as provocative this includes shorts and sleeveless shirts Sandals or flip flops can be worn for all but the most formal occasions in fact they are much more practical than shoes since footwear must be removed upon entering private homes certain Buddhist monastery buildings or any living space The habit of leaving your footwear outside the threshold is not just a matter of wanting to keep interiors clean it is a long standing tradition that will cause offence if flouted Manners Lao social taboos are sometimes linked to Buddhist beliefs Feet are considered low and unclean be careful not to step over any part of people who are sitting or lying on the floor as this is also considered rude If you do accidentally kick or brush someone with your feet apologize immediately and smile as you do so Conversely people s heads are considered sacred and shouldn t be touched Besides dressing conservatively there are other conventions that must be followed when visiting Buddhist monasteries Before entering monastery buildings such as the sim or wihan or if you are invited into monks living quarters footwear must be removed Women should never touch Buddhist monks or novices or their clothes or hand objects directly to them When giving something to a monk the object should be placed on a nearby table or passed to a layman who will then hand it to the monk All Buddha images are objects of veneration so it should go without saying that touching Buddha images disrespectfully is inappropriate When sitting on the floor of a monastery building that has a Buddha image never point your feet in the direction of the image If possible observe the Lao and imitate the way they sit in a modified kneeling position with legs pointed away from the image Greetings The lowland Lao traditionally greet each other with a nop bringing their hands together at the chin in a prayer like gesture After the revolution the nop was discouraged but it now seems to be making a comeback This graceful gesture is more difficult to execute properly than it may at first appear however as the status of the persons giving and returning the nop determines how they execute it Most Lao reserve the nop greeting for each other preferring to shake hands with Westerners and the only time a Westerner is likely to receive a nop is from the staff of upmarket hotels or fancy restaurants In any case if you do receive a nop as a gesture of greeting or thank you it is best to reply with a smile and nod of the head The Lao often feel that

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