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Laos: Luang Prabang - FAQ

With such an exotic destination, half the world away and so many aspects to touring Laos, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Laotian adventure.

TIME 

Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There's no daylight saving time in Laos, meaning that in the summer months, it's 12 hours ahead of the U.S. During the time we'll be visiting, when it's noon in Luang Prabang, it's midnight in New York and 9 p.m. in San Francisco.

New York

Luang Prabang

PACKING 

There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Laos, so make sure that you have enough space left in your suitcase. You do not need any formal clothing for this trip. Since we'll be walking quite a bit, you should pack your most comfortable walking shoes. It will also be quite hot in Laos when we visit, so you should bring breezy, light weight clothing with you.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS  

Visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport to enter Laos, as well as a Laotian visa. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months past the planned departure date. Laotian visa can be obtained on arrival at the Luang Prabang airport, and the cost is $37US payable in cash, and banknotes used for visa payment should be in good condition, with no tears. You will also need two passport size photos and a completed visa application. Visa applications are distributed during the flight prior to landing in Luang Prabang and additional forms are available at the airport. Laotian visa can also be obtained in advance from Laos embassies. The cost and requirements for getting a Laotian visa from a Laos embassy are the same, but the process involves sending your passport to the embassy by registered mail. Before traveling abroad, it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another in your suitcase.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION  

This tour starts in Luang Prabang, Laos on Monday, February 17, 2020, and since this tour is taken in conjunction with the Hidden Treasures and Beaches of Thailand tour, you will arrive in Luang Prabang from Phuket around 12:00PM. 

This tour ends on Thursday, February 20, 2020, and we will arrange for a private airport transfer to coordinate with your departing flight's time. If you are taking this tour, you will fly into Bangkok, for the beginning of the Thailand tour, and depart from Luang Prabang, at the conclusion of the Laos tour. If you need assistance with finding the flights for this tour, please feel free to give us a call.

JET LAG 

To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), you should drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT AND ROOMMATES  

To avoid paying the single supplement, we offer guaranteed roommate matching, and we will try to match you with a roommate of similar age. Otherwise, there are six single rooms available on this tour, but they tend to fill up early. Please keep in mind that all shared rooms are non-smoking.

THE TRAVEL GROUP  

The Laos tour group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to the tour director, the travelers will be assisted by professional local guides and bus drivers, who will accompany the group throughout the tour.

HEALTH  

There are no vaccination requirements to enter Laos, but you may choose to take extra precautions. It is wise to get certain vaccinations including hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, cholera, rabies, and tetanus. Staying healthy in Laos is largely about practicing good hygiene. You should drink only bottled water, and wash your hands before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel. Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized. Avoid eating street food if you can. Protecting yourself against mosquito bites is crucial to preventing a variety of diseases, including malaria, although there is no malaria in the Luang Prabang area. You should still use an effective repellent (with DEET), and wear long pants and long sleeves. To protect yourself from the heat of the sun, use a good sunscreen, cover your skin, try to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, and keep up your fluid intake. If you can't avoid being in the sun, make sure you wear a hat. Keep properly hydrated with water.

WATER  

Water is not potable in Laos. Outside of top-end hotels and restaurants, drink only beverages without ice, unless the establishment promises that it manufactures its own ice from clean water. Bottled mineral water is available everywhere. Counterfeits are a problem, so make sure you're buying the real thing, with an unbroken seal.

TOILETS  

You won't find public toilets on the streets of Luang Prabang, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, western stores and museums. These will most likely be Western style toilets. Public toilets elsewhere are most likely to be the Asian style (squat). Be sure to carry tissues, as some restrooms may not provide toilet paper. Large hotels and restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Please keep in mind that some public toilets may require payment, so you should always have some small bills in the local currency with you to pay for them. 

SAFETY  

Laos is generally a very safe country in which to travel, with little reported crime and fewer of the scams so often found in other countries in the region. However, the vast influx of tourists and money over the last decade has given rise to petty crime, bag snatchings, hotel burglaries, and low-level scams. Often these kind of things will be more opportunistic than planned and if you are aware of them and use basic common sense, problems are fairly easily avoided. Keep an eye on your things and keep valuables concealed.

WOMEN TRAVELERS  

There are no particular safety concerns for women. What trouble there might be is nondiscriminatory. What you will find is that you are asked a lot of questions about your marital status and your children, even if you don't have any. Laotians generally have a fairly conventional view of marriage and children, and if your story diverges from that, they may well be curious. The curiosity is genuine and good-natured, and all explanations will be avidly absorbed. Being out late at night on your own is not actually particularly dangerous in Laos, but it remains unwise. It is unusual for a Lao woman to travel on her own, but given your obviously foreign status, all allowances will generally be made for your choice to do so.

ACTIVITY LEVEL  

During the Luang Prabang tour in Laos, we will travel by private bus, but there will be quite a lot of walking. Some of the walking will be on uneven, unpaved surfaces, including steps, but it will be at a leisurely pace. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk up to 4 miles throughout the day. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is very busy, as there is a lot to see during the short time we have in Laos.

WHEATHER  

Laos has two seasons: the hot dry season and the hot wet season. Chances are if you're from anywhere outside the tropics, you'll find Laos to be very hot. The dry season is cooler from November to February. From March to May farmers set fire to rice stubble and degraded forest to improve soil fertility in preparation for a new rice crop. The resulting fires cover most of Laos (including Luang Prabang) in a layer of smoke which, aside from ruining views and photos, can become really irritating to the eyes.

CELL PHONE/INTERNET  

The hotel where we'll be staying in Luang Prabang has free WiFi Internet for its guests, and the town itself has many Internet cafes. Due to many international tourists, the Internet access and cell phone coverage in the area of Luang Prabang are excellent, but they can vary widely in rural areas.

ELEKTRICITY 

The electrical system in Laos is 220 volts AC. Two-pin flat plugs are the usual. The electricity can often be cut without warning. It's a good idea to carry a flashlight, especially in more remote places. In Laos the power sockets used are of type A / B / C / E / F.

LANGUAGE  

Lao is the official language of Laos. Some English is spoken in towns, but you will help yourself if you learn a few words of the local language. A few older people speak French. If you already speak some Thai, you'll find the basics of Lao are not difficult to pick up. The two languages are related, but not all that close.

MONEY 

The official currency is the Lao kip. Notes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000. There are no coins. Both the Thai baht and the U.S. dollar are also accepted and are used for larger transactions. Also bear in mind that the kip is non-exchangeable outside Laos. ATMs are springing up at a rapid rate, and many accept both Visa and MasterCard. They are not particularly useful if drawing money from a foreign account, since they only issue Lao kip with a daily limit in the region of 700,000 kip and the transaction charges are very high. Credit cards are accepted by larger hotels, more expensive restaurants, and boutiques. In general, though, their use is restricted and Laos is very much a cash economy.

TIPPING  

Tipping is appreciated by Laotians, but it is not required. The tips for dining, guides and drivers are included in the cost of your tour. It is customary to tip the chambermaid $1US per day, the bellhop or porter $1US per bag for carrying your bags to your room. The standard international tip amount for the guide is $10US per person per day, especially if their services enhanced your appreciation of the sites visited, and the driver gets 50% of the amount.

TAXES 

Taxes are levied in the form of VAT. A departure tax of $10 is payable on leaving the country by air, but it's usually included in the ticket price.

SHOPPING  

Laos is an excellent destination for anyone interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts. Hill-tribe silks, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewelry and couture quality textiles dominate the market. Although many of these products are available in Thailand, some of them are unique to Laos and its hill-tribes. In buying traditional crafts such as silks and carvings, tourists are invariably helping to support a still-growing and fragile economy. Lao women wear the traditional phaa sin - a wraparound skirt. The phaa sin is worn with a silver belt and you will soon notice it is worn by school and university students and government office workers. A vast choice of phaa sin, shawls, bags and jewelry can be found in the night market in Luang Prabang. As well as traditional Lao weavings, you will find hill-tribe embroidery, wall hangings and quilts. The inherent art form of weaving has been practiced in Laos since the 14th century; subsequently it has attracted the attention of affluent and educated western-based weavers who have descended on Laos to re-establish the trade that dwindled so rapidly under the Communist regime - the vast majority of which operate on a fair trade basis, working to increase sustainable development within the country. 

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Why travel with other women?
Many women do not have families or compatible friends who wish to travel. When going on a main-stream tour, women often find that most activities are geared towards couples and quite often they feel left out. Singles' tours are not always what women are looking for. If you do not have a traveling companion, there is also the issue of the expensive "single supplement", sometimes as much as 50 or even 100 percent of the tour cost. By going on women-only tours, women can easily avoid paying for the single supplement by sharing a room with another woman traveler.
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