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Hidden Treasures of Thailand and Laos
|Frequently Asked Questions |
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Thailand and Laos, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the Hidden Treasures of Thailand and Laos tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Thai and Laotian adventure.
Thailand and Laos are 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There's no daylight saving time in Thailand or Laos, meaning that in the summer months, it's 12 hours ahead of New York. During the time we'll be visiting, when it's noon in Bangkok or Luang Prabang, it's midnight in New York and 9 p.m. in San Francisco.
There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Thailand and Laos, so make sure you have space left in your suitcase. You do not need formal clothing for this trip, as very few places have formal dress codes. Some people like to dress up if they are visiting high-end restaurants, but this is optional. Some temples may require that you cover your bare shoulders and legs when entering, so it's useful to carry a light scarf with you. Since we'll be walking quite a bit, you should pack your most comfortable walking shoes. It will also be quite hot in Thailand and Laos when we visit, so you should bring breezy, light weight clothing with you. Keep in mind that during the Hidden Treasures of Thailand and Laos tour we will be taking several flights and the check-in luggage limit on Thai domestic flights is 44 lbs., so you should pack lightly.
For Thailand, visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport, but visas are not required for Americans, Canadians or Australians visiting for less than 3 months. If you are a citizen of another country, please check with the Thai embassy at your country of citizenship. Visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a valid passport to enter Laos, as well as a Laotian visa. 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 you will need to completed a visa application on arrival in Laos. 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. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you intend to leave Thailand and Laos. 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 Bangkok, Thailand on Monday, November 8, 2021 at 6:30PM, and your flight should arrive in Suvarnabhumi Airport (airport code BKK) no later than 4:30PM. You will probably depart North America on Sunday, November 7, 2021. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for individual airport transfers on arrival in accordance with your flight arrival time, and you will be met by your chauffeur on your arrival in Bangkok airport.
This tour ends in Luang Prabang, Laos on Sunday, November 21, 2021. We will arrange your private airport transfer to the Luang Prabang airport (LPQ) according to your flight departure time. If you need help with finding your flights to Thailand and from Laos, please feel free to give us a call.
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.
The Thailand and Laos 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 private local guides and bus drivers, who will accompany the group throughout the tour.
Like all tropical destinations, Thailand poses some risks to travelers. Major tourist areas, such as Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui, and Chiang Mai, are malaria free, but you should check with your travel clinic as the situation may change in some regions. It is recommended that travelers have current immunizations for hepatitis A, polio, and tetanus. Young people are advised to get a rubella vaccine to protect against the TB virus. Wounds can be aggravated by heat and humidity, so look out for infections; wash cuts promptly with iodine or saline solution, and keep them dry. Doctors and hospitals in Thailand, especially in urban centers, are very good. While restaurant hygiene throughout the country is generally excellent, you should be careful with street foods in areas of heavy traffic where pollution might affect the cleanliness of ingredients. Use mosquito repellent, containing a high percentage of DEET, and limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip and between 11am to 2pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor, wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun, and dress appropriately for the warm weather: loose, natural fiber clothing and shoes that let your feet breathe. Do not touch or pick plants that you are not familiar with. Thailand does not offer free medical treatment to visitors. Travelers from Canada and the United States must pay for medical services rendered, but will be reimbursed by their travel insurance. Occasionally, the change in diet can cause some minor diarrhea, so you might want to take along some anti-diarrhea medicine. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels. Otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Also bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don't forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
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.
The publicly available water in Thailand and Laos is not safe to drink, even in the major hotels. Bottled water and cold towels will be provided daily throughout the trip, and the hotels also provide bottled water to use for brushing your teeth and drinking. In addition, bottled mineral water is available everywhere although counterfeits are a problem, so make sure you're buying the real thing, with an unbroken seal. Most restaurants serve bottled or boiled water and ice made from boiled water, but always ask to be sure. Purified water may not have the minerals you need to replace those lost in the heat and humidity, so check the label.
You won't find public toilets on the streets of Thailand and Laos, 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, a ceramic platform mounted over a hole in the ground. Near the toilet there will be a water bucket or sink with a small ladle. The water is for flushing the toilet. 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.
Violent crime is rare in Thailand, and foreign visitors are not a target. Tourists are more likely to encounter con artists, but a few basic precautions can help avoid problems. You should keep an eye on valuables in crowded places, and be wary of anyone who approaches you in the street to solicit your friendship. Single women are fairly safe as long as they stick to walking in brightly lit areas where there is plenty of activity. Thailand has zero tolerance of drug trafficking and use.
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 face no particular discrimination or dangers in Thailand or Laos. 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. Thais and 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 Thailand or Laos, but it remains unwise. It is unusual for a Thai or 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. Women should, however, be very careful when dealing with monks: Never touch a monk, never hand anything directly to them (it should be set on the floor in front of the monk or given to a man who will hand it to them directly), and don't sit next to monks on public transport or in the monk-only designated areas in waiting rooms. Some parts of temples do not allow women to enter; look for signs indicating this. Women should avoid tank tops and short-shorts. At all temples and mosques, be sure to wear a long skirt or trousers and have your shoulders covered. Your head should be covered in mosques, but headwear (caps, sun visors) must be removed in Buddhist temples.
During the Hidden Treasures of Thailand and Laos tour, we will travel by bus, by boats, and by air, and the tour will involve quite a lot of walking, as well. Some of the walking will be on uneven, unpaved surfaces, including steps. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 - 5 miles throughout the day. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to 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. You must be prepared for a couple of full days and some early starts.
Thailand and Laos have two seasons: the hot dry season and the hot wet season. Chances are if you're from anywhere outside the tropics, you'll find both countries to be very hot and humid. The coolest months (though still hot by temperate climate standards) are December and January, while the hottest are March and April. The rainy months, from May to November, are very humid, though the often-overcast skies provide relief from the heavy sun. Southern Thailand is affected by two different monsoon seasons, meaning different islands have good weather at different times of the year. In northern Thailand and in Laos the seasons are more clearly defined. Between November and May the weather is mostly dry, and from May to November it is dominated by the southwest monsoon, with heavy rains. In Laos, the dry season is cooler from November to February. In Laos, 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.
All hotels where we’ll be staying have free WiFi Internet available for their guests. Cellular phone coverage and Internet access are generally very good in Thailand's cities and metropolitan areas, as well as Luang Prabang. You should expect limited coverage in remote or mountainous areas.
All outlets, except in some luxury hotels, are 220 volts AC (50 cycles). Outlets have two flat-pronged or round-pronged holes, so you may need an adapter. If you use a 110-volt hair dryer, electric shaver, or battery charger for a computer, bring a transformer and an adapter. In Laos, 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.
Central Thai (often called Bangkok Thai) is the official language. English is commonly spoken in the major cities at hotels, some restaurants, and a few upscale shops, and is the second language of the professional class. The Thai language can be quite challenging for newcomers. It uses a non-Roman script and it is a tonal language. Getting the basics down, like counting, "hello" and "thank you," is easy enough, but you'll need a bit of time to get a good grounding in the language. The further you go off the beaten trail, the more necessary a phrasebook will become.
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.
The Thai currency is the baht (written B, Bt, Bht, or THB) and it is divided into 100 satang. Thai Baht is around THB30 to US$1. Tiny copper coins represent 25 and 50 satang; silver coins are 1B, 2B (rare), and 5B. The larger 10B coin is silver with a copper inset. Bank notes come in denominations of 20B (green), 50B (blue), 100B (red), 500B (purple), and 1,000B (brown). Bear in mind that throughout Thailand, the baht will be the only acceptable currency, and foreign currency is not accepted for everyday transactions. ATM cash machines dispense cash in 100-, 500-, and 1,000-baht bills. Be sure you know your 4-digit PIN and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Hotels and larger businesses in Thailand accept major credit cards. Many establishments add a 3% to 5% surcharge for payment by credit card.
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.
All restaurants', guides' and drivers' gratuities are included in the tour's cost. When you are on your own, waiters should receive a percentage of the bill that reflects the quality of the service, as in American restaurants. If no service charge is added to your check in a fine-dining establishment, a 10% tip is appropriate. Hotel porters are generally tipped around $2US per bag, and maids are tipped $1 per person per day. Tipping taxi drivers is appreciated. Carry small bills, as many cab drivers either don't have change or won't admit to having any in the hope of getting a tip.
Things to bring back from Thailand are:
- Silk: the hallmark quality of Thai silks are ironically their minor imperfections because they are loomed entirely by hand, no two pieces should ever look the same. The royal family established a certification trademark, the Royal Peacock, which guarantees the authenticity and quality of real Thai silk. It is graded as gold, silver, blue and green. Threads of alternating tones are used, giving Thai silk its signature color-changing sheen.
- Antiques: Thailand has ancient traditions of furniture making, stone carving, and silver and metal-working. You can find thousand-year-old Buddhas, gorgeous furniture, carved doors, ceramics, and lots in between.
- Gems: Bangkok is said to be one of the cheapest places to purchase un-set gem stones in the world. The most sought after gems are emeralds, rubies, garnets, tourmaline, peridot, citrine, and sapphires of all hues. Many of them aren’t sourced in Thailand, however; so working with honest dealers is essential.
- Designer t-shirts
- Thai triangle cushions
- Hand woven rice baskets
- Colorful paper umbrellas
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.