The Lao year follows the Buddhist lunar calendar and many religious, cultural and harvest festivals are moveable, so check the dates when you confirm your travel. Most are de facto national or regional public holidays.
February - Elephant Festival and Trade Fairs, Sayabouly. Elephant processions and bathing, ‘Elephant of the Year' competition, mahout demonstrations, Buddhist blessings, fun fairs, night markets, and live music and dance performances.
February - Wat Phu Festival, Champasack. Elephant racing, buffalo and cock fights, and performances of traditional Lao music and dance at the pre-Angkorian remains of Wat Phu.
February - Sikhottabong Festival, Khammouane. Religious festival and trade fair at Sikhottabong stupa, 8km south of Thakhek.
Boun Khao Chi (Makhaboucha), nationwide. ‘Bread made of sticky rice' ceremonies and candle-lit parades around local temples.
March - Boun Khoun Khao or Khoun Lan, nationwide. Rice harvest festival.
March - Boun Pha Vet, nationwide. Three-day festival celebrating Buddha's previous incarnation before being born as Prince Siddhartha.
April - Boun Pi Mai (Lao New Year), nationwide. Attractions include a colourful parade in traditional Lao dress with music and dance, procession of the sacred Prabang Buddha, and Miss New Year beauty contest.
May - Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival), nationwide. A call for rain and a celebration of fertility in which villagers compete for the best decorated and the highest flying rocket, and men disguised as women perform lewd acts to anger the gods and send thunderstorms.
May - Boun Visakhaboucha, nationwide. Ceremonies and processions to mark the birth date of the Buddha.
July - Asalahaboucha Day and Boun Khao Pansa (Buddhist Lent), nationwide. The beginning of a three-month period of prayer and meditation for Buddhist monks.
September/October - Boun Haw Khao Padap Din and Haw Khao Salak, nationwide. On the 15th day of the waning moon in the 9th month, and 15 days afterwards, offerings are made at temples to honour dead ancestors, followed by a candlelit procession.
October - Boun Ok Pansa, nationwide. The end of Buddhist Lent is marked by candlelit processions and floats decorated with flower, incense and candles are set adrift in thanksgiving to the river spirits, followed by a day of boat racing.
November - That Luang Festival, Vientiane. Three-day festival gathering tens of thousands of pilgrims from Laos and Thailand to the Luang stupa to listen to prayers and sermons and ending with a huge fireworks display.
December - Hmong New Year, nationwide. The celebrations feature traditional costumes and jewellery, music, ox fighting, spinning-top races and crossbow demonstrations.
That Inhang Festival, Savannakhet. International trade fair at the Inhang stupa featuring products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, Lao music and dance and sports competitions.
Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.
Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry. Make sure you get a stamp in your passport as you enter the country. Not having a legitimate stamp could lead to arrest or a large fine.
The kip is non-convertible outside Laos. Make sure you get rid of all your kip before you leave the country (unless you want to keep a note or two as a souvenir). Kip can be exchanged with foreign currencies on arrival at Vientiane airport. At mid-2013 £1 = around 12,000 kip. The largest denomination, the 100,000 kip note (worth about £8.50) is uncommon. Notes in general circulation are 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. US dollars are sometimes accepted, though at up to 10% below the official rate. Thai baht are also accepted in many areas near the border, notably in Vientiane. Some resorts and banks also accept the euro. In remote places only kip are accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.
There are plenty of ATMs around Vientiane, and just a sprinkling in other cities like Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. ATMs of the largest bank, BCEL, accept Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, with a surcharge of US$1 or 2. The maximum withdrawal from an ATM is normally 1,000,000 kip.
Cash and EFTPOS
Always keep some cash on you for small purchases and shopping at markets, and stock up on cash if heading out to remote areas. Normal banking hours are from 8.30 am to 4 pm from Monday to Friday. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, resorts and upscale restaurants in Ventiane and Luang Prabang.
Laos is a little more expensive than Thailand or Cambodia, and basic hotels are of a lower quality. As a rule of thumb, it's possible to live comfortably on as little as £30 per couple per day in any of the main tourist areas. A basic ensuite room can cost under £5 in Vang Vieng, and from around £10 in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, though as with any destination there is hardly an upper limit if you take the luxury option at every turn. Even if you blow out on 5-star accommodation or a luxury river cruise, you don't have to look far to get an excellent Lao, Thai or Vietnamese meal for well under £5 a head. You can wash it down with the ubiquitous Beer Lao, made with jasmine rice, at around £1 for a large (640ml) bottle.