Area Codes -- The international dialing code for Laos is 856.
Business Hours -- As with so many things in Laos, the definition of business hours is relaxed. Government offices open at 8am and close for lunch at noon, reopening at 1pm and closing at 5pm. Some offices also open on a Saturday morning. Banks tend to be open from 8:30am to 3pm from Monday to Friday, though this varies. Restaurants vary but tend to close by 11pm. Shops also vary but tend to open at 9am and close between 5 and 7pm. Even in Vientiane, everything (except a few nightclubs) is closed by midnight.
Drinking & Drug Laws -- Regulations on drinking are not enforced and alcohol is widely available. Penalties for driving under the influence are severe. Drug laws are extremely harsh, especially trafficking narcotics, which is punishable by death.
Electricity -- 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.
Embassies & Consulates -- The United States Embassy is located at 19 Thatdam Bartholonie Rd., Ban Thatdam, Vientiane (tel. 021/267-000).
There is no Canadian Embassy in Laos. Use the Australian Embassy or contact the Canadian Embassy in Thailand (15th Floor, Abdulrahim Place, 990 Rama IV Rd., Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500, Thailand; tel. +66 (0)2/636-0540; fax +66 (0)2/636-0566).
The embassy of Australia is at Nehru Street, Wat Phonsay area, Vientiane (tel. 021/413-6000; www.laos.embassy.gov.au).
There is no Irish Embassy in Laos. Use the Swedish Embassy (Sokpaluang Rd., Wat Nak, Vientiane; tel. 021/315-003).
There is no New Zealand Embassy in Laos. Use the Australian Embassy or contact the New Zealand Embassy in Thailand (M Thai Tower, 14th Floor, All Seasons Place, 87 Wireless Rd., Lumpini, Bangkok 10330, Thailand; tel. +66 2/254-2530; emergency after-hours duty officer: +66 81/837-7240).
There is no embassy of the United Kingdom in Laos. Use the Australian Embassy or contact the U.K. Embassy in Thailand (14 Wireless Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330; tel. +66 2/305-8333; www.ukinthailand.fco.gov.uk).
Hospitals -- Medical facilities in Laos are very basic. Most foreigners living in Laos go to Thailand for treatment of all but the most trivial of ailments. The Friendship Bridge connecting Vientiane to Nong Khai in Thailand is open daily from 6am to 10pm. If there is a real medical emergency, then crossing out of hours is allowed. Many travelers go to AEK International Hospital (tel. +66-42/342-555) or the North Eastern Wattana General Hospital (tel. +66-1/833-4262), both of which are in Udon Thani about 55km (34 miles) from the border. Both hospitals have English-speaking staff. For less complex medical procedures, Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel. +66-1/833-4262) is also an option
Within Laos, the International Medical Clinic operated by Mahosot Hospital is situated on the banks of the Mekong on Fa Ngum Road (tel. 021/214-022; open 24 hr.). The Australian Embassy also operates a modern medical clinic. It is situated at Km 4 on Thadeua Road in Watnak Village (tel. 021/353-840; fax 021/353-841; open Mon-Fri 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-5pm). Most doctors and hospitals in Laos require payment in cash, regardless of whether you have health insurance. The Australian Embassy Clinic accepts both MasterCard and Visa.
Insurance -- For information on traveler's insurance, trip-cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Language -- Lao is the official language. 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.
Mail -- The mail system is not very reliable in Laos. If you can, you are better off mailing from Thailand. Outgoing mail takes 10 to 15 days to reach Europe or America. When posting a parcel, you must leave it open for a Customs inspection. There is an Express Mail service to most Western countries, which is faster than standard mail and also automatically registers your letter. Both DHL and FedEx have offices in Vientiane. Post offices tend to be open 5 days a week between 8am and noon and 1 and 4pm. You can recognize them by their mustard-colored signs. It costs 30¢ to send a postcard to the U.S., and just under $1 to send a letter.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The only English-language newspaper in Laos is the Vientiane Times. It is a little low on substantive news, since media is under tight government control. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang you can get the Bangkok Post in some bookshops and international magazines such as Time and Newsweek.
Police -- In Laos, the police are not your friends. They are generally surly and corrupt. The most obvious way to avoid having contact with them is by not breaking the law. If you should find yourself having to deal with them for whatever reason, be polite but not fearful. If you have something stolen and need a police report for insurance purposes you may find that the police will attempt to extract a "fee" for their services. If you can, bring a Lao speaker with you to aid negotiation.
Smoking -- Smoking is banned in many public places, particularly in Luang Prabang, where it is forbidden near many of the famous sites. Smoking is voluntarily banned in hospitals, educational facilities, and government buildings.
Taxes -- Taxes are levied in the form of VAT. A departure tax of $10 is payable on leaving the country by air.
Time Zones -- Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Tipping -- Tipping is not generally a Lao custom but is appreciated in some tourist areas. Check that service is not already included. Tipping 10% of the bill is more than acceptable.
Water -- Do not drink the water or brush your teeth with it. Bottled water is freely available. Make sure the bottle is properly sealed on purchase.