Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 06 February 2014.   It contains new information under Local travel (exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane after 10.30pm). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Laos.

Laos overall

Travel in Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Laos.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • We recommend that you exercise a high degree of caution in Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng, because of the potential for attacks by bandits.
  • A number of tourists, including Australians, have died or been injured in accidents along the river at Vang Vieng. Extreme caution is recommended if undertaking river-based sporting activities.
  • The rainy season normally runs from May to November and tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are more likely to occur during this time.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed human deaths from avian influenza in Laos. See the Health section for advice to Australians travelling to or resident in Laos.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Laos for the most up-to-date information.

You should ensure you obtain an entry stamp on arrival. Failure to do so may result in a fine or detention.

You should use only official border crossing points to enter Laos.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/Political tension

Isolated incidents of civil unrest, including armed attacks and bombings, have occurred in the past.

You are advised to avoid any protests or demonstrations and follow the instructions of local authorities. Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.

Crime

We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Laos. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible safety or security risks.

Violent crime such as robbery, rape and sexual assault, including in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and in the city of Luang Prabang, commonly occurs.

Violence, including bombings, has in the past been used in business and personal disputes. Local law enforcement agencies often lack the resources and capability to effectively deal with such threats. Although foreign travellers are not ordinarily targeted, there is the potential for bystanders to be caught up in such incidents.

There have been a number of recent drug-related deaths among travellers in Laos. Some restaurants in popular tourist locations offer drug-laced food and drink which may contain harmful and unknown substances. Travellers have been assaulted after accepting 'spiked' food and drink. Never leave food and drink unattended. See our Partying Overseas page for further advice.

Petty crime, including bag snatching by thieves on motorcycles and theft from guest houses, occurs frequently. In the lead up to local festivals, such as Lao New Year in April, there is a significant increase in theft and violent crime.

Travellers should always remain vigilant when travelling in rural and remote locations across the country. You should be particularly vigilant when travelling on Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) or Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).

Xiasomboun district:

You should exercise a high degree of caution in Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng, due to the potential for attacks by bandits. Travel is not permitted without a permit from the Lao authorities.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas. The ANZ Bank has a head office and various ATMs in Vientiane and an office in Pakse. Only a small number of ATMs outside of Vientiane accept foreign credit and debit cards, and those that do may be out of order.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Extreme caution is recommended if undertaking river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng. Tourists, including Australians, have been killed or seriously injured while participating in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris in the river can make diving or jumping into the river dangerous. Travellers considering participating in river based activities should carefully consider their personal safety and take appropriate precautions.

The safety standards Australians might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially when undertaking adventure sports. 'Fast boat' river travel, in particular, can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards.

Boats travelling on the Mekong River in the ‘golden triangle’ area (between China, Laos, Burma and Thailand) have been robbed and shot at in the past.

Unexploded ordnance is prevalent in many parts of Laos, particularly in Xieng Khouang province (location of The Plain of Jars) and the Lao-Vietnamese border areas along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Straying from established walking paths and roads can be dangerous as affected areas are often unmarked.

Australians travelling independently (not part of a tour group) should contact provincial or district offices, which can provide information on travelling to specific areas. Tourists who wish to camp must obtain permission from local authorities in advance.

The Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane is a border of Laos and Thailand. This is a known smuggling route, and is strictly patrolled by Lao and Thai border security. Those suspected of smuggling are likely to be questioned and may be detained. Lao authorities have advised that tourists should exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane after 10.30pm.

It is a requirement to carry identification at all times. Police undertake frequent checks of motorists in towns and have checkpoints in rural areas. Failure to provide identification when requested may result in fines or detention.

Transport within Laos does not generally meet Australian safety standards. Driving in Laos can be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, livestock on rural roads and a lack of road lighting. The number of road accidents and fatalities, particularly at night and involving motorcycles, has risen sharply in recent years. For further advice, see our Road safety page.

Airline safety

We are aware that at least one company has prohibited its staff from flying on MA60 aircraft, occasionally used by Lao airlines, due to concerns about safety and reliability. This policy has been brought to the attention of Australian Embassy staff in Vientiane. For further information, please refer to our air travel page.

Laws

When you are in Laos, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe in Laos and include the death penalty. Penalties for serious crime, such as rape, murder and treason, also include the death penalty.

Non-marital sexual relationships and co-habitation between Lao citizens and foreigners are not permitted under Lao law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be granted by the Lao authorities. Penalties for failing to register a relationship include fines and imprisonment.

Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and may result in arrest or detention.

Unauthorised religious preaching, including the distribution of religious material, is prohibited and may result in arrest or deportation.

Lao authorities have advised that tourists should not visit temples or sites that have religious or cultural significance after 10.30pm. Offenders may be questioned or detained.

Local car insurance may not cover all expenses in the event of a road accident. A compensation payment for third party property damage and injury may be required, regardless of fault.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Laos does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular services to Australian/Lao dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities in Laos are extremely basic and food is not supplied to patients. It is recommended that travellers access medical services across the border in Thailand. The Australian Embassy in Vientiane operates a small medical clinic that may be accessed by Australians. Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, even for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to Bangkok, Thailand would be necessary, costing up to $A18,000 depending on circumstances.

Malaria is a risk in rural areas of Laos. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, are prevalent in Laos, especially during the rainy season. We recommend you consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, hepatitis, rabies and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before travelling. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Laos. See our health page and Avian Influenza bulletin for further information on influenza.

Where to get help

In Laos, you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian Embassy, Vientiane

KM4, Thadeua Road
Watnak Village
Sissatanek District
Vientiane, LAO P.D.R
Telephone: +856-353800
Facsimile: +856 – 353801
E-mail: austemb.laos@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.laos.embassy.gov.au

Should you require assistance from the local authorities, the contact number for the Vientiane Tourist Police is +856 21 251128.

If you are travelling to Laos, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The rainy season normally runs from May to November and tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are more likely to occur during this time of year. The Mekong River Commission website contains information on flood levels for the Mekong River. For further information on what to do in the event of a typhoon, see our severe weather page .

Earthquakes and tremors have been recorded in the border areas of Laos, Burma and Thailand.

If a natural disaster occurs, travellers should follow instructions from local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.