Laos is a relatively safe country for travellers, although certain areas remain off-limits because of unexploded ordnance left over from decades of warfare. As a visitor, however, you’re an obvious target for thieves (who may include your fellow travellers), so do take necessary precautions.
No vaccination is required, but visitors are advised to receive inoculations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies and tetanus, and to check in advance whether anti malaria treatment is necessary depending on the region they travel to. Inoculation for yellow fever is not necessary although doctors still usually recommend it.
Vientiane has good hospitals staffed with foreign medical personnel, while in Luang Prabang and Pakse there are only local medical staff.
For life threatening injuries it is advisable to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we strongly recommend that you arrange medical travel insurance.
Carry your passport, travellers’ cheques and other valuables in a concealed money belt and don’t leave anything important lying about in your room, particularly when staying in rural bungalows. A few hotels have safes which you may want to use, although you should keep in mind that you never know who has access to the safe. A padlock and chain, or a cable lock, is useful for doors and windows at inexpensive guesthouses and budget hotels and for securing your pack on buses, where you’re often separated from your belongings. It’s also a good idea to keep a reserve of cash, photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport, insurance details and travellers’ cheque receipts separate from the rest of your valuables.
As tranquil as Laos can seem, petty theft and serious crimes do happen throughout the country – even on seemingly deserted country roads. Petty crime is more common in Vang Vieng than just about anywhere else in Laos, with drunk (or stoned) tourists often leaving themselves open to theft and robbery. Although crime rates in Vientiane are low, be on your guard in darker streets outside the city centre, and along the river. Motorbike-borne thieves ply the city streets and have been known to snatch bags out of the front basket of other motorbikes that they pass.
If you do have anything stolen, you’ll need to get the police to write up a report in order to claim on your insurance: bring along a Lao speaker to simplify matters if you can. While police generally keep their distance from foreigners, they may try to exact “fines” from visitors for alleged misdemeanours. With a lot of patience, you should be able to resolve most problems, and, if you keep your cool, you may find that you can bargain down such “fines”. It helps to have your passport with you at all times – if you don’t, police have greater incentive to ask for money and may even try to bring you to the station. In some instances police may puzzle over your passport for what seems like an awfully long time. Again, such situations are best handled with an ample dose of patience. If your papers are in order, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
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