Stay safe & healthy
- Identification When traveling in Laos, it is important to travel with a copy of your passport at all times. You may be asked to show ID at any time, and a fine (100,000 kip) will be imposed if you do not produce documentation on request.
- Crime levels are low in Laos, though petty theft (bag snatching) is not unknown and keeps rising with the inability of authorities to prevent it. Reports of robbery at gunpoint surface in the big cities. Though unlikely to affect most tourists, Laos is one of the world's most corrupt countries and the corruption is a big factor in many citizens' lives.
- Judicial process remains arbitrary and, while you are unlikely to be hassled, your legal rights can be slim or non-existent if you are accused.
- Sexual relations between a Lao national and a foreigner are illegal unless they are married, and marriage requires special permits. Lao hotels are not permitted to allow a foreigner and Lao national in the same hotel room together. "Number One" condoms are available for 1,000-5,000 kip for a pack of three. These are probably the cheapest condoms in the world (and their quality seems to be OK).
- Homosexuality is legal in Laos when it is non-commercial and practiced between consenting adults in private. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples may be tolerated in larger cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but in smaller towns homosexuality remains taboo, especially among the Hmong people.
- Drugs are a large problem in Laos and should be avoided at all costs. Lao law makes little distinction between personal use and trafficking and any conviction will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best and imprisonment or even execution at worst. Methamphetamine is widespread and often offered in "special" or "happy" shakes along the backpacker trail. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or a police impersonator to "shake down" ($500 is the common "fine") unsuspecting tourists. Keep in mind that oftentimes Lao police dress as civilians (undercover).
- The Lao PDR criminal code penalties for producing, trafficking, distributing, possessing, importing, or exporting are:
- Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip (USD1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
- Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment 50 million kip (USD6,578) fine
- Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip (USD921) fine
- Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip (USD3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg
- Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip (USD2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kg
- Criticism of the Lao government or the Communist Party in any way, shape or form is unwise; you never know who might be listening.
- Landmines or unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War maims or kills hundreds of people every year as Laos is the most bombed country in history. Almost all of these occur in the eastern and northern parts of the country, especially near the border with Vietnam. Never enter areas marked as minefields and travel only on paved roads and well-worn paths. If you are unsure of which areas are safe, ask the locals.
- Fake products are very common. Laos is one place where Chinese or Thai companies dump sub-standard products. Similar to Myanmar, there are few if any laws preventing such trade.
Parts of Laos have a good deal of malaria so anti-malarials are recommended if visiting those areas for an extended period, but check with health professionals: there are many high incidence of drug-resistant parasites around Laos. Other mosquito-born diseases, such as dengue, can be life-threatening, so make sure you bring at least 25% DEET insect repellent and ensure that you sleep with mosquito protection like nets or at least a fan. Vientiane seems to be malaria-free but not dengue fever-free. The mosquitoes that are active during the day carry dengue and those that are active in the evening carry malaria. Note that 25% DEET insect repellents are almost impossible to find in Laos, so be sure to bring some from your country.
The usual precautions regarding food and water are needed. Bottled water are widely available but almost all of them are less-filtered.
Vientiane has several medical clinics are associated with European embassies. Otherwise, you probably have to go to Thailand for better treatment of serious injuries and illnesses. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are generally recommended; they're only a few hours away, depending on your location in Laos. Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai might have suitable clinics, as well, and there's Bangkok, of course. Expatriates in Laos probably have the best information; the more upscale hotels can be good resources, as well.
Medical travel insurance is a practical option. Visitors always need to examine the local infection information, too. In fact, as Western and European medical industries reported so much, the environment in Laos has infectious issues even now. According to local newspapers, Laos government is eager to launch improvement plans of water and foods quality. The travel guide Lonely Planet also describes this social reality. However, it is not definitely affecting the tourism market. Laos government sides and tourism industries never show the atittude to adjust this serious problem.
Laos had a HIV rate of (0.3% of population in 2014).