The basics Population: 6.8 million Capital: Vientiane Religion: Theravada Buddhism in the majority, animism in the minority Emergency numbers: Police, 191; Tourist Police, 192 The key dates 13-15 April: Laos New Year. Celebrations can last for more than a week; be prepared to be soaked as throwing perfumed water is part of the festivities. 2 Dec: Lao National Day. Celebrating the victory of the proletariat in 1975. The hot spots Popular destinations include Luang Prabang, Vientiane, the Plain of Jars, and Pakse. There are two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang town and the Vat Phou Champasak temple complex. Some itinerary ideas • The North: Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang – Plain of Jars • The South: Vientiane – Savannakhet – Pakse – Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) How to stay healthy • Unexploded mines and ordnance are a hazard in Laos, and kill around 300 people each year. Don’t stray off main routes in rural areas, and don’t pick up metal objects. • Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases are common, and serious outbreaks occur from time to time. Wash hands often, wash food when possible and drink bottled water.

While you’re there, please don’t… • forget the deodorant; personal cleanliness is valued highly in Laos, so anyone with strong body odour will not make themselves popular • show too much skin; Laotians dress conservatively, and will swim in rivers and waterfalls with at least shorts and a T-shirt on • disrespect the monks; the morning alms-giving in Luang Prabang is popular, but be respectful, don’t use flash photography, and don’t level your head higher than the monks’ heads • haggle hard; remember, what’s 50c for you is much more for them Before you go, read … The River’s Tale: A Year on the Mekong by Edward Gargan – the personal tale of a year-long journey along the nearly 3,000 miles of the Mekong River, from Tibet to the South China Sea. Before you go, watch … The Betrayal – Nerakhoon . Academy Award-nominated documentary about a Laotian family’s struggles to assimilate into American life. They said it “The progress that Laos has made is quite momentous.” – Antonio Maria Costa, former UN Under-Secretary-General “... this tamarind tree was near a road, so it belonged to everybody. We should all share it, not destroy it. It enriched our lives and our happiness. Wherever there was a tree, there was happiness.” – Outhine Bounyavong, Laotian writer “If you like things easy, you’ll have difficulties; if you like problems, you’ll succeed.” – Laotian proverb

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