35 Most Common Tourist Scams in Laos

Safety at Vientiane, Houay Xai, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Muang Xay, Pakbeng, Pakse, Savannakhet, Tha Khaek
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.

 

Vang Vien

Vang Vien

 

Although it is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, Laos is “Simply Beautiful”, and tourists have been flocking here to enjoy the country’s simple charms.

Here, you can watch sunsets on the Mekong, see rustic stilt houses and glowing paddy fields and visit ancient temples full of history.

If you seek adventure, you can also explore river caves, try out jungle ziplines, trek through lush forests as well as climb karsts.

When that is done, you can then recuperate with a spa session and enjoy the delicious cuisine Laos has to offer.

That said, the country has seen an increase in tourist targeted scams and crime as tourism increases.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Drug entrapment with fake police

 

How it works:

This is a common scam that you may encounter in Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakbeng.

In Vientiane, be careful of tuk-tuk drivers who appear to sell drugs. These drivers will pretend to be dealers to catch tourists out for the police (or police impersonators).

If caught by police you’ll suffer the legal consequences, whilst fake police will demand inflated bribes before they release you.

A similar scam is run around the Mekong river bank and the market, where it is common for tourists to smoke weed together.

Locals will dress as secret police and to arrest you and escort you to a nearby venue. Here they’ll demand money, usually 10 million kip, for your freedom.

This is common in Pakbeng too, being one of the world’s largest drugs production areas and home to the historic party scene in Vang Vieng.

Across the area tourists are seen as a huge source of income in this corrupt system. Hence, entrapment here is common with victims unlikely to find any recourse.

 

What to do:

Do not buy drugs here.

Next, if you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never give your passport if asked. Show only a photocopy of it.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

2. Curfew scam

Pakse street, Laos

Pakse street, Laos. Source: en.vietnamitasenmadrid.com

 

How it works:

In Pakse, a frequent scam is that tourists are told that there’s a curfew and fine for walking around late at night.

If you are spotted out walking after 8pm, a group of men dressed in uniform will stop you, demand to see your ID and then keep you hostage until you pay a fee.

They may also try to get you to travel with them to a quieter area and refuse to return you until you have paid the fine.

The cost will vary from 1.5 million to 500,000 kip so you can negotiate, but be careful!

 

What to do:

Expose their scam – there is no such curfew there.

Threaten to call the police (hotline at the end of this article).

 

3. Monk alms ceremony scam

Monk alms ceremony

Monk alms ceremony

 

How it works:

When in Luang Prabang, you can watch the Monk’s Alm Ceremony early in the morning as the sun rises.

The ceremony involves Buddhist pilgrims gifting the monks food and alms as they move through the street.

One popular scam is for local ladies (who aren’t Buddhists) to provide poor quality rice and mats for kneeling on to tourists so they can participate in the ceremony.

Once the ceremony is over, they will bring you to a nearby shrine or temple to bow to a statue of Buddha.

Once that is done, they will demand payment for the rice well above what the local markets would have charged.

 

What to do:

The best way to participate in the ceremony is to ask your hotel / hostel or read more online about where to buy rice beforehand and how to respectfully be involved.

Alternatively, there is a viewing area across the road from the monks where you can take pictures and observe.

 

4. Fraudulent tour operators

Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang

 

How it works:

Fraudulent or misleading tour operators and guides are a dime a dozen in Laos.

For instance, a simple journey to a destination may include several stops at different shops along the way.

That is, if you are lucky, as some operators may not even bring you to your intended destination.

Another scam is that of promising travelling in comfortable, luxurious and safe transport.

What usually transpires is that you’ll be on an overcrowded bus or boat which is old, dirty and dangerous to travel in.

 

What to do:

Offline operators: ask – is the operator licensed? Is there a website, office and working phone number? Are there real online reviews? What does the price cover – is it too cheap?

Online platformsKlook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours include:

Klook.com

Paying: avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.

 

5. Houay Xai to Pak Beng tourist agents

River boats in Mekong river

River boats in Mekong river

 

How it works:

If you’re travelling from Houay Xai to Pak Beng, avoid the tourist agents who offer to help you arrange a slowboat, accommodation and visas.

They will overcharge you for these reservations, and sometimes do not even bother making them.

If they do, the guesthouses they book will be the cheapest low quality rooms without water or windows.

What to do:

It’s easy to find somewhere to stay in Pak Beng so wait until you arrive and go find your own accommodation to ensure the best price.

Else, you can also pre-book your accommodation through legitimate platforms like:

  • Agoda: leader in Asia with the best selection and rates here generally.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Laos by staying with a local host!

 

6. Rogue night market vendors

Luang Prabang market

Luang Prabang market

 

How it works:

Be careful shopping in the night markets of Luang Prabang as rogue vendors can operate multiple scams on tourists.

Most commonly they will wait for you to hand over the money before changing the price, demanding more cash or refusing to provide change.

 

What to do:

It’s important to confirm the price multiple times before purchase and to pay with exact change or as close as possible

If it’s a large amount, you can even get them to write it down if possible.

 

7. Tham Chang Cave

Tham Chang cave

Tham Chang cave. Source: justgola.com

 

How it works:

At the Tham Chang Cave, as you walk across a bamboo bridge and paddy fields to reach the cave, you will meet the locals who collect money there.

When they recognize tourists you’ll find they ask questions about your money and want to see your local currency and compare it to notes they have.

Once you hand over your currency for them to look at, they’ll keep hold of it and not return it.

If you say that you do not have your country’s currency, they will demand local currency before they let you pass.

 

What to do:

Avoid giving.

A useful set-up is to hide your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

 

8. Kuang Si Falls entrance fee scam

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

 

How it works:

This is not a tourist targeted scam technically but a scam nonetheless.

Should you take a bus to the Kuang Si Falls, around 10 minutes before reaching your destination, your driver will stop and request everyone to pay the entrance fee to him.

All these money will be shared between the driver and the park’s corrupt entrance guards who will let your bus in, with none going to the park.

 

What to do:

If you were to find yourself in such a situation, there is honestly not much you can do.

 

9. Spiked food and drinks

Street foods in Laos

Street foods in Laos

 

How it works:

In tourist areas around Vang Vieng you’ll find that special food spiked with opium is available in many places.

These are items such as ‘happy pizza’ or ‘special shakes’. Although easy to buy, there is guarantee that the substances put in there are safe for consumption. Further, there is a risk of overdose.

Also be cautious of theft after eating them as you will be at your most vulnerable to be robbed.

 

What to do:

Avoid taking such drugs.

 

10. Children as bait

Children in Laos

Children in Laos

 

How it works:

You will notice a heavy presence of kids at many tourist attractions in Laos, with most of them begging or selling something.

It is okay to buy what they are selling but the sad fact is that the children are actually being used by their parents as bait as it is the parents who end up keeping the money.

The kids will also come up with innovative ways of helping you, such as fanning you with leaves as you labour up the stairs.

This unsolicited help will be made to seem like a game the kid is playing with you.

However, at the end of the “service”, a tip will be demanded.

 

What to do:

Avoid. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.

However, if you do have received help, feel free to give a tip.

 

11. Student art seller

 

How it works:

Like in Indonesia and China, there are scammers who pose as art students here.

They will approach you to buy their cheap imitation works which they claim is to help with their tuition fee.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

12. Home gambling scam

Luang Prabang street

Luang Prabang street

 

How it works:

This is a common scam in the region (e.g. Cambodia, Philippines) and can be “found” at the Vientiane Night Market.

You will first be approached by a friendly local who asks where you are from and next, will be invited to his house for a meal.

The more scheming ones will claim that he has a relative going to your country, and he hopes that you can help dispense some advice at the dinner.

Other more direct scammers may simply invite you to play a game at his place, with him promising you that by teaming together, you will be able to win lots of money at the expense of a 3rd party.

Obviously, the one who will be losing his shirt will be you if you were to go along.

 

What to do:

Stay away.

 

13. Fake products

Laos street market

Laos street market

 

How it works:

Many products which you find here are fakes or low quality products dumped Chinese or Thai companies.

The main issue causing this problem is the lack of regulation outlawing such trade.

 

What to do:

If you wish to buy, learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, reputable shops.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.

 

14. Unofficial tourist office scams

 

How it works:

There are scam shops masquerading as official tourist information bureaus, when they are simply run by brokers / middlemen working for more expensive restaurants and hotels.

If what you want is not part of their scheme, they are likely to tell you that it doesn’t even exist and will mislead you.

 

What to do:

Offline operators: ask – is the operator licensed? Is there a website, office and working phone number? Are there real online reviews? What does the price cover – is it too cheap?

Online platformsKlook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours include:

Klook.com

Paying: avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Tuk Tuk tour scams

Laos tuk-tuk

Laos tuk-tuk. Source: David McKelvey / Flickr

 

How it works:

You will probably encounter many tuk tuks offering tours at prices that are just too good to be true.

Should you engage them, you will be taken on a pre-arranged route with stops at venues where the driver receives a commission.

Further, if you do not spend at these shops, you stand the risk of the Tuk Tuk abandoning you midway as it would not be worth the trip for him.

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging, unless for really short trips, as a price that is negotiated upfront as can easily change midway.

 

2. Slowboat tour to Luang Prabang

Laos slow boat

Laos slow boat. Source: earthtrekkers.com

 

How it works:

This is a common scam which takes place between the captain of the boat tour and local tuk-tuk drivers around Luang Prabang.

After traveling a short distance on the boat, the captain will demand everyone to alight even though you are still about 10km from your destination.

This is where local tuk-tuk drivers will be waiting to take you into town which is of course, not included in the boat fare.

This means you will be paying twice for the journey and frequently prices of both are inflated.

Examples of rogue operators include Viengneua tour co. Ltd, etc

 

What to do:

You can check online for recommended operators or ask your hotel / hostel staff to make arrangements for you.

Alternatively, you can also get a boat tour / cruise via Klook (best day tours platform in Asia) – one such boat tour:

Klook.com

 

3. Long boat tour to Luang Prabang

Laos long boat in Mekong

Laos long boat in Mekong. Source: Tracey Thomas / Flickr

 

How it works:

One of the common tourist activities is to take a long boat tour to Luang Prabang.

Before the journey, a local posing as a staff of the boat company will tell you that there is limited accommodation at the various stops of the boat ride and at Luang Prabang.

As such, if you do not want to end up sleeping on the streets tonight, he offers to help you pre-book an accommodation before reaching your destination.

You’ll be disappointed when your boat arrives as you’ll find that there are plenty of places to stay.

Further, these are all much cheaper than what you had paid before getting on the boat.

 

What to do:

Decline the “offer”.

You can either choose to book direct at your destination, or online via legitimate platforms such as:

  • Agoda: leader in Asia with the best selection and rates here generally.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Laos by staying with a local host!

 

4. Pak Beng slowboat scam

Slow boat in Pakbeng, Laos

Slow boat in Pakbeng, Laos. Source: Clay Gilliland / Flickr

 

How it works:

You can take a slow boat from Houay Xai to Luang Prabang that makes a stop in Pak Beng. It takes two days and will allow you to see the area.

The slow boat leave Pak Beng at 9am sharp so make sure you are on time to catch it.

There’s a scam where someone on the boat will tell everyone it leaves at 11am, forcing passengers to miss it, meaning they then have to pay additional for the 11am boat.

Scammers will take a cut of the extra money made on the 11am boat.

 

What to do:

Make sure to catch the boat at 9am or check with the boat captain what time your boat departs.

 

5. Taxiboat

 

How it works:

In Vang Vieng, especially in the evening or at night, it is common for taxiboats to offer cheap lifts home at around 10,000 each.

However, they will bring you somewhere away from your destination and demand an inflated fee to take you to your intended destination.

You’ll be left stranded if you refuse to pay so will have to spend above the odds to get there.

 

What to do:

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This may allow you to negotiate any additional payments down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

6. Cheap bus ticket scam

Vientiane road, Laos

Vientiane road, Laos. Source: Sinead O’Hare / Flickr

 

How it works:

If you were to buy bus tickets at prices that are too low to be true, chances are your bus will somehow break down on your journey until it’s too late to cross the border or until the ferry has left.

The bus driver will then “guide” you to a lodging or hotel where he gets a kickback.

 

What to do:

If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

 

7. VIP bus scam

Laos VIP bus

Laos VIP bus. Source: margaux / Flickr

 

How it works:

The sleeper bus is a good way to travel through Laos, in particular between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

What rogue tour operators do is to get you to sign up for the more expensive VIP buses.

To get to the bus, you’ll take a tuk-tuk from Vang Vieng. Halfway through though, the driver will inform you that your bus is going to be late or has broken down.

However, he can bring you to take the local bus, which is obviously still a tour bus owned by the company but a much cheaper one.

If you try demanding a refund of the difference between the VIP bus and the local bus, you will not get it.

Examples of rogue operators include All Lao Travel Services, iPlanet Travel, etc.

 

What to do:

There’s not a lot you can do to avoid this scam but try to not buy tickets until you’re at the bus stop if possible.

Else, you can also consider making private transport arrangements:

  • With your hotel / hostel
  • Through Klook (best day tours platform in Asia) – 8 transport options:

Klook.com

 

8. Bus bag theft

 

How it works:

Be it local short trip buses or overnight sleeper buses, there are thieves who will steal any unattended bags / luggage in the overhead compartment or compartment below.

 

What to do:

Make it impossible for thieves to steal your bags:

  • Keep your bag on your lap / beside you instead of in the overhead compartment.
  • Should you wish to take a nap, use a TSA lock / cable lock / cable ties to lock your bag and to lock the bag to yourself / your seat.
  • Or simply get a lockable anti-theft bag that comes with a mechanism to lock to yourself / your seat.
  • Hide small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Finally, get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) to cover loss of bags / valuables within.

 

9. Longhauling taxis

Vientiane taxi

Vientiane taxi. Source: Ilya Plekhanov / Wikimedia

 

How it works:

There are taxis which will take you on a longer route deliberately, or drive you through unnecessary traffic jams to inflate the fare.

 

What to do:

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

To tell if you have been taken for a ride, you can also estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • Taxi booking apps like Vaivai Taxi.

If you want to seek recourse, take a photo of the car plate number and of the driver’s license to report to the cab company.

Alternatively, you may also want to consider making private transport arrangements, especially to and from the airport.

Else, you can also consider making private transport arrangements:

  • With your hotel / hostel
  • Through Klook (best day tours platform in Asia) – 8 transport options:

Klook.com

 

10. Laos-Thailand border crossing scam

One of the Thai-Lao friendship bridges

One of the Thai-Lao friendship bridges. Source: Eats & Retreats / Flickr

 

How it works:

As you cross between Laos and Thailand, especially near the Friendship bridge, some drivers will bring you to an unofficial office to process your papers for the border crossing.

You will of course, be charged a fee.

The truth is that whatever forms you find here are the same as what you will find at the official border crossing, and of course, they are free.

However, you can be scammed even at the real border, where you are charged expenses which are unnecessary.

For instance, these could be for stamping fees or a temperature test.

 

What to do:

Check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are at the real border crossing.

Unfortunately, if you are charged the unnecessary expenses as listed above, there is not much you can do besides paying them.

 

11. Rental bike “damage”

Motorbike in Laos

Motorbike in Laos. Source: cookiesound.com

 

How it works:

When renting a motorbike in Vang Vieng make sure you never leave your passport as a deposit, and check the bike thoroughly before you leave.

Frequently you’ll be fined upon returning the bike for tiny scratches or marks which weren’t you.

The fines will be extremely high for the damage and if you refuse, they’ll keep your passport until you make the payment.

One such rogue operator is the rental store opposite the Amari hotel.

 

What to do:

Inspect your bike thoroughly before use, and take as many photos as needed.

 

12. Rental bike theft

 

How it works:

In Luang Prabang and Vang Vien, it’s essential to be careful around renting scooters or motorbikes.

Frequently tourists rent these as a quick means of travelling around the city, only to find the bike is then stolen when they park it (despite locking it up!).

This is the work of renters who track the vehicles through the city and will steal it back so as to charge the tourist for the loss.

 

What to do:

First, only rent from reputable businesses.

Khamsay, the largest operator in Luang Prabang is not recommended due to multiple such scams being reported. Check out KTPD instead.

Next, don’t leave any passport or important documents as a deposit.

Finally, make sure to use your own lock.

 

13. Gas station scam

Gas station in Laos

Gas station in Laos. Source: qexplate.com

 

How it works:

The gas station nearest to the old air strip in Vang Vieng is the most common place to fill up a rental motorbike or car.

Tourists need to watch out for the scam where the pump is not reset before your vehicle is filled.

This means you’ll end up paying for both yours and the previous customer’s fuel.

 

What to do:

Keep an eye on the price as a regular motorbike shouldn’t cost more than 30,000 kip to fill.

 

14. Flat tire scam

Entrance to Kuang Si Waterfalls park

Entrance to Kuang Si Waterfalls park. Source: Charlotte Fresco / Flickr

 

How it works:

At the Kuang Si Falls entrance, there are gangs of scammers who will puncture the tires of parked rental cars or motorbikes.

When you get back to your car or bike, these scammers will act as helpful locals.

They will point at your now flat tire and signal that there is a garage down the road where you can get your tire fixed.

Someone will then offer to guide you to the garage. After the repair is done however, you cannot leave without paying your guide even after you have paid for the repairs.

 

What to do:

Avoid using a rental car or bike to get here.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

Snatching at cafes and from bikes seem to be particularly common in Vientiane.

 

What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) to cover loss of valuables.

 

2. Hotel theft

 

How it works:

There have been reports of hotel theft in Laos, in guesthouses such as Syvongsack Guesthouse in Pakbeng.

Besides guesthouses, rural bungalows are another favorite target.

Most tourists don’t realize, but it can be really easy to break into a hotel room and a safe in a hotel room.

Notwithstanding that, Mike Moske, a private investigator who has worked in hotel security for over 26 years, estimates that 60-70% of hotel thefts are inside jobs.

  • If that happens, it is difficult to prove that you have been a victim of theft, as there are no signs of forced entry.
  • Sometimes, you won’t even know! E.g. A staff opens your safe and captures your card details without taking it.

 

What to do:

There are four potential solutions:

When not in the room, use a:

  • Portable safe
  • Hotel safe lock

When in the room, use a:

  • Door lock
  • Door motion alarm

Check these out under hotel safety tools.

Finally, make sure you have a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) to cover theft.

 

3. Rigged ATMs

Signs of a rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

Some ATMs on Laos here have been reported to be rigged with the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.
  • Fraudulent cards are made based on your card information and used to withdraw cash from ATMs.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, look out for red flags of a rigged ATM and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

4. Money changer scam

Luang Prabang old quarter

Luang Prabang old quarter

 

How it works:

It is common in the Old Quarters of Luang Prabang for tourists to change money and be handed a large number of small notes, only to find that they’re actually 100,000 kip short.

Should you catch a rouge money changer trying this on you, they will act dumb, take the money back to recount, apologize and then return you the correct amount.

 

What to do:

Make sure you slowly count the money out at the counter and ensure you’ve been given the right amount.

You’ll need to make sure this is right whilst you’re still at the counter or else it’ll be too late to rectify.

 

5. Unofficial money changers

 

How it works:

This scam usually targets tourists using the boat / bus combination tickets used between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.

You may be approached by someone claiming to be a money changer who try to passes himself off as a staff of the boat / bus company.

Once you agree on an exchange, they will hand you a big pile of notes before making a quick exit.

Being new, you might not be too familiar with the local currency notes and will only discover later that what you got is significantly less than what you should have received.

 

What to do:

Do not change with unofficial money changers not just in Laos, but anywhere around the world – this is a very common scam globally (e.g. in Czech Republic, Peru).

 

6. No change / wrong change

Laos kip

Laos kip. Source: Jason smart / Flickr

 

How it works:

Keep an eye on the cost of anything you purchase and the change you should be receiving every time you shop (e.g. at Luang Prabang Night Market) or take a tuk-tuk.

It is very common for the vendor to not provide change unless you ask, or to short change you.

If you’re paying in a foreign currency, also keep in mind the exchange rate too to make sure you receive the appropriate money back.

 

What to do:

Say out loud the note which you pass over to a vendor so it’s clear you know, and count your change in front of them.

 

7. Laundry scam

 

How it works:

When leaving your clothes in the hotel laundry mat, make sure to keep a record as some could go “missing” when the washing is done.

This is because clothes from certain foreign brands can be quite valuable over here.

 

What to do:

It will be safer to use self-service laundry mats. Else, engage your hotel / hostel for such a service.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

 

1. Violent crime and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Laos

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Laos. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: has been reported in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
  • Hazards: unexploded ordnance due to the 2nd Indochina War, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), Luang Prabang Province and areas of the Lao-Vietnam border, formerly the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
  • Hotspots:
    • Xaisomboun Province: shooting and detonation incidents have been reported.
    • Myanmar – Laos border: this is a drug and arms smuggling route.
    • Thailand – Laos border: small scale clashes between anti-government groups and government forces
    • Routes 6 and 7: may encounter bandits.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations or protests can occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Don’t stray from main paths (especially in rural areas) and don’t pick up metal objects.

Do not / avoid travelling to these areas:

  • Xaisomboun Province
  • Sanamxay District in Attapeu province (flooding)

 

2. Medical care

Alliance International Medical Centre

Alliance International Medical Centre. Source: aimclao.com

 

How it works:

Medical care here is extremely basic and limited.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: dengue, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, zika.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: tuberculosis, HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis (if in rural areas / outdoors), malaria (if spending time outdoors), rabies (if traveling outdoors or working with animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:                                          

A brief summary:

  • Rainy season: May to November, may trigger flooding, especially along the Mekong River in southern Laos.
  • Earthquakes: tremors may be felt along Laos’ borders with Myanmar and Thailand.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road accident rates here are high, due to these factors:

  • Chaotic traffic and livestock may stray onto roads.
  • Rough road conditions, few lane markings, road signs and lighting.
  • Not adhering to traffic laws, speeding, reckless driving.
  • Driving under influence of alcohol or drugs.

As for public transportation:

  • There are buses and shared vans but these are scarce and even more limited after sunset.
  • Tuk-tuks, songthaews, motorcycle taxis are also available, but not the most reliable.
  • River travel is common but safety standards are minimal (e.g. speeding, overcrowded, lack of safety equipment, poorly maintained).

 

What to do:

Driving:

  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

Public transportation:

  • Take private transport arranged through your hotel / hostel or use a reputable tour operator (e.g. Klook for day tours).

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in Vientiane

Police in Vientiane. Source: Louis Schneider / Flickr

 

  • Police: 1191
  • Tourist police in Vientiane: 021-251-128
  • Ambulance: 1195
  • Fire: 1190

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