Laos is a landlocked country bordered to the north by China, to the east by Vietnam, to the south by Cambodia and to the west by Thailand and Myanmar. Apart from the Mekong River plains along the Thai border, the country is mountainous, particularly in the north. In places, it is densely forested.
Laos was first opened to tourists in 1988. Although Laos is the least developed of the three former French Indochinese states, the other two being Vietnam and Cambodia, the lack of Western influence offers visitors a view of Southeast Asia largely unchanged since colonial times. In Vientiane, the capital, Buddhist temples sit near antique French villas. Tourists find that the countryside lends itself to trekking, but overnight camping is not allowed.
Laos is heavily Buddhist. More than 90 percent of the population is Hinnayana, or Theravada Buddhist.
The weather in Laos is hot and humid, with monsoon rains May to October. November to April is dry. Temperatures vary according to altitude. Lightweight clothing is appropriate all year.
Lao is the official language and French, English and German are used in business and tourist centers in Laos.
Phone service is fairly reliable in Vientiane, with international direct dialing available. The availability and reliability of phone service outside the capital is questionable. Postal services also are unreliable, but telegrams can be sent from most post offices. International package delivery services are available in Vientiane.
Accommodations and meals are inexpensive. Do not rely solely on credit cards. While they are accepted in larger hotels and tourist-oriented restaurants, most merchants expect only cash. ATMs do not exist in Laos.
Few main roads are passable all year. Taxis are available in Vientiane, but be prepared to negotiate the fare before accepting a ride. The best way to visit other parts of Laos is by air.
Violent crime is increasing. Travelers should exercise extreme caution and avoid traveling alone, especially in rural areas. Travel outside Vientiane only on prearranged tours.