The Leading Global Portal for Diplomats!    
    Keep in touch with the community Prepare for your new career Take care of personal affairs Chat with diplomats online      
Home > New Posting > Post Reports
Preface Last Updated: 7/11/2003 11:33 AM

Laos is an ancient country, inhabited since Paleolithic times by an ever-shifting mix of Southeast Asian people and tribes. The Lao trace their beginnings to the waning days of the Khmer Empire in the mid-14th century, when Prince Fa Ngum, educated at the court of Angkor, founded the Kingdom of a Million Elephants (in Lao, “Lane Xang”). His successors in the 16th century ruled over a powerful realm which, under King Setthathirat, included within its boundaries northern Thailand, encompassing Chiang Mai, and all of northeastern Thailand's Isaan Plateau.

Dissolved at the beginning of the 18th century the kingdom split into three principalities: Luang Prabang in the north, Vientiane in the central region, and Champassak in the far south. Prey to marauding Burmese, Thai, and Vietnamese armies, and to Chinese bandits, Laos fell on hard times. Whether the establishment of a French protectorate in 1893 over the east bank of the Mekong helped is an unanswerable question. It was, perhaps, inevitable that Southeast Asian or European imperialism would have absorbed the small and quarrelsome Lao states of the time.

France ruled the country until 1954, although the King of Luang Prabang, under pressure from the Japanese occupation forces, proclaimed its independence in 1945. From that later date until 1975 Laos shared in the confused and bloody conflict for power which raged throughout Indochina. On December 2, 1975, the monarchy was abolished and a People’s Democratic Republic was proclaimed under the Lao Communist Party.

Today, Laos is a land of great ethnic and linguistic diversity engaged in trying to forge a cohesive nation. The L.P.D.R. (Lao People's Democratic Republic) is one of the world’s poorest countries and faces daunting tasks in every field of economic development. Yet, for all its small population and fragile economy, its long history and deep Buddhist culture give its people a quiet charm that may surprise visitors.

The U.S. closed its embassies in Saigon and Phnom Penh in 1975, but not in Vientiane. Americans assigned to Vientiane may expect an interesting experience at a growing Embassy in a small country that is reaching out economically and socially to the region and the world.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 7/11/2003 11:36 AM

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, a landlocked nation, lies in the center of the Southeast Asian Peninsula and borders on five countries: Burma to the northwest, China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand down the length of its western frontier.

The total land area covers 91,425 square miles, about the size of Oregon. Dense jungle and rugged mountains in the north and east cover 6% of the country’s surface. Mountainous topography is characteristic of all of Laos outside the Mekong River Basin. Phu Bia, in Xieng Khouang Province, the highest point in the country, rises 9,249 feet above sea level.

The Mekong River, with its headwaters in Tibet, flows over 2,600 miles to its mouth in the south of Vietnam. One of the world's great rivers, it forms the country’s western boundary for the greater part of its length and is the cradle of Lao culture. Most major Lao towns are on its banks. The largest population center in Laos removed from the Mekong River is Phonsavanh in Xieng Khouang Province. Lately, the Lao Government has encouraged the establishment of new towns and villages in the country's interior.

Laos has a monsoon climate with three overlapping seasons. The rainy season is about 5 months, June-September. In October, rains start to taper off, and the cool season begins in November, lasting through February. In March “mango rains” occur. March, April, and May are hot and humid. In April, the hottest month, temperatures in Vientiane range from 72°F to 93°F, and in January, the coolest month, 52°F to 83°F. Temperature extremes of 103°F (April) and 39°F (January) have been recorded. Those familiar with Singapore, Jakarta, or Bangkok will be glad to know that Vientiane's climate is more varied, drier, and cooler.

Dust during the dry season and mud during the wet season are common, but tolerable, facts of life. Flooding in Vientiane has decreased with the construction of dikes and improved drainage systems. The Embassy can count on the flooding of the Chancery compound for 1 or 2 days each year.

Tropical flowers flourish in the Lao climate, and tropical gardeners will be delighted by the prospects. With the abundant flowers and plants, however, come the common pests: mosquitoes, ants, and termites.

Population Last Updated: 7/11/2003 11:38 AM

Laos has the smallest population of any Southeast Asian state, except Brunei. In 1998, the figure was estimated at 5 million. Thus, Laos, unlike its neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, is sparsely populated, and the population unevenly distributed. The greatest concentration is along the valley of the Mekong, especially in the Vientiane Plain and the Savannakhet Basin.

Vientiane municipality, the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, has a population of 285,000. The Vientiane province has a total population of 569,000. Savannakhet province has the largest population with 729,000, followed by Champassak with 544,000, and Luang Prabang with 396,000. Eighty-five percent of the Lao people live in the countryside.

One of the remarkable things about Laos is its extraordinary ethnic diversity.

About half of the population is composed of ethnic Lao, known as “Lao Loum.” The Lao Loum dominate the country politically, culturally, and economically. The rest of the Lao population is divided into a mix of ethnic groups, some sizable, some tiny. These are roughly grouped into two categories: the “Lao Theung,” dwellers on the mountain slopes, and the “Lao Sung,” dwellers on the mountain peaks. These groups include tribes of Tai (“Tai” means speaker of the Tai family of languages; “Thai” is used to designate a citizen of modern Thailand), Tibeto-Burman, and Malayo-Polynesian language groups. Although no one is quite sure of the exact number of tribes or ethnic groups, the Lao Government uses the figure of 64 to enumerate the groups making up the human patchwork quilt that populates its upland. Among the better known hill tribes are the Hmong, the Yao, and the Akha.

Other significant minority groups are the Chinese and Vietnamese. Small groups of Thai, Cambodians, Indians, and Pakistanis also inhabit Laos. The Chinese and Vietnamese populations are much smaller than they were before 1975, and their roles in Lao society are correspondingly reduced.

The lowland Lao and the population of northeastern Thailand are ethnically the same and share the same language—with some dialectal differences. In fact, Laos is unique in that more ethnic Lao live outside of it than within its boundaries.

A large foreign community is resident in Vientiane: Australians, French, Japanese, Swedes, and other Europeans and Asians working for Embassies, U.N. agencies, NGOs, and businesses. At this writing, there are about 400 Americans in Laos. With the Lao Government's new economic initiatives of 1988, foreign investors are expressing interest in setting up businesses and assigning representatives in Laos. This has caused the foreign community to expand over the last 5 years.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:34 PM

Laos is a Communist country and has been since the monarchy was abolished and a people's democratic republic proclaimed on December 2, 1975. The Communist party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, monopolizes political power. The party is small, with a total membership estimated at about 40,000 and it is, even compared to other ruling Communist parties, secretive. Its highest leaders form the political bureau, or Politburo, of the party’s central committee, which holds the reins of power. There have been changes in the government and party, however, with younger people being given positions of responsibility. The end of a 600-year old tradition of monarchy, the victory of Communist-led forces, and the advent of a people’s republic did not come about overnight or easily. In the post-World War II period, Laos was the scene of nearly continuous internal conflict, accompanied by external intervention from North Vietnam, the former U.S.S.R., China, Thailand, the U.S., and other Western countries. Years of fighting took place in the struggle between Communist and non-Communist Lao for control of the country. Coalition governments were established in 1954 and 1962, but both were dissolved and the conflict resumed. In 1973, a third coalition, called the Provisional Government of National Union, was established.

In May 1975, after the fall of the non-Communist governments in Cambodia and South Vietnam, the Lao Communists incited civil disorder and renewed military pressure on the non- Communist side of the provisional government. When the non-Communist side collapsed, many of its leaders fled, and the Communists were left in control of the government.

The first years of Communist rule were difficult. About 10% of the population, about 300,000 people, most of the educated and elite and skilled labor, fled the country for Thailand, the U.S., France, and Australia. Attempts to collectivize agriculture caused farmers to produce less food than the population required. Those policies began to change in 1979. Since 1985, and at an accelerated pace since 1988, the Lao Government has instituted economic reforms designed to reduce the power of the central government over the economy. A foreign investment code was drawn up, and outside investors, including some from the U.S., are now working in Laos. Markets in Vientiane and other towns are full of consumer goods, mostly imported from Thailand.

On August 15 1991, the National Assembly (formerly the Supreme People’s Assembly) of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic adopted the first constitution to be effective in the country since 1975. The new constitution describes the governing authorities of the country, which include:

the National Assembly, which is elected by the Lao citizenry; the President of the Republic, who is elected and subject to removal by the National Assembly; and the executive government, headed by the Prime Minister, who is appointed and removed by the President of the Republic with the approval of the National Assembly. The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is the nucleus of the political system. The Secretary General of the Lao Revolutionary People’s Party is the most important position in the country. Lao-U.S. relations, initially very strained, have improved slowly but steadily since 1982. Cooperation on the Embassy’s two most important issues, POW/MIAs and counternarcotics, has increased substantially. Economic relations are also expanding. In 1991, relations that had been at the permanent charg‚ level since 1975, were raised to the Ambassadorial level. The first U.S. Ambassador since 1975 presented his credentials to the Lao President on August 6, 1992.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:38 PM

Laos’ textile tradition is rich. Collectors around the world appreciate the intricate hand-woven brocade, tapestry, and ikat designs which make old pieces highly sought. Traditionally, weaving abilities defined a Lao woman. Ethnicity was reflected in distinctive patterns. Until just a few years ago, women's sinh, the ankle-length skirt vivid with patterns and colors, was the standard dress for city and rural women. Today, the sinh remains part of the national school uniform but many older women have opted for pants, far more convenient for motorbike riding and far more in sync with their Southeast Asian sisters. The sinh has become an item of party or temple-wear.

Fortunately, the foreign and tourist demand for traditional textiles is keeping Lao weaving viable. Many foreign residents enjoy buying textiles for their homes or gifts; many foreigners learn to wear the sinh with pleasure. Textiles remain at the heart of Laos’ artistic heritage.

In the 90s, UNESCO earmarked Luang Prabang, the country's former capital and French colonial gem, as a World Heritage site. Under its supervision, old buildings, secular and religious, are being restored and preserved. UNESCO also is working with monasteries to retrain monks in traditional arts relating to temple maintenance. The World Monument Foundation has earmarked Wat Sisaket, one of Vientiane's most venerable complexes, for restoration and support.

In 2000, the country opened the Kaysone Phomvihane Museum honoring the Democratic Republic’s first leader. It is a showcase for the Republic's first quarter century. Concurrently, the Revolutionary Museum was renamed the National Museum. The emphasis on that collection is shifting to pre-Revolutionary history. Recent additions from prehistoric digs in rural Vientiane province have boosted its exhibits. Across the street from the National Museum, the newly constructed Cultural Center has quickly become the focus of the city's artistic life. Frequent performances by Laos and visiting artists sponsored by foreign embassies have boomed.

Vientiane is undergoing a housing revolution. Recent road refurbishment and building have opened many pastoral areas to construction. New houses, for the rental and private market, are springing up everywhere. A contemporary Thai architectural model is extremely popular. Features are high-pitched eaves, red or blue tiled roofs, multi-paned windows sealed for air-conditioning and small bedroom balconies. These houses leave in their wake the traditional Lao home: a simple, but handsome, wood structure built high on stilts to catch breezes and avoid flooding and to leave room for grain and livestock and a loom, below.

The Lao Government has reorganized the country’s educational system. In the past, most secondary education was in French. The government has emphasized that instruction at all levels will be in Lao. It has also been engaged in a major campaign to expand English teaching. Beyond the secondary level, Laos has a teacher training school, called Dongdok University, and a medical school.

An estimated 65% of the population is Theravada Buddhist, while an additional 30% practices animism. Christians account for less than 1.5% of the population; Islam, Mahayana, Buddhism and Baha'ism are practiced by even smaller percentages of the population. The people of the mountain tribes are principally animist, but some have adopted Buddhism while at the same time retaining many of their old beliefs. It is not unusual to see spirit shrines alongside Buddhist temples.

Lao, the national language, belongs to the Thai linguistic family. It is a tonal language with eight distinct tones. Different dialects are spoken in different regions of the country. Like most languages of Southeast Asia, Lao has adopted many words of Sanskrit origin into its vocabulary. About 80 minority languages are also spoken in Laos, primarily by tribal groups living outside the Mekong Valley. French, formerly the principal language of government and higher education is losing its importance, although many government officials still speak it. English is gaining favor as a common language, and while still relatively few in number, more and more Lao speak English, albeit with limited proficiency. A number of Lao also speak Russian.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:40 PM

Subsistence agriculture supports most of Laos' population of about 5.5 million people. Most of the rural population is outside the cash economy, with barter as their principal means of exchange. Poor transportation infrastructure and a lack of inputs limit agricultural production to the point where the country is only barely and sporadically self-sufficient in rice, the main crop. Drought can cause severe food shortages.

The Government of Laos began a slow move away from command economy policies during the 1980s, but the process is far from complete. The industrial base is very small and narrow, as is highlighted by the name of the responsible ministry, the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts. The export base is equally small. According to official statistics, garments are the highest value export item (about 99 million dollars in 2002. Official statistics have it that timber and furniture valued at 74.7 million dollars was exported in 2002. In fact most timber is cut and exported by the army, without any public record of the transactions, so timber and wood products are much undervalued in the government numbers, and probably constitute the single highest value export category. Hydropower is another valuable export, valued at 92.6 million dollars in 2002. Agricultural products account for about 3.5 percent of exports. Coffee is produced and exported, but the quality is variable and world prices are often volatile. Laos has many semi-cottage industries, such as rattan and bamboo products, silver working, and other handicrafts, which together amount to less than 2 percent of exports. Mining has potential in Laos. Tin and copper deposits are present but have been only sporadically exploited. New gold mining operations, especially in the south of the country, may boost the value of exports significantly in coming years. Almost all consumer goods, all capital goods, and all luxury and high-tech items are imported, chiefly from Thailand, Vietnam, and China, in that order.

The Lao national currency is the Kip. The exchange rate has fallen sharply in recent years, from 2,000 to 10,000 Kip to one U.S. dollar. The inflation rate has been quite high over the years since the Asian economic crises, especially. In the first quarter of 2003 it hovered around 15 percent. The cash economy is heavily dollarized, but foreign exchange, brought in chiefly by the tourist, hydropower, and timber trades, remains in somewhat short supply for business purposes. The financial sector, only very slowly being reformed through the efforts of the IMF, ADB, and the World Bank, will have a vital role to play in any coming growth. Lao monetary policy has improved somewhat over the past decade, though the banks are in very poor shape overall, hobbled especially by non-performing loans made to state-owned enterprises. Due to the efforts of the IMF there is now a published budget (most of the Lao government's budget is composed of aid monies), but revenues are scanty and irregularly accounted for, and fiscal policy reform has lagged seriously overall.

Foreign direct investment fell off precipitously during the regional economic crisis of 1997-1999, and has not fully recovered. Among other disadvantages, Laos does not have adequate rule of law, and procedures for obtaining licenses and permits are far too complicated and opaque for investors to consider the country investment-worthy. Laos also lacks an educated workforce and other components of a human resource base. This will be the work of a generation to change, and the country's educational system is not up to the task.

New roads built by international donors and financial institutions are going to link the Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese economies through Laos in the coming decade. This will transform Laos’ economy, but because the country’s industrial comparative advantage is difficult to establish, the new infrastructure will probably benefit the service sector first and foremost, to support both commercial transportation and tourism.

Lao is an aid junkie. Japan has provided the largest amount of bilateral aid and development, with the EU trailing by a considerable margin. U.S. aid to Laos has ranged between five and nine million dollars annually over the five years leading up to 2003, chiefly focused on human health, crop substitution (opium eradication through alternative livelihoods) and other anti-narcotics work, recovery of the remains of MIAs, humanitarian aid, and disaster assistance. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the chief source of concessionary loans and multi-lateral assistance, though UNDP and other UN agencies run high-value assistance projects in many parts of the country and in many sectors of the economy. International NGOs are the most common administrators of aid and assistance, in almost all sectors.


Automobiles Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:40 PM

Plan to ship a car to Vientiane. The Embassy garage will do routine servicing and lubrication at the owner’s expense afterhours. Several garages around town can also do routine servicing, as well as most repairs and bodywork. A Toyota garage opened in 1992. The chief mechanic is a Lao-Canadian trained in France and North America. Most spare parts for Japanese cars are available, and additional parts for foreign cars can be obtained from Bangkok. Some parts for American vehicles must be ordered from the U.S. Unleaded fuel is available in Vientiane.

The Embassy arranges for vehicle registration and licensing. The Lao Government requires documented proof of ownership before it will register a vehicle. Registration is free, but diplomatic personnel who are not on the list or do not have a diplomatic passport are required to purchase a tax sticker, license plates, and a registration card. The cost of the tax sticker varies with the car’s size and make.

All persons operating motor vehicles in Laos must have a valid Lao driver’s license and insurance. The Embassy GSO Section will assist with all the necessary arrangements.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:41 PM

Laos is landlocked, mountainous, and sparsely populated, which hinders the development of its transportation system. The country has no railroads, and public roads are mostly unpaved and poorly maintained. A major project is now under way to upgrade and improve the road network in Vientiane.

Public transportation in Vientiane is generally poor and unreliable. In 1991, and again in 1999, Japan donated a number of new buses to the Lao for public transport. A taxi company offering brand new sedans and metered fares opened for business at the end of 1999. A few older taxis are still available, but they do not have either meters or fixed rates. Taxi fares for these vehicles depend on the passenger’s ability to bargain and the distance traveled. Drivers speak little or no English and sometimes pick up as many passengers as the vehicle will hold. Most taxis are old and poorly maintained, and drivers may be reckless. A few samlors (tricycle rickshaws) can still be engaged within the city limits, but motorcycle-driven rickshaws (called tuk-tuks) are now prevalent in Vientiane. The price of a samlor or tuk-tuk ride is also bargained.

Traffic is still relatively light during the day and on weekends, but has been gradually becoming more congested during weekday “rush hours” from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Most drivers are undisciplined and often operate poorly maintained vehicles.

While in theory traffic moves on the right, pedestrians and bicycles use all parts of the street, so most cars do the same. Animals and birds roam the street at will, creating another hazard. Cyclists pay little or no heed to cars on the road, and bicycles are rarely equipped with functioning lights or reflectors. For these reasons, driving is particularly dangerous at dusk and at night and defensive driving is necessary. Mission personnel must wear helmets if they operate motorcycles and are also advised to wear gloves and sturdy shoes.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:42 PM

Vientiane is served by four international airlines: Thai International, Vietnam Aviation, Lao Aviation and China Southern. Mission personnel generally fly to Bangkok and make onward connections from there. Bangkok is the nearest city served by an American carrier. Foreigners may enter and leave the country by air at Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport, and overland at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane or at Savannakhet, Luang Namtha, or Champas. Foreigners must obtain special permission from the Lao Government to pass through other checkpoints.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:42 PM

Overseas telephone service is available through the Enterprise Poste and Telecommunication du Laos. Many Embassy employees use a call back system from the U.S. which offers a rate of $1.20 per minute, compared to $5 per minute through the local phone company. All offices and residences of the official U.S. community in Vientiane are equipped with telephones. Employees pay a monthly fee (10,000 kip) on their residential telephones for local services, plus the costs of any long-distance calls made. Direct calls from the U.S. may be received in Vientiane.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:43 PM

APO facilities (through Bangkok) to and from the U.S. and other APO and FPO facilities are available to American Embassy personnel in Vientiane. Transit time for airmail letters to and from the U.S. is about 2 weeks. All mail for Vientiane is received by the APO facility in Bangkok and reshipped by air to Vientiane. Because local postal service can be unreliable, do not forward important personal papers or effects to post by this means. APO provides incoming package service, with standard-size and weight limitations.

The APO address is:

(Name) American Embassy Vientiane Box V APO AP 96546

Important documents, prescription medicines, eyeglasses, orthopedic supplies, and other health items may be sent through the Department of State pouch facilities. Transit time is 2-3 weeks or more. Such packages must weigh no more than 2 pounds and must bear a description clearly stating their contents.

The address is:

(Name) American Embassy Department of State 4350 Vientiane Pl. Washington, D.C. 20521-4350

International mail is often faster than APO but can be unreliable. The address for international mail is:

(Name) American Embassy Rue Bartholonie B.P. 114 Vientiane Lao PDR

Radio and TV Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:44 PM

Several AM radio stations broadcast in Vientiane, the most important being Lao National Radio. Most broadcasts are in Lao, but some government news broadcasts are in English, French, and other languages

American Mission staff assigned to Vientiane have several TV viewing options here. The most popular is subscribing to a satellite TV service, available from a service provider in Nong Khai, Thailand. Subscribers have access to a number of international networks, including CNN, BBC, ESPN, HBO and even MTV. You will need to purchase a satellite dish and other equipment and have them installed at your residence; this equipment can be purchased new or sometimes from a departing Embassy employee. Local TV service is also available in Vientiane and includes two stations broadcasting from Laos and five others from neighboring Thailand. Some broadcasts are in English.

The Community Liaison Office maintains a limited selection of NTSC system videotapes that can be played on American-made VCRs.

Shortwave programs produced by VOA, BBC, Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), and other foreign broadcasts can be picked up on shortwave receivers. The Public Diplomacy Section (PDS) at the Embassy receives various news programs that are taped for Embassy viewing. The Wireless File is also available from the PDS.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:45 PM

Two daily Lao-language newspapers are published in Vientiane: Vientiane Mai and Passason. The Khao San Pathet Lao, an official Lao Government news bulletin printed in English and French, is published daily. The Vientiane Times, an English-language newspaper published twice a week in Vientiane, is very popular with the expatriate community.

The Embassy has subscriptions to English-language newspapers published in Bangkok, including the International Herald Tribune, and the Asian Wall Street Journal. Several other news magazines, periodicals, and newspapers arrive via APO and are circulated to all Embassy staff. Subscribe to any special interest publications using the APO address for delivery. A limited selection of English-language paperback books are available for purchase locally. Books can be obtained in Bangkok, but at prices higher than in the U.S. Booklovers should consider joining a book club or making other arrangements for books to be sent to you from the U.S. via the APO address.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:46 PM

No resident American physician is available at the Embassy. The Regional Medical Officer (RMO), the Regional Psychiatrist (RPO) and the Foreign Service Nurse Practitioner (FSNP), all based at Embassy Bangkok, visit Vientiane quarterly for consultations with Embassy employees. The Australian Embassy maintains a small clinic staffed by a family doctor and this facility is available to American personnel. The clinic is especially useful for inoculations and treatment of minor illnesses or injuries. The post follows a liberal evacuation policy in cases of serious illness. The stock of medicines is extremely limited. Bring or arrange to have sent to you any medications required for special conditions. No adequate dental facilities exist in Vientiane, although routine dental care can be obtained either from an American dentist at the DOD JUSMAG unit in Bangkok or from competent Thai dentists at the AEK Dental Clinic in Udorn Thani, Thailand. Complete all possible medical and dental care before coming to post. Bring a supply of nonprescription health aids, such as aspirin, cold and allergy medications, antiseptic solutions, and Band-Aids.

Community Health Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:46 PM

Community health services, including basic programs such as sanitary waste disposal, are inadequate in Laos. Most houses occupied by Americans use septic tanks. Water from the municipal water supply, wells, and/or the Mekong River is considered unsafe unless filtered and boiled. Water filters are supplied to all homes. Bottled water can be ordered in 20-liter plastic bottles from local suppliers; this water can be useful for cooking, but should also not be consumed unless filtered and boiled. The Embassy GSO supplies water coolers for these bottles. Many Embassy families purchase spring water imported from Thailand for their drinking needs.

Fresh vegetables and fruits from both Laos and Thailand are abundant in the local markets. Raw fruits or vegetables, which are peeled before eating, require only simple cleaning. Fruits eaten with their skins on should be washed thoroughly and soaked in a germicidal solution. Eating in local restaurants is considered safe, if you are careful to consume only well-cooked food and bottled beverages.

Tuberculosis, hepatitis, rabies, and any tropical parasitic diseases are endemic here. Malaria and other mosquito-borne viral diseases do not currently constitute a hazard in Vientiane, but outbreaks of dengue fever do occur sporadically. Malaria is a serious problem in some provinces, so malarial prophylaxis should be taken prior to any travel outside Vientiane.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:47 PM

Mission employees should always be aware of the many health hazards in the local community and be constantly on alert to avoid exposure. Traumatic injuries, such as those resulting from automobile or motorcycle accidents, are probably the greatest health hazard in Vientiane.

Two optometrists capable of grinding lenses are available in Vientiane, but their services are expensive. Contact lenses and solution are available from both optometrists. It is advisable to bring an extra pair of prescription lenses to post. Additional requirements can be met in Bangkok, a one-hour flight from Vientiane, or Udorn Thani, and a onehour car ride from Nong Khai. Bring at least a four-month supply of medicine for chronic conditions and arrange for regular replenishments of supplies to be sent from the U.S. Prescriptions may be written by the RMO and filled in Bangkok or sent to the U.S. to be filled and delivered by pouch.

Household servants should have physical examinations before starting work and periodically thereafter. Be alert to possible illness in your servants and see that they seek medical attention when needed. Many servants in Vientiane have been employed in American households for a considerable period of time and are well versed in our health and food preparation requirements. Nevertheless, their activities must be routinely monitored to be sure they are complying with those requirements.

Immunizations are a source of medical controversy. Some doctors urge travelers to Laos to immunize themselves against a wide range of diseases. Consult your physician and consider receiving vaccinations against hepatitis B (if not available, you can get them here), Japanese-B encephalitis, rabies and possibly typhoid. There is no need to inoculate yourself against cholera, and unless you travel outside of Vientiane, malaria suppressants are not needed. Children should have the normal variety of immunizations, including a tetanus booster.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:47 PM

Few employment opportunities exist in the local economy. Part-time positions for Eligible Family Members (EFMs) are occasionally available in the Embassy. The U.N. Development Program also maintains a roster of spouses interested in work opportunities. Qualified spouses of Mission employees may also inquire into the availability of full- or part-time teaching positions at the Vientiane International School.

American Embassy - Vientiane

Post City Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:48 PM

Vientiane, the political, administrative, and commercial center of Laos, is the largest city in the country and has a population of about 285,000. The name is a French version of the Lao Vieng Chan, or “City of Sandalwood.” It was once the ancient capital of the rich and powerful kingdom of Muang Lane Xang Hom Khao, “The Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol.” A provincial town in appearance and atmosphere, Vientiane is situated on the east bank of the Mekong River at the edge of a large plain that extends some 40 miles north of the city. To the north and east, the foothills visible from Vientiane are rugged uplands of the Annamite Cordillera, which covers most of the country. Few sightseeing attractions exist in Vientiane, although many people find the Buddhist temples and the open-front stores and markets interesting. Visitors from the mountain and rural regions are occasionally seen in tribal costume in Vientiane.

Prior to 1989, all foreign diplomats were restricted in their travels to the city of Vientiane and its immediate vicinity. These restrictions have gradually been lifted over the years and foreigners may travel freely throughout the country.

Vientiane’s small size, its lack of theaters, cinemas, and museums, and access to adequate medical facilities impose genuine hardships on American personnel and their families assigned here. On the positive side, however, housing is good, the pace of life is agreeable and, to the surprise of many newcomers, the international community is both active and welcoming. Foreign residents in Vientiane entertain often and well. The prospects of life in Vientiane are not bleak, but personnel must plan to amuse themselves more than they otherwise might in a larger, better developed city.

Bimonthly, nonprofessional courier trips to Bangkok, in which designated staff participate, provide a break from Laos and give employees time to shop, relax, and take care of medical and dental appointments.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:49 PM

The American Mission to Laos consists of elements from the Department of State, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Defense (DOD). The Chancery, Administrative Annex building, and the Consular, Economic/Commercial and Public Diplomacy sections are located near the center of town on Rue Bartholonie. The Chancery houses the offices of the Ambassador and DCM, the Political, Narcotics Affairs and Drug Enforcement Administration sections, and the Information Programs Center (IPC). From Defense, there is the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting Detachment. An Embassy officer will meet new arrivals. Please inform the administrative officer of your schedule as early as possible to ensure coordination of arrangements. In the unlikely event you are not met, you can reach the Embassy by phoning 21- 2581/82/85.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:49 PM

The Housing Board and GSO make every effort to move personnel directly into their residence. Occasionally, if that is not possible, personnel may be housed for a short period in vacant Embassy housing, a four-star hotel or in an apartment in a residential/hotel complex.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:50 PM

The Ambassador’s two-story residence is a spacious and contemporary U.S. Government-owned home. It is completely furnished and air-conditioned, has landscaped gardens, a newly refurbished tennis court with lights, a golf putting green and a swimming pool.

The DCM's home is leased and has a small, but attractive garden. It is equipped with all basic furniture and appliances, plus household equipment, linen, cutlery, and china.

All assigned personnel are provided government-leased and -furnished housing that is roomy and airy with attractive gardens.

Furnishings Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:50 PM

The Embassy provides basic living room, dining room, bedroom, and outdoor furnishings. Kitchens are equipped with major appliances such as range and oven, refrigerator, microwave and freezer. All houses have air-conditioners, washers, and dryers. Personnel should bring their own small appliances and other essential household items to post. The local market has supplies of household goods and kitchenware. Supplies can be obtained in Bangkok at the Embassy commissary or in local department stores. The prices are usually higher in Bangkok than in the U.S. Supplies may be ordered through the AAFES or other catalog companies as well.

All government-leased houses are equipped with American- or European-style toilet and bath facilities. Some bedrooms have individual connecting bathrooms.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:50 PM

Electricity generated at the Nam Ngum Hydroelectric plant is supplied to consumers by Electricite du Laos, a government- owned utility. Electric current is predominantly 220v, 50-cycle, AC. The Embassy provides some transformers for each home. Any U.S.-manufactured 60- cycle electronic equipment should be equipped with a built-in transformer and interchangeable drive spindles to convert to 50 cycles. Electric power is generally adequate if not always stable. Power shortages occur quite infrequently, but when they do, the power usually returns within the hour. Voltage fluctuates at times, and sensitive electronic equipment is subject to damage. Voltage regulators may be required for some appliances and stereo equipment and should be used with computers.

Computer stores exist in Vientiane, and computer parts may be obtained, although selections are limited. Bangkok is also a source for computer supplies.

Small appliances can sometimes be repaired in the local electrical shops, but delicate or complicated repair work must be done in Bangkok or Udorn.

Food Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:51 PM

There is no commissary in Vientiane. USG employees are encouraged to join the American Community Support Association (ACSA) Commissary in Bangkok; orders can be placed every 2 or 3 months and shipped by train to Nong Khai, where an Embassy vehicle will pick up and deliver them to your house or office for a small fee.

Fresh bread, hot dog buns, and rolls of good quality are sold by several bakeries and individual vendors at the local markets. These local markets offer a large variety of fruit, vegetables, rice, eggs, poultry, pork, fresh fish, and beef. Fruits and vegetables vary according to the season, and adequate quantities of good quality are available year round. Chicken and pork are fine; beef is tasty but tough.

Because local selection of meats and other foods is limited, as noted above, most Embassy employees shop in Nong Khai, Udorn, and Bangkok to supplement their supplies. Many Thai outlets will pack perishable items in dry ice so that they can be carried back to Vientiane as accompanied airfreight.

Bring any specialty food requirements in your household effects shipments.

Clothing Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:52 PM

Dress in Vientiane is generally casual because of the tropical climate. Cottons are worn year round. Nylon and other synthetics are uncomfortable during the hot season. Cotton or cotton blends are preferable.

Clothing wears out fast because the climate requires frequent laundering. Tailors and dressmakers of limited capability are available in Vientiane, and clothing can be made to order in Vientiane or in Bangkok.

Supplement your needs by ordering from U.S. mail-order houses. Bring a good supply of lingerie, men’s/women’s hosiery, and shoes. Also bring light raincoats, umbrellas, and rubber boots for the rainy season along with any special sports wear, such as tennis, golf or jogging clothes and shoes. Bring a small supply of warmer clothing for the cool season (December-February), when temperatures can fall to as low as 50°F (10°C). Sweaters and light jackets can be useful then, particularly in the evenings. Warmer jackets are necessary for upcountry travel.

Men Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:52 PM

Officers generally wear suits for all official contacts. For others, suits are not generally worn, but one or two are needed for some occasions. Washable suits of cotton blends or safari suits are often worn at official functions. Dry cleaning is available but is not of top quality. Wash-and-wear clothing is the most practical. Men usually wear washable shirts and slacks for the office, leisure activities, and most social occasions.

Women Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:53 PM

Washable dresses of cotton blends are worn at official functions and at work in air-conditioned offices. Cottons are suitable for casual wear, but any cool washable fabric that does not cling will be comfortable. Shorts are useful at home and for sports and may be worn in public provided they are not too short or scanty. Lightweight woolens and synthetics are comfortable during the brief cool season. Wool can mildew easily in the rainy season, so other fabrics are preferable. For the cooler months, the usual dress for parties is long-sleeved blouse and skirt or dress. Women attending official functions occasionally wear semiformal dresses or skirt suits. Hats and gloves are not worn.

Children Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:53 PM

With easy access to Thailand and its wide range of retail outlets, Post personnel frequently shop for clothing, as other things, right across the border. Budget and middle range clothing for children is widely available there especially casual and sportswear. More well-made and expensive clothing can be found in Bangkok. Babies’ and infants’ clothing is particularly appealing and very good value.

The Lao market can provide some locally made goods and imported Thai clothing. Tailors and seamstresses are very good at copying.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:55 PM

The Embassy commissary in Bangkok stocks a limited amount of facial and toilet tissue. Bring at least a 4- month supply of your favorite cosmetics and toiletries.

Bring along any prescription drugs and hobby materials such as sewing notions, art supplies, playing cards, parlor games, etc. Greeting cards, gift-wrapping paper, party decorations, etc., are available from the commissary in Bangkok, but in limited variety and quantity. These items may also be found in Vientiane, although the selection is also limited. Film is available in Vientiane as are developing (including one-hour) services.

Basic Services Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:56 PM

Laundry is done in the home. Dry cleaners exist but may not be adequate. Many Embassy employees take their dry cleaning to the Concessionaire Cleaners at the Embassy in Bangkok or to first-class Bangkok hotels. Hotel dry cleaning services are very expensive, so keep your supplies of this type of clothing to a minimum.

A few local beauty parlors offer haircuts, permanents, manicures, etc. They can also apply hair coloring, but bring coloring kits with you. Even Bangkok beauty salons have limited hair-coloring supplies.

Several barbershops are located in downtown Vientiane and prices are reasonable. Some employees visit the barber/ beauty shop during non-professional courier trips to Bangkok.

Shoes can be repaired locally, usually with satisfactory results.

Several men’s tailor shops make suits slacks, and shirts to order with acceptable results. Prices are reasonable, but material must be provided by the customer. Most American women here use dressmaker services in Vientiane and in Bangkok; prices and results vary. In general, custom-made clothes are reasonably priced, but quality is not always up to the highest U.S. standards.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:56 PM

Servants are available in Vientiane. Generally, new arrivals hire the servants who worked for the previous occupants of their assigned homes, but there is no obligation to retain them. Newcomers are grateful to have some help immediately upon arrival. After a brief trial period of no more than three months, the servant and the employer must decide whether both wish to continue the arrangement. If so, they then negotiate terms of work and salaries agreeable to all parties. U.S. personnel are no longer required to request servants from the Diplomatic Services Bureau. Salaries are reasonable by U.S. standards.

Servants can do most, if not all, the shopping for food and other items in the local markets. This, plus the hot climate and fairly active social life in Vientiane, makes servants a necessity. Salaries at this writing average about $140. The number and type of servants employed depends upon your own needs and preferences, size of quarters, and the amount of entertaining you plan to do. Personnel without large representational responsibilities generally find that a combination maid/cook can handle house-cleaning, laundry, shopping, food preparation, and small group entertaining. Extra help can be hired on an occasional basis for larger parties.

In the past, some Embassy personnel were given special permission to hire live-in nannies. This situation is not common, and the Diplomatic Services Bureau must grant special permission for this arrangement.

The Embassy provides guard coverage at all staff homes from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. All American houses have gardens, so gardeners are recommended. The residents pay their salaries. Most homes have quarters designed for at least one servant; few, if any, live in, however, because Lao Government regulations forbid the practice. Servants sometimes use the quarters during the day for eating, bathing, and rest periods.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:57 PM

Laos is predominantly a Buddhist country, and Vientiane and all other Lao towns are full of temples and monasteries. There are few Christians, but churches do exist. Mass is celebrated daily in Lao, French, and English at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Vientiane. There is a weekly Anglican Service conducted by a lay minister. Protestant clergymen occasionally visit to conduct services, and the city has three small Lao Protestant churches.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:58 PM Vientiane International School ( which receives support from DOS Office of Overseas Schools educates some 160 students from 30 different countries including Laos. It is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the European Council of International Schools (ECIS). Classes are taught in English; French is taught as a second language. Classes are offered for pre-K through grade 9. The school, however, has made a commitment to expand to high school. Grade 10 will be offered in 2003-2004. With further grades being added the following two years, the majority of the staff is hired from overseas; all teachers are certified in their home countries. The school shares its suburban campus with a small (30) Swedish school and after-school Dutch and Japanese language/ culture schools in 2002. All elementary- aged U.S. Embassy children attended VIS.

Within Vientiane there are many nurseries and preschools; many are Lao owned and operated. Many offer some curriculum in English. Parents often choose the school closest to their home for their children.

At the elementary level, in addition to Lao schools, the city also offers a Russian school, a Chinese school, a French school, and Honour International School. Honour is heavily Lao with some expatriate children. Much of its faculty is international. Currently, U.S. Embassy high school-age students go to school outside of Laos.

Away From Post Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:00 PM In 2003, dependents were attending boarding school in the UK and university in the UK and the U.S. However, Vientiane International School, the accredited institution where all post children are enrolled, has made the commitment to expand through grade 12 by August 2005. In August 2003, it will add tenth grade.

In addition to the U.S. and UK, many students leaving VIS have continued secondary education at boarding schools in Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and India in addition to their home countries.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:00 PM

Educational opportunities within Lao are limited, for everyone. However, the range of tertiary possibilities is increasing as more private institutions open offering courses designed and approved by foreign schools, especially in Australia, the UK and France. Within that scope, there are junior college-level classes offered in English, particularly in the fields of business and computer technology.

There are also a few well-regarded private schools offering classes in English, French, and Japanese languages.

Classes at the local university are not regarded as on a par with western institutions. Those seeking college or graduate courses usually opt for long-distance learning.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:03 PM

A wide variety of sport is available in and around Vientiane. Golf is extremely popular. The city has two courses, one 18-holes, the other 9. Annual membership at the 18-hole course is about $300. A separately operated driving range is heavily used. Thailand offers further golf options. A bowling lane attracts families and leagues. Fitness facilities and pools are available at the top hotels.

In Spring 2003, Embassy Vientiane opened a post fitness center on its compound. The center is open round the clock to employees and DOS spouses. It offers a variety of weight-lifting equipment and exercise machines.

Families, especially, frequently join the Australian Embassy Recreational Club wonderfully located on the Mekong River. Family memberships are $500 per annum; singles $300 ($100 joining fee). The Club has an excellent pool, young children's playground area, squash court, fitness room and snackbar. Barbeques are held monthly; films are shown weekly. It is a social hub of Vientiane. Another social fixture are the Hash House Harriers. There is a Saturday afternoon bush run. A Monday afternoon family run is allowed by a supper; walkers are welcome.

At the Ambassador’s residence, a newly refurbished lighted tennis court is available to post personnel. Additional courts around town encourage a lively tennis scene.

Mixed volleyball is played weekly within the international community. Ultimate Frisbee is popular on the Mekong beach, very wide during the dry season. Touch rugby draws men and women. Tournaments with teams from neighboring countries are on-going.

Because Vientiane is flat it is good for biking. Bumpy secondary roads make mountain bikes a good idea; if you are a serious biker bring your own vehicle. Serviceable pushbikes for around the neighborhood can be bought locally for about $100. Bring your own helmet, nightlights and reflectors, and tool kit.

Different forms of boating are becoming increasingly popular. Fit women are urged to join the International Women's rowing team which participates in the annual long boat races in October. This is a superb opportunity to interact with Lao women and other expatriates who make up the team. Practices are twice weekly beginning in late August. Interest in kayaking is growing. Vang Vieng, the gateway to the mountains about three hours north of Vientiane, is the center of this. Possibilities for pleasure boating exist at Nam Ngun about an hour out Vientiane.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:04 PM

Vientiane has a number of attractions of interest to visitors, including the That Luang Monument and the Sisaket and Phra Keo Temples. The National Museum provides interesting insights into recent Lao history. On weekends, many Lao and foreigners make picnic excursions to the Nam Ngum Dam or to one of several waterfalls within a few hours of town. Day trips to Nong Khai and Udorn for shopping or sightseeing can be easily made from Vientiane.

Laos has many natural and historical attractions that can be visited on tours sponsored by local travel agencies. Among the most important of the country’s tourist destinations are the old royal capital of Luang Prabang, recently declared a World Heritage Site, with its many beautiful temples; Xieng Khouang, site of the Plain of Jars; Pakse, famous for its hand-woven silk and cottons and for the beautiful Khmer ruins at Wat Phu; Saravane, known for the Bolevans Plateau and its natural surroundings; and Savannakhet, Laos' second largest commercial center and a gateway to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Both Lao Aviation and Thai International Airways operate daily flights between Vientiane and Bangkok. Flight time is about 1 hour. Bangkok and Thailand are readily accessible for shopping, sightseeing, and vacationing.

Bangkok is a major air center for connections to other cities in Southeast Asia and to world capitals. From Bangkok, you can fly directly to Kuala Lumpur, Rangoon, Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong, Australia, and Europe. Vientiane’s new Wattay International Airport now offers direct flights to Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Kunming (Yunnan Province, China).

Vientiane is a 25% hardship post, and personnel on a two-year tour of duty are entitled to one R&R trip to Sydney or the nearest point of entry to the continental U.S. (Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles).

Photography. The only definite restrictions placed on photography in Laos are on military installations and Wattay International Airport, where no photos are allowed. You should always be courteous and use discretion when photographing people. Children welcome having their photos taken and often follow Westerners around town when they observe them taking pictures.

Entertainment Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:05 PM

The Embassy has a small library of primarily paperback books, donated by the Embassy community. The Australian Embassy also maintains a library. There are a large number of local restaurants in Vientiane that serve Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and other cuisines.

There are a growing number of discos in Vientiane, and these are frequented by both Lao and foreign residents.

Lao festivals, known as bouns, celebrate seasonal changes and important dates in the life of Buddha. The Lao New Year, known as Pi Mai, lasts for three days and is celebrated in mid-April. It is the most festive and widely celebrated holiday of the year. The annual long boat races in the fall on the Mekong River between Vientiane and the Thai town of Nongkhai are also well worth seeing.

The baci ceremony, a uniquely Lao celebration, is as popular with Westerners as with Lao. Of brief duration (usually less than a half hour), and normally followed by a traditional Lao meal and dancing, this ceremony is one of prayer and good wishes. It has no Buddhist significance but derives from native animist beliefs predating the arrival of Buddhism centuries ago. It is performed on various occasions, including Lao New Year, a wedding, farewell, welcome, birth of a child, etc. The baci ceremony follows a precise pattern and is conducted by an elderly man who is highly respected for his wisdom and ceremonial skill. Participants remove their shoes and sit on the floor during the ceremony. Photography is permitted during the baci.

Social Activities Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:05 PM

Recreation in Vientiane depends largely upon individual tastes, initiative and ingenuity. Home entertaining is frequent and dinners, cocktail parties, and barbecues are common forms of entertainment. The foreign community, though still relatively small, is active and growing all the time. Its members socialize regularly with others in the diplomatic and private communities.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:05 PM

Embassy officers have frequent contact with both Lao government officials and the diplomatic community. Official entertaining usually involves cocktail parties, receptions, and dinners. Home entertainment by the Lao is rare. Midlevel officers and staff personnel lead active social lives within the international community. Although they have fewer social requirements than senior officials do, these officers frequently attend and host official or semi-official functions.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:06 PM

No formal calls within the Embassy are necessary, but soon after arrival you should call on the Chief of Mission and visit other employees in their offices. Depending on your position, formal calls on Lao Ministry officials or other members of the diplomatic community may be appropriate.

In making these calls, leave calling cards. You may bring a supply of calling cards or have them printed here. Vientiane has facilities for printing cards and invitations.

French influence in Laos means that French terms are often used when designating proper dress on an invitation. Tenure de soiree is black tie, Tenure de villi is business suit and long or short dress and “comfortable” is casual, i.e., slacks and sport shirt and long or short summer dresses. Dress for each function is prescribed on the invitation. Few formal dinner parties require black tie. Dress for other functions is either Tenure de villi or, most often, “comfortable.”

When the Ambassador entertains officially, invited staff members should arrive 10 minutes before the appointed time in order to assist, and should remain at the party until the foreign guest or guests of honor have departed, or until informed that this obligation has been fulfilled.

Special Information Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:07 PM

Post Orientation Program

You will be briefed by the Ambassador, DCM, and the administrative/ post security officer upon arrival. These briefings concern Mission goals and objectives; personnel policies; housing assignments and overall maintenance services provided by the General Services Section; local security considerations and a review of procedures for handling classified material and security practices at the Embassy and outside of it; and guidance relating to food handling, water purification, and local sanitation and health hazards.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:07 PM

All travelers to Vientiane transit in Bangkok, and most arrive in Vientiane by air. Flights from Bangkok to Vientiane are available every day of the week. It is no longer necessary to reconfirm onward travel to Vientiane. If you encounter any difficulties, the Embassy Travel Section in Bangkok will assist you.

The Bank of America branch located in American Embassy Bangkok can cash personal checks in limited amounts. The Embassy address and telephone numbers in Bangkok are:

American Embassy 95 Wireless (Vitthayu) Road Bangkok, Thailand Tel.: (66) (2) 205-4000

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:08 PM

Persons on the diplomatic list are given Duty-free entry privileges during their entire tour of duty. Persons not on the diplomatic list are accorded 6 months’ duty-free privileges effective from the date of arrival in Laos. If duty-free items are subsequently sold to persons who do not have duty-free privileges, either the seller or the buyer must pay duties. The seller is responsible for compliance with Lao customs regulations.

All authorized surface shipments from the U.S. should be arranged through U.S. Dispatch Agents at American ports and coordinated with the State Department Transportation Office in Washington. The address for shipments is:

(Name) American Embassy Vientiane, Laos c/o American Embassy Bangkok, Thailand in transit

Shipments for Laos arriving in Bangkok are considered in-transit cargo. The Transportation and Shipping Branch of the Embassy in Bangkok handle all clearances through Thailand and transshipment to Vientiane via truck.

As soon as possible, forward or fax to the post’s general services officer a copy of your packing list for both sea and air shipments. If time does not permit, provide these details by telegram. The make, cost, weight, model, and serial numbers of all electronic, photographic, electric, and radio equipment must be included. This information is necessary in order to obtain customs clearances for your effects to enter Laos.

Effects require careful packing, preferably in metal or wooden containers lined with waterproof paper, to protect them against rough handling and possible inclement weather in transit. Marine insurance for surface shipments and fire and theft coverage for all effects is strongly recommended. The floater type policy is adequate.

Air shipments from the U.S. arrive in about 4 weeks and receive reasonably careful handling. The address is: (Name) American Embassy Box V Vientiane, Laos APO AP 96546

Bring whatever items you need to make your home more personal and comfortable. Post has had good luck both with both arriving and departing shipments.

Trips to Bangkok provide ample opportunity for you to supplement decorating needs after arrival.

Passage Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:08 PM

The Lao Government requires you to have a valid passport and Lao visa to enter the country. Visas issued by Lao Embassies are usually valid for a single entry only; thereafter, the Embassy obtains multiple-entry visas for its employees from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These are normally valid for one year at a time.

As a preventive measure against possible smuggling, Lao Customs officials may inspect the baggage of non-diplomatic employees upon arrival or departure or both.

Pets Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:09 PM

Pets entering Laos must have had anti-rabies vaccinations and be accompanied by certificates of good health. These vaccinations are important for pets brought to Vientiane and should be repeated promptly at required intervals. Vaccines for re-vaccinations can be obtained in Bangkok.

If pets are brought into Laos, measures should be taken to isolate them from contact with local animals. Although the commissary carries limited stocks of cat/dog food and kitty litter, it does not stock flea powder or pet medications. Bring a supply to post; it can be replenished from Bangkok or the U.S. Local veterinary services are limited, and few vaccines or medications are available.

All pets should be fully immunized against distemper, hepatitis leptospirosis, and rabies before arrival. Evidence that an animal was imported into Laos must be produced before the Lao authorities will permit it to be exported.

Pets should be carried on board the aircraft as carry-on baggage, if possible, both when arriving in Bangkok and Vientiane. This way they can be cleared through customs faster and need not be separated for any time from the owners. In transiting Bangkok with pets, you should be aware that the only hotel that currently allows animals is the New Imperial Hotel or its annex, the City Inn.

It is often difficult to obtain confirmed reservations at this hotel from the U.S. You should seek assistance in advance from Embassy Bangkok to be sure you have confirmed reservations, since most flights from the U.S. arrive in Bangkok late at night, and it is difficult to make other arrangements at that late hour.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:09 PM

U.S. Government personnel assigned to Laos may not bring any type of firearms or ammunition in this country.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:10 PM

The official Lao currency is the Kip (LAK). The official rate of exchange, as of June 2001, was US$1=8,535 LAK. Mission personnel may purchase kip from the Banque Comercial Exterieur Lao (BCEL) or from foreign exchange kiosks. WARNING: Although there is a thriving “black market” in Laos, it is illegal according to local laws and, Embassy personnel are strongly discouraged from exchanging money in this way. The kip is not a recognized international monetary unit and is not convertible outside Laos. It is useful for small purchases in the market, but most transactions of any size can be completed easily using dollars or Thai baht, both of which are freely exchangeable throughout Laos.

You can also cash personal checks through the Embassy cashier for baht or kip at the official exchange rate. A limited supply of dollars is available for travel outside Laos and for dollar-required payments in Laos.

It is essential that you maintain a U.S. checking account. Arrange to have your salary deposited directly into your U.S. account by allotment. U.S. personnel receive all salary and allowances in U.S. dollar checks or through allotments. Personal checks may be cashed at the BCEL by personnel assigned permanently to the U.S. Mission in Vientiane. A letter of introduction is required from the Administrative Officer.

All weights and measures in Laos are based on the metric system, except gold and silver, which are measured in baht (15 gram) or teals (30-35 grams).

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:10 PM

U.S. Government personnel may sell personal property, including vehicles, only after obtaining permission from the Administrative Officer. All sales to persons not authorized duty-free privileges and exceeding $50 must be documented by customs officials to prove taxes and duties have been paid. Buyers should pay in a convertible currency.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:12 PM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Contemporary Laos Domen, Arthur T. Laos, Key to Indochina. Westview: Boulder, 1985.

Stuart-Fox, Martin. Laos. Boulder, 1986. This is an excellent book on contemporary Laos, written by a noted Australian scholar.

Westermeyer, Joseph. Poppies, Pipes, and People: Opium and Its Use in Laos. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1982.

Lao History Coedes, George. The Making of Southeast Asia. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1983. Paperback edition. The origins and ancient history of the region including Laos. A classic work.

Gunn, Geoffrey. Political Struggles in Laos (1930-1954). Duang Kamol Press: Bangkok, 1988.

Gunn, Geoffrey. Rebellion in Laos: Peasant and Politics in a Colonial Backwater. Westview Press: Boulder, 1990.

Lewis, Norman. A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Eland Books: London, 1984.

Osborne, Milton. Southeast Asia, an Introductory History. Boston and Sydney, 1983. Paperback. An excellent and brief review of the whole region, with emphasis on the struggle for independence and its achievements.

Stuart-Fox, Martin, Kooyman, and Mary. Historical Dictionary of Laos. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: Metuchen, NJ., and London, 1992.

The Rise of the Pathet Lao Brown, Macalister, and Zasloff, Joseph H. Apprentice Revolutionaries: The Communist Movement in Laos, 1930-1985. Stanford University Press: 1986.

Gunn, Geoffrey C. Political Struggles in Laos (1930-1954). Editions Duang Kamol: Bangkok, 1988. Both of the above works are scholarly, detailed, and interesting-but not light reading.

The Vietnam War Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam. Penguin: New York, 1984.

Stanton, Shelby, L. The Rise and Fall of an American Army. Dell Publishers: New York (paperback), 1985.

Turley, Williams, S. The Second Indochina War, Short Political and Military History, 1954-1975. New American Library (Mentor Paperback): New York, 1986. Recent Lao history is unintelligible without an understanding of the Vietnam war, and these three books provide good coverage of the conflict.

U.S. Involvement in Laos Adams, Nina S. Laos: War and Revolution. Harper and Row: New York, 1970.

Dommen, Arthur J. Conflict in Laos. Praeger: New York, 1971.

Fall, Bernard B. Anatomy of a Crisis. Doubleday: New York, 1969.

Stieglitz, Perry. In a Little Kingdom. Moe Sharpe, Inc.: Armonk, N.Y., 1990.

Yost, Charles W. The Conduct and Misconduct of Foreign Affairs: Reflections on U.S. Foreign Policy. Random House: New York, 1972.

These books, many of them anthologies, provide a spectrum of reporting and opinion about the war years and the involvement of the U.S., North Vietnam, and Laos.

Fiction Doolittle, Jerome. The Bombing Officer. Duuon: New York, 1982.

Larteguy, Jean. The Bronze Drums. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1967.

Pratt, John Clark. Laotian Fragments. Avon: New York, 1974.

Papers The Indochina Project publishes papers on various aspects of the history, sociology, and politics of the region, which are generally of high quality. Some that focus on Laos are:

Ireson, Randall. Laos: Building a Nation.

Under Socialism. Center for International Policy, Indochina Project: Washington, D.C., February, 1988.

Minear, Lark. Private Aid and Public Policy: A Case Study. Center for International Policy, Indochina Project, Washington, D.C., June, 1988.

Stuart-Fox, Martin. Politics and Patronage In Laos. Center for International Policy, Indochina Project: Washington, D.C., October, 1986.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 7/11/2003 2:12 PM

The following American and Lao holidays are observed by the U.S. Embassy in Laos:

New Year’s Day January 1 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday Third Monday in January President’s Day Third Monday in February Lao New Year (Pi Mai or Water Festival) April (Varies) Lao Labor Day May (Varies) Memorial Day May 30 Independence Day July 4 Labor Day First Monday in September Columbus Day October 12 Buddhist Lent October (Varies) Veterans Day November 11 Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November That Luang Festival December (Varies) Lao National Day December 2 Christmas Day December 25

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
Share |