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
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
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
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
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 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
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
At Post Last Updated: 7/11/2003 1:58 PM Vientiane International
School (www.vis.laopdr.com) 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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,
Larteguy, Jean. The Bronze Drums. Alfred A. Knopf: New York,
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,
Stuart-Fox, Martin. Politics and Patronage In Laos. Center for
International Policy, Indochina Project: Washington, D.C., October,
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