Laos Safety & Security

1. Crime

Violent opportunistic crime such as robbery is increasing in Laos, including in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. You need to be conscious of your surroundings and pay attention to your personal safety and security, especially at night and when riding bicycles or motorcycles. Avoid placing bags or valuables in the front basket and travel on well-used, well-lit roads. Local media has reported violent muggings with guns and knives in Vientiane.

There have been a number of drug-related deaths among travellers in Laos. Some restaurants in popular tourist locations offer drug-laced food and drink which may contain harmful and unknown substances. Travellers have been assaulted after accepting spiked food or drinks. Never leave food or drinks unattended.

Petty crime, including bag snatching by thieves on motorcycles and theft from guest houses, occurs frequently, especially in tourist areas. In the lead up to local festivals, such as Lao New Year in April, there is a significant increase in theft and violent crime.

There have been reports of foreigners attempting to report crimes and finding police stations closed, emergency phone numbers unanswered or police lacking communication, transportation or authorisation to investigate crimes. You should contact the Embassy if you encounter these problems.

We recommend that you do not provide passports as deposits or guarantees for hiring motorcycles, and always ensure that your travel insurance covers hospital and other costs associated with motorbike accidents.

Travellers should always remain vigilant when travelling in rural and remote locations across the country. You should be particularly vigilant when travelling on Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) or Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).

 

2. Political Tension and Terrorism

Isolated incidents of civil unrest, including armed attacks and bombings, have occurred in the past. Foreign travelers are not normally targeted.

Avoid protests or demonstrations and follow the instructions of local authorities. Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.

 

3. Local Travel

If you plan to take part in water activities, including in Vang Vieng, be extremely cautious. Tourists have been killed or seriously injured while participating in water activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris can make diving or jumping into the river dangerous. Carefully consider your personal safety and take appropriate precautions.

The safety standards  might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially when undertaking adventure sports. 'Fast boat' river travel, in particular, can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don’t. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, you should use another provider.

Boats travelling on the Mekong River in the ‘golden triangle’ area (between China, Laos, Burma and Thailand) have been robbed and shot at in the past.

Unexploded ordnance is prevalent in many parts of Laos, particularly in Xieng Khouang province (location of The Plain of Jars) and the Lao-Vietnamese border areas along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Straying from established walking paths and roads can be dangerous as affected areas are often unmarked.

The Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane is a border of Laos and Thailand. This is a known smuggling route, and is strictly patrolled by Lao and Thai border security. Those suspected of smuggling are likely to be questioned and may be detained. Lao authorities have advised that tourists should exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane. A curfew is enforced in this area after 10.30pm. Remaining in the area may result in a fine, questioning or arrest/detention.

Authorities may strictly enforce curfews in some provinces. You should contact provincial or district authorities about where and when curfews may be enforced in the area, exercise caution and follow instructions. Failure to do so may result in a fine or arrest/detention.

It is a requirement to carry identification at all times. Police undertake frequent checks of motorists in towns and have checkpoints in rural areas. Failure to provide identification when requested may result in fines or detention.

Transport within Laos does not generally meet your home safety standards. Driving in Laos can be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, livestock on rural roads and a lack of road lighting. The number of road accidents and fatalities, particularly at night and involving motorcycles, has risen sharply in recent years.

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