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Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos, is one of the few remaining communist states in the world. It is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Nearly three-quarters of the country is covered in mountains and forested hills. With a total land area of 236,800 square kilometers and a population of only over 7 million people, the country is one of the least densely populated countries in Asia with just 30 people per square kilometers.
For many years, Laos has been under the radar of travelers, expats, and investors. It is one of the least explored countries in Southeast Asia. Last year, it welcomed over 4 million people. Most tourists come to this country to see its lush jungles, spectacular limestone mountains, amazing food, and beautiful temples. Due to its laid-back lifestyle and affordable living costs, Laos is also attracting expats from all around the world.
The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is one of the most popular cities in the country. With over 700,000 people living within its area, it is the most populous city in Laos. Although it is the capital, it still has a small-town feel. During the colonial period, it used to be a French trading post, which is why the city is filled with French-inspired architecture and has a delightful old French quarter that visitors can explore. Some of the most famous attractions are Patxuai (Laotian version of Arc de Triomph), the Great Stupa, the Lao National Museum, and Pho Khao Khouay.
Aside from Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng are particularly popular, and for good reason. Luang Prabang has 33 amazing temples, beautiful French colonial architecture, natural beauty, and bustling night markets. The town is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site because of its beautiful mix of traditional architecture and French colonial buildings. Visitors can explore the Buddha Caves, see the Royal Palace, watch the beautiful sunset along the Mekong River, Climb Mount Phousi, or visit the breathtaking Kuang Si Falls.
Vang Vieng is very popular among backpackers. In the past, the city was infamous as a hedonistic jungle town due to its wild nightlife. While visitors can still party hard in this little town, it has transformed into a calm oasis that is perfect for anyone who wants to enjoy nature. Most visitors come to this city to go tubing on the river or to go caving in the Golden Cave (Tham Phu Kham), visit the Blue Lagoon, dirt biking, and Climb Pha Poak.
The type of apartments available for rent in Laos vary from standard apartments, high-end apartments, and serviced apartments.
Standard apartments are usually unfurnished and offer basic amenities, such as parking spaces, while high-end apartments are more modern and may offer more amenities for renters, such as private parking spaces, 24-hour security systems, gyms, and swimming pools. They may also feature restaurants, shops, and/or minimarkets on the ground floor.
Serviced apartments are the most luxurious and expensive type of apartment in Laos. They are fully decorated and are mainly located within the city centers. They also offer numerous upscale amenities that allow renters to live a hotel-like lifestyle. These may include gyms, swimming pools, gardens, children’s playground, designated parking spaces, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, as well as 24-hour security systems. Other services, such as housekeeping and laundry, may also be provided. In addition, serviced apartments may have shops, cafes, restaurants, and mini markets on the ground floor as well.
Apartments in the country are usually built in low-rise and mid-rise buildings. Renters can choose between studio apartments or one to four-bedroom apartments. The smallest are studio apartments, which only have one room that acts as the bedroom, dining room/kitchen, and living room.
In the last couple of decades, the economy in Laos has grown rapidly and the standard of living is improving, but the prices and rents are increasing as well. The cost of living is still relatively affordable for most foreigners. It is generally about the same or slightly less than Thailand, but more expensive than Vietnam and Cambodia. A minimum of 1,000 USD a month is required for a single person to cover all essential things, such as food and accommodation.
The official currency in Laos is Lao Kip (LAK) and 1 USD is around 9,103 LAK. However, some vendors and establishments do not use the right exchange rate and foreigners need to pay close attention when exchanging their money. Thai Baht and US dollars are sometimes accepted in the country. ATMs can be found in major tourist areas, but credit and debit cards are not widely accepted.
Around half of Laos’s population identify as Theravada Buddhist, while approximately two-fifths of the population follow non-Buddhist religions. Mayahana Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Christianity, and Baháʼí Faith are also practiced by some of the population. However, while the constitution provides freedom of religion, this is only in theory. In practice, the right is restricted by many government officials.
The official and most widely spoken language is Laotian. French is commonly used in commerce and government. The signage throughout the country is mostly bilingual with Laotian and French. English has become increasingly popular and spoken in recent years.
To stay in Laos for an extended period of time, foreigners need to apply for a visa. There are numerous different visa types, including a 30-day business visa (NI-B2), longer-term visas for experts and their dependents (C-B1), diplomatic staff (D-A1), and officials (S-A2).