Is Laos Safe?
I have been asked this question many times mostly from people who haven't been to Laos, therefore I have decided to write an article so that people have a general idea of what they can expect when visiting the country of Laos.
When we are talking about safety in Laos, it is very safe for tourists to travel around provided certain precautions are taken and I will go into more detail about it so that you understand what you should and shoudn't do.
But first of all, there is currently no war in Laos and it is very much at peace, holiday makers are treated extremely well by the local Lao people and the country is rich in culture and heritage. However Laos has been a communist country under Vietnamese control since 1975 and as a result of this, it is the main reason why many millions of Lao people are living in Thailand and western countries today.
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the local Lao people because they are like mushrooms. They live in an insular society and fed government propaganda and nobody can question, or dare to question their authority. In a free world of any English-speaking country, people know when their politicians are lying and accept the good with the bad. They can protest on the streets or vent their frustration and disapproval through the media so that their opinions be heard. But in communist Laos, freedom of speech is thrown out the window and doesn't exist.
So when visiting Laos, certain things you say can get you into trouble so you have to be extremely careful about sensitive issues. For example if you want to talk about Lao politics, talk about it in your own country but not here in Laos. Or if you want to say something negative which may make Lao people feel uneasy then refrain from saying it. There are foreign journalists who are held in a Lao prison due to the things they said, and probably the most well-known former prisoners in recent times are Kerry and Kay Danes from Australia who spent time in a Lao jail because they were accused of stealing jewellery in Laos, so this is proof that
no one is immune from going to jail in Laos, breaking the law in Laos can have serious consequences for you and people around you.
In Laos, the law is unfavourable for foreigners and they will always be considered wrong in most situations so also bare that in mind. For example, if a foreigner is involved in a motor vehicle accident, he or she is responsible to pay for damages even if he or she is not at fault. So if you're driving a car or riding a motorbike in Laos, you happen to be in an accident with neither party having a serious injury and their vehicle still works okay, it is in your best interest to try to resolve the matter before the police arrive and then disappear quickly and quietly. If the other party makes a reasonable request, just get on with it and pay it immediately because if the police arrives to investigate you'll still have to pay the other party anyway, AND you will also have to pay the police!
There are unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos which failed to explode when the Americans dropped them on Laos during the fiercest air war in history. However, there is nothing to be concerned about because the UXO's have been cleared from all major tourist destinations so there is no risk whatsoever of having any injuries or deaths unless people venture into unknown territory such as remote jungles.
People are allowed to go out late at night in Laos but you must carry all documents with you such as your passport if you're a tourist or an identification card if you're a local person living in Laos. You will be arrested on the spot if you are approached by police and you can't provide them your details. I think this is good and necessary because it gives a clear message that Lao authorities are working hard to to prevent crimes and keep the community safe at night.
Laos imposes the mandatory death sentences for a wide range of offences such as treason, murder, dealing with drugs and rape so you have to always conduct yourself within the bounds of the law in Laos. People from the so called "Lao Royal Family", former generals and high ranking officials from the former Lao government are not allowed to enter Laos. Lao authorities will show no mercy if they step foot on Laos.
When visiting Laos, always be alert but not alarmed and everything will be fine. Even the foods you eat and the water you drink can affect your health. Tap water is considered dirty and unsafe to drink in Laos and just because you see local Lao people drinking from the tap, it doesn't mean that you can do the same thing because their digestive system is used to it. Laos is a wonderful country for a fun-packed family holiday or backpacking with friends, but always remember to be sensible and don't do anything silly and you will find that Laos is one of the most interesting and safest countries that you will ever visit.