Laos would be one of the safest countries in Asia, however crime rates are on the rise, particularly petty theft (bag stanching, break and entering).
There are three main areas which foreigners need to be particularly aware of:
- Sexual relations between a Lao national and a foreigner are illegal unless they are married, and marriage requires special permits. “Number One” condoms are available for 1000-5000 kip for a pack of 3. These are probably the cheapest condoms in the world (and their quality seems to be ok).
- Drug use in Laos will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best, and imprisonment or even execution at worst.
- Any criticism of the Lao government or the Communist Party in any way, shape or form is unwise.
The Lao judicial system remain arbitrary, and while you are unlikely to be hassled, if accused your legal rights may be slim or non existent.
Land mines and unexploded ordinance are still a major concern in areas near the Vietnam border which has been left over from the Vietnam America War. Never enter into areas marked as minefields and travel only on paved roads and well-worn paths. If you are unsure of what areas are and aren’t safe to enter, ask the locals.
One other note of caution: there has been some violence between Hmong rebel groups in the north and in central Laos and government forces. This low-level insurgency has been brewing for years, and has been very sporadic. The main areas affected have been on Highway 13 (which runs from Luang Prabang to Cambodia, passing through Pakse and Vientiane). The last reported case was in 2003 around Kasi. Attacks have been on regular buses, not tourist buses. VIP and minibuses passing through these areas typically used to travel with an armed guard (with a machine gun!). As of October/November 2007 this wasn’t the case anymore. Between 2003 and 2006 the primary forest in this area has disappeared – hiding would be difficult for snipers now.