The language is Lao as it is spoken in Vientiane, English is used in tourist centers. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai are understood. There are over 220 languages spoken by 47 ethnic groups.
Laos' main geographic features are mountains, the Xieng Khouang and Bolaven Plateaux and the Mekong River Valley. The country's 237,000 sq km, is about 70% mountainous, the highest peak, Phou Bia, reaches just over 2,800 m.
Laos has a mild tropical climate, but it can get quite cool. Temperatures range from about 10 - 40 degrees Celsius and can be below zero in the mountains, the Xieng Khouang and Bolaven Plateaux. There are two seasons, wet from May to October and dry from November to April. The wet is usually a few hours of rainfall a day, but can sometimes be torrential. It gets hot around the beginning of the wet season and cool at the end.
Laos has basic health care and visitors should check with their doctor before travelling and have health insurance. Dengue is a current and rising problem. Malaria seems to have abated. Mosquitos are everywhere, use DEET repellant.
Tap water is OK for showering etc, bottled drinking water is cheap and available everywhere. The local Beer Lao, is also cheap and available everywhere.
The currency of Laos is the kip. Traveler's cheques can be cashed at banks. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels and some shopping establishments. ATMs are readily available in most larger towns and cities, they dispense Kip notes. Beware of changing too much money, $1,000 will get a big stack of Kip notes and whilst they can be changed in Laos, they cannot be changed outside of Laos. Thai baht and US dollars are also accepted.
Phones and Faxes are widespread and mobile technology predominates, SIM cards are readily available from one of several Telcos. Internet access is available in tourism centers and via 3G mobile.
Laos uses 220 volt AC electricity. Some outages, usually brief, can occur.
There are post offices from which to send letters and parcels. There is no residential postal delivery service. Vientiane's main post office has a post restante service.
Offices are open Monday through Friday from 08:30-12:00 and from 13:00 to about 16:30. It is not uncommon for staff to have a nap after lunch. Private businesses are open later and restaurants and entertainment venues close about 23:00. Most businesses are closed on Sunday. There is an official curfew, but whilst people may be stopped after hours, there are usually no consequences.