POST & COMMUNICATIONS
Postage from Laos is reasonable in price, although most people who plan to send parcels overseas wait until they reach Thailand since the Thai postal service-is more reliable.
Lao stamps are printed in Cuba and Vietnam - some come without glue so you may have to use your own or take advantage of the glue pots provided at every post office. See the Postal Rates boxed text for sample letter and small parcel rates.
Sending & Receiving Mail
Outgoing mail is fairly reliable and inexpensive. The arrival of incoming mail is not as certain, especially for packages. Express Mail Service is available to many countries and is considered more reliable than regular mail. FedEx now has a contract with the government-owned Enterprise des Poste (EPL) as well. When posting any package you must leave it open for inspection by a postal officer. Incoming parcels must also be opened for inspection; there may be a small charge for this mandatory 'service'.
The main post office in Vientiane has a poste restate service. Be sure that letters to you bear the country's full name - 'Lao People's Democratic Republic', or at least 'Lao PDR'.
The main post office is open 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm Monday to Friday, 8am to noon and I pm to 4pm Saturday, and 8am to noon Sunday. If you're moving to Vientiane, take note that there is no home mail delivery service. Post office boxes can be rented; the box areas are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.
Throughout the country you can recognize post offices by the co lour scheme: mustard yellow with white trim.
Telephone service in Laos, both domestic and international, is on-again, off-again at best. In the towns and cities of the Mekong valley, service has improved substantially in the last couple of years and International Direct Dialling (IDD) finally became available for businesses and private residences in Vientiane in 1993. With the arrival of satellite telecommunications via IntelSat and AsiaSat, you can now dial 155 countries from Vientiane.
The best place to make international calls is from the Public Call Office on Thanon Setthathilat in Vientiane, which is open 7.30am to 10pm daily, Operators still cannot place collect calls or reverse phone charges you must pay for the call in cash kip when it is completed. All calls are operator - assisted. You can also make calls' from the main post office opposite the Talat Sao.
In provincial capitals, international telephone service is usually available at the main post office although some cities are now establishing separate telephone offices. Where a separate phone office exists, hours typically run from 7.30am to.9.30pm or 8am to 10pm.
Direct - dialed domestic long-distance calls cost from US$0.05 to US$0.08 per minute, while operator-assisted calls cost US$0.15 to US$0.25 for the first three minutes plus US$O.05 to US$0.08 for each additional minute. International calls are also charged on a per-minute basis, with a minimum charge of three minutes. Sample rates per minute.
Country, Access & Area Codes
Until a few years ago most cities in Laos could only be reached through a Vientiane operator. Nowadays it's possible to direct-dial to and from many places in Laos using IDD phone technology.
The country code for calling Laos is 'If 856. For long-distance calls within the country, dial 0 first, then the area code and number. For international. calls dial 00 first, then the country code, area code and number.
Telephone Cards Tholakharn Lao (Lao Telecom), a private company, issues telephone cards that can be bought from any post or telephone office and used in special card phone booths in larger towns and cities. Cards are denominated in units which represent blocks of telephone time.
Although the cards are supposed to come in five different denominations from 50 to 500 units, the only ones that appear to be available are cards of 100 units and 500 units
Be sure to compare pricing on your own. One reason the cards are in units of time rather than units of money is so that the company can counteract the continually depreciating kip without having to manufacture new cards.
Eno Communication Service
Lonely Planet's eKno global communication service provides low-cost international calls - for local calls you're usually better off with a local phone card. eKno also offers free messaging services, email, travel information and an online travel vault, where you can securely store all your important documents. You can join online at where you , will find the local-access numbers for the 24-hour customer-service centre. Once you have joined, always check the eKno Web site for the latest access numbers for' each country and updates on new features.
At the Public Call Office in Vientiane fax services are available 7.30am to 9.30pm daily. You .can also send faxes from the main post office.In provincial capitals fax services are handled at the main post office or at separate telephone offices.
Email & Internet Access
Cafes, cyber-centers and a few computer retail shops offer email and Internet access in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Savannakhet, Pakse, Tha Khaek and Huay Xai. In places where there's plenty of com-petition - such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang - rates are as low as US$0.01 or US$0.02 per minute. In towns where there are only one or two places offering such services, rates will be higher.
PlaNet Online (a chain of cybercafés found in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang) generally provides the most reliable machines and online access.
The Lao government controls the only legal access to the Net through two government Internet service providers (ISPs), LaoTel and LaoNet. Both struggle for a very limited amount of available bandwidth, so can be excruciatingly slow. Some knowledgeable observers speculate that this slowness is exacerbated by Lao Telecom's attempt to block Internet voice transmission (which would cut into their revenues). A private ISP, Lao PDR (linked to PlaNet Online), is currently connected through LaoNet but may soon have its own connection.
Some private computer owners avoid the LaoTel / LaoNet logjam by logging onto LoxInfo and other ISPs in Thailand via long-distance dialing. Business centers in some hotels may be able to provide email via such systems, if you ask discreetly.
Nowadays most ISPs worldwide offer the option of Web-based email so if you already have an Internet account at home you can check your email anywhere in Thailand simply by logging onto your ISP's Web site using an Internet browser (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape). If you have any doubts about whether your home ISP offers Web-based email, check before you leave home. You may want to register with one of the many free Web-based email services, such as MS Hotmail, Yahoo!, Juno or Lonely Planet's own eKno. You can log onto these services at any cyber cafes in Laos.