Laos has come a long way in a short time on the telephone front. While most Lao people are still not connected, the introduction of mobile phones and, in recent years, WIN phones has allowed some truly remote villages to get connected without the need for expensive landlines.
You can make international calls from Lac Telecom offices in most provincial capitals, or if there is no Lao Telecom office, from the post office, which is usually nearby. Operators can not place collect calls or reverse phone charges – you must pay for the call in cash kip when it is completed. A faded list of rates is usually stuck on a wall near the phone. Where a separate phone office exists, hours typically run from 7.30 am to 9.30pm or from 8 am to 10 pm.
International calls are also charged on a per minute basis, with a minimum charge of three minutes. Calls to most countries cost between about US$0.75 and US$1.80 per minute.
It’s almost always cheaper to use an internet cafe (most provide international call services), if there is one. In Vientiane the telephone office has responded to competition from the internet by slashing rates to about 20c a minute. Faxes can be sent from the same Lao Telecom or post offices.
Laos has bought into mobile telephony big time. Lao Telecom and several private companies offer mobile phone services on the GSM system. Competition is fierce and you can buy a local SIM card for US$5 from almost anywhere – we bought ours from an optometry shop. Calls are cheap and recharge cards are widely available for between 15,000 and 60,000 kip each.
Network coverage varies depending on the company and the region. In our experience, Lao Telecom and another government-affiliated company, Enterprise of Telecommunications Lao (ETL) have the widest coverage. These are more expensive than Tango Lao and M-Phone, but Tango’s coverage is limited to larger cities and towns.
In some areas (such as Si Phan Don where M-Phone reigns supreme), one company is so dominant that it can be hard to find recharge cards for other companies. So if you really need to make that call, buy ahead. Note that international SMS messages from Lao SIM cards often don’t work.
Until a few years ago most cities in Laos could only be reached through a Vientiane operator. These days you can direct-dial to and from most of the country using IDD technology.
The country code for calling Laos is 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. All mobile phones have a 020 code at the beginning of the number. Similar to this are WIN phones, which begin with 030.
In theory, Tholakham Lao (Lao Telecom), a private company, issues telephone cards to be used in special card phone booths. In reality, they don’t. These phones have been used bv mobile phones and none uses them anymore; we saw two that had been converted into green house.
Tags: Telephone & Fax System in Laos