Laos has announced plans to partially re-open its borders to foreign visitors in the new year.
The South-East Asian country has been closed to international arrivals for more than 18 months, in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Fully vaccinated visitors on pre-booked tours will be able to enter Laos from January 1 and visit a select number of destinations, including the capital Vientiane, eco-tourism hotspot Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage-listed site in the north of the country.
Built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan river, and encircled with lush greenery, Luang Prabang fuses traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Further destinations will be opened in April and July as vaccination rates in Laos increase. For now, entry will be limited to tourists from 17 countries, predominantly in South-East Asia and Europe, as well as the US, Australia and Canada. All arrivals will need to test negative for Covid-19 before their journey.
Vaccination rates in the country are expected to be bolstered by the recent opening of a railway connecting Vientiane to the south-western Chinese city of Kunming. The $6 billion rail link was hailed as a "new era of modern infrastructure development” by Laos President Thongloun Sisoulith, and health authorities are already working to deliver Covid booster shots to people living in tourist spots along the train line.
Laos was receiving about 4.7 million international visitors per year before the pandemic struck. A dramatic downturn in arrivals in 2020 has significantly affected the economy, which experienced a 0.4 per cent decline last year, according to the World Bank.