I've been completely stunned by the beauty of Laos and their ability to skim from tourist's bank accounts via ATMs.
A dream-like state can be achieved by traveling through the rolling hills, shockingly sharp limestone karst mountains and cliffs, lush green rice paddies, fields, and untouched (except by unexploded ordinance) forests and when you go to withdraw money and it takes your money without giving you your cash.
Today, I went to an ATM at a bank branch while the bank was open. When I put my card in and tapped to withdraw a medium amount (not the max possible,) the ATM screen told me 'transaction was not processed', gave me my card back, and no receipt. I went to another ATM only to be told I had insufficient funds. I then checked online and saw that the first ATM had indeed withdrawn the money without giving me the cash.
When you withdraw money from an ATM in Laos, you may not receive your money. You will get the message 'the transaction was not processed' or 'this transaction timed out'. Only to discover later that, in fact, the money was withdrawn from your account... you just didn't receive the cash.
Even if a bank is open and you use their ATM, it can take your money. Even if you only withdraw a small amount, it will take it. There's really no reassurance you will receive your cash, as I have been told from multiple people with first-hand experiences since the capital city, Vientiane.
There is no way you can prepare for this, except knowing how to begin an investigation with your home bank. Know your home bank's phone number and have a Skype or phone card account to call them, only withdraw small amounts at a time (even though I know we all suffer from extortionate withdrawal fees,) and having someone at home who can sign papers on your behalf via a power of attorney. I took a photo of the ATM machine with the bank branch and ATM number, but my bank in Canada assured me they already had this information from the transaction details.
For Canadians, dealing with your home bank is probably a better chance than dealing with the Laotian bank. However, this will require you to physically be in Canada to file a claim and begin an investigation that can take up to 3-4 months according to my bank, RBC. If you will not be in Canada, you need to prepare in advance and have a power of attorney to represent you and sign on your behalf to start this process. Also, have an emergency fund for when something like this happens, so you can continue to survive without that cash.
Despite having both a power of attorney and an emergency fund, I'm still cursing myself for thinking that I was too smart for this to happen.
It may seem like I just sold and picked up what remained of my life and left, but there was a lot of preparation up front. Do your research in advance for what happens when something goes wrong with your accounts and, if you do get stolen from, it will just take a beer and an hour to calm down and go back to enjoying your life on the road.
Best of luck!