Laos is one of those destinations that people visit on a trip together with other countries like Cambodia or Vietnam, because they don’t think Laos itself deserves a trip on his own. It is probably true that Laos has less fascinating attractions than his neighboring countries, Laos does not have beaches for instance. Nevertheless, since there are much less tourists here, you can visit a really authentic country, a perfect destination for backpackers.
Most travelers enter Laos from Thailand and take a direct boat ride to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital, and hence they miss out on the most Northern part of the country. This is the poorest region of the country, but from our point of view it’s worth visiting to meet the different ethnic communities that live here. Laos is probably the safest country in Southeast Asia, there are no big cities with a lot of noise like Bangkok in Thailand. Even Vientiane, the capital, has a small town vibe. In order to enjoy this country, you will need to consider certain things when you organize your trip and also when you are already there. We prepared this brief guide with lots of useful tips and information to help you, when you decide to travel to Laos.
Índice del post
- How to organize your trip to Laos
- When to go to Laos
- Travel insurance in Laos
- Visa to travel to Laos
- Vaccines and medication for traveling to Laos
- Time Zone
- Safety issues
- Where to sleep in Laos
- How to get around in Laos
- Where to eat in Laos
- What to do and see in Laos
- Budget for your trip to Laos
- Other recommendations
- Useful tools to organize your trip
How to organize your trip to Laos
Laos has a North-South orientation, and planning an itinerary there is pretty straightforward. The most usual is to enter the country on the North from Thailand or Vietnam, and continue towards the South. The main roads are decent, but in the North of the country you will also find many secondary roads that are in really bad shape. In the North, you also have to consider that several places don’t have road access, hence you will have to take a boat, which makes the journey much slower. Nevertheless, the distances are never too long, so it gives you a margin for improvisation during your trip to Laos.
When to go to Laos
The best part of the year to travel to Laos is between November and February, when it does not rain too much, and the temperatures are also milder. In March the country starts getting warmer and in April you will start sweating a lot. In May, the monsoon season sets in, which lasts till September-October. In the rainy season you can expect difficulties in moving around, since in some places the roads become basically impassable.
Travel insurance in Laos
Just like anywhere else in Southeast Asia, it is very important that you have a good travel insurance. The healthcare in Laos is pretty basic, so if you get into more serious health trouble, you will probably have to be transferred abroad, to Bangkok for instance, which is quite costly without a good insurance.
Visa to travel to Laos
From the point of view of visa, Laos is one of the easiest countries in Southeast Asia, since you can get your visa on-arrival in several border posts between Laos and its neighbor countries. The visa costs around 35 USD for Western travelers, although there are some differences between countries. It is funny to see how the Communist legacy has a say in the actual prices, Russian citizens don’t need visa, and Cubans also pay only 20 USD.
Vaccines and medication for traveling to Laos
There is not any vaccines you must have to enter Laos. Nevertheless if you plan to visit also rural areas during your travels to Laos, it is recommended to have certain vaccines. The best way is to ask for information in the travel clinic in your country, where they will provide you with all the necessary information.
In Laos the issue of malaria also comes up quite often as a conversation topic amongst fellow travelers. In the North of the country it is possible to get infected, although the risk is not very high at all. We didn’t take any medication against malaria during our travels, but if you want to be 100% safe, we recommend you take Malarone. We also advise you to have a quite complete first-aid kit with you, since you can’t really rely on Laotian pharmacies.
Laos is found in the UTC + 7 time zone.
The official language in Laos is Laotian, which is quite similar to Thai language. In Laos, just like in the most of Southeast Asia, in touristic places you will always find people who speak English.
The local currency in Laos is the kip. Changing your money to kip, you will feel like a millionaire, since you get more than 8000 kip for 1 euro.
xe.com shows you the updated exchange rates.
You might get surprised during your travel to Laos that you will find internet access in places you would never expect to. You won’t have any problem to get connection almost anywhere, although in the more remote areas the connection can be quite slow.
Laos is probably one of the safest countries we have ever been to. People are calm and very respectful, hence you will feel comfortable everywhere, even at night. In addition, Laos completely lacks megacities that you can find in the neighboring countries, so you don’t have to pay attention to pickpockets either.
Where to sleep in Laos
In Laos, you will find large selection of cheap accommodation. The price-quality ratio is probably not as good as what you find when you travel in Thailand, but you will not spend too much money on sleeping.
How to get around in Laos
During your travel to Laos, you will travel by bus (either in larger buses or smaller minivans) most of the time. The main roads are OK, but in the North there are a lot of curves on the roads due to the landscape, so don’t expect fast trips. In the South, however, the landscape is more flat, and there are excellent fast rides, such as the Vientiane-Pakse sleeping bus. In this bus there are beds, in which you might sleep better than in many of the hostels.
In the most Northern part of the country, there are places, which still don’t have road access, and the only way to get in is by boat. In the North of Laos, you will take these boats quite often, for instance between Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw or Nong Khiaw and Luang Prabang. These boats are very uncomfortable, nevertheless, you will travel in these boats through spectacular landscape, and you will notice the pain in the back only after finishing your journey.
In many places if you want to explore places off the beaten path, the best way is to rent a bicycle or a motorbike. We for instance rented a motorbike to explore the Bolaven Plateau for 3 days in the South, and we enjoyed so much the liberty we had.
Where to eat in Laos
In Laos it is very easy to find cheap and good food. You will easily find places to have a nice meal with noodles or rice and vegetables for 1-2 euros. If you likes vegetarian food, there are many places in the country where you can eat a great buffet of vegetarian stuff for very little money. The most famous is probably the night market in Luang Prabang, but you can find places like this elsewhere, too.
What to do and see in Laos
There are many things to see and do in Laos, hence we are preparing at the moment an itinerary with the best places you should travel to in this beautiful country. Exploring the Northern tribes around Muang Sing and Luang Nam Tha, navigating on the river Nam Ou to explore Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw, admiring colonial architecture in Luang Prabang, visiting the national monument in Vientiane capital, exploring the Bolaven Plateau by motorbike and relaxing on one of the 4000 islands in the Mekong, are probably the things you can’t miss out on your travel to Laos.
Budget for your trip to Laos
We spent only 15 €/day/person on food, transport and accommodation. Laos is a really cheap country, perfect to travel on a tight budget.
In Laos, Buddhism is the main religion, please respect their traditions. For instance:
Take off your shoes before entering a Buddhist temple. Never sit down with your feet towards a Buddha statue.
When you visit some of the ethnic communities, you will probably be greeted by a bunch of kids on your arrival. In many cases they also ask you for something to give them, please don’t give them chocolate or money, but pencils or other things they can use. In Asia, made our traveling bracelets, and gave those to the kids we met, making them quite happy.
In Laos, just like in the rest of Southeast Asia, you can bargain on the price of the accommodation and many other things. It’s OK to bargain some without being disrespectful with the locals.
We really hope that this post served useful to organize your travel to Laos.