TRAVELING IN LAOS
Laos is known as one of the most undiscovered spots in South East Asia which made it feel extra exciting to visit for a month-long trip and go back two times after that.
Even though many long-term travelers in the region only stop in Laos on the way to Thailand or Vietnam, the country is still waiting to be discovered by people around the world.
But you should be aware that Laos has it’s good sides and bad sides. That’s what you’ll learn about here.
The best that this country can offer people traveling in Laos is its wild nature.
From wild waterfalls tucked away in the jungle, to lush green rice fields and winding mountain roads connecting all the best Laos must-see spots, discovering Laos will be exciting.
And the undeniable French influence that you see on the streets and in Laotian food makes the experience even more interesting.
The country is still growing in terms of honest, responsible and hospitable tourism.
Therefore, there are things you should be aware of to make your traveling in Laos experience as positive as possible.
So learn everything you need to know about traveling in Laos in style right here in our Ultimate Laos travel guide.
Laos in quick details
Where is Laos: Laos is located in the center of South East Asia, landlocked by neighbor countries Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar.
Laos is very convenient to travel to, as you can fly to Laos from large neighboring airports in Bangkok or Hanoi. Even more convenient and cheaper option is to travel there by land.
Laos Currency: Laotian Kip. Here you’ll be dealing with large amounts of money. 1 USD is around 8600 KIP; 1 EUR is around 10000 KIP.
Credit cards & cash: When traveling in Laos, cash will be your best friend.
Even though all the major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, you’ll have to use cash for grocery shopping, most restaurants and street food.
ATMs and currency exchange places are available pretty much everywhere – airports, land border crossing points and all over the cities.
USD and Thai Bath are also widely accepted in Laos.
Laos Visa: If you’re thinking “do you need a visa for Laos”, the answer in most cases in YES.
The only visa-free countries are ASEAN countries, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, and Russia.
But the good part is that most countries are eligible for Laos visa on arrival and it’s super easy to get it.
You just arrive at the border, fill out the Laos Visa on Arrival form, pay the fee and you’re good to go in around 10 minutes with a 30-day tourist visa in your passport.
Tourist visa costs from 30 to 42 USD, depending on the country where you are from.
This fee is payable in USD. They also accept Laotian Kip or Thai Bath, but the exchange rate will be bad, so better to have USD.
Also, have a passport sized photo for your visa, or pay 2 USD extra if you don’t have it.
Is Laos safe? In short – yes!
During our time in Laos, we didn’t feel unsafe ever.
Walking around any time of the day and also after dark is perfectly fine.
However, you should always think about the basic safety measures, such as not leaving your things unattended, keeping eye on your stuff while in the busy markets and not leaving your money and other valuables lying around in the hotel room.
While these kinds of thefts are not common, you still never now just like anywhere in the world.
The biggest problem you might face is common tourist scams.
Make sure to read about our experience of tourist scams in Laos to be aware of them and know how to avoid them.
Also, always travel with a travel insurance! Any smallest accident abroad can cost way too much, messing up your travel plans and budget.
From our own experience World Nomads are the best to choose in terms of prices and coverage. Check out World Nomads travel insurance options.
Language: The official language in Laos is Lao.
It about 70% similar to Thai. So everyone who speaks Thai will be able to communicate with people in Laos quite freely. It’s also easy to get by with English.
However, it will not hurt to know the basic phrases like hello, thank you and how are you in Lao. Check out our guide on the Basic LAO words and phrases to learn for your Laos trip.
Transportation: Even though Laos might seem quite underdeveloped country, in terms of transportation it’s doing great.
It’s fairly easy to fly to Laos, as there are several airports in the country, the most popular being the Laos International Airport in Vientiane. The cheaper option to travel to Laos and inside the country is by bus.
You can usually book buses or minivans connecting all major cities and even neighboring countries in your hotels or guesthouses.
Or check the prices and schedules of your routes on 12Go.Asia. We’ve found this to be the most reliable source for booking transportation in Asia and always use it ourselves.
LAOS TRIP PLANNING
The best time to visit Laos
Traveling in Laos can be quite a different experience depending on when you actually go there.
The best time to travel to Laos is considered November to April when it’s the dry season. May to October is the rainy season, that makes traveling around Laos quite difficult due to floods and landfalls, that block already difficult mountain roads.
Best time to go to Laos also depends on the fact where in the country you plan to spend your Laos vacation.
If you’re planning to visit the country during the dry season, be aware that southern Laos with a high humidity gets really hot during March and April. It can easily reach over 95F (35F).
Meanwhile, Northern, Central and Eastern parts of Laos are cooler as they are located at a much higher altitude.
Laos itinerary – Popular routes
Due to the long shape of the country, it makes sense to travel Laos starting from the North all the way to South or the other way around.
That means that Luang Prabang in North or Don Det in South would be the perfect Laos destinations where to start your trip.
Check out our guide for the cheapest option how to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang.
Typically Laos Itinerary looks like this: Luang Prabang — Vang Vieng — Vientiene — Pakse — Don Det.
This kind of route would take around 15 – 30 days to travel comfortably.
If you have a shorter time for example 1 week in Laos, you can cover Luang Prabang — Vang Vieng — Vientiene and still see enough to get to know the country.
Budget for Laos
Laos in somewhere in the middle of all South East Asia countries in terms of budget that you’ll need to travel there.
To give you a rough idea in comparison to neighbor countries – Laos is more expensive than Thailand but cheaper than Malaysia.
However traveling in Laos is perfectly possible whether you’re on a tight budget or able to splurge more, as it’s still way cheaper than anywhere in Europe or the US.
Backpacker hostel dorms around $6/ privates $7-15
Midrange hotels around $15-50
Luxury hotels start at $50 and go up to several hundred.
As the hospitality is not so well developed in Laos yet, you shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect in your accommodation, even if you stay in luxury hotels. There are usually always bigger or smaller details missing.
Even though the food is overall not very expensive in comparison to the rest of the world, it’s still the most expensive thing about Laos. If you’re just coming from Vietnam or Thailand, Laos food prices will definitely seem higher.
Street food, sandwiches, smoothies, and local beer are around $2-4.
Mid-range restaurants will cost around $5-15
Good restaurants – $15-25
Shared taxis (Songthaew) in the cites will cost around $2-$4 per trip.
Other a bit more expensive alternative is Tuk-tuks that will cost around $3-$5 for the same trip. Always haggle for a better deal as drivers usually offer sky-high prices to tourists.
Renting a motorbike costs around $10 per day.
Buses between major cities usually take around 5-10 hours and cost between $7 to $20.
Costs for activities
Nothing is for free in Laos.
If you plan to visit such common attractions as temples, museums, lagoons and natural objects expect the entrance fee between $1-$3
Organized tours, kayaking, zip-lining, trekking, tubing, and other similar activities start at $15-20 and go way up.
Money Saving Tips
Eating street food and sticking to $2-4 restaurants is the best way to save as food is the biggest expense. Expensive restaurants in Laos usually doesn’t deliver in quality anyway.
Avoid using taxis or tuk-tuks when possible. Try to walk as much as possible (offline maps such as Maps.Me or Google Maps are a great help here). If in Vientiane, always use public transportation instead.
Buy your bus tickets and tours directly, instead of booking via your hotel or hostel. They always add something extra that you can avoid.
Packing list for Laos travel
Deciding what to wear in Laos and what kind of gadgets to bring might seem overwhelming at first. We were the same before our first trip to SouthEast Asia. But as it turns out you really don’t need much to be comfortable here.
As the weather is usually nice and warm, you don’t really have to think about bringing many layers of clothes. Instead go for some shorts and t-shirts, light dresses, a piece of swimwear, light shoes and a wind/ water resistant jacket.
As outdoor activities are so popular in Laos, bring some comfy sportswear and shoes, but nothing specific is needed.
If you will be visiting temples in Laos, you must wear something that covers your shoulders and knees, to be respectful to Lao people. So keep that in mind and pack something longer as well.
The only thing you should really think about is to have a water-resistant bag and waterproof case for your phone and camera. As it tends to rain here, especially when you’re trekking in a rainforest, waterproof covers can really save the day.
Best Travel Apps for Laos
Our favorite Travel Apps to make getting around Laos are Google Maps and maps.me. I always use both, as in some cases one is more reliable than other.
Just make sure to download Laos map in both of these in advance, so that you have your map ready right when you arrive.
A good idea is to use also “Lao Language Guide & Audio – World Nomads” app. It contains all the most important English – Lao phrases, to make communication with locals doable.
Good to know
One of the most popular activities in Laos still is an elephant riding. While other SE Asian countries are cutting that out as it involves animal cruelty, Laos is still big on that. Don’t ride elephants in Laos or anywhere in the world for that matter.
Learn more about why you shouldn’t ride elephants here.
Laos is still quite underdeveloped in terms of tourism. So there are quite a few pretty serious tourist scams in Laos that you should be aware of before you arrive in the country.
WHAT TO DO IN LAOS
Visit Buddha Park in Vientiane
Vientiane is our favorite place in Laos, and Buddha Park is one of the main reasons for that. Vientiane is the most developed part of the country, offering lots to do and having the fewer scams are the other reason.
Buddha Park is located about half an hour outside the Lao capital and makes an easy day trip. The park is filled with different sculptures of Gods and Demons, making it not just an interesting place to see but also a very cool photo spot.
Rent a scooter and explore the nature of Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a popular stop for most people visiting Laos. While many of the attractions seemed a bit overrated, the nature in Vang Vieng is something epic.
So just rent a motorbike for a day and ride around the small rural roads, passing lush green mountains, rice fields, waterfalls, and little villages.
As the rural roads are not the easiest for driving a scooter or a motorbike, you can also rent a buggy for even more fun ride. A bicycle is a great option too for those who don’t prefer motorbikes.
Experience the Alms Giving ceremony in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has a reputation of being a historical landmark and seeing this city is one of the best things to do in Laos.
While we felt like Luang Prabang is not as interesting as Vientiane or Vang Vieng, there is something you should see while you are there.
Every morning at the sunrise the Alms giving ceremony takes place on the main street of Luang Prabang.
This is a sacred Lao tradition, where the local Buddhist monks collect food for their one meal of the day.
The locals, as well as tourists, kneel down along the road to give rice to the Monks as an offering. Tens of monks depart from their Temples to collect these offerings every day.
Spend time outdoors as Laos is perfect for it
Wherever you are in Laos, you will definitely have a chance to do some outdoor activities. Make sure to take advantage of that as much as possible as nature is the best part of Laos.
There is plenty of trekking, waterfall chasing, zip-lining, mountain climbing and jungle exploring activities all over the place.
So once you arrive at your destination, check what outdoor activities are offered over there.
WHAT TO EAT IN LAOS
Trying Laos cuisine was for sure one of our favorite things what to do in Laos.
Being quite similar to Thai food, trying Laos traditional food is overall a great experience. You’ll also find a lot of Vietnamese food options, such as their famous noodle soup Pho.
Also, as there’s undeniable French influence all over the country, you’ll find French baguettes and different sandwiches being sold on every corner.
That’s a great addition to these classic Laos street food options always available along the sandwiches.
Pad Lao – our favorite typical SE Asian dish. It’s stir-fried noodles mixed with scrambled egg, some vegetables, and pieces of chicken, beef, pork or seafood. This Lao dish is similar to the classic Pad Thai in Thailand.
Green Papaya Salad (Tam Mak Hoong) – this spicy green papaya salad mixes the typical sweet, sour, salty and hot flavors of Laos.
The strips of green (unripe) papaya are crunched together with a handful of basic ingredients including palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, peanuts, and chilies.
Bright red pieces of tomato are added to as well as soft-shelled crab or pickled fish sauce (padek) as you choose.
Lao Noodle Soup (Khao Piak Sen) – this soup is pretty similar to Vietnamese Pho.
It’s beef or chicken served in like broth over flat rice noodles and flavorings of fresh herbs.
You can add a garnish of chili oil, lime juice, bean sprouts, long beans, holy basil, and cilantro to make the taste even richer.
Minced Pork Salad (Laab Moo) – stir-fried minced pork cooked with shallots, coriander, chilies, and mint leaves.
Salty of fish sauce and sour of lime are added for seasoning. Sometimes these salad are served by using raw meat which sounds great in theory, but Laos is not the place to eat raw.
So avid raw pork salad at all costs.
Fresh Spring Rolls (Yall Dib) – The Yall Dib are healthy fresh spring rolls, filled with greens.
Traditionally they come wrapped tight in a thin rice paper with ingredients such as vermicelli (rice) noodles, fresh herbs, and choice of meat or seafood.
You can always find vegetarian options as well.
Beer Lao – the local Lao beer, loved by just as much as by foreigners. So definitely have one of these, if you’re into beer, to feel the true local taste.
THE BEST PLACES WHERE TO STAY IN LAOS
There’s a variety of hotels and hostels you can find all over Laos for any budget.
After trying out different options in various cities we discovered that none of them are perfect as some important component are often missing.
Whether it’s a weak WiFi, old interior, lack of hot water or not the best location.
So finding the perfect hotel where to stay in Laos was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to find some gems.
Check out our best finds!
BOOKING RESOURCES FOR LAOS TRAVEL
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