laos travel guide
LAOS IN A NUTSHELL
Laos is a land locked country is Southeast Asia. Nestled between Cambodia, Thailand, China, Myanmar and Vietnam, this country often gets skipped because its not directly on the ‘banana pancake’ backpacker trail.
This “forgotten” nation is filled with beautiful waterfalls, culture, and a struggling past. Most visitors only visit Laos on a stop over or visa run from Thailand.
Laos has much to offer and is worth a trip to witness her untouched beauty first hand. Here’s my Laos travel guide.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
VISA: The USA and most European countries need a visa to travel Laos and you can obtain these at the border. The cost of a visa is $30 USD but varies depending on which passport you are holding. Check here to find out how much a visa cost for you.
CURRENCY: Laotian KIP is the currency of Laos. 8,000 KIP is about 1 USD. ATM’s are easy to find in Laos except in the 4,000 Islands in south so plan accordingly.
LANGUAGE: Lao is the official language of Laos but it won’t be too difficult to find English speaking locals.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS: Much like the rest of Southeast Asia, celebrations are a mix of tradition, religion, and fun. One of the biggest is Lao New Year or Pi Mai Lao. It’s celebrated all over Laos mid-April. Bun Pha Wet takes place at local monasteries through Decemeber or January. Live bands will play in larger cities.
laos TRAVEL PLANNING TIPS
BEST TIME TO GO
∇ Rainy season or monsoon season is during the summer months May through September.
– This means that it pours rain every day for at least a couple hours.
– Prices are cheaper and you don’t have to book ahead of time because it is off season.
– Laos isn’t as developed as other countries so this makes things very muddy.
∇ November to February are nice months to travel but will cold at night in the mountains.
∇ March and April are the warmest months and the more south you get, the more humid it becomes.
AVERAGE DAILY BUDGET
$40 a day, living comfortably and not denying yourself any comforts or pleasures. It is possible to get by on $15 -20 a day but that’s roughing it. You’ll be glad for your own bathroom and shower at the end of the night so it’s worth having the bigger budget.
A bed in a dorm room $3-7 dollars.
A basic room with private bath and a/ about $15-18 USD.
Budget luxury hotel will cost you $30 USD.
Luxury $40 & above on this Laos travel guide.
Beer Lao -$1.25 or 15,000 KIP
Street food – 15,000-30,000 KIP
Sit down meal – 40,000 KIP
Happy pizza in Vang Vieng – 110,000 KIP
BY PLANE: international flights fly into the capital Vientiane, Luang Prabang and occasionally Vang Vieng.
BY BUS: The easiest way to transfer between cities in Laos will be by bus. The roads are filled with pot holes and its not uncommon to have a road destroyed by a land slide especially in monsoon season. Buses are cheap and plentiful. Overnight trips are a doozy.
BY TUK TUKS OR SAWNGTHAEWS: Hire a driver to take you to places like Kuang Si Falls or the blue lagoon.
MOPED: the best way to explore the country.
WHAT TO PACK
Packing is always the hardest part. You don’t want to overpack but you also don’t want to be left wanting. You’ll most definetly want a rain jacket for wet season and comfortable clothing that are suitable for the warm, humid weather of the warm months. A warm jacket and comfortable yoga pants are also essential for the winter months.
Laos is a conservative country and you’ll need to be covered up when entering the temples. I always bring a wrap skirt that I can throw on when I need to be covered up.
Don’t leave home without theses Laos travel guide essentials.
Top things to do in Laos
KUANG SI FALLS
Located only 45 minutes outside of Luang Prabang sits this famous waterfall. The three tiered waterfalls hidden in the jungle cascade down each level creating natural infinity pools. If you visit the falls during monsoon season don’t expect to see the pristine blue waters that you see in most pictures. Chances are it will be flooded but still worth a trip. I was here during rainy season and still enjoyed this experience.
GIVING ALMS TO THE MONKS IN LUANG PRABANG
Every morning locals rise early to give alms (tak bat) to the monks and show their appreciation. The monks only eat before sunrise and the food is all donation from the alms they received that morning.
I have read about tourists participating in tak bat as being controversial as some in the past were being disrespectful so I was a little hesitant to try. But after having a beautiful conversation with some local Laotians the night before, they encouraged and insisted that I NOT miss out on this experience. This was a highlight of all the things to do in Luang Prabang Laos.
TUBING IN VANG VIENG
This attraction used to be a giant ‘rager’ at all times. You rent a tube, get dropped off a couple miles north of town. You will then float down the Nam Song River getting lassoed in by people so you can come to there bar along the river and drink. Rope swings and slides used to dot the riverbanks but these have claimed a few lives over the years and have since been taken down. Now only a few bars line the river. Although its not the large production that it once was its still a highlights of most peoples trip to Vang Vieng.
EXPLORE THE BOLAVEN PLATEAU BY MOTORBIKE
The Bolaven Plateau was meant to be explored by motorbike. Southern Laos is full of roaring waterfalls and ruins that is waiting for you to experience it. The Thakhek motorcycle loop is the best way to explore the area. Less populated than the north but that’s what gives the south her charm. Come here to be in nature and have the place all to yourself.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
SLOW DOWN IN THE 4,000 ISLANDS
Don Det is an one of the many islands that make up Si Phan Don or 4,000 Islands. They are a labyrinth of sandbars and islets located in the middle of the Mekong Delta. Getting to it will take several bus, boat, and tuk tuk rides but its worth the trek. Life moves at a slow pace. So sit back, relax and grab a hammock.
EXPLORE PLAIN OF JARS
Plain of Jars is Laos’ quirkiest landmarks. The stone “jars” date back thousands of years. Jars is a bit of an under statement as they range from 3 to 10 feet tall and weigh around 14 tons each. It is a trek to get to.
CROSS THE BORDER ON THE 2 DAY SLOW BOAT
This wasn’t the highlight of my travels through Laos but it was an experience I wouldn’t trade. An option to cross the border into Laos from Thailand is to embark on a 2 day slow boat journey. The journey takes you from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Luang Prabang. Two 8 plus hour days crammed on a slow boat. * Pro tip get there early on the second day or you’ll be sitting in the engine room.
TOURING AROUND LAOS
If you’re not into planning your own travels and would rather travel in an organized group setting I’d recomend TourRadar. They provide cultural, historic and adventure tours all over the world. It’s a great way to meet people, sight see and feel safe.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAOS
Safety is an important factor in planning any trip, espicially when it is international. Here are some Laos travel guide safety tips.
∇ Laos is a safe country to travel to as a solo female traveler. Pickpocketing and thievery will be your biggest concern. As always use your wits and common sense.
∇ Pharmacies can be found in all major towns and cities. This is the best your going to get so if something major happens while traveling Laos then your best bet is to head to Thailand for better healthcare.
∇ You can find the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
∇ Travel insurance is very important. There is nothing worse than being in need of medical care in a foreign country without insurance! Protect yourself! This is your best investment.
laos travel guide tips
∇ Laos is a developing and emerging country. They are building new roads throughout the country but it is still a work in progress. Most bus rides will be on a bumpy road full of pot holes.
∇ Potholes mean muddy roads and walkways when it is monsoon season.
∇ SIM cards are reasonably priced, a 5 Gig SIM card good up to 30 days a cost 70,000 KIP or $8.75 USD.
∇ ATM’s are widely available except in the 4,000 Islands so plan accordingly.