Traveling to Laos is the perfect opportunity to get off the beaten path in Southeast Asia. With thousands of years of history and dozens of colorful cities and towns to explore, Laos is sure to capture any traveler’s heart.
When planning a trip to this country, it’s important to see if you need to apply for a Laos visa. Once that’s taken care of, be sure to keep these travel tips in mind as you explore Laos!
When to Visit Laos
If you have a flexible schedule, then the absolute best time to visit Laos is from November to February. This is when the country experiences the least rainfall and has a nice and mild climate — the average temperature ranges from 15 to 23 С (59 to 74 F).
Traveling during the summer season in Laos (May to August) can be uncomfortable, as the thermometer climbs up to 40 C (104 F).
However, all is not lost — those who travel during the spring have a unique opportunity to partake in the local new year festival called Songkran. Similar to neighboring countries that also celebrate, Songkran is held for three days every year from April 13th to April 16th. Typical traditions include throwing water at each other (which symbolizes blessings of long life and peace), gathering flowers, and singing and dancing.
Laos is Still Off the Radar
Unlike neighboring Cambodia and Thailand, Laos is still fairly off the beaten path — which is both good and bad, depending on what kind of traveler you are.
For example, those who are planning their Southeast Asia party route will be surprised to find out that the nightlife in Laos typically dies down in the early hours of the evening. That’s because there’s a nationwide curfew at midnight, and most nightclubs and bars are only open until 11:00 pm. In fact, most locals are early risers so that they can give alms to the monks.
Another drawback is that most of the roads here are not paved, which means lots of dust and long travel times between cities. Although the country has about 46,000 km (28,580 mi) of roads, only 30% of them are paved, and even less are in good condition.
Despite these minor setbacks, Laos is definitely worth visiting — it doesn’t struggle with overtourism, which means you’ll find plenty of off-the-beaten-track things to do and see.
Food and Drinks
There’s no better way to get acquainted with a country’s culture than by trying some local dishes! Laotian food is a national treasure that has a whole range of delicious flavors and spices — and, who knows, it may even become your favorite cuisine!
The most famous dish is larb (also spelled laap), which is a minced meat salad flavored with mint leaves, chilli, fish sauce, and lime juice. Other popular choices include Sai gok (Lao sausage), Khao Poon (spicy vermicelli soup), and Khao Jee (similar to Vietnam’s banh mi).
When it comes to drinking, it’s better to buy bottled water or try a local drink like Nam saa (tea) or coconut juice.
Money and Payment in Laos
The state currency of Laos is called the Kip. 1 US dollar is about 9,500 Kip (also shortened to LAK).
When arriving in Laos, it’s better to get cash right away. Credit and debit cards are only accepted in a few places, such as touristy restaurants, hotels, and large chain stores. If you plan to travel to remote areas, it’s better not to rely on credit cards as there are no terminals and ATMs there.
When exchanging currency for kip, it’s best to do so at well-known banking institutions or at the airport.
For cash payments in Laos, both Laos kip and Thai baht are used, and in some cases, US dollars are also widely accepted.
Before traveling to Laos, it’s important to know that transportation here is not as developed as in neighboring countries.
If you want to explore the entire country, one of the best options is to rent a car at the airport or hire a local driver. As mentioned above, paved roads are not everywhere and it’s better to go with a local who has experience with Laotian roads.
The most popular form of transport is the tuk-tuk, thanks to its reasonable price and convenience. For example, if you want to visit one of the most popular sites in Laos — the Kuang Si Falls — it will only cost around 30,000 (4 USD) on a tuk-tuk.
In smaller cities, such as Vientiane or Pakse, renting a bike is a great way to check out the city and get a workout in.
Health and Safety
Laotian locals are very peaceful and friendly people, and thanks to this, the country is considered safe for travelers.
One general rule of safety is to avoid the border areas, as there are still a large number of unexploded mines that have remained here since the war. Excursions and day tours in such places are possible only with a guide, and only along official tourist routes.
Likewise, the biggest health hazards in Laos are maladies carried by mosquitoes, as well as tropical diseases like hepatitis B. It’s highly recommended to get a vaccine (or tablets) against malaria and other tropical diseases before traveling to Laos.
Keep these travel tips in mind as you navigate Laos and you’re sure to have a fantastic time!