Hello and Welcome to Laos travel guide! This is your complete Free information to everything about visas, hotels, attractions, tours, restaurants, nightlife, travel tips and much more…Our mission is to give you all the facts you need to know about Laos before you leave home to visit the country. You will have all the vital information ready in hand to help you enjoy your trip.
Laos is the only country in Southeast Asia that is still undiscovered widely by the tourist and the world. This country has a long history, unique customs, friendly people, hot and spicy food great landscapes, lots of temples, amazing culture and beautiful attractions for you to see and enjoy.
Laos showcases Southeast Asian life style in its true and traditional colors. It is one southeastern country that has remained untouched by the foreign influence and therefore retains its traditional charm. Tourists from all over the world come to Laos for travel and tourism to see this ancient land shrouded in mystery. Mekong River valley with all its characteristic fertile land and the not so fertile Annamite highlands both add to the charm of Laos’s tour.
Regarded as the poor relation of the east Asian countries, Laos is the quiet one of the quartet of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Considered to have the most beautiful girls in the area (something the other countries deny), the countryside is undeniably attractive and its haunting music and sensuous dances weave a magic spell to entrap visitors. For those who have visited Vietnam and Cambodia but missed Laos, it should be next on the list.
No matter where you are in the world, Laos travel guide can point you to the nearest Laos Embassy near you, and you can apply for a visa there. Going there is as simple as going to any country in the world. If you’re planning to visit the country by tour or make your own family tour or group tour, you can do so very easily. Many companies operate tours going there every day. You can fly to Laos by air either via Bangkok, Hanoi, Cambodia or Kuala Lumper.
Places to Visit in Laos
Things to do in Laos
Destinations In Laos
Map Of Laos
Laos Hotels and Resorts
Tips for Visiting Laos
Below is some useful travel information for visitors contemplating a trip to Laos, including suggestions on where and when to go, visa requirements, money used, information about Lao food and drink as well as a handy Travelers’ Dos and Don’ts list. Lao people are friendly and eager to welcome you to visit their country.
- What is the geography of Laos?
- What are the ethnic groups in Laos?
- What language is spoken in Laos?
- What is the main religion in Laos?
- What is the culture of Laos?
- What is the history of Laos?
- How is the climate in Laos?
- When is the best time to visit Laos?
- Do I need a visa to go to Laos?
- How to get to Laos?
- How can I get around Laos?
- What things I need to know before visiting Laos?
- What are some good books and movies on Laos?
- What will I eat in Laos?
- How is healthcare in Laos?
- What to buy in Laos?
- How to handle money in Laos?
- What is nightlife like in Laos?
- Is Laos a safe place to travel?
- What to wear in Laos?
- What is the etiquette in Laos?
- What are the Do’s and Don’ts in Laos?
- What is illegal in Laos?
- What are the major ceremonies and festivals of Laos?
- What are the public holidays in Laos?
- Why should I go to Laos at least once?
What is the geography of Laos?
Officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Laos is situated in South East Asia. It is bounded by China in the north, by Vietnam in the north east, by Cambodia in the south, by Thailand in the west, and by Myanmar in the north-west. South East Asia’s only landlocked country, Laos covers a total area of around 236,800 square kilometers. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane, while other major towns and cities include; Louang phrabang (the former royal capital), Pakse, Savannakhet, Vang Vieng, Patong, Phonesavanh, Pakse and Houeixay.
A mountainous country in the north and east, with thick dense forests, peaks in the north of the country rise as high as 9,000 ft. The Mekong River which flows through the country forms a natural boundary with Myanmar and Thailand in the west. Nearly 60% of the land in Laos is covered with rainforests. A third world country, there are no proper rail links in Laos one of the best ways to view this beautiful country is by a boat trip along the Mekong.
Known since olden times as ‘Lan Xang’ or ‘the land of a million elephants’, Laos offers its visitors a glimpse into old Indo-china. Comparatively less developed than all its neighbors; Laos is an undiscovered tourist haven. With its spectacular natural beauty and an unusual blend of Buddhist culture and French influences, Laos has charming and picturesque towns and villages, amazing scenery and a slow, relaxed pace of life.
Divided into 18 provinces and 47 prefectures, this country is a culturally rich land of around 6 million people of various ethnicities. Vientiane, its capital is situated on the banks of the Mekong River and is in its own right one of the country’s most interesting cities. South East Asia’s smallest capital, Vientiane has countless temples and pagodas as well as important Thai and Khmer shrines and relics which explain this country’s rich cultural diversity. A great way to explore this city is by foot as it is full of hidden surprises like rice fields and vegetables gardens that grow right next to old colonial French buildings and gilded temples. The most important national monument in Laos the Pha That Luang or the Great Sacred Stupa, is located in Vientiane. This stupa is a symbol of Buddhist and Lao sovereignty. Other places of interest in the city include Wat Pha Kaew, a former royal temple which is now a museum, and Wat Si Saket, the oldest temple in the city.
However the most fascinating city in Loas has to be Luang Prabang. This city was the old capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom from 1354 to 1560 A.D. Renowned throughout the world for its rich cultural heritage, Luang Prabang is known as the seat of the Lao culture. Listed as a ‘world heritage site’ by UNESCO, this small sleepy town has many monasteries, monuments, and historic temples. Its main tourist attractions are its beautiful temples, 32 of which were built before French colonization and are still standing. Other interesting sights in the city include the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunlat. Just 25km from the city along the Mekong River lie the Pak Ou caves, which are filled with stunning Buddha images.
On the way to Luang Prabang from Vientiane is the small town of Vang Vieng, which is popular among backpackers and tourists alike because of a sport called ‘tubing’. Here people sit in giant rubber tires and float down the Nam Song River, along the way exploring caves and jumping off swings and cliffs.
Located in the south of the country is the province of Savannakhet. This area is perhaps the most traditional of Laos’s provinces. Interesting to see here are the buildings in the central business district of the capital city which are a reminder of this country’s French colonial influence.
Further south of Savannakhet is Pakse which is close to Wat Phou, a temple built by the founder of the first Khmer empire Jayavarman II. This temple predates the historic temple of Angkor Wat by 30 years. Also located close to Pakse is South East Asia’s highest waterfall, Khong Phapeng.
Near Phonesavanh lies one of Asia’s greatest mysteries, the Plain of Jars. Unknown in origin, there is no explanation for the countless 8 feet high earthenware jars that lie scattered all across the plain. The jars which weigh as much as six tonnes have been fashioned from solid stone and do not seem to have come from the surrounding area. Thong Hai Hin is the biggest and most accessible jar site, has the largest jar on the plain.
Houeixay lies in the northwest corner of Laos on the borders of Thailand and Myanmar. This area is widely visited because of its connection with the Golden Triangle, which is actually a junction of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, where opium was once cultivated in vast quantities.
What are the ethnic groups in Laos?
50% of the population is of lowland Lao popularly known as Lao Loum. Lao Theung, dwellers of the lower-mountains are 30% of the whole population. 10-20% consists of tribal Thais and the Lao Sung are in the same percentage.
The Lao government officially recognizes 49 ethnic minorities. But traditionally, the Laotians themselves simply divide the entire population into three categories dependant upon the elevation at which they live. Despite this, one can find any number of unrelated ethnic groups residing together whatever the lay of the land.
The Lao Loum, or Lowland Lao, live on the lowest elevations with the most fertile farmland. They are related to the Thai of Thailand, and the Shan of Burma. The Lao Loum make up approximately 50-60% of the population and are predominantly Theravada Buddhists, as well as practicing animism to a lesser degree.
The Lao Theung, or Lao from the hills, comprise several minor groups, the most numerous among them being the Khamu of northern Laos. The Htin people, also from the North, are expert weavers of bamboo due to a cultural ban on using metal. The Lao Soung, or Highland Lao, live at the highest elevations in the country. The Hmong are the most numerous of these people. Their embroidered apparel is one of the most colourful to be found in Laos. Their handmade silver jewelry is also highly prized by collectors.
What language is spoken in Laos?
The official language is Lao; its etymology stems from Sanskrit and Pali. Anglophones should be able to manage quite well in the cities, especially Vientiane.
Helpful words to get you started:
- Hello: Sabaii dee
- Thank you: Khop jai
- Please: Kaloona
- Good-bye: La khon
- No problem: Bor pen yang
- Eat: Khin khao
- Water: Nam
- Ice: Nam khon
- Drink: Khin nam
- Yes: Doi
- No: Bor
- Rice: Khao
- Where: Yu sai
- How much: Tao dai
- Sticky rice: Khao niao
- Expensive: Peng
- Bus: Lot meh
- Doctor: Than moh
- Hospital: Hong moh
- Hotel: Hong hem
- Toilet: Hong nam
- Post office: Paisanee
- Dollar: Dolla
- Zero: Soun
- One: Neung
- Two: Song
- Three: Sam
- Four: See
- Five: Ha
- Six: Hok
- Seven: Jet
- Eight: Pet
- Nine: Gao
- Ten: Sip
- One hundred: Neung loi
- One thousand: Neung pan
- One hundred thousand: Sen
What is the main religion in Laos?
Buddhism is the religion of 60% of the population of Laos. The rest are either Animist or belong to spirit cults.
Theravada Buddhists were introduced into the country in the late 13th and early 14th centuries by king Fa Ngum. King Fa Ngum, the first monarch of the unified Lan Xang kingdom, was introduced, promoted and declared Buddhism as the kingdom official religion.
Today, people of Lao is practicing Hinayana Buddhism alongside with traditional Lao spirit (phi) worship, by such offering food and drink to the spirits which believe to be somewhere among us and to protect us from the evil.
Basi ceremony is one of the example that Lao perform in giving an honor to the guardian spirits as well as to bestow good luck on a person or event. Baci is held when people are promoted in their work, move into a new house, star a new job and for almost any other occasions. Also special Baci can be arranged for new mother or getting marry. Few Lao would not embark on a long journey without a Baci. Unique to Lao culture involving in transferring good luck through a blessed strings that are tied to one wrist and it must attached with you for at least three days. Nevertheless, each geographic location you visit may have different believe, culture and religion, especially if you’re visiting the minority groups.
Laotians follow Theravada Buddhism, also known as “The Teaching of the Elders”. It spread throughout Laos between the 14th and 17th centuries. The ultimate achievement of the faith is to reach Nirvana without going through reincarnation. This path is best achieved through good deeds and acts of kindness.
In Laos, Buddhism and Animism coexist in peaceful harmony. Laotians believe in “Phi”, a word that means spirit, soul, or ghost. Animism is itself a belief system whereby souls, or spirits, are thought to inhabit not only humans and animals, but also plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, and natural features such as mountains and rivers.
What is the culture of Laos?
Lao culture is unique and distinctive. Over 90% of the population in Laos is Buddhist. Lao culture can been seen from its plethora of wats, temples and monuments built all over the country. Lao religious images and art are also distinct and set this country apart from its other Buddhist neighbors like Thailand and Myanmar.
Laos was formerly a French Indochinese state. The mythical land of Laos is underdeveloped and has been a victim of colonial domination, mutual conflicts and socialism. It was home to a variety of migrating Thais that includes Shans, Siamese and Laos as well as Hmong/Mien tribes. That is why Laos has a culture very much like the Thai culture. Not only this but some tribes of Laos share the same ancestry as that of Thai tribes. The other influences on Laos’s culture are Vietnamese and Khmer.
- Dance-dramas, music and cuisine have a pronounced Thai touch to them. Khaen is the main instrument in traditional Laos’s music. Music is mostly accompanied by theatricals or dances.
- Other art forms have marked religious connotations. Sculptures and drawings feature wats, stupas and images of Buddha.
- Laos’s craftsmen are famous for their skilful carving and weaving.
An excellent example of the richness in Lao culture can be heard in its folk music, which is very popular throughout the country.
Laotian literature is not constricted to religious texts alone. A secular literary tradition has existed side by side, based on the grand themes that form the backbone of the Hindu epic poems. The folk art of Laos include weaving, basket making, wood carving, ivory carving, silver and gold work. There are professional dancers who give theme base performances. For inspiration they have to fall back on the Indian epics once again. The national instrument of Laos, the khaen, dominates Laotian music that is a major aspect of the culture of Laos. A typical Laotian musical band comprise of a singer, the khaen player, violinists and other musicians.
The archaeological sites, monuments, traditional towns and villages in Laos comprise of the physical heritage of the country. They are of inestimable value to the culture of Laos and to its people. There are also a good number of museums that acts as a complement and is a source of interest to the foreigners visiting Laos.
The people of Laos are very friendly and courteous to foreigners; however they are still conservative in their beliefs. People visiting here should dress modestly. It is considered impolite to visit any religious monuments in shorts, miniskirts or sleeveless clothing. Also shoes should be removed before entering any religious area or someone’s house. Here the head is considered the highest part of the body, so touching someone’s head or pointing at someone is considered extremely rude. Additionally your feet should always remain tucked under or behind you when seated and should not point at someone. It is also considered rude to stand over someone’s head.
What is the history of Laos?
The first history of Laos was recorded in 1353 about King Fa Ngum who ruled the Kingdom of Lao Lanexang (Million Elephants) and established Luang Prabang as his capital city. During his rule his Kingdom was very strong, powerful and prosperous. Its huge territories is believed to be the size of all Isan provinces and Laos combined.
In the 16th century his successors King Setthathirat continued to bring peace and stability to the country, he then introduced Buddhism to his people and it became the predominant religion of the country.
In 1804 King Anouvong came to the throne in Vientiane and began to rebuild his kingdom. He built the splendid Wat Sisaket as a symbol of Lao revival. By 1823 he believed that his kingdom should be free from Siamese control. His son had already been a ruler in Champasak. His armies then crossed the Mekong to capture back some land that took by Siam.
King Anouvong’s army advanced to Korat, the important city in the region and there where his army was defeated by (Khun Ying Mo or Thao Suranaree). After that defeat his luck seemed to turn down. The King of Luang Phrabang sided with the Siamese, Vietnamese aid did not come, and the Siamese King Rama III was able to mobilize the army and strike back.
King Anouvong were defeated at a battle south of Vientiane in 1827. As a result the city (apart from some temples) was burned to the ground and its population deported to Siam. The following year he was captured, and died in a prison in Bangkok.
Thereafter, the conflict with Siam (now Thailand), Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia in 18th century brought the country to chaos; thus weakening the kingdom in the history of Laos.
Siam took control over Laos in the 19th century and established hegemony over much of the country. The country was divided into three principalities in the North; Luang Prabang, the center; Vientiane and the South; Champasak. In the northwest, in Xieng Khouang province was influenced by the Vietnamese. Late in the century, the French defeated Siam and took control over Laos and signed the Franco-Siamese treaty in 1907 which defined the present Lao-Thai border.
Japan occupied French Indochina including Laos during World War II in 1945. After the Japanese surrendered in 1946 French troops reoccupied Laos again. Prince Souphanouvong formed the Pathet Lao resistance to fight against colonialism side by side with the communist movement lead by Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. This was the first Indochina war between France and three communist movement in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Nearly ten years struggle against colonialism together in history of Laos, in 1954 French defeated in Dien Bien Phu by the Vietnamese and as the results the Geneva Peace Treaty was signed and France formally recognized the independence of Laos. This was the first time in the history of Laos that the country had enjoyed the freedom. Then the first coalition government led by Prince Souvanna Phouma was formed. Less than years later the coalition government collapsed, the rightist forces took over the government and the communist moved to the jungle and resumed fighting.
Kong Le a paratroop captain seized Vientiane in a coup in 1960 and demanded formation of a neutralist government to end the fighting. The neutralist government was once again led by Souvanna Phouma, but was driven from power later that same year by rightist forces under General Phoumi Nosavan.
In 1961-1962 a second Geneva Conference was held in Switzerland and a Geneva Peace Treaty was signed by all parties to provide peace, independence and neutrality to Laos. But a few months later, both sides accused each other of violating the terms of the agreement and with super-power support on both sides the fighting continued. Although Laos was to be neutral but the civil war in the country drew Laos into the second Indochina war (1954-75). For nearly a decade, Laos was subjected to a heavy bombing as the U.S.A wanted to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail to stop north Vietnamese troops using this supply route to south Vietnam.
In 1973, the Royal Lao’s government and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) signed Vientiane cease-fire agreement to stop fighting and both sides agreed to form a new coalition government to run the country side by side. This is an historic moment in the history of Laos, but the political struggle between communists, neutralists, and rightists continued.
The fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh to communist forces in April 1975 made coalition government in Laos in chaos. Months after these communist victories, the Pathet Lao occupied Vientiane. On December 2, 1975, the king Sisavangvong, the last King of Laos abdicated his throne and the communist Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) was established.
When new communist government came into power there were an exodus of lowland Lao and ethnic Hmong from Laos. About 10% of the Lao population sought refugee status after 1975, many of whom resettled in third countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United States. Today they are Laos overseas living in the foreign lands.
The new government then renaming the country Lao People’s Democratic Republic, declared National Day on 2nd December 1975 and created a new flag for the new era in the history of Laos and that date became the public holiday of Laos. Since coming into power, the new government has opened the new chapter in the history of Laos by accelerating the development of the basic infrastructure with financial aid and joint ventures with both communist and capitalist countries.
After 35 years came into power the Lao People’s Democratic Republic government built King Anouvong’s Park on the bank of Mekong River opposite the Presidential Palace (Ho Kham) and erected the statue of King Anouvong there. The erection ceremony was held on 23rd August, 2010 to celebrate the life of the great King and remember his greatest scarify to serve and protect the country.
Although Laos is a communist country, religion, Laos arts, Laos song, and traditional festivals are still practice in all part of the country and many capitalist ideas such as private land and business ownership are encouraged. The price of Laos real estate is increasing year by year.
In major cities and surrounding areas, full and partially state-owned joint-ventures still exist. Many hydroelectric power projects financed by World Bank and foreign aid like Nam Theun 2 Dam contribute significantly to Lao’s GDP and income from export. Currently, most of Lao’s electricity is mainly sold to Thailand. History of Laos is to be continued…
How is the climate in Laos?
Laos’s climate varies from wet to dry. The weather is wet from May to October and dry from November to April.
Laos’ climate is subtropical and is subject to the monsoons. Here the monsoon season lasts from May to November, while it remains dry from December to April. The yearly average temperature is 25 degrees Celsius, which can rise to a maximum of 40 degrees Celsius in April and May. The minimum temperature here is 10 degrees Celsius, especially in the northern mountainous areas of the country.
When is the best time to visit Laos?
The dry season is December to February, with November being the best month to visit. Avoid March and April, when temperatures soar and the skies turn hazy as hill tribes burn fields and forest to clear land for farming. However, Pi Mai Lao, a three-day Lao New Year celebration in mid-April, usually segues into a water-soaked street party. Muggy weather is common during the monsoon season, from May to September. The monsoon begins later in up-country Luang Prabang, where a boat-racing festival is held on the rain-swollen Nam Khan River in late summer.
The best time to go to Laos, weather-wise, is probably between November and February when it is not too hot or too rainy – although it is quite cold in the highlands in December and January. Roads may be flooded and inaccessible in remote areas during the rainy season but travel by river is possible during this time. November, however, is the best time to travel by river as flooding has subsided but water levels are still high enough for boats.
Time your trip to fall during one of Laos’ festivals or holidays and see this otherwise tranquil country come to life with activity. During the Lao lunar new year (Bun Pii Mai) in mid-April, everyone is busy cleaning their homes, making offerings at the temples and enjoying the festivities. On the streets, expect to cool off with water tossed your way by well-intentioned Laos for good luck and “ritual cleansing”.
In Luang Prabang, they welcome the new year with a colorful procession of elephants and celebrants in traditional costume. The Rocket Festival (Bun Bang Fai) celebrated in May to bring on the rainy season involves a lot of music, dancing, folk theater and the firing of bamboo rockets.
Sometime between October and November is the Water Festival (Bun Nam) during which there are boat races on the waterways of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. Around the same time is the Awk Phansa which sees saffron-enrobed monks everywhere emerging from their three month retreat to wander the streets and countryside with their alms bowls. Locals float banana-leaf boats with incense, flowers and candles down the river on the eve of Awk Phansa.
Also in November is the That Luang Festival in Vientiane during which there are fireworks, music and a candlelit procession.
Do I need a visa to go to Laos? How much is the visa fee for Laos?
Visa requirements come first in the traveler’s mind when making travel plans especially when you decide to visit a small country that is full of beautiful historical heritages.
Laos’s visa requirements for travel and tourism in the country are simple.
Laos Visa is issued on arrival at Wattay Airport, Vientiane, Friedship Brig\dge and Luang Prabang Airport. However, at The Chong Mek border crossing visa on arrival are not available.
For travel and tourism in Laos, passport should be valid for at least 6 months from the date of arrival, 2 passport size photographs are required and a Laos Visa fee of US$30 is charged for the service.
The Embassy of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Washington, D. C. 20008, has outlined following Laos visa requirements for U.S. and Canadian citizens planning to visit Laos:
- Along with a passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry the visitor to Laos must present the following documentation to complete legal Laos Visa formalities for Laos tour.
- Two application forms filled out in duplicate along with three recent photographs.
- Visa fees: $ 35.00 – US citizens, $ 42.00 – Canada citizens, $ 15.00 – Service charge
Single entry Laos visas are issued to the visitors for traveling, touring and staying in the country, which must be used within 60 days from the date of issue:
- Transit visa – Maximum five days for stay (in Vientiane only). Proof of an entry visa and air ticket to the third country.
- Tourist visa – Fifteen days (non-extendable). For Laos tour, visa processing should be made through an eligible tour company in the United States or Canada which has a contract with a tour company in the Lao PDR or directly through the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC.
- Visitor visa – One month of stay (can be extended to two additional months). Visa request can be processed either through a guarantor in Laos or Lao Embassy in Washington, DC.
- Business visa – Visa authorization is arranged by sponsor in Laos and the Embassy can not process visas until it receives authorization or approval from the authorities concerned in Laos.One month of stay (can be extended to a stay until the completion of your business term).
- Multiple entry visa – Available from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Consular Department
Conditions of the visa change regularly. Please contact the nearest Laos Embassy for the most up to date information.
How to get to Laos?
You can enter Laos by bus, boat, or plane, but air travel is easiest. Most travelers arrive via Thailand on either Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways into Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport or Luang Prabang International Airport, respectively. From Wattay International, the country’s main entry point, a taxi into Vientiane costs less than $5.
The easiest way to reach Laos is by air from:
- Bangkok( Thailand ) to Vientiane or Luang Prabang
- Hanoi ( Viet-Nam) to Vientiane
- Phnom Penh or Siem Reap (Cambodia) to Vientiane
- Kumming( China) to Vientiane
The access by land can be done at the following border check points from:
- Chiang Rai(Thailand) to Huei Sai in Bokeo Province
- Friend Bridge in Nong Khai(Thailand) to Vientiane
- Nakhone Phanom(Thailand) to Thakek in Khammuane Province
- Mukdahane(Thailand) to Savannakhet in Savannakhet Province
- Chong Mek(Thailand) to Vang Tao in Champassak Province
- Keo Neua(Viet-Nam) to Lak Sao in Khammuane Province
- La Bao(Viet-Nam) to Den Savanh in Savannakhet Province
How can I get around Laos?
Laos has no railroads, and less than half of the country’s highway system is paved. In other words, ground transport can be a hassle. The most convenient way to travel around the various cites and towns in Laos is by air.
Lao Aviation flies daily from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Pakse and Oudomsay. Also there are several flights a week to Luang Namtha, Sayaboury, Houeixay, Sam Neua, Saravane, Lak Xao, Muangkhong and Attapeu. For information about inland air travel contact the Lao Aviation Head Office at 2 Pangkham Road, Vientiane.
Lao Airlines, the country’s chief domestic airline, connects Laos’s main destinations with frequent flights. Still, its turboprop fleet has yet to pass international safety standards.
Traveling by road in Laos can be a bumpy ride as not all roads are in good condition. The most important road in the country is Route No.13, which runs north to south from China to Cambodia. It links Pak Mong in the north with Khong Island in the south, passing through all major urban areas of Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Savannakhet and Champasak. Road No.1 links Laos to Thailand and Vietnam. Another way to tour the country is by boat along the Mekong River. Though one cannot navigate the entirety of the river, it is a great way to see the beautiful countryside. Additionally many tributaries of the Mekong such as the Nam Ou, Nam Ngum, and Se Don are used for transportation.
Buses are an excellent means of transportation in Laos, a great way to get around and meet the local people. They are economical and practical and cover pretty much the entire country. Local buses are not up to Western standards, but the VIP buses are second to none in terms of comfort and class. Buses travel between major destinations, although they can be unpredictable, uncomfortable, and overcrowded (but a great way to meet locals).
You can now get a train from Vientiane that will take you across the Friendship Bridge to destinations in Thailand. It does not go anywhere else in Laos.
To hire a car, contact Asia Vehicle Rental.
You can also take tour boats along the Mekong River, all year round. It’s usually a pleasant journey, but not for those in a hurry. For example, it’s one hour by air from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, 12 by bus, or as long as a week by boat. Therefore, if time is not important, but seeing the countryside and meeting Lao people are, head for the river and take a boat trip.
Within cities, you take a taxi or “jumbo,” a motorcycle-drawn cart that is the Lao version of the tuk-tuk. And in major urban areas, you can also rent a bicycle or motorcycle.
What things I need to know before visiting Laos?
- Tap water in Laos is not safe to drink: Drink bottled water.
- Certain areas of the country are laden with unexploded bombs (especially in the north around the Plain of Jars, and the mountains of the southern panhandle, which hid the Ho Chi Minh Trail), but you’re unlikely to detonate one unless you wander through unexplored jungle. In at-risk areas, stick to designated paths and do not pick up anything suspicious.
- Because it’s hard to find people who speak English in Laos, it’s a good idea to make your travel plans using a U.S.- or Europe-based travel agent.
What are some good books and movies on Laos?
Take away the academic publications, and there’s not a huge body of literature about Laos. One book to try is Louis de Carne’s Travels on the Mekong, an 1872 account of an epic French river expedition. Also check out Christopher Robbins’ engaging military histories Air America and The Ravens. Although filmed in northern Thailand, the Hollywood adaptation of Air America starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr., still soars with flyboy attitude.
What will I eat in Laos?
One popular Lao saying about food goes, “Sweet makes you dizzy; bitter makes you healthy.” So don’t come expecting Thai or Vietnamese cuisine.
Lao food is spicy and very delicious. Rice is eaten with every meal and is often is served with a side dish of meat, fish, chicken or vegetables.
A typical Lao meal is served family-style at room temperature, and might include several dishes of grilled, marinated meats or steamed freshwater fish; a wide assortment of raw, undressed vegetables; and fresh, fragrant herbs such as cilantro, mint, and even dill. Luang Prabang has its own delicacies, including jaew bawng, a jelly made of dried buffalo skin and chilies, and khai paen, a stir-fried river moss. Glutinous—or “sticky”—rice is a staple.
The best place to taste the flavor of Laos is from the food stalls set up on the streets. In the major cities, continental, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes are also served in many restaurants. In Vientiane, the Golden Fish Garden Restaurant, the Mekong Restaurant and the Soukvimane Restaurant are pretty good. In Luang Prabang, the Bane Lao Restaurant and the Duang Champa are high recommended. In Savannakhet, the Daoheung Restaurant and the Daoleuang Restaurant are very popular while in Champasak the No.9 Restaurant is a great place to have a good meal.
Dos and Don’ts of Food and Drink in Laos
- Don’t eat the meat of endangered species.
- Don’t drink water or ice from unknown sources. Bottled water is available everywhere and most all restaurants use safe drinking water and ice.
- Don’t eat raw meats or food that has been sitting out a long time unless you are certain of the conditions of the food. Busy eating establishments are usually a safe bet.
- Do try to accept at least a little of whatever food or drink is specially offered to you, even if you cannot consume it all. Refusing an offer of lao lao may offend the spirits of the house!
- Do eat sticky rice dishes with your right hand. Chopsticks are mostly only for Vietnamese and Chinese noodle dishes, fork and spoon are for regular rice dishes. There is often a bowl of water at Lao restaurants for washing hands before eating – use it.
- Don’t forget to replace the lid of the sticky rice basket (tip khao) back on top after you have finished – to avoid bad luck!
How is healthcare in Laos?
The health services in Laos are very limited and most do not meet western standards.
Healthcare in Laos has improved significantly over the last few years, and continues to do so. Small troubles are comfortably treated in hospitals in Vientiane – Mahosot, Setthathirat, and the International Clinic – or in hospitals and dispensaries in the provinces. For anything serious, or if you have international insurance coverage, you have the option of going to world class hospitals across the border in Thailand.
The best hospitals in the country are Clinique Internationale, Luang Prabang, Centre de Traumatologie et d’Orthopédie de Vientiane, North of Vientiane and Nong Khai Watttana Hospital, 1159/4 Prachak Road, Nong Khai, Thailand – near Vientiane, close to the Thai-Laos border.
In Laos, pharmacies are numerous and open every day. They are also well stocked with medicines from China, Thailand, and Europe (especially those in Vientiane). If you come down with a case of “traveler’s gut”, buy Imodium or Interix at any pharmacy, and many mini-marts to ease your troubles. Also drink plenty of water and other fluids, not necessarily Beerlao! Eat rice and ripe bananas and avoid spicy dishes for a couple of days. If things don’t get more solid in three days, see a doctor in a local clinic.
Hepatitis or Japanese Encephalitis
Danger! If you have not been vaccinated and you catch these diseases, it is too late. In the cities you are safe, but if you plan on jungle treks make sure to be vaccinated.
Not a big problem. Rabies is rare here, but anti-rabies injections are widely available even in remote areas.
Snake/Scorpion bites etc.
Painful? You bet! Fatal? Very rarely. Get some pain medication at a local dispensary. Drink a beer and share your story with others.
Take care, malaria and dengue fever are only a bite away. It can be fatal but with prompt medical attention you will survive, although it won’t be very pleasant. They are easily diagnosed and well taken care of in Vientiane. It’s comforting to know that an insect repellent with DEET, such as OFF!, will suffice as all the protection you need. They are available everywhere.
Very bad! Especially in the rainy season. You will be comforted to know that your family will soon hear about you on CNN and Youtube.
The WHO recommends travelers get vaccinated for hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and tetanus. A hepatitis B vaccination is also recommended if you plan on staying 6 or more months, or plan multiple trips to Laos. A rabies vaccination is only needed if you are traveling to certain areas in country.
What to buy in Laos?
There is not much shopping to be done in Laos. But it is an ideal place for buying Buddhist handicrafts and South East Asian souvenirs. Vientiane has the best and the most wide variety of shopping opportunities in the country. Here a variety of handmade product such as wood, gold and silver are widely sold in department stores such as Talat Sao, and in many of the local shops and street markets.
Some good places to shop include, the morning markets around Vientiane; Camacrafts in Phon Tong Village, Vientiane; the Hand Made Studio on 73/3 Nokeokoumane Rd, Vientiane; Maevan Handicraft Shop, 103/3 Samsenthai Rd, Vientiane; and Tip Top Boutique, Ban Mixay, Vientiane. All major provinces also have a variety of shopping opportunities, but they are quite limited.
It is important to remember that it is forbidden to take any antiques or Buddha images which are older than 50 years out of the country. If travelers would like to purchase any antiques they have to clear it with the government first.
In Vientiane, tribal crafts, fabrics, and carvings can be found at the Morning Market on Lane Xang Avenue. Prices may seem steep at first, but respectful haggling is expected.
In Luang Prabang, the Hmong Market at the base of Mount Phousi offers a range of handmade textiles. In the evening, hundreds of vendors lay out similar wares along adjacent Sisavangvong Road. Boutique shops are as plentiful as pigeons; two of the best are Kopnoi, which also has an art gallery , and Ockpoptock, which specializes in silk.
For better prices, shop the nearby weaving villages. Ban Phanom, two miles outside town, has a national reputation. In the Ban Aphay neighborhood just east of Mount Phousi, silk weavers at the Ban Vongmai atelier use traditional looms and vegetable dyes (near Wat Visoun Temple, Phommathat Rd.; 856-20-577-3263; www.banvongmai.com).
For old silver, avoid the Night Market knockoffs and hit the jewelry stores on Chao Sisuphon Road east of Mount Phousi. Hill-tribe women sell their handwrought silver necklaces and bracelets at Nang Kui Jewelry Shop.
How to handle money in Laos?
You won’t need much of the local currency, as the U.S. dollar is accepted widely. The Lao kip is usually given as change or used for minor expenses, such as short jumbo rides.
Tipping has finally reached Laos, though it is still not expected. Small tips for tour guides and bellhops—and no more than ten percent in restaurants—will do the trick nicely.
What is nightlife like in Laos?
The nightlife in Laos is pretty limited to a few good bars and discos in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Some good bars and clubs in Vientiane include; KhopCaiDeu, on the southwest corner of the Nam Phu Fountain, the Le Cave de Châteaux, on Fountain Circle; the Lao Plaza Hotel Bar and Disco and the Bamboo Bar. In Luang Prabang the Mayleck Pub is one of the town’s best hot spots.
Is Laos a safe place to travel?
Lao Airlines has not passed the international safety standards to date. A word of caution to ground travelers: If possible, avoid Route 13 between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. In 2003, this stretch saw numerous rebel bus attacks. And again, don’t drink the tap water.
Vientiane capital, along with the rest of Laos, is still safe for tourists, as long as you exercise a little common sense. Petty crime still occurs, although not often. Just remember, be careful, and don’t forget your belongings when you leave a shop or restaurant.
What to wear in Laos?
As Laos is a rather conservative country, both men and women should dress modestly here. Jeans and tee-shirts are ideal for a vacation, so are dress as long as they are long and have sleeves. Avoid shorts, short tight skirts and vests. People here consider it disrespectful to bare your shoulders, thighs or chest.
If you visit Laos from November to mid-February, we recommend you to bring a long a light jacket especially if you visit the northern part of the country or in the high altitude. For the remaining of the year, a light clothes will fit fine or something that you comfortable in the hot and humid season.
Sandals or shoes that can be easily take off will be good as shoes must always be taken off before entering a temple or a Lao house.
Just for women, we do recommend that women should avoid clothing that bares the thighs, shoulders or breasts; long trousers, walking shorts and skirts are acceptable, while tank tops, short skirts or running shorts are not.
Both men and women should dress conservatively, especially when visiting a temple or government office.
What are the etiquette & customs in Laos?
Though Westernization is creeping in, the Lao people still hang on to their slower, more peaceful way of life. About 70 percent of the locals are practicing Theravada Buddhists, so an emphasis on compassion pervades daily living. As in other Asian countries, particular respect should be taken when visiting a Buddhist temple.
The Lao people are generally tolerant, patient and laid back, thanks in large part to the heavy influence of Theravada Buddhism and its concept of Kamma (karma – rebirth) which discourages aggressiveness or excessive ambition but encourages correct conduct. Proper conduct would include controlling one’s passions and other strong emotions, proper and modest dress and behavior and respectful treatment of others.
Public displays of anger or affection are discouraged. Most everyone in Laos including foreigners, men and women alike, are treated very courteously. Elders get an extra measure of deference.
Handshakes are widely accepted in Laos though the traditional greeting is the nop which can be used to say “thank you” and “goodbye” as well. Put your palms together in a prayer-like position at chest level and make a slight bow. A lower bow with higher hands is given when greeting elders.
As a falang (foreigner) you will be able to get away with a lot but it is always best to know the local customs and taboos and as a responsible tourist you may want to adhere to a few rules (see list below).
Remember that the head is sacred and feet are considered the lowliest part of the body and your dress and body language are signs of your “respectability”.
Women should never touch a monk, or his robes.
In Luang Prabang, maintain a discreet distance while watching or photographing monks as they make their morning rounds for alms.
What are the Traveler’s Do’s and Don’ts in Laos?
- Support the Lao economy and its craft-makers by purchasing products from reputable dealers, and by paying in kip.
- Avoid shady street vendors, and never buy live animals nor antiques of doubtful origin.
- Bedtime comes early in Laos. By law, all restaurants, bars and disco-techs must close at 11:30pm. Loud drunken debauchery on the streets late at night is simply inviting a visit from the local police. Be a respectful falang!
- Show some interest and respect for Lao culture. To greet people, put your hands together and say “Sabaii dee”.
- Spirit houses and Buddha images are sacred. Observe them as you wish, but please do not touch.
- The Seattle grunge scene never took hold here! Keep a tidy appearance and a gentle behaviour. Never point your feet at someone, it’s considered very rude!
- Oh yeah…drugs are illegal. Do not do them!
- Proper decorum in public is the way to go, always. The Lao are a quiet, respectful people and are rather shy about nudity and overt displays of affection in their presence.
- Most Lao are perfectly happy to oblige for a spontaneous photograph, but it is always appreciated if you ask them first. Smile and be polite and cherish the memories forever.
- Watching the morning ritual of Thak Bhat (alms-giving to the monks) is a memorable experience. But remember that it is a deeply spiritual affair. Don’t disturb anyone and avoid any interference, especially touching a monk.
- Do dress modestly when entering temples, museums, official buildings and government offices; no shorts or sleeveless shirts, tank tops or beach wear. Shorts that cover the thighs are acceptable everywhere else. Be clean and neat in appearance whenever possible.
- Do like the locals and keep your sense of time flexible. Expecting punctuality will often lead to frustration.
- Do remove shoes when entering temples and homes (it is convenient to wear slip-ons or sandals)
- Don’t point your feet towards people or Buddha images. When sitting in a temple, keep legs together and to the side in a mermaid position.
- Do consider leaving a small donation when visiting temples.
- Don’t take pictures posing with Buddha images, handle, climb or sit on them
- Don’t, if you are a woman, touch monks, hand them objects, sit with or talk to them outside of temples. Any offerings need to pass through the hands of a man first.
- Do ask permission before taking pictures of people, particularly in villages outside the cities where the people may have superstitions against being photographed.
- Don’t touch people or children on their heads.
- Don’t lose your temper in public – speaking loudly and angrily is often counterproductive.
- Don’t engage in public displays of affection.
- Do greet someone who is greeting you – by nop, handshake or a polite bow and smile – but don’t offer a kiss!
- Do respect the Laos’ interpersonal space – there is little physical contact or closeness between individuals who are not family.
- Don’t be surprised if someone goes right past you to get to something first – Laos generally do not queue up for anything.
- Do bargain for goods in markets and shops (except where there are fixed prices) but do so with a good attitude and smile. Prices are generally not inordinately high to begin with as they may be in other Asian cities.
- Take your shoes off when entering a Lao house. Pay respect to your hosts by giving them a “nop” with hands put together, and by bowing slightly if you are invited to join a group. Never touch anyone’s head.
What is illegal in Laos?
- Using, possessing, trafficking and manufacturing illegal drugs are serious offences in Laos. They are illegal in Laos, plain and simple. Do not do them; if you are offered drugs by someone, ignore them, just to be safe. If you are caught with drugs you could be in serious trouble, perhaps sent to jail for years. Drug suppliers can face the death penalty. Consider yourself fairly warned.
- Sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals is prohibited, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Anything more than an innocent flirt between a foreigner and a Lao National is prohibited by Lao law. STD’s are not the only dangers, the police are vigilant and they do know what is going on. As well, occasional inspections of guest houses and hotels can, and does, occur. If you are caught with a Lao partner, you may face a heavy fine, perhaps several hundred dollars. Moreover, your Lao friend’s penalty may be even harsher. Respect the Laotian laws and customs.
- Driving in Laos is challenging for those who were taught the rules of the road. They exist here, but mostly in spirit or intent. Be especially careful when driving a motorbike. If you see a Lao driver doing something odd…maintain your line and let them move around you, regardless of how they are driving, they really do know what they are doing! You need an international license to legally drive here, and most rentals will come with insurance coverage. Oh yes…where a helmet…always. It’s the law!
- It is compulsory to carry an ID document or a passport with you at all time.
- Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited.
What are the major ceremonies and festivals of Laos?
Festivals in Laos run in conjunction with the lunar calendar and thus may not always happen on the same monthly dates year by year.
- January: Boun Phavet – Commemorating Buddha’s reincarnation and a favourite time for males to be ordained into the monkhood.
- February: Boun Makha Bu-sao (Full Moon) – Celebrates a talk by the Buddha when he laid down the first monastic regulations; Vat Phou – celebration in the World Heritage site.
- March: Boun Khoun Khao – A harvest festival celebrated around local vats.
- April: Boun Pimai – A huge countrywide 3 day festival celebrating Lao New Year from the 13th to the 16th.
- May: Boun Bang Fai the rocket festival to entice the rains to fall; Visakha Puja celebrates the birth/enlightenment and death of the Buddha centred around local vats with candlelight ceremonies.
- June/July: Khao Phansaa – the beginning of Buddhist Lent.
- August/September: Boun Song Heua in Luang Prabang, on the 9th month of the Lao lunar calendar. This boat racing festival marks the end of the rainy season and translates into a huge party!
- October: Boun Ok Phansaa (at full moon of the 11th month of the lao calendar) – The end of the Buddhist lent and the 3 month retreat by monks; it is common to place lit candles on banana leaf boats, and set them afloat on the Mekong river. Boat racing in Vientiane also occurs during this time.
- November: That Luang Festival. A very significant week long festival celebrated throughout Laos but the main event is centred on the Golden Stupa in Vientiane where hundreds of monks gather to pray, there are also fairs.
- November/December: Hmong new year festivities take place in villages all around Northern Laos. And Dec. 2nd marks the Lao National Day, celebrating the 1975 victory of the proletariat over the monarchy.
What are the public holidays in Laos?
- January: 1, New Year’s Day; 6, Pathet Lao Day; 20, Army Day
- March: 8, Women’s Day; 22, Day of the People’s Party
- May: 1, Labor Day
- June: 1, Children’s Day; 21, Khao Pansa
- August: 13, Lao Issara (Day of the Free Laos)
- September: 11, Bouk ok Pansa
- October: 12, Day of Liberation from France
- December: 2, National Day
- Spring: mid-April, Lao New Year
- Winter: Chinese New Year
- Summer: Vesak (Buddha Day), Khao Pansa (beginning of Buddhist Fast), Bouk ok Pansa (ending of Buddhist Fast)
Why should I go to Laos at least once?
- The old royal capital of Luang Prabang, one of Southeast Asia’s most remote, enchanting small cities.
- The mellow pace of life favored by laid-back Laotians—with none of the commercialization of Vietnam or Cambodia.
- Ancient sites like Wat Phou temple and the enigmatic Plain of Jars.
Last updated on June 28, 2017 at 9:19 pm. Word Count: 9117