Almost disregarded by travelers for it’s slightly more popular neighboring nation Thailand, the landlocked country of Laos is actually one of the most bewilderingly beautiful tourist destinations of Southeast Asia.
Caught amidst the Indochina battles and quite cut-off from the world, Laos is a nation that epitomizes serenity, peace and an incredible air of tranquil congeniality. The country stretches from mountains clad with forests and foliage in the north to picturesque islands in the south dotted with riverine valleys, coasts, coconuts palms, monasteries and more that will beckon the adventurer in you to tour and explore the scenic wonders of nature. The culinary scene is always there to compliment your explorations with it’s exotic and mouth-watering flavors.
Laos Travel Info
Language: The official language of Laos is Lao or Laotian which is very similar to Thai, so similar that if your speak Thai you’ll understand Laotian. Languages that are recognized and generally spoken include French and Lao, Hmong and Khmu respectively. You’ll also find basic English spoken in the main tourist areas.
Visa: Visit a tourist consulate or embassy to apply for a tourist visa for visiting Laos on tour. The validity of this visa lasts for 3 months from the date of issue.
Electricity: The standard electricity voltage in Laos is 230 volts AC. The power sockets available in Laos are types A, B, C, E and F. I recommended American and European travelers to Laos to carry voltage convertors and adaptors. Buy a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to buy a new one for other countries you visit in future.
Pi Mai: Commonly referred to as the New Year’s celebration of Laos, Pi Mai is observed and celebrated in the month of April from the 14th to 16th with golden splendor. The three day festival lasts for the entire week and involves a flurry of water skirmishes where everyone gets drenched with flour and water right in the middle of the streets by complete strangers. Then follows the grand parades of the cities that make for a superb visual and exciting treat for the tourists, who witness and participate in the masquerade that involves masked Laos citizens parading across the streets narrating and singing the stories of Buddhism and Laos folk tales. Beauty pageants, music and dance, temple hopping and baci ceremonies become the order of the day during the celebration along with delicious exotic Laos food.
Vat Phou: The ruin of Khmer of Vat Phou occupies a significant position in the list of world heritages of UNESCO. Celebrated in the later part of January or the initial weeks of February, the Vat Phou festival is grandly celebrated with festivities such as boat races, music and dance, cock fights and food & drinks. Suffused deeply with the surroundings, the ruins of Vat Phou are sprinkled all over the mountain. Moving past the ruins and ascending up to a terribly steep flight of stairs, the tourists can witness a magnificent view of a shrine of Buddhism with a perennial and natural spring flowing right beside it.
Boun That Luang: Celebrated in the month of November, Boun That Luang spans over three full moon nights and is visited by tourist pilgrims from across the globe. The Vientiane stupa is the nationalized symbol of the country and is home to one of the breastbones of Lord Buddha. Millions of pilgrim tourists flock into Boun That Luang to offer prayers and sacred gifts to the holy monks of Laos. The celebration is practiced with parades, processions, trade shows and parties. Tourists find the stupa a fascinating and wonderful sight to behold and admire and the holy offerings of candles, flowers and fragrant incenses at the altar of the stupa leave everyone feeling steeped with sacred emotions and satiety.
Safety In Laos
Laos is perfectly safe for tourists except for some areas that are marked as hazardous due to the presence of dormant of warfare materials and ammunition. If you are staying in low budget accomodation then do make sure that your valuables are safely locked away. Carry your passport and documents on you wherever you go and keep your money concealed as there are quite a number of thieves around who usually target tourists. Some areas of Laos are dangerous so do your research before you go and avoid these places. Based on many years of solo travel in southeast Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before you leave.
Top Things To Do In Laos
The Elephant Conservation Center of Laos
The Elephant Conservation Center of Laos denotes a novel way for the protection of the Asian elephants inside the Lao PDR and provides tourists with an extraordinary experience with an objective to make ample contribution to the safeguarding of these beautiful but endangered wild animals.
The Elephant Conservation Center of Laos is not just a camp or zoo of elephants but involves a creative approach that consolidates preservation of elephants with the essence of eco-tourism.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
This is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous waterfalls of Laos. It cascades with splendid rapidity down to 50 meters into a series of calm and cool pools that are perfect for snorkeling and swimming in.
The pools are even lined with wooden shacks for changing your clothing in privacy. The fall is provided with exciting hiking trails for tourists, jungle shades and is home to the famous butterfly park of Laos located close to the entrance of the waterfall. Reserve a tour of the waterfalls to be treated to a magnificent view of the wonderfully majestic cascade.
Sinouk Coffee Tour
The Sinouk Coffee Tour of Laos is renowned globally. Travelers to Laos can take a trip to the plantation areas and learn more about planting coffee shrubs, roasting the beans and so much more. Stroll through the plush and verdant coffee gardens and enjoy the rich aromatic experience. Don’t forget to have a cup of joe along with some snacks on the patio of the local shop situated right next to the coffee plantations before you retire for the day.
Vientiane City Tour
A tour through the capital of Laos that is Vientiane is the most perfect way to understand the rich landscape of culture and history of Laos. Sightseeing through the city will get you to the Patuxay Monument, Wat Phra Keo, Wat Si Saket, Buddha Park and other key attractions of the city.
Located at the southern most point of Laos, the 4000 islands is a tourist destination that offers a stunning way to explore and re-discover the beauty of nature in Laos. The three chief islands that attract thousands of tourists from all over the world are Don Det, Don Khon and Don Khong. The islands are connected with by a efficient ferry service and tourists are treated to the picturesque views of the Mekong River and the local island cuisine.
Kong Lor Caves
Located in the center of Laos in the protected area of Phou Hin Boun are the famous caves known as the Kong Lor Caves. This is a long riverine cave that extends beyond 7.4 km and is considered to be one of the longest tunnels in the world. Tourists are accompanied by guides on the boating trips through the dark and wet tunnel that proves an exhilarating adventure for everyone.
The Living Land Company
This is an organic farm located in Luang Prabang that deals with the cultivation of food and makes provision to provide opportunities of working in the farm just like the natives of Laos to the tourists who find it to be an unique experience of a lifetime. The tourists don on straw hats and get down to ploughing through rice and paddy fields complete with livestock and machines.
Pha Pheng Waterfall
Considered to be the largest cascade in Southeast Asia, the Pha Pheng Waterfall makes for an incredibly spectacular experience for tourists. The breathtaking crescendo of gushing water provides an incredible view for tourists and travelers while the walking routes that line the waterfall are used by everyone to view the falls from different directions.
Luang Prabang Temples
Listed among the heritage sites of UNESCO, the town Luang Prabang of north Laos plays home to several significant temples of Buddhism. This beautiful town is central Laos has innumerable trails that lead to the 33 different Buddhist temples for tourist pilgrims.
Viewpoint Nong Khiaw
If you’re a trekking fanatic then Viewpoint Nong Khiaw is perfectly designed just for you with a 1.5 hour long trek that traverses from the small hamlet of Nong Khiaw to the mountain top which treats the trekking loving tourists to a stunning view of the serene Nam Ou River.
What To Eat In Laos
Laotian food is exotic and supremely delicious. Indulge in the local culture of Laos by tucking into the rich and unique cuisine of the country. Try out the dishes mentioned below and indulge your taste-buds in the mouth-watering and satiating Laos delicacies.
Laab or salad of minced meat: This Thai dish originated in Laos. The dish consists of minced meat that is stir fried and tossed in with shallots, chili peppers, sauce, lime juice and boiled ground rice. Seasoned with a variety of spices like coriander, mint and several other herbs, Laab is delicious and spicy. When served with sticky rice and prepared with minced meat of either chicken, duck, beef, pork or fish, a spoon of laab with sticky rice makes for a mouthful of heaven.
Khao Niaw or sticky rice: Rice is the staple food in Asian countries, and Laos is no exception to this. Sticky rice is a traditional dish and is served with almost anything from vegetables to meat. The dish is uniquely served in a cone shaped basket in combination with jeow which is basically a mixture of chili peppers, tomatoes, peanuts and egg plants.
Mok Pa or steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves: This fish delicacy is prepared with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and sauce tossed in with herbs, spices, chili peppers and steamed fish which has a soft and buttery texture and gets served with banana rice.
Khao Piak Sen or soupy noodles: This is a dish to be served piping hot and perfect for winter evenings. It consists of rice chow mein prepared into a soup with meat of pork, chicken or beef and a generous dose of veggies.
Sai Oua: Prepared from minced pork and generously tempered with ginger, sauce, lime, lemongrass and garlic, Sai Oua is a rich meaty delicacy and well worth a try when in Laos.
Where To Stay In Laos
Laos is an incredibly affordable place to visit. Finding a great place to stay in Laos is easy because there are so many options no matter what your budget. Hostels and dormitories make travel to Laos very affordable for travelers on a shoe-string budget.
If you’re traveling during peak season or want to stay in a luxury hotel in Laos then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Laos.
If you’re backpacking in Laos or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Laos Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Laos
You can enjoy a visit to Laos any time of the year however the cool season between October and February would be an ideal time to go. I also recommend avoiding March and April simply because this is the time the hot season becomes a little too intolerable due to the humidity combined with the burning of the fields and all the smoke in the air. May to June is when Laos has it’s rainy season and you should expect at the very least a few afternoon showers if visiting Laos between May and September.
Laos Travel Budget
Laos is an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Laos depends on the comfort level you want while there. If you’re backpacking, staying in hostels and eating street food then budget between $20 and $35 a day. If you’re looking to stay in private rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants in Laos then budget about $100 to $200 plus a day.
- Budget: $4-12
- Mid-range: $12-$35
- Splurge: $35+
Meal For One
- Budget: $2.00-$8.00
- Mid-range: $8-$15
- Splurge: $15-$50
Laos Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Laos, like most other places in southeast Asia, is a breeze because it’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates like this. Tropical southeast Asia climates also mean high humidity so lightweight and breathable lose fitting clothing is essential.
Be prepared for the occasional cool evening depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater just in case. If you’re visiting during the wet season bring a rain jacket and an umbrella. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need in the larger cities such as Vientiane.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Laos include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Laos check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Southeast Asia Packing List For Women Travelers.