‘Nyinditonhabsu pathedlav’ – Laos greets and welcomes you!
Lao People’s Democratic Republic, popular known as Laos, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, sandwiched between two (2) other Asian countries, Thailand and Vietnam. It offers tranquil and romantic visions to all its visitors, associating Southeast Asian staples like gilded temples, saffron-robed monks, and rusty, old bicycles.
This Asian tourist destination imbibes the four (4) adjectives mentioned in the title: some of the world’s shortest people, the tallest treehouse, the oldest Southeast Asian human fossil, and is among of the fastest-growing Asian economies.
This Laos travel guide will include travel tips, information about its rich culture, highly-suggested tourist experiences, health and safety measures, and typical weather you can witness when in Laos.
Laos is a charming and tranquil country of mixed architecture from ancient times and its French colonial period. It mainly draws strength from its ancient capital, Luang Prabang – now, Vientiane.
No wonder it is regularly voted as one of the favourite destination cities among others. Its 6.6 million populaces regularly draw tourists from stopover tags in Luang Prabang to a general tour of Southeast Asia. But there’s more to Laos that’s well-worthy sticking around and exploring.
TIP: Its striking north mountainous scenery is perfect for trekking, rafting, and mountain-biking enthusiasts. Experience the Nam Ha National Protected Area, a sanctuary for elephants, tigers, leopards, and almost 300 bird species. Its south offers coconut palms and sarong-clad villages with local fun and easy-going, best for those who prefer more chilled-out holidays.
Laos’s spoken languages are a mixture of Lao plus French, English, and other different indigenous tongues. The introduction earlier showed ‘Welcome to Laos’ translated to Lao, the country’s primary spoken language.
Laos follows GMT +7 time, with international dialling code +856. The country’s currency is called Kip, but the US dollar and Thai baht can be convenient when visiting.
TIP: Because of the limited acceptance of credit cards and traveller’s cheques, and few ATMs, it’s always helpful to have some of the said foreign money with you at all times.
Visas for Laos, although required by UK nationals, can easily be obtained upon arrival at the airports of Luang Prabang and Vientiane and some border post ones.
TIP: For your visa, prepare US$35 and two passport photos.
Get Laos travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Laos tourist board called Laos Tourism.
When to Visit Laos
When travelling to Laos and considering the climate and weather, the best time to visit is from November to January. Daytime temperatures experienced during this time are warm in the lowlands, with evenings slightly chilly.
February temperate gives rise to mercury and hits its highest points in April, around 35° on average. Rainy, wet seasons start in May until around the last stretch of November.
One of the most fun-filled festivals you want to experience in Laos is the Bun Pi Mai, or the Lao New Year, enjoyed chiefly by the young Lao. In mid-April, ambushes of unsuspecting pails of water and squirt guns invade the streets together with their joyful origins and traditions.
The rainy season’s end in November marks the start of exciting boat races. Another one worth catching when visiting Laos is Lai Heua Fai–parade floats and lights adorn the banks of the renowned Mekong River.
Getting Your Way in Laos
Whenever you take domestic flights in Laos, always check safety standards before flying. So as with international ones. The Vientiane – Wattay Airport, or the VTE, is 4kms. from the city.
However, there are no direct flights to this airport from the UK. The best way to go is to fly into Bangkok then take and experience an overnight train to the country’s capital, Vientiane.
Laos also has a fair share of 4,600kms. of navigable rivers and waterways, stretching long through the busy Lao highways, a scenic way to get you around the country. But during the dry season, departures may be limited, so try to inquire ahead of time or book in advance.
The Lao roads have dramatically improved in the last couple of years, becoming the country’s primary mode of transportation. Four-wheeled vehicles linger the busy streets of Laos:
- Buses of air-conditioned coaches or converted pickup trucks called songthaews serve the provinces, departing from regular bus stations. However, these coaches will only leave once the driver has enough passengers, making the trip worthwhile.
- Tuk-tuks, or motorised three-wheelers jumbos, serve as taxis in large towns. Best to have an agreement for the price first before getting on board by flagging down moving tuk-tuks instead of selecting those that shark around popular tourist spots.
- Bicycles are also available for hire coming to and from most major tourist centres and guesthouses.
- Nam Ha National Park – spot wildlife such as elephants, tigers, and clouded leopards
- Experience verdant rice paddies and karst of rock formations while kayaking, caving, and rock-climbing
- Relaxing traditional Lao sauna – savor herb-infused steams perfect for curing a long day’s road trip
- Plain of Jars – Northeast Laos presents fields of giant stone remnant urns of a lost civilization
- Street stall serving things you can eat on sticks – virtually anything impaled and grilled, uncommon favorites are frogs, snakes, tripe – even eggs, among others.
- ‘Four Thousand Islands’ at Si Phan Don – Mekong River’s landlocked archipelago, found south of Laos.
- Wat Phu Champsak – Southern Laos’ most evocative Khmer ruins found outside Cambodia, mercifully free from the crowds dogging Angkor Wat.
- Bicycle your way around kitchen-blushed pavilions and the rural communities that surround these ruins
Board and Lodging
Laos is dirt cheap and can start from £3 a night, providing elementary yet comfortable rooms. When you can afford it, though, fancy yourself in restored French colonial villas for charming accommodations in the hearts of small provincial towns.
First-class hotels are found in the busy and vibrant cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Several superb eco-lodges have opened up throughout the years, with many tour companies offering homestays experienced inside ethnic minority villages. However, choice and luxury are often limited when going beyond some tourist trails.
Food and Drinks
Fiery and fragrant Lao food is usually roasted on open fires and served best with khao niaw, sticky rice, freshly-added herbs, and noodles made from scratch. Tam mak hung one of Laos’ ubiquitous street vendor foods. It is a spicy papaya salad infused with garlic, chillies, lime juice, fish sauce, with a drizzle of fried shrimp at times.
Vegetarians who can bear even a drop of fish sauce will have no problem with local food. Foreign beers like Heineken are sold here but need to pay respect to the real king of drinks–Beerlao, a beverage with a distinctive, light taste. Lao-lao is an excellent alternative for those who prefer liquor but a knock-out variety.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind trip, Laos can be an option for you. Experience an infusion of ancient and modern flavors from all works of life. Don’t forget to say ‘khob chai’ or ‘thank you’ in Lao afterward.