How to Plan a Trip to Laos
Compared with other countries in Southeast Asia, Laos is not a very popular tourist destination. But it attracts people to come and explore this mysterious country because of its quiet and primitive living atmosphere and its curious religious beliefs. With its luxurious golden temples, monks in orange robe, verdant rice fields, cheerful and friendly people, Laos maintains its uniqueness among other Southeast Asian countries that are crowded with visitors. Whether you are taking a boat ride on the Mekong River, drinking beer and waiting for the sun to set, or joining in the daily ritual of Tak Bat in the morning to experience a spiritual baptism, or hiking through a primeval forest to return to the pristine nature, they are all different kinds of special travel experience!
Laos may be inconspicuous in the travel map of Southeast Asia, and there are not many must-see attractions here, but you will fall in love with the lazy and quiet life of this country. The most important thing when you travel to Laos is to enjoy the leisure and slow pace of life here, as well as various outdoor water activities to get close to nature. Buddhist temples and French colonial architecture in Luang Prabang in northern Laos, a slow boat ride on the Mekong River, tire-rafting in Vang Vieng, and the most rural capital - Vientiane, are all worth experiencing.
The recommended route for Laos tour is from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, then to Vientiane. You can enter Laos by land from China and then go to Thailand.
Best Time to Visit Laos
Laos has a tropical and subtropical monsoon climate. The whole year is divided into the dry season and the rainy season. The weather is hot all year round, and an annual average temperature there is about 26 ℃. May to October is the rainy season in Laos, and November to April is the dry season. The best time to travel to Laos is from November to March of next year. At this period, the climate is the coolest and most comfortable. In addition, it hardly ever rains during these months.
Plan a Trip to Vientiane
Where to Visit in Laos
Things to see in Laos combine stunning mountainous landscapes with ancient cultural scenic areas. You could not only visit historic sites to get to know the culture of this country, but also enjoy the beautiful natural scenery. Here are the most popular destinations for first-time visitors to Laos.
Luang Prabang is at the confluence of Nam Khan and Mae Nam Khong, and it is one of the most beautiful cities in Laos. Among the buildings in Laos, temples in Luang Prabang are the most stunning. Luang Prabang is the ancient capital of Laos, and one of the limited cities that retains the best-preserved traditional customs of Laos. Theravada Buddhism prevails here, and many Buddhist temples built in ancient times are still preserved.
The natural environment here is well-perfected, without excessive commercialization. Luang Prabang can be roughly divided into the ancient town and the new town. Although the ancient town is small in area, there are twenty or thirty temples inside. The ancient town was listed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1995. Main restaurants and accommodations and some attractions are concentrated in the ancient town. It takes only about half an hour to walk through the ancient city, and one or two hours is enough to wander around the major streets inside. So, all scenic spots in the ancient town can be reached on foot. Some scenic spots in the new town or suburbs are relatively far away. You can take a tuk-tuk or rent a bicycle to get there.
Royal Palace Museum
Popular attractions in Luang Prabang: Kuang Si Waterfall, Wat Xieng Thong, Royal Palace Museum, Wat Mai, Wat Xiang Muan, Wat Chum Khong.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos. It is just across the river from Thailand and is one of the few capitals in the world that borders countries. Although Vientiane is the capital, it is not so prosperous and modern. There are no skyscrapers, subway or light rails.
Vientiane is located along the Mea Nam Khong River. Vientiane City is not very big, and it only takes about 20 minutes by car from the airport to the city center. Most of the attractions are concentrated in the city center and beside the Mekong River. It can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. It takes only two or three hours to stroll around several major streets in the city center. If you want to go to scenic areas located in the suburbs, you can take a short-distance bus or tuk-tuk.
Popular attractions in Vientiane: Wat That Luang, Patuxay, Mekong Riverside Park, Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park), Haw Pha Kaeo/Haw Pha Kaew, Wat Si Saket, Wat Si Muang
Vang Vieng is a well-known leisurely tourist destination in Laos, located between the two major cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It is only 160 kilometers away from Vientiane. Vang Vieng is famous for its beautiful mountains and rivers.
The most attractive activities to do in Vang Vieng are caving, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and rafting. Nam Song River surrounds Vang Vieng, which makes it suitable for kayaking and rafting. The rafting here is not the same as the whitewater rafting as we thought. River water flows relatively slowly, and there is no thrilling excitement at all. The equipment for rafting is just a big tire. Kayaking and rafting usually takes more than four hours. There are many small bars along the river. If you are tired, you can go ashore to have some drink and rest for a while, and then continue to go rafting.
Vang Vieng is famous for its caves as well, so carving is a popular thing to do here. Make sure that you have a professional guide to accompany you, or you may get lost or head into dangerous territory. In addition, there are many traditional Lao villages nearby. You could take a family visit to the local residences to learn more about and experience the pure life of different ethnic groups in the local area. In the evening, there are many restaurants and pubs on the street. You may go out for supper and enjoy a drink with friends. In short, in Vang Vieng, you will not feel bored.
Popular attractions in Vang Vieng: Blue Lagoon/Tham Pou Kham, Tham Jang, Tham Loup & Tham Hoi Caves, Silver Cliff, Nam Song River
►Four Thousand Islands
Four Thousand Islands (also known as Si Phan Don) is a group of islands in the Mekong River in the south of Laos. Tourists usually take flight to reach Pakse first, then take the bus to get to the Four Thousand Islands. If you have a loose budget for the trip, you could also rent a car to take you to the island from Pakse. The best time to travel to these tropical islands is from December to January of the following year. The weather in February starts to get hot. Don Det, Don Khon and Don Khong are the three most popular islands to visit. The main activities on the islands include kayaking, mountain biking, watching porpoises in Irrawaddy or seeing waterfalls. Or you can do nothing but sit on a hammock by the island and listen to the music. If you have enough time to travel to Laos, don't miss out on these stunning islands in the south of Laos.
Four Thousand Islands
Popular Island in Four Thousand Islands: Don Det, Don Khon, Don Khong
Duration for Traveling to Laos
- Luang Prabang: 4 days/3 nights (including arrival dates and departure date)
- Vang Vieng: 1 day
- Vientiane: 2 days
- Pakse & Four Thousand Islands: 4 days
Tourists who travel to Laos will not only visit one city. They usually visit two or three cities to explore this mysterious country. The most popular route for Laos tour is to travel to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, then Vientiane. So it normally takes 7 to 8 days to visit these highlights of Laos.
Budget for Traveling to Laos
The entrance ticket of attractions is not expensive, so the expense of Laos trip mostly depends on what kind of food and hotels that you are expecting.
Compared to other places of Laos, consumption in Luang Prabang is the highest. Let’s take Luang Prabang as an example. In terms of accommodation, the ordinary inn is US$8 to US$20 per night per room, and the cost of a star-rated hotel starts from US$55 per night per room. In terms of food and beverage, if it is at a roadside stall, one bottle of Laos beer costs US$0.83, one roadside buffet costs US$1.1, and one bowl of rice noodles costs US$1.1. If you are expecting a sumptuous meal, a buffet hot pot in a restaurant by the Mekong River is about US$7. As for transportation, bicycle rental in the ancient city is US$1 to US$2/day; motorcycle rental is US$17/day. You can also take tuk-tuk to travel move from site to site, and the cost depends on where you are going.
All in all, if you are planning to stay in an economy hotel, US$15 to US$20 per day is sufficient. If you are expecting to stay in four-star hotels and eat better meals per day, you should raise the budget to US$25 to US$30 per day. If you are looking for a more luxurious trip, you need to prepare more money for this trip. But no worry, Laos is an affordable country to visit compared to other counties. Food and hotels in Laos are quite cheap.
Currency and Exchange
Laos uses the Lao Kip (the currency symbol for Kip is ₭) as its currency. The banknotes of Lao Kip currently in circulation include 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 20,000Kip. Currently, there are no Kip coins in circulation. As there are so many zeros on the banknotes, and the patterns on them are not much different, so you must be very careful when you pay. It is recommended to put different currencies into different envelopes.
The US dollar can also be used in Laos. Most hotels, large shops, tourist packages and air tickets in Laos can be paid in US dollars. In places where tourists are concentrated, such as Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Four Thousand Islands, etc., money exchange, hotels, restaurants, and shops can provide exchange services for US dollars, Thai baht, British pounds, Japanese yen, and so on.
All BCEL Bank's ATMs in Laos are marked with the "UnionPay" logo, which can be used for withdrawals with UnionPay cards. If you are bringing a credit card with VISA and MASTER logos, you can withdraw cash in most of ATMs.
NOTE: It is recommended to carry cash in Lao Kip as much as possible. International credit cards are only used for cash withdrawal for an emergency. After all, the places where you could use the credit card to make payment in Laos are still limited. Most restaurants, craft stores and guesthouses do not accept credit cards.
Passport & Visa
Passport and visa are two necessary documents when you travel to a foreign country.
Passport is an international ID card which is used to prove your identity and nationality in a foreign country, and is also an important basis for a government to provide diplomatic protection for them when necessary. For this reason, citizens who travel abroad need to apply for a passport, and only after you have a passport can you apply for a visa.
Laos visas are divided into transit visas, tourist visas, business visas, and tourist visas upon arrival, etc. Laos visa is very easy to get, and it is almost impossible that your application would be rejected. Applicants need to go to the visa office of a local Lao embassy or the visa center of the consulate of Laos to apply for the visa, or you can entrust a visa agency to handle it.
NOTE: A visa on arrival is available for most nationalities at Wattay Airport, Tha Naleng Train Station and the Friendship Bridge. You could inquire in advance at the Lao Embassy in your country whether the passport that you are holding can get a visa on arrival or not.
Electricity Socket & Internet
Electrical socket outlets in Laos are two-prong round or flat socket. Voltage is 230V AC. Make sure you have a power adapter to accommodate both kinds of plugs when you are preparing your luggage.
Hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars in major tourist cities, such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Four Thousand Islands, all have WIFI networks, most of which are provided free of charge. So it is easy to get access to the internet when you travel in Laos.
Things to Do and Not to Do
- In Laos, people are accustomed to greet each other using the Namaste (Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest). When you meet monks, royals, elders, superiors, etc., who have a higher status than you, palms should be placed in front of the forehead; when you meet juniors and subordinates, palms should be placed under the jaw. When you meet people of the same generation, palms should be put in front of your face.
- When there are monks walking around, female tourists should give way to them. Otherwise, the monks will not be able to move forward. If you want to hand something to the monk, you can't give it directly. You need to put it on a table and let the monk go to take it.
- In Laos, you need to pass things with your right hand. We are usually used to pass on the item with both hands or sometimes with our left hand, but in Laos, the left hand is considered to be unclean. So if you want to hand things to the locals, it is best to use the right hand.
- About tipping: tipping is not mandatory in Laos. If you are satisfied with the waiter or waitress’s service in the restaurant or hotel service staff is very attentive, you can also give some tips to them.
- In the Lao culture, the head is a sacred and inviolable part of a body. So please do not touch other people's head when you travel there. Especially when you see a child, don't touch the child's head; otherwise his parents will feel offended.
- Before you enter into temples, you need to take off shoes, and your clothing should be clean and tidy. Most importantly, you have to have your arms, legs and navel covered, as they are not allowed to be exposed. So make sure you have long-sleeved shirts and pants.