Laos Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Kip (LAK)
🕙Time Zone: +7 GMT
📞Phone Code: +856
🌐Language: Lao (Thai is understood)
✈️Best time to visit: October-April
🍴Eat: Khao niaw, (Sticky rice)
🍷Drink: Beer Lao
🗺️Don't miss: Dinner at Mekong river
🗺 Menu of Contents:
The mountainous, landlocked country of Laos is one of Southeast Asia's greatest developing tourist destinations. Though not as popular as its neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, its friendliness, natural beauty and cultural sites make it well worth visiting.
The sleepy, languid nature of Laos' capital Vientiane is symbolic of the easy-going, relaxed atmosphere that permeates the entire country. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane is a thoroughly atypical Southeast Asian capital city, away from the modern trend of overdevelopment and westernisation. Unmissable tourist sites include Pha That Luang, a gorgeous Buddhist temple, and Buddha Park, which houses a wonderfully bizarre collection of Buddhist and Hindu religious sculptures.
However, most travellers to Laos, head to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. Visitors will encounter solemn monks strolling past a curious mix of traditional wooden houses and French colonial architecture, all while a bustling cafe culture plays out on the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
Adventurous travellers should also see Laos' countryside, where they can enjoy a seemingly endless selection of hiking trails, and explore dense forests and pristine waterfalls. Friendly people make for the perfect hosts and villages are perfect campsites if you are backpacking around. It's also one of the safest countries.
Laos, just keeps adding positive things to a number of reasons why you should visit, before it gets overtaken by mass commercialization and tourism!
The small, landlocked country of Laos, is accessible from the neighbouring countries of Thailand, Vietnam, China, Myanmar and Cambodia. However most visitors and travellers come from Thailand, as the country itself has close ties to Thailand (culture and language) and it's easier to reach due to visa restrictions around the other countries.
When arriving to Laos, it is necessarily for most foreign tourists to obtain a visa, which can be obtained at the airport of arrival (you will need a passport picture photo and $35 (USD) in cash to pay the visa). After you will proceed to immigration as normal.
Arriving to Laos is possible directly by air from neighbouring countries,but unfortunately,a trip only to Laos is not possible as the national airline, Lao Airlines, only flies regional routes and does not fly long haul. Other airlines like Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines and Air Asia are the main airlines which fly there.
It is also possible, and quite common, to travel to Laos by bus from Thailand. There are daily services from Bangkok to Vientiane and from Chang Mai to Vientiane. Within the country, you can travel by bus (the most used option), by air and by train. However train options are very limited and it's not recommended due to poor infrastructure. Public transportation in the country is also quite limited and there is not a modern infrastructure, even in big cities, it's more common for everyone to travel by bike, motorcycle, and car. (using taxis is a must to be able to see some of the landmarks).
Laos has smoother weather than other South Asian nations, making it easier to explore. Specially if you go north of the country into the forests and it's dense vegetation. Temperatures are on average 25 °C during October to April, which is the best time to visit, when the weather’s warm and dry throughout. River travel is best between November and January, when high water levels make passage easy along Laos' main waterway, the Mekong River.
Laos’ geography plays a major part in shaping its climate, and cool temperatures can still be found in the highlands, which lie mainly in northern, eastern and central regions.
The 'green season’ or rainy season is between late May and October, when the rains return to the country and it can also be quite humid and a temperature of 28 °C or higher. However, showers are usually short and sharp, having little impact on your exploration. Coldest months are December and January and the temperatures can go down in the evening to as little as 10-15 °C!
Laotian cuisine shows the clear influence of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, with its widespread use of chilli, fish sauce, soy and Asian herbs like lemongrass, ginger and Asian basil. There’s also a subtle French influence dating back to the colonial administration, most obvious in the baguette sandwiches sold on the streets of Vientiane. Some of the most atmospheric restaurants are set on terraces overlooking the swirling waters of the Mekong River. Naturally grilled river fish is a favourite local delicacy.
Specialities in Laos include: Khao niaw, (Sticky rice) is the national dish, simply roll it up into balls and pop in your mouth. Tam mak hoong, (Papaya Salad) Laos’ favourite salad is an incendiary mix of pounded green papaya, peanuts, dried shrimp, green beans, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar. Laap, a lip-smacking salad made from minced meat, fish or vegetables tossed with mint, chilli, lime juice, garlic, onions and powdered rice. Pho, white rice noodle soup, usually served with beef or pork; it’s subtly flavoured and locals spice it up with fish sauce, dried chillies and herbs. Khao jee, baguettes are a legacy of the French colonial period, often served with tomatoes, cheese and pork in chilli sauce. Sai oua, traditional Lao sausage, flavoured with lime leaves, onion, garlic and Lao herbs. Kai paen, weed from the Mekong River – a Luang Prabang speciality – usually served dried into sheets with sesame. Khao poon, spicy soup with vermicelli noodles, chilli, lime leaves and strongly-flavoured perilla leaves. Ping Kai, Lao-style grilled chicken, seasoned with pepper, coriander root, garlic and fish sauce. Or Lam, a rich jungle stew or dried buffalo meat or game, chilli, mushrooms, beans and mashed eggplants.
As for drinks, you can find: Lao lao, the local rice whisky, traditionally prepared in village stills. Beer Lao: The nation’s favourite brew. Cafe pakxong: Lao coffee, brewed using beans from plantations on the Boloven Plateau.
Travelling to Laos is ideal when going to the far east and doing a tour of different countries in the region. It's a very relaxed country and I found myself at ease round it's streets and people. The locals are really friendly with visitors, very helpful and it's easy to connect with them. From the time and places that I was able to visit, Laos, showed me a more quiet and peaceful way of life and it's noticeable in it's cities and citizens. Comfortable temperature to enjoy the walks, nice places to visit and amazing scenery, left me like I have not seen enough of it, therefore it's in my plans to discover further. If you get to travel to Laos, one thing you can't miss is the food, they have one of the tastiest cuisines I've eaten! All with natural ingredients and locally grown.
Vientiane Tourism Information Guide
The capital of Laos, offers a relaxing riverside break where one of the best things you can do is grab a drink and enjoy the sun’s spectacular show as it sets over the Mekong river. Despite being the largest city in Laos and the hub of commerce and administration, Vientiane is still refreshingly laid back. The city offers a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and pavement cafes some adding a French air with their style of architecture which contrasts pleasingly with the old Buddhist temples dotted around. Navigating Vientiane is relatively simple due to its size and sightseeing can be done either on foot, by bike or hiring a Tuk-tuk style bike.
The city and it's people are very laid back, so don't expect things to run like clock-work as in Laos it's often spontaneous and at slow pace.
Vientiane is hotter than Luang Prabang, due to its location further south, but it's still characterised by a tropical monsoon climate with short, dry winters that last between December to January. Winter minimum temperatures rarely drop below 15°C. This is also the best time of the year to go from December to January for the cooler climate.
The warmest time of year (March to the beginning of May) sees maximum temperatures reach around 35°C, and minimum temperatures don't go below 22°C.
The rainy season lasts from April to October, with thunderstorms being the most common form of precipitation. The city generally has very high humidity levels and muggy conditions throughout the long wet season.
For travellers, used to other tropical climates like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or SIngapore, Vientiane, will be much lighter and easier to manage.
Arriving to Vientiane airport (VTE) is very simple and doesn't take long till you're outside. The terminal is very small and there are limited services available. It is recommended you contact your accommodation to arrange a taxi to pick you up from the airport, this being better if you have luggage, as some streets in the city are not paved. When you clear customs they will wait for you just outside. A trip by taxi to the city centre will take about 15 min. If you prefer to take public transport, there is now a new shuttle bus which operates from the airport to the city centre and on to the ITECC. The basic fare is 15.000 Kip into the city centre, and the last major stop if the city bus station. Below you can find a map with more details on the bus route and stops.
If you arrive by international bus (most routes are coming from Thailand), the station is located within walking distance to the city centre and the major hotel area. But if you have heavy luggage, note that many roads are not paved along the way and there is a lack of paths. Taking a taxi from the bus station is better option and the vost is not high.
In the city of Vientiane there are only busses if you decide to take public transit. However, they might not be practical if you are staying in the city centre. For the city centre and its surroundings the best option is to go by foot, hire a tuk-tuk or a bicycle. For route information view the bus maps below or visit Vientiane Transit.
✔️Tip: Hire a bicycle to discover the city! Being the best option to enjoy the sights, as it's mostly flat. It's safe to ride along the streets as there is not that much traffic and drivers are patient.
The city’s man-made structures are as distinctive as the areas of natural splendor. Modernity has yet to infiltrate this sleepy capital, where temples and religious affiliations blend with the rural foundations of the city. The majority of the city's sights are situated within relatively close proximity of each another due to the fact that an urban sprawl has yet to materialise within the city, however there are a few sites you will need a car to get reach them.
The highlights to visit are:
- Patuxai Victory Monument, the impressive monument is one of the most distinctive landmarks amongst the modest Vientiane skyline. The massive concrete arch – reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The monument can be found at the centre of Patuxai Park, an area that makes for a pleasant evening stroll or place to relax. For a small fee you can actually climb (or take the lift) to the top of the tower - a great chance for some stunning city views, particularly at sunset.
- Vientiane Night Market, along the Mekong river you will see the red-roofed stalls and crowds of tourists who come to snap up a bargain – or to just soak up the laidback Mekong atmosphere. You can find souvenirs, electronics, clothes, accessories, and paintings - although you can find some more unique items if you look hard enough. The promenade is well worth a visit in the evening for its gorgeous sunset alone, as well as the array of street side eating options that seem to pop up on every corner.
- Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) This famous park is located 25 km outside Vientiane and features over 200 elaborately designed religious statues and sculptures, including a huge 40-metre high reclining Buddha image. The monk who built the park back in 1958 studied both Hinduism and Buddhism, which explains the curious mix of religious styles. Entrance is till 18 pm.
- That Luang, or The Great Stupa, is the most sacred monument in the whole of Laos, and certainly one of the country’s most beautiful. Dating back to the 16th century, this giant golden temple complex looks more like a fortress than a place of worship with its set of turrets surrounding a central stupa standing 148 feet tall. Located around four kilometres northeast of the capital.
- Wat Ho Phra Keo is a stunning Buddhist temple near the centre of Vientiane that dates back to 1565. Wat Ho Phra Keo once housed the Emerald Buddha after it was snatched from northern Thailand (then Siam) by the Laotian king. The sacred jade statue was then reclaimed by the Thai army in 1778 and now takes pride of place in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Often referred to as ‘The Temple of the Emerald Buddha’, this sacred site is well-worth a visit - with or without the precious statue - purely for its magnificent architecture and its fascinating historical significance.
- The National Museum, the old colonial French building in which the museum is housed has a good range of exhibits, artefacts and photographs ranging from prehistoric times up to the present day. On the ground floor you’ll find a bit of a mixed bag, with dinosaur bones lying alongside pottery shards and Khmer sculptures. Upstairs is dedicated to detailed and educational exhibitions depicting the more recent history of Laos.
- Wat Si Saket is known as the only temple in Laos which survived the Siamese occupation that destroyed much of the capital in 1828. The site is also famed for its cloister wall housing more than 5,000 Buddha sculptures of varying sizes and styles, reflecting the long on fascinating history of this temple. Today, Wat Si Saket stands majestically near the centre of Vientiane; its bright yellow pillars and detailed red roof make it stand out.
✔️Tip: There is true beautiful scenery and waterfalls out of the city in which you need to go by tour. When organising tours from Vientiane, make sure you plan with time as many tours have a space limitation as they use small vans to make the tours. also it's a good idea to get together with more people if you are a solo traveller. Prices are always cheaper if 3 or 4 persons make the tour as the prices are calculated per van instead of per person.
Otherwise organising a taxi that can take you around the tourist sites out of the city is also recommended.Many local drivers do this as a job, ask your hotel for recommendations on people they might know.
Nightlife in Vientiane mainly takes places in the hotels and accomodation of travelers. These provide good opportunities if having an outdoor pool and garden.
Specially many hostels offer weekend gatherings and entertain guests with music and on occasions with other entertainments either free or for a fee to enter.
If you prefer to mix with the locals. there are more bars within the city centre. However, the city does not offer the level of party atmosphere found on other Thai cities in Thailand, so a softer and calmer atmosphere is to be expected.
Vientiane doesn't offer currently any major shopping opportunities when it comes to malls and big shops. But there is a weekend night market which comes to life next to the river and this provides great souvenir, clothes and other cheap items to snap up by locals and visitors.
Vientiane is very affordable for accommodation and you can get pretty good Hotels for a moderate price, even including swimming pool! Prices go up depending on the season but on average you can spend no more than €25-30 per night on a good value Hotel.
Naturally hostels are always available and they are spread around the city, in fact, Vientiane is very popular for backpackers and there are plenty of budget hostels.
The city is quite small and everything can be seen in a day or two. However it's a very laid back atmosphere so ideally you want to come here to relax and enjoy as well.
A 3 night stay would be enough.