Laos Travel Guide
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT LAOS
This land-locked mountainous country is gaining a reputation as an eco-tourism destination. Its many rivers and pristine national parks are ideal for activities such as trekking, kayaking and caving diving.
While Laos does not offer a coastline or famed beaches, it does have 4,000 islands in the south, as well as the Khonephabangeng Falls, the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia.
The capital, Vientiane, is more like a big village than a crowded Asian hub and life throughout the country moves at a slow pace.
Most people come to Laos for a brief tour of Vientiane, the UNESCO World Heritage site Luang Prabang, and perhaps a brief detour to the mysterious Plain of Jars.
However, those who make the effort to explore further aﬁeld, will be well rewarded with luscious landscapes, friendly people and unique glimpses of a country that has hardly changed for over centuries.
Lao, also called Laotian, is the official as well as the dominant language in Laos. Laos is home to Southeast Asia’s second largest Francophone population. The arrival of French explorers in Laos in the 19th century facilitated the spread of French. English has been threatening the dominance of French as the preferred foreign language. English features in the system of many schools in Laos, and it is increasingly being regarded as the language of global commerce.
16th to 18th of April Lao New Year.
The Lao Kip (LAK) is the official currency of Laos. US dollars are also widely accepted in bigger cities, particularly in restaurants. It’s a good idea to arrive in Laos with some US dollars as the Lao Kip cannot be exchanged outside Laos, thus you will not be able to purchases before your arrival. Note that torn and old US dollar notes are not generally accepted in Laos. In areas located near the Thai border, the Thai currency, Baht, is also accepted.
Upon arrival, you should plan to exchange your money at a bank. The airports and hotels generally will give you a worse exchange rate. Check out a currency converter such as, www.oanda.com/currency/converter/, for the latest exchange rates.
Visa is the most common. Master Card and American Express are accepted at most banks in the larger towns (such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang), and in the big hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.
The following are the recommended vaccinations for a visit to Laos:
Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all travelers over one year of age. Typhoid vaccine is recommended for all travelers, with the exception of short-term visitors who restrict their meals to major restaurants and hotels, such as business travelers.
Japanese encephalitis vaccine is recommended for those who expect to spend a month or more in rural areas and for short-term travelers who may spend substantial time outdoors or engage in extensive outdoor activities in rural or agricultural areas, especially in the evening
Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all travelers if not previously vaccinated.
COMMUNICATION & BUSINESS HOURS
If you want to use your mobile phone in Laos, the simplest and cheapest way is to buy a prepaid phone card from most mini-marts or phone shops.The major phone providers are Tango and Laotel. Otherwise check if your phone company has international roaming coverage in Laos.
Wireless is available free of charge in most guesthouses, hotels and some cafes in the main tourist centres.
What to bring from Laos?
Some things you can bring from your holidays to Laos are the traditional skirt of Laos is worn by women attending ceremonies, school girls and government officials alike. The skirts are large, cylindrical tubes attached at the waste and folded over. Or you can also buy in Laos some silk and textile weaving, woven baskets, silver and gold and some Champasak Coffee.
The usual voltage is 220V. Power supplies can be erratic, so be prepared to be flexible. Plugs with two round pins are more popular than the three-pin. If you have any devices needing a special outlet, please bring its adapter kit. The best investment is the universal AC adapter, which will enable you to plug it in anywhere.
When is the best time to Travel to Laos?
While most of the year is hot and humid, Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The rainy season is from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius, rising to a high of 38 degrees Celsius during April and May.
In Vientiane a low temperature of 19 degrees Celsius is to be expected during January. In mountainous areas, however, temperatures drop to as low as 14-15 degrees Celsius during the winter months, and during cold nights, can easily reach the freezing point. The average precipitation is highest in Southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive over 3,000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1,500-2,000 mm, and in the Northern provinces only 1,000-1,500 mm.
– The best time to visit Laos is between November and April.
– The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible.
What to Pack to Laos?
Clothing during the hot season, January to April, bring light clothes in cotton and linen, sunglasses and a hat all year long. Sunscreen and bug repellant is also recommended.
From November to December, the cold season, it is a good idea to bring warm clothing such as sweaters and jackets for the morning and evening, and even more so if you are visiting the mountainous regions of the North.
From May to October, during the rainy season, it is best to have waterproof clothing. It is best to wear easily removable shoes or sandals when visiting the temples.
When visiting temples and people’s homes, if you sit down, avoid pointing your feet forward as this is considered offensive behaviour and try to sit in a kneeling position.
What type of holidays in Laos?
Wilderness and Nature
Laos may not have the sheer variety of Thailand, but Laos is a beautiful country. Take a multiday trek or bike ride, or enjoy the fantastic mountain scenery from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. The far north from Luang Nam Tha to Phongsaly offers the best trekking and nature options
The town of Luang Prabang but not only. The country’s most unusual attraction is the Plain of Jars, which has 5-ton stone-and-clay jars of mysterious origin. Wat Phu, pre-Angkor Khmer ruins, is Laos’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site
Laos has many fascinating festivals, most of them steeped in Buddhism. Book hotels well in advance if you’re planning on visiting during festival time, particularly in the big cities.
Bun Bang Fai: The Rocket Festival is held in the middle of May. Rockets are fired and prayers are said in the paddy fields to bring rain in time for the planting of the rice seedlings.
Bun Khao Padab Din: This special rice ceremony takes place in August; the exact date depends on the harvest schedule. People make offerings at temples to keep alive the memory of spirits who have no relatives.
Bun Khao Salak: This rice ceremony whose date also depends on the harvest schedule happens in September. For this one, people visit temples to make offerings for their ancestors. Boat races are held on the Mekong, especially in Luang Prabang and Khammuan Province.
Bun Ok Pansa: The day of the full moon in October marks the end of Buddhist Lent, and is celebrated with donations to local temples. Candlelight processions are held, and colorful floats are set adrift on the Mekong River. The following day, boat races are held in Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Pakse.
Bun Pimai: Lao New Year takes place from April 13 to 15. At this water festival similar to Thailand’s Songkran, all the important Buddha images are cleaned with scented water (and the public gets wet in the bargain). The festivities are particularly lively in Luang Prabang, where the holiday is celebrated for nearly a week.
Bun Visakhabucha (Buddha Day): On the day of the full moon in May, candlelight processions are held in temples to mark the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.
That Ing Hang Festival: This takes place in Savannakhet in December, and lasts several days on the grounds of the ancient Wat That Inhang, just outside the city. Events include sports contests, performances of traditional Lao music and dance, and a spectacular drumming competition.
That Luang Festival: This weeklong event in Vientiane in November ends with a grand fireworks display. Hundreds of monks gather to accept alms. The festival runs concurrently with an international trade fair showcasing the products of Laos and other countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).
Wat Phu Festival: Also known as Makhabucha Day, this festival is held during the day of the first full moon in February at Wat Phu, near Champasak. Elephant races, buffalo fights, cockfights, and traditional Lao music-and-dance performances make for a very full schedule.
You won’t find the beach in Las but you will have the deep in the most southern reaches of Laos, in a narrow section of the country where it can feel like there is more river than land, these are the mythical 4,000 Islands, a riverine arquipelago. You can travel down the mighty tributary on a slow cruise, and stop at one of 4,000 islands for a chance to spot freshwater dolphins.
Luxury Holiday A luxury holiday in Laos can start with an amazing stay at the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao
Travel Tips for Laos
Food and Drinks
What are the most popular dishes in Laos?
Lao cuisine, while not ‘discovered’ on the international cuisine scene, is quite savory and will tantalize your palate. Most similarly linked to northern Thai cuisine, Lao cuisine staples include sticky rice, padaek (a type of fermented fish paste/sauce) combined with a variety of vegetables and dipping sauces. Meats are often added only as a supplement, such as goat, duck, chicken, pork, and freshwater fish. Spices used include lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chilies, lime leaves, mint, cilantro, & shallots. Meats are often grilled or ground up into a spiced mixture. Fish and chicken based soups with noodles and vegetables are also common, along with spicy greens and salads.
Chilies are used as a condiment, but Lao cuisine also uses ginger, lemongrass, coconut, tamarind, crushed peanuts, and fish paste. Fresh river prawns and fish—including the famous, massive Mekong catfish, the world’s largest freshwater fish—are also standard fare, along with chicken, vegetables, and sticky rice.
As in Isan, larb (meat salad with shallots, lime juice, chilies, garlic, and other spices) is a staple, as are sticky rice and tam mak hu, the Lao version of green-papaya salad. Grilled chicken, pork, and duck stalls can be found in every bus station and market in the country. Northern Laos, especially Luang Prabang, is noted for its distinctive cuisine: specialties include grilled Mekong seaweed, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with a spicy chili dip; and orlam, an eggplant-and-meat stew with bitter herbs. Sticky rice, served in bamboo baskets, is the bread and butter of Laos.
Throughout the country you’ll find some Vietnamese influences as the pho –noodle soup, served for breakfast. Laotians also consume an extra-strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk, or the ubiquitous Beerlao, a slightly sweet lager.
Only drink purified bottle water. Bottled water is readily available and some hotels provide complimentary bottles. Carry a bottle with you throughout the day. Luxury Travel Ltd provides you fresh tissue and drinking water during touring days.
TOP CITIES IN LAOS
LAOS NATIONAL PARKS
Dong Amphan. Located in the northeast of Attapeu Province, Dong Amphan is predominantly hilly, in an area of about 200,000 hectares
Dong Hua Sao
Phou Khao Khouay.
TOP EXPERIENCES IN LAOS
- Watch the sunset on the banks of the Mekong river in Vientiane
- Traverse the lush mountains of eastern Laos
- Try to spot gibbons and leopards in the Nam Ha Protected Area
- Enjoy the sunset over Mekong River over a couple of Lao beers and the rough mountain of Laos and Thailand in bordering town Houey Sai
- Relax on a leisurely boat trip Luang Sai along the Mekong River from Houey Sai to Luang Prabang. Experience traditional village life on the Mekong River.
- Explore the mysterious Pak Ou Caves and enjoy natural walk at the Kuang Sii waterfalls and visit hill tribal villages near by
- Take in panoramic views from the top of Phu Si Temple over Mekong River in the sunset
- Witness monks receiving alms in the streets of Luang Prabang in early in the morning
- Take a refreshing break to the fertile rich Boloven Plateau. Have a cup of strong lao coffee.
- Admire beautiful Tad Fan (Taat Fan) waterfall to the east of Pakse.
- Journey to Southern Laos’ 4000 islands and marvel at South East Asia’s biggest waterfall, Khone Phapheng