Five Things First Time Travellers To Laos Should Know
- Beware of the bed bugs. The pests are a growing problem in Laos with many budget hotels and cheap backpackers bearing the brunt of the infestation. If you're travelling on a shoestring, make sure to read reviews online and check the room before you settle in for the night.
- Laos has a strict government curfew. All bars and hotels will lock their doors at 11:00 p.m. If you stay out later than this, you'll have to wake up the staff to get into your room.
- You can pay for goods in three different currencies. Most places in Laos will accept US dollars, Thai baht and Lao kip as payment. Just make sure you keep an eye on the exchange rate, as you'll typically get a better a deal paying in kip.
- Practice your haggling skills. Bargaining is part of Lao culture, so much so that you can even negotiate room rates in the low season. The only things that aren't subject to this rule are food items at local shops.
- Don't drink the tap water. Stick to bottled water when travelling in Laos. It's cheap, and most hotels will even provide you with free drinking water.
Best Time To Visit Laos
The best time to visit Laos is from November to March. During this period, the weather is drier, and temperatures are a comfortable 30°C. But if you are travelling to the highlands, temperatures can sometimes drop to the freezing point.
Due to the lack of rain, the dry season is the busiest time of year in Laos. Expect crowds at the most popular attractions and higher hotel rates. It's also a good idea to book your accommodation a couple of weeks in advance, as the decent hotels tend to fill up fast.
From February, the temperatures begin to rise, peaking in April. If you're not a fan of hot and humid weather, you may want to avoid the next couple of months. Laos also receives most of its rainfall between May and September, which can affect the condition of the unpaved roads.
The upside to travelling during this wet season is that you'll save money on accommodation. Most guesthouses and hotels will lower their rates, and you'll have an easier time finding great deals on flights.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning your trip is the burning of agriculture. From March until the beginning of the monsoon, farmers will slash and burn their fields. The landscape becomes shrouded in smoke, and it's not the best time of year for picturesque photography.
No trip to Laos would be complete without a stop in Luang Prabang. The entire city is UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's the spiritual centre of the country.
Home to more than 30 Buddhist temples, it's one of the best places to witness the ancient alms ceremony and learn more about the religion.
Luang Prabang is also a great place to base yourself for day trips. It's only a short boat ride away from popular attractions like the Kuang Si waterfalls and the Pak Ou Caves.
Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane is a wonderful blend of French and Buddhist cultures.
Visit the Buddha Park, a collection of sculptures from Buddhist mythology. Stop by the monument of Patuxai, a Laotian version of France's Arc de Triomphe. Fill up on noodles from street stalls and enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the riverside cafes.
Nestled between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is the laidback town of Vang Vieng. It's a firm favourite on the backpacker route thanks to its infamous booze cruise down the Nam Song River.
But the town is also rich in authentic Laotian culture. Stop by the colourful market of Thala where the hill tribes come to sell their wares or visit Vang Xang, an archaeological site that dates back to the 11th century.
Top Attractions in Laos
Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si Falls is the top natural attraction in Laos. It's considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Located 29 km from Luang Prabang, it's an easy day trip and perfect for those hot, humid days. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even sign up for a kayaking tour to the falls.
Once there, you'll see three tiers leading to a 50 km drop into emerald green pools of water. Spend a few hours swimming here and don't forget to check out the nearby Moon Bear sanctuary on your way out.
Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang is the most important religious monument in Laos. Located in Vientiane, it was built in the 16th century and is a symbol of Buddhism and Lao sovereignty.
Constructed on the ruins of a Khmer temple, it's an excellent example of Lao style architecture. Inside you'll find a statue of the great Angkor's king, Jayavarman who converted the Khmer empire to Buddhism.
The temple is 148 feet tall and is covered in real gold. If you want to witness the building in all its splendour, time your trip for the Boun Thatluang Festival in November. It's one of the biggest Buddhist celebrations in Laos, with the main event taking place at Pha That Luang.
Buddha Park is home to 200 religious statues. Its collection includes a 40-meter-high reclining Buddha, Hindu gods and demons from both beliefs.
The most impressive statues include the king of Hindu gods riding a three-headed elephant and a deity with 12 faces and arms, each holding different objects.
Once you've admired the artistry and detail of the park, there's a nearby cafe. It's located next to the Mekong River and is a wonderful spot to relax before you continue exploring.
To get to the Buddha Park, you can take a bus from Vientiane. It runs every 40 minutes and is a reliable way to get to and from the site. You could also hire a tuk-tuk driver, but you'll be charged an exorbitant amount.
The Plain Of Jars
The Plain of Jars is one of Laos's greatest mysteries. Located near Phonsavan, no one is sure why they are there. Local legend says the jars were made to store rice wine, while other folklores suggest they were used for storing the dead.
The jars were more than 2,000 years old, and some are over 3 metres high. The Plain of Jars is also considered one of the most dangerous archaeological sites in the world.
Unexploded bombs from the Secret War remain at the site, and as a result, only certain parts are open to visitors. If you decide to visit, make sure you stick to the known routes as the mines cause injuries to this day.
Pak Ou Caves
One of the best day trips from Luang Prabang is a boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves. Packed with thousands of Buddha icons, the caves are an ancient pilgrimage site that dates back thousands of years.
Located at the point where the Mekong River meets the Nam Ou River, there are two caves you can visit. Tham Ting is the upper cave and boasts the most Buddha statues, while Tham Theung gets no natural light and requires a torch to see the icons.
The best way to get to the Pak Ou Caves is to join one of the daily boat tours. Head to the harbour by the Mekong River, buy your ticket, and you'll be on your way to one of the most respected Buddhist sites in Laos.
Major International Airports in Laos
- Luang Prabang International Airport
- Wattay International Airport
- Pakse International Airport
- Savannakhet Airport