Full of sumptuous landscapes, between mountains, valleys, and rice fields, Laos is a territory still unknown to tourists. This country of great beauty and incredible calm will delight nature lovers, in search of adventure or looking for tranquility. Your tour to Laos will tell you the interesting stories of decolonization as well as the establishment of a communist regime. If you are planning to travel to Laos, take a look at our article which will give you some essential tips and things to know before traveling to Laos.

Things to Know Before Traveling to Laos

Viewpoint and beautiful landscapes in Luang Prabang, Laos

1. Visa and Transport

Since opening its borders to tourists in 1989, getting to Laos has been very easy with most passports. Travelers can obtain a 30-day visa on arrival, by air or by land. This is among most important things to know before traveling to Laos that you should pay attention to.

All visitors to Laos must have a passport valid at least 6 months from the date of arrival in Laos. It is possible to obtain a visa on arrival at international checkpoints such as border gates (between Laos and Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Cambodia) or international airports in Laos.

You should prepare 2 passport photos and cash in USD for the visa stamp (depending on your length of stay and the number of entries.

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For those who wish to extend their stay, it is possible to extend your visa at the Immigration Office in Vientiane. It costs USD 2 per day if you apply before the expiration date. On the other hand, after the expiration of your visa, you will be fined 10 USD per day for your excess stay.

2. How to Get to Laos?

By plane

Laos has three international airports: Wattay Airport in Vientiane, Luang Prabang Airport serving the provinces in the North and Pakse Airport serving the South.

The airlines serving Laos are Laos Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways International, Siem Reap Airways.

By road

Laos shares its borders with 5 countries: China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. We can, therefore, access it from the road and from these 5 countries.

On a boat

Laos is accessible by boat only from Thailand. In Thailand, you join Chiang Khong in the province of Chiang Rai and located on the banks of the Mekong. After crossing immigration, you will have to cross the Mekong by boat to reach Houei Say in Laos.

By train

Only one train provides the link between Laos and Thailand. The train leaves around 8 p.m. from Bangkok’s main station and arrives at around 7 a.m. in Nong Khai (near the Friendship Bridge).

By bus

  • From Thailand: Buses leave from Chiang Khong in the province of Chiang Rai and cross the Mekong on a boat.
  • From Vietnam: You can take the bus which leaves daily from Hue at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. and arrives in Savannakhet 13 hours later. Connections are also provided between Hanoi and Vientiane. The journey takes 24 hours.
  • From China: A bus links Kunming – Luang Prabang. The journey takes approximately 31 hours.

3. Best Time to Travel to Laos

Laos has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: the dry season from November to May and the rainy season from June to October. Finding out about Laos climate is among necessary things to know before traveling to Laos.

The average annual temperature is around 28°C and reaches a maximum of 38°C. Be careful if you visit the country in the rainy season as tropical rains are heavy and frequent, especially in July and August.

From November to February, when the precipitation is lower and the temperature is only 22°C, it is the “high tourist season” of the country.

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4. Currency

Things to Know Before Traveling to Laos

Laos Kip

The official currency in Laos is Laos Kip (K). By law, Kip is the only official quote for all transactions in Laos. But in reality, the Kip, the Thai baht and the American dollars are also usable at a certain merchant. Tipping is not included in the culture in Laos, except in tourist restaurants, where 10% of the bill is appreciated.

It is possible to exchange money at the airport or in major cities. This is one of most essential things to know before traveling to Laos.

  • Bank card: A large number of hotels, upscale restaurants, and souvenir shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang accept Visa and Master cards. Outside these three cities, especially in mountainous regions, credit cards are almost useless.
  • ATMs: ATMs are only available in major cities and dispense a maximum of 700,000 kips (approximately $ 70) once, with each withdrawal incurring a fee of $ 2
  • Tipping is not popular in Laos, but as usual, estimate a sum for your guide and your driver
  • Kip tickets are available in 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kips but small sellers, especially in rural areas, find it difficult to change the 20,000 kips and 50 000 kips.

5. Getting Around Laos

Tuk-tuk and taxi are the 2 means of transport most used by tourists in Laos. You must try the traditional tuk-tuk at least once during your tour in Laos. But if you want to have more private experiences with quality and a more assured price, you can rent a car in Laos. In Laos, you can also travel by train or plane. Domestic flights to Laos are not organized every day so you had better check before departure. This is among important things to know before traveling to Laos.

Things to Know Before Traveling to Laos

Tuk-tuk’s lined up waiting for passengers in Laos

6. Accommodation in Laos

There are many types of accommodation that meet your needs during your trip to Laos. In terms of accommodation in Laos, you have the choice between four types: hotels, youth hostels, pensions, and homestays.

Hotels and Hostels

They are available in big cities, but in the countryside and in the villages, you will often have to call in hotels and host families. In Laos, hostels are generally not as modern and developed as in Thailand and Vietnam, and it is more difficult to find flashpacker places. However, they are very affordable and perfect for backpackers on a budget.

Pension

Traditional Laotian guesthouses are a bit old fashioned but comfortable and generally very affordable. Prices are negotiable and often include breakfast. In the 4000 islands, you can even rent your own bungalow by the river.

Among the locals

Host families are a great option if you want to experience Laotian village life and meet the locals. This type of accommodation is common during hikes and village visits. The recipes benefit the local community and give you a taste of authentic Laos culture and cuisine.

7. Religion in Laos

Understanding deeply about religion in Laos is at top things to know before traveling to Laos. When visiting Buddhist sites, you must observe certain rules:

  • You dress conservatively: cover your shoulders and legs.
  • Take off your hats and shoes before entering a pagoda.
  • Keep a distance when talking to the monks.
  • Make no noise in sacred places

8. Domestic electricity

The standard electrical voltage in Laos is 230 volts. If the standard voltage in a country is between 220 and 240 V (as in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa), they can use their electrical devices in Laos. Otherwise, it is recommended that travelers use an all-in-one travel adapter when staying in Laos or any country in Southeast Asia.

9. Telephone and the Internet

How to contact and interact at another country is not only one of essential things to know before traveling to Laos but also the main concern of many tourist. Telephones and the internet are very important in your circuit in Laos. If you want to buy a local Sim card, Lao Telecom, ETL, Beeline (ex Tigo) and Unitel are major providers of telephone services in Laos. Wi-Fi is available in hotels and some restaurants or cafes in Laos.

10. Language

The official language of Laos is Lao, a Southeast Asian language closely related to Thai. In the north, where many Chinese immigrants and ethnic minorities live, Mandarin and minority languages ​​are also spoken. Laos was once a French colony, but French is no longer widely spoken.

The younger generations have adopted English, particularly in tourism. People working in the service and tourism sectors in large cities tend to be fluent in English. Although nobody expects you to be fluent in Lao, it is always polite to learn a few basic words and phrases, such as “hello” and “thank you.”

11. Festivals in Laos

Laotian festivals take place every month. The majority of festivals in Laos are linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays since the agricultural sector is the most important in the Laos economy and the main religion is Buddhism. This is also reflected significantly in many aspects of the daily life of Laotians. Therefore, discovering about celebrations in Laos is among interesting things to know before traveling to Laos.

Find out more: 21 Laos Festivals and Holidays

12. Most Ideal Places to Visit in Laos

Laos is known not only for its culture and lifestyle of the locals but also for its scenic beauty. Each tourist is attracted by the unique beauty of the cities of Laos. This destination is a combination of modernity and seniority through the ages. There are 5 cities in Laos not to be missed for unforgettable experiences.

Luang Prabang

Amazing Luang Prabang at sunset

The city of Luang Prabang has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It welcomes passing visitors with its pearly frangipani trees and their heady scent, its large pepper-colored trees and their scarlet flowers, the bright orange tunics of monks and sparrows, its resplendent temples of a gold color.

Between the glittering roofs of the temples, the sinking French architecture, the calm and the benevolence of the inhabitants, the most jaded traveler will undoubtedly appreciate the city. The smell of fresh coffee, activity on the river, spicy food, product markets will awaken all your senses.

Vientiane

The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is the largest city in the country. Despite this status, “the city of the moon” remains a city on a human scale. It can, therefore, be easily visited on foot or by bicycle, which gives a very pleasant overview of the city. In addition to the multitude of pagodas and the few vestiges of French colonial architecture, the fact that the city is on the edge of the Mekong adds to the charm and the relaxed atmosphere that reigns there.

Vang Vieng

Overview of Vang Vieng, Laos

Overview of Vang Vieng, Laos

This city is undoubtedly an unmissable destination for lovers of sports activities in the heart of nature and thrilling hikes. Becoming an essential stage of the tourist circuit in Laos, this city seduces by its charm, the beauty of its landscapes and the welcome of its inhabitants. Located 170 km from the capital, on Route 13 leading to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng benefits from a breathtaking natural setting, punctuated by sumptuous karst formations and sugar loaves.

Although the main street, which has become too touristy, has no charm, the surroundings are absolutely magnificent. The edge of the Nam Song river, particularly pleasant, recalls all the authenticity of Laos.

Pakse

A veritable hub of southern Laos, Pakse is also the capital of the province of Champasak, founded in 1905 by the French. This destination inevitably sees many travelers passing by. Without particular charm, with the exception of the old French houses and its market, the largest in Laos, it serves as a starting point for the great excursions that are Vat Phu, the Bolaven plateau and the 4000 islands.

Savannakhet

It is the active economic center of the South of Laos and chief town of the most populated province of Laos, Savannakhet is an extremely peaceful city at the edge of the Mekong. In addition, it has old French houses. Despite everything, the large square, surrounded by arcades and large trees, is particularly attractive.

This place also has a catholic church that testifies to the presence of the phalanx and gives it an air of a big French borough, especially with the players of “petang” which one can cross on every street corner.

13. Best Must-try Activities on Your Laos Tour

Visit temples and pagodas

That Luang Stupa, Laos

That Luang Stupa, Laos

From the significant emergence of Buddhism as a national religion of Laos, the main attraction for all tours in Laos is its Buddhist monasteries, temples, and pagodas as well as its historical and architectural richness. The most popular Buddhist architectures are located in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. In Vientiane, the most represented Buddhist architectures are Pha That Luang, etc.

Explore caves and waterfalls

The two most famous natural sites on your tour of Laos are the surreal falls of Kuang Si and the solemn caves of Pak Ou. In addition, there are many other natural sites worth visiting such as the Tad Sae 3-level waterfalls, the stunning Tat Somphamit, the Tham Nam water cave, the picturesque Tham Phu Kham Cave and the Blue Lagoon…

Visit the elephant fields

The elephant has always been attached to the image of Laos since the start of the Lan Xang nation. This is the origin of the title “Land of a million elephants”. The elephant is considered a scary wild animal, but they are hunted down and abused for logging in Laos. Realizing the gravity of the problem, the government saved and did its best to protect these elephants. In order to maintain the preservation and finance the breeding, they have opened elephant camps or elephant villages so that tourists can interact and learn more about this majestic animal. A half-day excursion with elephant rides through the forest and river landscapes or a day in the elephant villages are unforgettable experiences for your stay in Laos.

Take a cruise on the Mekong River

The river, known as Mae Nam Khong or Mekong River, the mother of waters, crosses the borders of Laos and Thailand. Whether you are in Luang Prabang, Vientiane or Pakse, you can all visit the Mekong. For this reason, a cruise on the Mekong is always a great adventurous experience for travelers. Today, there are more and more options available, from short cruises between northern Thailand and Luang Prabang or south of Laos to longer and more luxurious cruises along the Mekong. Contact a travel agency for more Laos cruise adventure ideas

Buy traditional products as souvenirs

Local souvenirs could be an excellent reflection of the culture and history of a country. Laos is well-known for its handicrafts, some souvenir ideas for visitors are Phaa sin skirt, sculpture, textiles or ceramics …

14. Unique Gastronomy of Laos

Lao cuisine is a good blend of Thai and Vietnamese flavors. Due to Laos’ agriculture and limited means, food tends to be simple. Traditional dishes revolve around rice, meat, and fish. In addition, vegetarian dishes can be found in major cities. The French influence is also visible, in particular in the fantastic fusion restaurants of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Laos’ cuisine is among top amazing things to know before traveling to Laos.

Khao Poon

Things to Know Before Traveling to Laos

Khao Poon or Khaub Poob is a spicy rice vermicelli soup known as the signature of Laos. It is a Laos soup kitchen. Khao Poon is traditionally cooked with rice vermicelli (a thin rice noodle with a tangy taste).

Tam Mak Houng

It is a kind of very spicy papaya salad. To do this, we put chili, kapi (shrimp paste) or nampou (crab paste), lemon juice and nampa (salted fish sauce).

Lap

Lap is a traditional Lao salad. It is a kind of tartar made from fish or meat as a rule. The lap is generally very spicy. It is therefore eaten with white rice or sticky rice.

Mok Pa

It is a steamed fish. It is usually wrapped in banana leaves and tied with bamboo string. All ingredients are mixed with steamed fish. This dish should never be served dry and is a dish. It is also normally associated with sticky rice.

Khao Niaw

Khao Niaw, one of Laos' must-try specialties

Khao Niaw, one of Laos’ must-try specialties

In Laos, there is very often sticky rice to eat, at any time of the day. This dish is traditionally steamed in a cone-shaped bamboo basket and placed in a covered basket. It is eaten with many accompaniments.

Discover more: Top 15 Laos food you must try

15. Suggested Itineraries for Your Travel to Laos

Start planning your tailor-made Vietnam tour by contacting one of our specialists…

Bich Ngoc

As a true Vietnamese enthusiast of music, books and coffee, Bich Ngoc loves researching into those typical cultural characteristics of Vietnam as well as exploring further destinations in the country of thousand years of civilization.

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