Laos Travel Guide
Landlocked Laos is often overlooked by many travelers in favor of its more popular neighbors. But the country has an abundance of natural beauty, history, food, and culture that makes it worth visiting. Lying in a mountainous region, Laos lacks the beaches of other Southeast Asian countries but the landscape more than makes up for this.
Picture mist-shrouded mountain peaks flanked by jungle clad valleys. Imagine trekking through old and untouched jungles and seeing rare and exotic flora and fauna. Visualize yourself cruising on a mountain bike through beautiful untamed scenery. And if watersports are your thing, you can embark on day or multi day kayaking voyages or go whitewater rafting if you enjoy the power of the rapids.
There's just so much to do in Laos especially if you like the outdoors. This article is your complete guide to visiting Laos. Continue reading to learn more about the country.
Laos Map Base
Capital city: Vientiane
Currency: Laotian Kip (LAK). 1 USD = 15,225 LAK
Electricity: Power voltage is 230 Volts. Power socket type A, B, C, E and F.
Language: Lao language, also called Laotian, is the official language.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Laos
Vang Vieng rice fields & countryside
Once a party town, Vang Vieng is now a remote sanctuary surrounded by stunning green mountains and cliffs. Rice is grown in the town during the rainy season and tourists are seen enjoying a walk, cycling or motorbiking across the rice fields, blue lagoons, exploring caves, kayaking, and enjoying the luscious green countryside.
There are many viewpoints that give you awe-inspiring panoramic views of the area. And you can choose between relaxing in the town and enjoying the greenery and solitude to participating in adventure or adrenaline sports. Your choice.
Xieng Khouang Province for the Plain of Jars and seeing the scars left by the Vietnam War
Whether you like history or not, the Plain of Jars in the Xieng Khouang Province is worth visiting. The Plain, which is actually thousands of acres of hilly green, consists of several gigantic stone urns that are randomly spread across the area. No one knows who built them and why although archaeologists believe the urns to be some sort of burial sites.
The more recent history of the plain goes back to the Vietnam war. Between 1964 and 1973, the US military placed more bombs in the plain of jars than they did in the entirety of World War II. Many of these bombs are still on the plains and still very active. As a result, only a small part of the plains is open to the public for safety reasons.
Pha That Luang, Vientiane
Pha That Luang is a symbol of Lao National pride. For those not familiar with it, it’s a majestic and huge Buddhist stupa covered in gold. The architecture is simply mesmerizing and it’s one of the reasons it is the most visited site in all of Laos.
If you think the exterior is impressive, you’ll be completely blown away by the vibrant decoration of the Interior. There are several paintings, sculptures, and altars to see, all of which are honestly works of art.
Sunset over Luang Prabang and the Mekong River from Mount Phu Si
While traveling, you are bound to hear about places where sunrise or sunset is magical. In Laos, Mount Phu Si is one of the places to see a magical sunset. The mountain is about 100 meters high and is a local religious site.
You’ll have to go up a flight of stairs (about 198) to get to the top of the hill. At the top, you’ll get a view of the Nam Khan and Mekong River with the mountains shadowing them. It’s a beautiful view that becomes surreal during sunset. There are no shops around so you’ll do well to bring refreshments along.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Many people have visited Laos just for the Kuang Si waterfalls. I love waterfalls. I can go on about how fascinating they are all day but I’ll spare you my rambling this time. The water of the waterfall is a stunning light blue. Or turquoise, if you may. It’s beautiful, it’s so picturesque. Many people have visited just to take a photograph of the light blue waters. When you are done taking in the beauty of the waterfall, you can go for a dip in the lower roots.
Hike to Tad Sae Waterfall through the Lao countryside
Tad Sae waterfall is another beautiful waterfall in Laos. It’s not as big or famous as Kuang Si but it had many streams of water pouring over unique limestone formations. You can swim or relax on wooden benches at the waterfall.
While you can get to Tad Sae via tuk tuk, many outdoor lovers find it more rewarding to hike to the waterfall. The hike is best done with a guide and will take you through villages, plantations, hilly countryside, and jungle. Many travelers agree that the trek is a better way to view the turquoise waterfalls.
Pak Ou Caves & scenery of the Mekong
The Pak Ou Caves are another popular destination in Laos. Filled with thousands of Buddha statues and overlooking the Mekong river, you are treated to amazing scenery as you explore the caves. There are two caves – a lower and an upper cave.
The upper cave is more difficult to climb but you can always take breaks in the guise of enjoying the scenery, haha. Perhaps due to the difficulty of the climb, this section has a more untouched vibe. The lower cave is easily accessible and is where most tourists tend to visit.
Xe Bangfai Cave
Laos has several spectacular caves but one you shouldn’t miss for anything is the one carved by the Xe Bangfai river. Located in the Khummuan province, the Xe Bangfai Cave is one of the largest sustained river passages in the world. It also has an enormous cavern and several impressive structures. You can explore part of the cave on a kayak to take in the natural beauty while taking some awesome pictures.
Bolaven Plateau for its waterfalls and villages
There are three reasons to visit the Bolaven plateau in Laos – waterfalls, coffee, and adventure. There seems to be an endless amount of waterfalls here surrounded by beautiful lush jungles.
Hiking and biking are common ways for travelers to explore the landscape. You’ll see several scenic villages with each one unique in its own way. The cuisines offered here are very delicious and the best thing about them is that they are very affordable.
4000 Islands and Khone Phapheng Falls, Mekong River
Si Phan Don, also referred to as 4,000 islands, actually has 4,000 islands as the name says. But worry not, only about three of those islands are inhabited and those are the ones you’ll be exploring. Each of these three islands offer superb experiences with accommodation and food very affordable.
The Khone Phapheng Falls is located in the 4000 islands and it is one of the widest waterfalls you’ll ever come across. There are observation decks that allow you to see the waterfall in all its glory and catch sight of the beautiful surroundings and the diverse birdlife at the falls.
Geography & Landscapes of Laos
Laos is divided into three distinct regions namely:
- Diverse mountainous regions which dominate most of the landscape
- Upland plateaus
- Plains along the Mekong region
About three-quarters of the country is made up of mountains and plateaus which are particularly abundant in the North and South East regions. Northern Laos also features jungles and agricultural areas.
The plain lands are located along the Mekong River, the longest river in the country and 7th longest in Southeast Asia.
Best Time To Go To Laos
Laos has a tropical climate that is influenced by the southeast monsoon. Two distinct seasons – dry and wet seasons – exist in Laos. The rainy season usually runs between May to mid-October while November to April is the duration of the dry season.
The best time to visit the country is during the dry season when the weather is consistently warm and dry. As you may expect, this period is when most people travel to Laos so expect a crowd and inflation of accommodation and transportation expenses.
If you want to beat the crowd, the rainy season is the best time to travel. You’ll have to pack a rain jacket to prepare for the rainfall but the waterfalls are at their best at this time of the year. Also, wildlife is more active during this period.
Traveling in Laos
Laos is a very safe country and violent crimes are very low. Your biggest concern is pickpocketing in crowded areas like the market. So, you should be vigilant and keep your wallet close. Ideally, you should keep all valuables in your hotel safe.
The standard safety tips also apply:
- Make photocopies of all important documents and keep the original in the hotel room
- Always stay on marked trails when hiking
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers
- Say no to drug and sex tourism
- Purchase good travel insurance
Getting to & Around Laos
Most flights to Laos will involve a change of plane at Bangkok. Sometimes, passengers may need to change planes at two locations with Bangkok being the second location.
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane is the major airport in Laos. The other major airport in the country is Pakse International Airport.
Getting around Laos is a challenge due to the conditions of the road. The barely road worthy aged jalopies and buses and the mountainous roads means short trips can easily turn into lengthy ones.
Buses are the most popular way to travel and they usually operate between major towns. They also link provincial hubs with their surrounding districts. Laos buses are the ultimate test of endurance and patience as breakdowns and price hikes can happen. The buses plying the rural areas are in the worst shape.
Taxis, tuk tuk, and a number of public buses are the main forms of transportation in the major cities.
Sawngthaews, which are converted pick up trucks, are popular within rural areas. While they are cheap, they can be uncomfortable. There is also no schedule as drivers will go anywhere passengers want but will only make the trip after getting enough passengers to make the trip worth it.
Flying is very expensive in Laos and thus not recommended. Major domestic airlines include Laos Airlines and Laos Skyway.
Boats are common for getting across places linked by the Mekong River. However, boat travels are no longer as popular as they used to as the roads have improved.
Accommodation is very cheap in Laos and hostels can cost as little as $5 a night with free wifi and breakfast sometimes included. Budget hotels, guesthouses, luxury hotel, and Airbnb are also available.