• Travel Guide

    Travel Guide | Laos

    Laos is a Southeast Asian country traversed by the Mekong River and known for mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. Vientiane, the capital, is the site of the That Luang monument, where a reliquary reportedly houses the Buddha’s breastbone, plus the Patuxai war memorial and Talat Sao (Morning Market), a complex jammed with food, clothes and craft stalls.

    Laos is one of the least developed countries in the world, probably due to the level of corruption in the country, which has consequently deterred foreign investors and political instability or unrest. In fact, a third of the entire population is living below the International poverty line. Laos is also the only landlocked country in South East Asia, with Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, China and Thailand surrounding it. Laos being a landlocked country means it doesn’t have a coast line or beaches.

    Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang
    Bamboo Bridge, Luang Prabang

    Culture

    CURRENCY

    Their currency is the Lao Kip. The Laotian currency is unfortunately a closed currency, so you are unable to buy it outside of the country. There are plenty of ATMs around to get money out when you need it. You can get their currency as soon as you reach arrivals in the airport or once you get into the city or town you’ll be visiting. You do need to be careful how much you get out. You can’t leave the country with it as it’s a virtually unconvertible currency, so if you have any left it’s useless until you visit Laos again.

    Before you leave, its best to change over your Laos Kip to another currency that you’ll need. Most restaurants are pretty good and can accept other currencies like the Euro and USD as well as major credit & debit cards. But some do charge the bank rate and they will let you know before you pay, most of the time it’s 2.5 or 3%.

    Their currency roughly works out as follows:
    4,600 kip – 39p
    46,000 kip – £3.90
    460,000 – £39.00

    It can get a little confusing at times but this is a rough working out of how much things cost. Downloading the Currency Plus app below will really help.

    Top Tip:
    Download the app “Currency Plus” to get currency conversions on the go. It updates daily and when connected to WiFi or Network to give you the latest conversion and you can have multiple currencies shown in one go.

    Download here: Apple App Store // Google Play Store

    LANGUAGE

    Laotian is the official language of Laos. It really does help if you know a little Laotian as it really does go a long way. Even knowing Hello, Thank you and Please – it really helps and is appreciated with locals. Below are some phrases to remember and help you get by. Laotian locals do speak very good English and most of them have English lessons from ex pats to help them in the tourism trade.

    Hello – Sabaidee (do not confuse this with the Thai greeting, although it is very similar)
    Goodbye – La khãwn
    Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening – Ton sao
    Yes – Jao
    No – Baw
    Maybe – Bangthi
    Please – Khâluna
    Thank you – Kap Jai (Khãwp Ja̖i)
    Thank you so much – Kap Jai Li Li
    Sorry/Excuse me – Khãw thôht

    RELIGION

    The main religion in Laos is Buddhism, with almost all ethnic or “‘lowland” Lao are followers of Theravada Buddhism – but that makes up only 40-50% of the population. The other religions in Laos are made up from Atheism – 31.4%, Christianity 1.7% and other/not stated – 2.1%. When visiting places of worship in Laos, it’s always respectful to wear appropriate and non revealing clothes, remove your shoes and speak politely and quietly when around monks and figures of worship.

    TIMEZONE

    The timezone in Laos is Indochina Time (GMT+7:00). They are 7 hours ahead of the UK.

    CUISINE

    The cuisine in Laos is distinctive from other Southeast Asian cuisines. Of course, sticky rice, like many other Asian countries, is the staple. Larb is one of the most famous dishes in Lao cuisine, a meat based salad. There is also a lot of traces of French cuisine in Laos and many other cuisines available.

    My recommended places to eat in Laos include:
    • 525 Tapas & Bar, Luang Prabang
    • Tangor, Luang Prabang
    • Popolo, Luang Prabang
    • The Novelty Café, Luang Prabang
    • The Belle Rive, Luang Prabang
    • Main Street Bar & Grill, Luang Prabang


    Budget Tips

    Suggested Daily Budget: 10-15 USD/ 7-11 GBP – (Note: this is a suggested daily budget if you are staying in a hostel and eating out less or eating more street food.) You can eat for as little as 25,000kip to 100,000kip, depending where you choose to eat. During my 5 days in Luang Prabang, I withdrew £89.14 from the ATMS which is roughly 1,018,560.06 KIP and spent all of it on food, general shopping, excursions and transport. It is a hell of a lot cheaper in Laos and the rest of South East Asia.

    01. Tip only when you feel necessary – Tipping is not obligatory in Laos, but when you feel the service requires it, it is always greatly appreciated. The majority of Laos’ population is below the International poverty line so they appreciate a reward for their hard work if you feel they’ve earned it.

    02. Eat street food over sit down meals (if you don’t mind that) – If you do not mind eating from street food stalls, you can save a lot of money and quite often the dishes are more delicious when freshly cooked and it’s not always a psychological thing when it’s cost a fraction of the price. Every night is a great street market filled with food stalls, so you are never stuck for choice.

    03. Save money on transport by walking or renting a bike – Tuk tuk and taxi fares can all add up. Walking is free and a lot easier early in the morning or late at nigh when you’re not in the midday sun. You can also hire a bicycle for as little as $1 per day.

    04. Travel during the low season – If you don’t mind the weather being wetter, you can save a lot more money when travelling during the low season, from months July to October. November to February is typically their high season, it’s more busier and the weather is a lot warmer and drier.


    Travel Tips

    VISAS

    You will need to apply for a Laotian visa before entering the country, depending on which country you are from. You can also buy them as your arrive but to save hassle, you will be better off buying them before you leave for your flight. I highly recommend you pre-buy your e-visa to avoid queues and extra fees if you do not have passport photos to spare to use.

    I bought my e-visa from visalaos.com, which cost me around £30 and you can also buy from laoevisa.gov.la, their application fees vary from $35 to $50 depending on which country you are from. Most South East Asian country citizens do not require a visa for up to 30 days. Make sure you check out all websites, as some cover more airports and points of entry than others.

    INJECTIONS

    You will need injections before travelling to Laos, if you haven’t already had them for South East Asia yet. You can read more about the injections you’ll need in my 8 Of Your Questions Answered About Asia. You can also find out more information about the injections you’ll need at your GP or doctors. Most of the injections for SE Asia will overlap but you may need boosters or new injections depending on the health status of each country.

    CAPITAL/CITY

    The capital city of Laos is Vientiane. The main cities in Laos are Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Pakse and Si Phan Don.

    I highly recommend visiting Luang Prabang over Vientiane as it’s more chilled and has a lovely friendly vibe, over the crazy buzz of Vientiane.

    ACCOMMODATION

    There are plenty of lovely accommodations to stay at around Laos, depending on your budget. You can either stay in an affordable guesthouse or hostel if you are backpacking around or if you are looking for something more luxurious – there are plenty of resorts and boutique hotels around to suit your budget. We stayed in the lovely boutique hotel Maison Dalabua which has its own UNESCO protected lotus pond and is connected to the restaurants Manda de Laos and Gaspard.

    ACCOMMODATION I’VE STAYED IN:

    Royal Palace Museum, Luang Prabang
    Mekong Delta, Luang Prabang

    EXPLORE LAOS

    Luang Prabang

    CRIME

    Laos is a relatively safe country for tourists with an exception of a few select areas or cities. Petty crimes like pick pocketing and snatching are common among tourists. It is always best to stay vigilent just in case.

    DRIVING

    Driving isn’t really recommended in Laos for tourists due to the roads and conditions. We didn’t drive in Laos so I do not have much information on this. The most important rule of driving in Laos is to expect the unexpected. Driving is on the right hand side of the road, with the driver on the left of the car. A lot of people did ride motorcycles or push bikes around Laos which you can hire for not that much per day.

    DID YOU KNOW: About 80% off the country’s export goods is coffee.

    FLIGHTS

    To get to Laos, we had a flight from London Heathrow into Bangkok’s Survarnabhumi airport with a 5 hour layover until our flight into Luang Prabang airport. We flew with British Airways to Bangkok Survanabhumi and then Bangkok Airlines to Luang Prabang with a 5 hour layover before. Be sure to search through Skyscanner to find your best time to fly to Laos or another airport you are flying to before Laos. You can not fly directly into Laos, without going through a major Asian city like Bangkok.

    PUBLIC TRANSPORT

    There are no major train lines in Laos apart from a few train lines into Thailand and into the city of Vientiane. Buses are the main form of public transport for longer journeys. Laos is landlocked so there are no harbours or ports on the sea and navigation of the Mekong Delta is very difficult. The most popular way of getting around Laos and the cities is commonly tuk tuks or other 3 wheeled transport as they are quick and affordable to use.


    Packing Tips

    WHAT TO WEAR

    You can wear pretty much anything in Laos depending on the weather unless you are visiting a place of worship. When you visit a place of worship, you will need to cover your shoulders and legs and for females, make sure your cleavage is covered up. It would be best to wear easy to slip off shoes, when required to remove your shoes before entering. In Luang Prabang it can sometimes start and end the day a little chilly, however during the day can reach up to highs of 30’C during their summer.

    WHAT TO PACK

    You can pack pretty much anything you’ll need for how long you are going for and the weather. You can find out what I packed in my Packing Guide For Laos post.

    WEATHER

    The weather in Laos varies between the months and especially if it’s high season or monsoon season. The dry season in Laos typically runs from October to April, and the wet season from May until September, with the heaviest rainfall generally in August & September, especially in the south. The hottest time of the year in Laos is typically between the months of March and June, when temperatures can climb to 35°C and above.

    Luang Prabang is surrounded by jungle and ‘cut through’ by the flow of the Mekong River, has a typical tropical-monsoon climate and tends to be cooler than destinations further south. The dry season is split into two halves, with the latter months being the hottest. During its ‘coldest’ months (December and January), temperatures can settle at around 17°C and nights and early mornings can be chilly. Once you reach March temperatures start to rise and come April and May it can peak as high as 31°C+.

    LAOS WEATHER


    Activities

    THINGS TO SEE & DO

    There is so much to see and do throughout Laos especially in Luang Prabang. Laos is famous for being one of the countries the Mekong Delta runs through (starting in Myanmar and ending in Ho Chi Minh City) before going into the China Sea.

    BOOK YOUR ACTIVITIES HERE…

    HIGHLIGHTS OF LAOS:
    • • Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang
    • • Watch the sunset on the Mekong Delta, Luang Prabang
    • • MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary, Luang Prabang
    • • Cross over the Bamboo Bridge for 7,000 kip for a cocktail and food

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    2 comments
    Travel Guide | Laos

    • Thanks for sharing, your Guide to Laos 🙂 I would also recommend going towards China for a glimpse at village life to, not just going a city, also try local food, not going for the western food, even if it’s good, it depends to be cheaper than the western-style food, which will more money to spend at the night markets which were my favourite bit to visit 🙂

      • Thank you for the comment 🙂 I will definitely check out that when I’m heading that way next. Might give Asia a break for a little bit and explore another continent, hopefully South America.