Laos is a destination of river and culture. There is no beach but there are islands. There are also river cruises, unique festivals, colorful hill tribe villages and great local hospitality. It is appealing for adventure seekers with endless trekking trails and new experiences. This ultimate Laos travel guide is just something you should read before planning
Laos History in Short
Laos was actually once three separate Kingdoms, until it was colonised by France in 1893. It was also briefly occupied by the Japanese in World War Two, before finally gaining its independence in 1953. The country was ruled by a constitutional monarchy until the year 1975, when many years of civil war finally took its toll. Since this time the country has been run in a Communist style, with neighbouring Vietnam often having a major influence.
Is Laos worth your visit?
In terms of travel, Laos is often overlooked by its more popular neighbours like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. However Laos offers a really good mix of outdoor fun, beautiful country side and heavy hitting culture. The country is really cheap, safe and the people are super friendly. So it’s most definitely worth the visit when in the region.
How long should you spend in Laos ?
We think at least one to two weeks in Laos should be enough. It is best to divide your time between Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. That way you are sure to get a great mix of culture, city life, rural life and the outdoors.
Top Laos Travel Sites
The capital city of Laos is quite heavily influenced by French and also Khmer architecture.
Some of the highlights include visiting Pha That Luang, which is a giant golden Buddhist stupa, and Patuxai which is a memorial monument built in the style of the Arc De Triomphe. In fact you can also climb to the top of Patuxai which gives you outstanding panoramic views of the city.
The city also sits on the Mekong River, which also acts as the Lao border with Thailand. Head down to the river at night for a beer, some great food and to enjoy the atmosphere of the night markets.
We recommend a stay of about 2 nights in Vientiane.
The town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site due to its extremely well preserved architecture, religious monuments and strong cultural presence. Luang Prabang is situated in northern Laos at the confluence of both the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Laos, is attending the dawn alms giving ceremony with the local monks on the town’s streets. This is a tradition that has been around for centuries, and something that is incredibly sacred to the local people.
Another couple of highlights include going to one of the nearby elephant sanctuaries or visiting the visually stunning Kuang Si waterfalls.
Luang Prabang is very quiet religious town and is a really great place to chill out for a few days. We recommend a stay of about 4 nights.
We didn’t have enough time to get to Vang Vieng, but we have some good friends who have been there and they rate it very highly!
Vang Vieng is a much more “touristy” town compared to Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The town is located near the very beautiful Nam Song River and sits at the bottom of a really pretty mountain range. Outdoor activities feature strongly, such as river tubing and zip lining.
In fact, it used to be common practice for backpackers to come to the town and go river tubing while getting fucked up on drugs and alcohol. The river was once aligned with many bars selling cheap drugs, cocktails and beers. However due largely to some backpacker deaths, these bars have since closed down and the town of Vang Vieng has tried hard to lose this party reputation.
Tourism is a polarising issue for the locals of Vang Vieng, as many believe the backpackers are disrespectful and are ruining the cultural tone of the town.
So if you go there, please don’t be a fuck head. Make sure you enjoy yourself, but please do be respectful, as the people of Laos are very proud of their culture.
A stay of 3 nights should be enough.
Other places to visit
We spent one week in Laos and only managed to visit Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Some other places we would like to check out on another visit are listed below:
Bokeo Nature Reserve
A nature reserve dedicated to protecting the previously thought to be extinct “Black Gibbon”. You can stay in tree houses and go zip lining through the reserve to see the Gibbons.
Situated in North-West Laos and is great for trekking among the hill tribe villages.
Si Phan Don
This is a series of little islands amongst mini waterfalls and rapids that stretches over 9km in the Mekong River. Located in Southern Laos, there are three main islands which can be visited, Don Det, Don Khon and Done Kong.
Best time to visit: It’s best to visit Laos anytime from November to January. During this time the weather is favourable and the temperatures comfortable. Any time out of this then expect to either sweat your balls off or get flooded in the monsoon rains.
Getting around Laos can be tough. The main roads and highways are really really poor, and to make matters worse the terrain is incredibly mountainous, which means very long car and bus journeys. You can literally spend 9 hours on the road to just travel 400km! So you are definitely better off flying. Check out the Lao Airlines website for up to date routes and prices.
Laos is a really cheap country which is great for backpackers. A beer can be $1 and a basic street food meal anywhere from $2-5. A room in a guesthouse can be anywhere from $5-10 a night. You can easily get away with budgeting about $50 a day for food, travel, accommodation and tours.
There are several options for onwards travel anywhere in South-East Asia. You can fly to China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam very easily and quite cheaply. Once again checkout Lao Airlines for times, dates and prices.
The land border crossings can be dodgey and really time consuming. We really recommend you fly instead. But if you don’t fly you can often catch a bus or even speed boats to nearby countries.