After 5 weeks in Laos, it's time to review. We open our accounts and list our favorites to help you plan your trip to the million smiles land.
Backpacking Laos: our travel guide
Laos is an Asian country that has a lot to offer and it is not for nothing that the country has met, for a few years now, a great success with backpackers. The hospitality of the people, the good food but also the spectacular landscapes and the very rich culture make it an unavoidable destination in Southeast Asia. Moreover, we have traveled 5 weeks through Laos and we give you all the pieces of advice!
- Map of Laos
- Weather in Laos: when to go?
- Itinerary: things to do in Laos
- Do a tour of Laos
- Getting to Laos
- The travel budget for Laos
- Hotels in Laos
- Which visa for a trip to Laos?
- Laos and COVID
- Vaccines for a trip to Laos
- Driving in Laos
- Traveling in Laos
- Some Lao words to travel
- Festivals and holidays in Laos
- Lao food
- Internet and Wifi in Laos
- Tips for a trip to Laos
- Our blog posts about Laos
Map of our trip to Laos
Laos is a country landlocked between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and China, in short, located in the heart of Southeast Asia! It is one of the only countries in the region without access to the sea. Its capital is Vientiane, located in the northwest of the country.
Here is the map with all our articles dedicated to Laos:
Climate: when is the best time to visit Laos?
Laos has a rather tropical climate, which means that there are 2 seasons: a dry season which runs from October to April, and a rainy season which runs from May to September.
It is generally recommended to go to Laos during the dry season, especially since the temperatures are much more pleasant during this period. In July and August, the thermometer tends to go crazy, which complicates the visits...
What things to do in Laos
Laos is a beautiful country that lends itself as much to a stopover during a world tour as to a beautiful destination for vacations. It is, of course, possible to come only for a week, but if you want our opinion it would be a pity. The travel times are relatively long despite the short distances, we really recommend you stay at least 2 weeks. Below, you will find some suggestions for itineraries according to the duration. The idea is not that you follow them to the letter, but rather to give you an impression of what we think is realistic ;).
Travel to Laos for 2 semaines
If you plan to come and travel to Laos for 2 weeks, we advise you to focus on either the north or the south of the country.
Itinerary in the north of Laos:
- 3 days in Nong Khiaw: this little wilderness paradise surrounded by small villages (like Muang Ngoi Neua) is just waiting to be explored. You also can kayak, hike to the viewpoints overlooking the karsts, or just enjoy the quietness of the place.
- 3 days of trekking in the Nam Ha National Park: this park is known for its treks (from Luang Namtha or Muang Sing) through the lush jungle of northern Laos to meet the Khmu ethnic group. We did not have the opportunity to explore this area during our backpacking trip and we refer you to Jen and Rudolph's nice article to have all the useful information to make a trek.
- 4 days in Luang Prabang: it is nice to wander in this very nice and relaxing city in the north of Laos. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site! Don't miss the beautiful waterfalls of Kuang Si and Tat Sae, and the sunset from Mount Phousi! Here too, you can explore the surroundings at your leisure either on foot or by bicycle.
- 2 days in Vang Vieng: this city, which used to be quite tumultuous, is often cited as a must-see destination in northern Laos. For our part, we left there with a rather mixed opinion. The surroundings are beautiful, but Vang Vieng lacks, in our opinion, a lot of charm and does not deserve to be visited. But this is only our opinion ;).
Itinerary in southern Laos:
- 3 days in the 4000 Islands: this place is beautiful and conducive to relaxation and serenity. In fact, it is the ideal spot to rest while refining one's hammock technique and to see beautiful waterfalls on the Mekong.
- the Thakhek Loop in 4 days: imagine 500 km through the karst relief, discovering the most beautiful caves of the country including the famous Konglor Cave!
- the Bolaven Plateau Loop by motorbike in 4 days: from Pakse, go to the waterfalls paradise. On the program: Laotian coffee, the most beautiful and largest waterfalls of Laos, and swimming, all in the middle of nature!
Note: we deliberately omitted Vientiane in our northern Laos itinerary. Although it is the capital, the city does not offer so many attractions... So we preferred to focus on other places. If you want to visit, you can spend 2 days there.
Travel for 3 weeks or 1 month to Laos
If you stay more than 2 weeks, then you can definitely consider traveling in both the north and the south of Laos! The same tips as above are of course still valid and can be combined quite easily! When planning your itinerary, just keep in mind that even if public transportation works well in Laos, it remains very slow. 100 km is clearly not done in 1 hour, but rather in 3 or 4 hours... You have been warned ;).
We arrived in the north of Laos by crossing the border from Sapa in Vietnam, then crossed the country from north to south. In reality, it doesn't really matter. See rather according to the flights or your itinerary if you are on a round-the-world trip :).
Do a tour of Laos
You don't want to travel independently? If you prefer to go through an agency to organize a tour in Laos, we warmly recommend the services of Evaneos, an agency that works exclusively with local service providers and offers many itineraries for all budgets. They propose a wide range of tours that are organized (with a guide) or "free" formulas that we find great: they take care of transportation and accommodation and it is you who manages the program. Not bad, right?
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How to get to Laos
Laos is located in the center of Southeast Asia and yet it is not an easy destination to reach... Well, it is not very complicated, we reassure you, but let's say that if you don't want to pay too much, you have to be a bit cunning!
Arriving by land
During a long trip through Southeast Asia, most travelers decide to arrive in Laos by land, usually by bus. This is most likely the cheapest and easiest option. There are many land border crossings to Laos, from:
- Thailand: in the north of Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge n°4 then why not take a cruise to Luang Prabang, in the center via the Thai-Lao Friendship n°3 to reach Thakhek, in the south by the city Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse.
- Vietnam: the most frequent crossings are from the north from Sapa via Dien Bien Phu to Nong Khiaw or from the south from Hue to Pakse.
- Cambodia: the only border post is a few kilometers from the 4000 Islands, in Veun Kham. Beware of e-visas and corruption, we will come back to this below, in the visas to travel to Laos.
- or China: the main post is located at Muang Si, a small village near the Nam Ha National Park.
Arriving by air
If you are arriving by air, chances are that you will arrive at the international airport of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, or Luang Prabang. As flights to Bangkok are not expensive, it can be interesting to compare the price of direct flights to Laos with those to Bangkok combined with a flight from an Asian low-cost airline between the Thai capital and Vientiane or Luang Prabang. This option often allows you to make great savings! For example, a return flight from Paris to Luang Prabang costs around 1400 euros while a return flight from Paris to Bangkok costs around 600 euros and a flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang costs around 170 euros. In short, the calculation is quickly done!
To find a flight at the best price, we recommend you go on Skyscanner and compare the different destinations while trying as much as possible to keep flexibility in the dates.
What is the budget for a backpacking trip to Laos
Laos is a country in Southeast Asia that is well on its way to becoming a tourist destination and backpacking is relatively easy. There are buses (local or not) to go everywhere, the roads are gradually getting paved (we will remember for a long time the poor state of the tracks on the Thakhek and Bolaven Plateau loops!) and the guesthouses are starting to bloom everywhere in the country.
The currency of Laos is the kip (LAK) and its current rate is 1 euro = 18 000 kips. Check the current rate before you leave ;).
Here is what we spent each day on average during our trip to Laos.
|Expense item||Daily budget/person|
That is a total budget of about 16,8 € per day and per person.
You will find more details in our article dedicated to our review and budget for our trip to Laos.
Hotels in Laos
As far as accommodation is concerned, we looked for hotels or guesthouses directly on the spot most of the time. We have found good deals, but it implies spending some time looking for... We admit that we like this small ritual to pass from hotel to hotel to compare the prices and the rooms but it is not adapted to everyone. If you prefer to book a hotel in Laos online, we recommend you compare the rates on the map below. Zoom in on the destination of your choice, then adjust the filters (type of accommodation, price, reviews) to refine your search.
Visas for a trip to Laos
Laos is a very convenient and easy country when it comes to visas! Indeed, there is no exemption for Europe except for Swiss and Luxembourg citizens (we'll come back to this later). Otherwise, a visa is mandatory to travel to Laos. You have two possibilities to obtain a visa: to make an e-visa online or to ask for a visa at the border.
The e-visa for Laos costs 50 dollars for all European citizens and is valid for 60 days from the receipt of the approval letter (within 3 working days) but for a stay in Laos of 30 days. You can apply for an e-visa online from anywhere as long as you have a photo ID, your passport and your credit card handy. Be careful, with the e-visa, you can only enter Laos through these 6 entry points! Moreover, beware of sites that look more or less official to make your visa. There is only one address to get your e-visa, it's the government one.
Visa on arrival
Otherwise, you can get a visa on arrival, either by air or land, only at these entry points. The visa costs a little less than an e-visa, 40 dollars instead of 50. By the way, have some dollars (in perfect condition) on you because credit cards are not accepted. The only condition to obtain the visa is to have a valid passport that is still valid for at least 6 months. Also, have a passport photo with you, it will save you time (and a few dollars).
Swiss and Luxembourg citizens benefit from a visa exemption agreement in Laos. With your passport, you can benefit from 15 free days in the country! As for us, we knew that we wanted to stay 1 month, so we didn't use this option and directly bought a visa (50 dollars) because it avoided us to go and extend our exemption (and financially it is almost the same).
Visa extension in Laos
Once the precious is in your pocket, it only remains to enjoy this magnificent country! But be careful, like many travelers, you may find yourself under the spell of the country, and not want to leave! If like us, 30 days doesn't seem enough, you have three options to extend your visa in Laos:
- If your visa is still valid, you can apply for a visa extension by visiting one of the official immigration offices in Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse (handy if you're taking it easy in the 4000 Islands or want to discover the Bolaven Plateau). It will cost you about 25 000 kips for the application fee and 20,000 kips (1.5 $) per additional day.
- If your visa has expired, you can also go to an immigration office, but you will have to pay an additional 10 dollars per day, which is basically the fine. If you are not in the vicinity of any of the above-mentioned cities, you can finish your trip in Laos and you will pay this fine at the land or air border. Be careful though, you should leave Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in Vientiane or an international airport. Otherwise, you are sure to go through a bribe.
- If you plan to stay more than 20 days in Laos, leaving the country to go to Thailand or Vietnam (depending on where you are) and coming back by applying for a new 30-day on-arrival visa for 30 dollars may be worth it!
It's up to you to see how many more days you want to stay in Laos to determine what is the most interesting financially speaking ;). For a visa extension, allow 24 hours for the processing of your request. As for the visa, it will cost you much less if you have the exact change in dollars! Kips are accepted, but depending on the exchange rate, it may be more advantageous for you to pay in dollars.
Note: there are only single-entry visas for tourists traveling to Laos.
Laos and COVID
Like its Southeast Asian neighbors, Laos has reopened its borders to tourists. For an update on the measures, please visit the U.S. Embassy of Laos website.
Which vaccines are required to travel to Laos?
To travel to Laos, no vaccine is mandatory. Nevertheless, some are recommended depending on the conditions of the stay:
- Hepatitis A and B;
- Japanese encephalitis;
Find all the information about recommended vaccines in Laos on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Note that the risk of malaria is higher in Laos than in neighboring countries.
Driving in Laos
We admit it, after driving in Vietnam, nothing scares us anymore! Even if driving in Laos is a bit easier than in its neighboring country, it is still necessary to be vigilant! Although almost all the roads are paved, be careful on the tracks that lead to points of interest such as waterfalls, caves and other Lao gems. Also, beware of pick-ups on the loops of Thakhek and Pakse, we almost got seriously beaten up...
It is of course possible not to touch a single motorcycle during your backpacking trip to Laos if you are not comfortable on these two-wheelers. But, it is still the most convenient way to travel to do these two unmissable loops. Otherwise, most cities offer to rent a bike for about 10 000 kips per day.
To ride a scooter or a motorbike properly, you need to have an international driving license, with the A1 mention checked. Don't forget to ask for it 6 months before your departure if you want to explore Laos with your hair in the wind ;).
Don't forget: when you say motorbike, you say adequate equipment!
Be careful: make sure your travel insurance covers you for driving a two-wheeler before you take the road! If you don't have a motorcycle license, your insurance may refuse to cover you...
Traveling in Laos
It's simple, all the trips we made inside Laos were made by bus, except the two loops by scooter. Wherever you are, you will inevitably find a bus going to your next destination! You can book your bus and train tickets online at 12go.
A few Lao words
I have to warn you right away that speaking Lao (or Laotian) is really not easy... On our side, we were clearly left with the hello/thank you/bye during our visit. Even though it is a very difficult language to remember (from our point of view), it's always good to know some words. Even if you cripple the words and they don't understand you, it's not a big deal, at least it will have made your interlocutor smile!
As far as reading the language is concerned, it's not much better... We have therefore indicated the phonetic translations of the terms you will use most often :).
|Hello/Goodbye||Sabai di||Thank you||Khob chai|
|Yes/No||Maen/Bo||How much is it?||Tao Dai|
|My name is||Khoi seu||Please||Kaluna|
Celebrations and festivals in Laos
On our side, we did not have the opportunity to attend a celebration during our stay in Laos. Take a look at the calendar, it would be a shame to miss a national holiday!
- April: April 14, 15 and 16 is the Lao New Year or Boun Pi Mai. It is the most important event of the year in Laos! It corresponds to the renewal of nature. The Laotians celebrate it by making a big cleaning, offerings in the temples and sprinkling themselves with water to purify themselves (and to refresh themselves at the same time!). Processions, songs, and dances take place everywhere and make it a colorful and cheerful festival! Attention: all or almost all shops are closed for 1 week.
- May: Boun Bang Fai or the rockets festival, dedicated to fertility and rain. Between the festivities (dances, songs, and processions), bamboo rockets filled with powder are launched into the sky and are supposed to trigger the wet season. This festival is celebrated all over Laos and it is one of the most "crazy" in the country.
- September-October: Boun Souang Heua, or the festival of the dugout canoes, takes place the day after Wan Ok Phansa, which corresponds to the end of Buddhist Lent when monks are allowed to leave their monasteries. At the end of the day, thousands of small rafts are then released on the rivers (during the Lai Heua Fai). The following day, dugout races are organized in the cities bordering the Mekong (such as Luang Prabang or Savannakhet) to celebrate the end of the rainy season. The finale is held in Vientiane and cultural festivities take place along the river.
- November: the That Luang Festival takes place during the full moon and is dedicated to the Buddha relics located in the homonymous temple in Vientiane, one of the most sacred in Laos. It is an opportunity for many Laotians to make a trip to the capital. On the program: processions, torchlight retreats among the faithful and the monks, sporting events, etc.
- During special events: maybe you will have the opportunity to attend the Baci (or soukhouan) during your trip to Laos! The majority of Laotians are animists, that is to say, they believe in the existence of the soul (khouan), and here the human body counts 32 of them. The Baci aims at bringing back these souls to the person celebrated, among others during births, weddings, for the departure and return of a friend. During the ceremony, the officiant addresses the deities and the souls and expresses his wishes for this person. Cords are then tied to the wrist of the latter and will be worn until the end.
Lao cuisine is excellent and unfortunately, we tend to forget it when we talk about Asian food... Here are the emblematic dishes of Laos to treat you throughout your trip:
- tam mak houng or green papaya salad: be careful, this fresh salad is delicious but also very spicy! Benoit loved this dish, but for me, it was a bit too spicy... It is composed of green papaya, tomatoes, chilies, fish sauce, lime and peanuts. You are now warned ;).
- sticky rice or khao niao: this delicious rice is served in wicker or bamboo baskets and is taken with the hands to form balls which are dipped in dishes in sauce.
- khao poon: this is the most popular noodle soup in Laos and is served in the markets. It consists of rice vermicelli, meat or fish, vegetables (carrots and cabbage), herbs (coriander, mint), and sometimes coconut milk.
- laap: another popular dish in Lao cuisine. In fact, it is a salad made of minced meat or fish cooked with lime, chili, and coriander, all served with sticky rice.
- khao lam: this delicious dessert made of sticky rice and coconut is presented in a bamboo segment. You will find it in many markets.
- Lao coffee: if you go to the Bolaven Plateau, don't miss tasting the delicious coffee of one of the plantations of the region! It is also an opportunity to learn a little more about these small beans thanks to the visit often proposed through the coffee plants.
Internet and Wifi in Laos
Wifi in Laos is probably not as good and not as frequent as in other Southeast Asian countries... The best is to buy a prepaid SIM card (Unitel or ETL) for about 10 000 kips. You will find them in airports and cell phone stores.
Note that there is a 6 hours time difference between France and Laos ;).
Tips for a trip to Laos
In Laos, it is customary to always remove your shoes when you enter someone's house (or in many stores and restaurants). So try to bring shoes that are easy to put on and take off ;). Also, flip-flops will come in handy for swimming during your trip.
Note that some behaviors are not allowed in Laos:
- Touching a child's head is not allowed!
- We will also avoid making demonstrations of love in public...
- Avoid walking around in a bathing suit or with your shirt off in the streets... It is also very badly seen.
- The country is largely Buddhist (about 67% of the population). Note that it is important to respect a certain dress code to enter the temples in Laos: pants and a T-Shirt covering at least the shoulders and the neckline are required.
- The feet are considered to be in their place only on the ground... For example, lifting your feet and putting them on the table is impolite (notice that it is not the best effect here either!).
- Respect the monks and their customs. Also, remember that a woman should not come into physical contact with a monk at any time.