Laos is a mountainous Southeast Asian country crossed by the mighty Mekong River. Vibrant nature, captivating landscapes and energetic culture appeals to travelers the most. As it was once a French colony, it still possesses quite a lot of their architecture in addition to unique Lao style hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. Many who come here stays longer and invest their time to find out about country’s sorrow past, create brighter future or just enjoy the easy-going and relaxed experience of this authentic and beautiful country full of energetic people.
Region where Laos is situated is quickly losing its touch and uniqueness. Due to increasing development, massive waves of tourists and a lot of foreign investment in various sectors it is changing fast. Laos on the other hand still has so much to offer for those who keen to experience its rural life, saffron-robed monks, rice fields near spiky mountains, enormous amount of green color shades or just stay with locals in a stilt house within one of the remote areas of the country.
Increasing demand in eco-tourism where travelers come to spectate the traditional life, stay and eat with locals or how they would say “Experience the ‘real’ Laos.” oblige Lao government to protect and preserve it. Protected areas cover the scenery in many of the more remote areas inside the country. It is a blast to join one those communities as Laos is clearly leading the way with eco-tourism in Southeast Asia. Trekking together through incredible beauty of nature and staying in a village homestay is a unique experience. Different landscapes inside the country reveals an enormous amount of green color shades. From radioactively glowing rice fields, emerald lagoons, sparkling tea leaves to dark jungle forests that blanket even mountainous areas.
High diversity of people in Laos is usually explained by the fact that Laos is on a crossroad of Asia. Here people ordinary seem relaxed and living in slow motion. Even Vientiane looks drowsy when comparing it with other Asian capitals. Buddhist temples are scattered all over the country where saffron-robed monks pray every day. Every morning in Luang Prabang monks gather and stroll through the streets in call to alms.
Before visiting Laos, we heard many stories of how “still untouched” and not touristy place it is with jungles, mountains and traditional settlements, not to mention colorful Buddhist monasteries. Even though Laos could be called an authentic it is also a touristic place. Especially major cities situated nearby Mekong river are like massive tourist centers while more remote areas are similar to small tourist sanctuaries. Travelers spread hype about Laos for a reason. Beside massive complex hotels, spa centers and yoga sanctuaries, here everybody will find an activity. Starting from adventure seekers who can cross a 500 meters deep gorge with a zipline enjoying the view of a waterfall, dive in underground river caves or climb karsts with or without supervision. Food junkies love to take some amazing Southeast Asian cuisine recipes home. Cultural explorers who just cannot miss another ancient temple and associate with local monks. Not to speak about nature lovers who will find vast jungles, wildlife and many interesting species roaming around.
We did not plan to, but we ended up living here for more than a month during the worldwide pandemic. After we spent a month traveling around the country, we decided to spend a month living in Vang Vieng. We are sure that there is still some magic about this charming country that attracts so many travelers every year. It was quite an adventure!
What to expect
The currency in Laos is Lao kip. Even if you do not have kip, it is considerably easy to get it changed from your currency in any bank or exchange shop you visit. Most of ATM’s in Laos accept VISA or Mastercard. However, even if you use Revolut or equivalent card, you will be forced to pay a certain fixed bank fee (on our visit this was 2-5 USD, which was equal to 1.8-4.5 EUR). So, even if it is convenient and you can withdraw money from almost all of the ATM’s throughout the country, it includes certain cost.
To avoid the ATM’s cost, you can bring enough of cash with you on your trip. Both euro and dollar are very convenient and easy to change here. To lesser the costs, you can withdraw larger amounts every time you need cash. In our opinion it is best to bring enough cash for your trip and then you can avoid the ATM fees.
Keep in mind that US dollar and Thailand bath is like a second currency in Laos. You will be able to pay without exchanging it and get your change in Lao kip. However, the rate how much you will be charged may vary. Personally, we suggest changing your currency to Lao kip wherever you have a good chance with good rate, for instance bigger towns like Vientiane, Pakse, Luang Prabang or other.
Important! Laos is still a country where in most places you will not be able to purchase or pay with a card. So, be prepared and always have some cash with you.
In Laos you will find tropical climate with either dry or rainy seasons and with cool and warm temperatures throughout the year. It is also highly dependent on monsoon seasons. Especially cool and dry season from November to February with mostly clear and sunny days. However, if you come between March and April you will find extremely hot dry season when temperatures may rise to 40°C. After which hits the rainy season which usually lasts from May to October impacted by south-west monsoon.
The official language is – Tai-Kadai language. This is official language in the country and is spoken by nearly 15 million of people scattered between Laos and Thailand. The language is so similar to Thai language that many people will understand Thai without higher difficulties.
We would suggest visiting Laos during cool and dry season someday between November and February. Especially, if you are not a fan of heat. Even though the temperature and weather can hardly be called cool at that time, you will find it great time to enjoy blue sky and most of the activities organized in the countryside.
Laos is not very expensive when it comes to internet and card. The process to buy a card is quite easy as well, you can do it in many shops which provide telecommunication service. We chose Unitel provider which is said to have highest coverage in Laos. The SIM card cost us 1 EUR and included some credit for calls, on top of that we bought internet data package of 8 GB which was valid for a month for 5.7 EUR. So, in total we spend less than 6.7 EUR and we had enough data that we could use with quite good coverage. The wi-fi coverage in Laos was unexpectedly good, thus we did not need to buy additional credit.
We would advise against drinking tap water in Laos. Even though in some sources you could find that water is safe to drink. In most of the places you visit, people have water purifiers or already big canisters of already purified water which is alright. We suggest to doublecheck with your host or locals before you drink it. We drank lots of filtered water during our trip and we consider it to be safe.
We did try hitchhiking in Laos, and it was alright experience. Even in really remote places where almost no traffic goes, we managed to get a ride. Before entering the car make sure you are on the same page with the driver and he will not expect cash from you. We did not encounter many people who would charge for a ride, most of the people in Laos are generous and supportive. Offering you food or water instead of charging you for a ride.
Couchsurfing does not work here as most of the people are inactive, busy or not responding. If you plan on using Workaway here, be prepared to spend some quality time as most of the hosts have a condition that you must stay at least for two weeks. It is amazing but when your visa is only 30 days and you want to travel around the country, that might get it the way. Therefore, in most cities we visited it was very easy and a good choice to use platforms like Agoda, Booking, Airbnb or others. The prices there are genuine and reasonable! All around the country you will find lots of budget good value price ratio deals available if you look for it!
Tip for budget travelers who do not plan every single step in advance. We believe that you do not necessarily need to book in advance and a great option is to roam around the area you want to stay, visit some of the accommodation options. In most places you will get much better price and quality ratio than booking online. For instance, in Pakse we got a more central location, clean double room with private bathroom in a hotel which was cheaper than the cheapest dormitory online.