Landlocked by its neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is often visited by travellers making their way through Southeast Asia to find a slower pace. Although overlooked as a big travel destination, Laos has a lot more to offer than Vang Vieng, with gorgeous mountainous regions, French colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries just to name a few. Referred to as the unexpected backpacker’s paradise, Laos is becoming a more and more popular travel destination. Hopefully this guide will help you plan a trip here to make the most of it!
Visas in Laos: What you need to know
Similarly to Thailand, visas are relatively easy to obtain while traveling to Laos. Unless you hold a passport from Japan or one of the ASEAN countries, you will need a visa to enter Laos but this can be done on arrival for $35 USD and is valid for 30 days.
This is only available at Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Wattay Airport in Vientiane, so if you are crossing country borders from Thailand and Vietnam you will need to check if you can get a visa for Laos beforehand. Cha Lo in Vietnam is known for having to arrange a visa in advance which is often more expensive. If you know you’ll be traveling in Laos for longer than 30 days, it might be worth applying for a 6 month visa in advance or you can extend your visa for up to 15 days at $2/day at the immigration office before your current visa expires!
Insider Tip: Always check that your passport is valid for at least six months from the time of entry into Laos as your visa can be denied! It’s also handy to take a few passport photos with you when you travel as some places request them for your visa. A lot of them will turn a blind eye for a few dollars if you don’t have one but come prepared and save a few!
Where to Go and What to See in Laos
Popular Routes and What to See
Some of the best places to visit in Laos aren’t the easiest to get to, but that’s not a problem for you fellow adventures right! Roughing it to make your way through a country is the best way to explore each place. If you are on more of a time limit however, then it is worth doing your research before hand. Choose where you want to go and look at the best, quickest or cheapest way to get there. Whatever way you travel, you will be amazed by the stunning scenery that surrounds you, from limestone mountains to dense forests and spectacular waterfalls.
Arguably the most popular place to visit in Laos, the historic city of Luang Prabang is a favourite for many SEA travellers. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Laos, a lot of its old charm still remains through its Buddhist temples and monasteries, with monks walking through the streets at sunrise to collect their alms. Between having some of the most beautiful waterfalls and best local delicacies in SEA (which are both quite a feat if you’re familiar with Asia!), if you like quirky areas, head to Luang Prabang!
As the street food is so good and ridiculously cheap, make sure to try the local fried Mekong River moss. It’s what they are known for! A visit to their magical waterfalls, Kwang Si is also a must! Luang Prabang is full of awesome adventures! Between cycling, exploring waterfalls, or city tours the possibilities are endless.
Resources: Best Places to Stay in Luang Prabang
Trusted Partners: Check out the guys over at Tiger Trail Travel. They offer various day trips, treks, and cycling tours all over Laos. Their partner company, MOTOLAO also runs epic motorbiking adventures all over the country.
Although previously known as the infamous party destination in Laos, this rural tourist town is slowly rebranding itself to become an outdoor destination for everyone. With its stunning limestone karst hills separated by the winding Nam Song River, travelers can now come here to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of nature while kayaking, hiking in the hills or exploring nature’s caves. Ofcourse, tubing and partying is still an activity to do here, but it is no longer dangerously crazy and a large portion of travelers come here to appreciate the landscape in other ways.
Vientiane / Luang Namtha / Si Phan Don/Phu Hin Bun
Although the capital of Laos, the city of Vientiane still provides a pleasant change of pace for travellers who are used to the craziness of Bangkok and Hanoi. Located on the Mekong River, Vientiane offers a refreshingly laid back atmosphere with broad boulevards, tree-lined streets and glittering shines everywhere you go.
With so much French influence, the best thing to do is grab a drink and relax, watching the sunset over the river. Visit the most popular attraction the “city of sandalwood,” the city’s largest Buddhist stupa, to admire the magnificent history of this city. Wat Si Muang, is another popular site to head to as it is built on the ruins of a Khymer Hindu shrine. Impressive right?
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Getting Around Laos
Traveling around Laos is an adventure in itself! Be prepared to take the ultimate test of endurance and patience, and embrace the completely random and lack of timetables. With Route 13 stretching from Luang Prabang to the Cambodian border, you can often get a cheap bus transfer for around 100,000 VND ($5 USD) from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.
Buses will often operate around major towns, provincial hubs and surrounding districts, however expect converted vehicles overloaded and designed for the small asian frame. You might even be lucky to have an actual seat that’s not next to crates of chickens, sloshing buckets of fish or massive sacks of rice! That’s luxury adventure right there! Breakdowns are also very common so really take your time getting to a place.
In more rural areas, Songthaews (converted pick up trucks) replace buses, where packing them with as many people as possible is the norm and kind of a contest! A lot of songthaews will only leave when they feel they have enough people to make it a worthwhile trip. Not to worry though, if you really need to get somewhere, you and your fellow travelers can hire the driver for the day! The fares are so cheap this will still be an affordable option and less hassle if you have limited time here.
Budget for Traveling Around Laos
With accommodation and food being amazingly cheap anywhere you go in Laos, transportation will probably be your biggest money drainer. But even then it’s no where near expensive! Depending on your traveling style, you can easily live on a daily budget of $10-25 USD comfortably, including sit down meals in restaurants and one or two beers every day!
So there we have it. Although still slightly isolated from the rest of the world, the old-fashioned charm of Laos with it’s laid-back atmosphere and amicable people is winning more and more travellers over everyday. Now it’s time for you to see if this beautiful country can win you over too!
Need inspiration to plan your visit? Check out these other articles
- Best Websites for Booking Cheap Flights to Southeast Asia
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Gap Year in Southeast Asia
- What to Eat in Laos: Dishes You Shouldn’t Miss