There are still very few people visiting Laos compared to the rest of the region so expect a more authentic experience that you will see in many countries that have become focused more on tourists.
The country has wonderful landscapes, stunning temples and a laid back charm that will appeal to anyone not looking for a party atmosphere. Most people will take a tour of the country or as part of a wider South-East Asia tour rather than heading to just one holiday location.
Sitting on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane is the capital of Laos but with less than a million people still feels relaxed. Buildings combine Thai, French as well as Laos influences.
Champasak, in Southern Laos is a great location to explore local sights such as Wat Phou and the 4,000 islands.
Thakhek lies near to the Ho Chi Minh trail which led to Central Vietnam and was a key route during the Vietnam War
Luang Prabang sits on the banks of the Mekong River and is an UNESCO World Heritage site with majestic temples and French Colonialism influences. A small, laid back town, easily explored with plenty of opportunities to explore nearby sites.
Vangvieng is an excellent waypoint during your journey between Luang Prabang and Vientiane with excellent scenery and opportunities for trekking and exploring the river.
When to Visit
November to March is the best time to visit as rainfall is low and temperatures are cooler, although they can drop quite cool at night in the north during December and January. March and April may suffer from smoke as farmers burn in their fields.
How to Get to Laos
There are no direct flights to Laos and connections can be limited from other major hubs. Bangkok has by far the best connections with flights to Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse. There are also flights from Singapore and more locally from Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.
Language and Currency
Lao (Laotian) is the official language and spoken throughout the country with some crossover into parts of Northern Thailand. French is also common, being taught in many schools and being used extensively in larger cities. English is increasing in popularity especially with younger people but do not expect it to be in wide use even in more tourist focused areas.
The local currency is the Kip however some hotels and establishments will only take US Dollars. In larger towns Thai Baht and US Dollars are widely accepted in markets, hotels and restaurants.
You can exchange Sterling in Vientiane and Luang Prabang in licensed exchange shops and banks, it will be much harder elsewhere.
Make sure you exchange any Kip back to Dollars or Pounds in Laos as you won’t be able to do this outside of the country.
Credit Cards are only usually accepted in larger hotels in high value shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
ATMS’s are available in larger towns but elsewhere you will need to rely on cash
Food and Drink
Laotian food is heavily influenced by Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking and shares many of the flavours although there is also a French influence in many dishes. Sticky Rice and Papaya Salads are common to many meals which often often lean heavily to fish dishes although chicken, duck, pork and water buffalo are also common proteins.
Beer Lao is an exceptional beer and should be your first point of call if you are a beer lover. Thai beers are also commonly found with Chinese beers closer to the border. Lao-lao is a clear rice alcohol popular with locals which may be a bit fiery and raw for western tastes. Imported spirits and wines are often available although may be expensive.