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Laos Travel Guide 2023: How to Plan a Trip to Laos?

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Why Visit Laos?

A Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is mystical to most international tourists, and is often described as ancient, tranquil, and authentic. Planning a trip to Laos can be a daunting task because it is not a frequently visited country and still keeps its unique and untouched charm. This is why this article is written.

How to plan a trip to Laos in 2023? This Laos travel guide will give you answers, including reasons to visit Laos, the best time to Laos, top things to do in Laos, updated Laos entry requirements and visa guide, Lao transportation, and some famous food, etc.

Laos alms-giving ceremony
Laos Alms-giving Ceremony

Why Visit Laos?

Embark on a Local Street-Food Adventure

The slow pace of development helps Laos well preserve many of its ancient traditions and its authentic feel. During a Laos exploration trip, you will experience the baci (or good luck) ceremony in a local family, alms-giving ceremonies (unique in Laos), visit many time-honored UNESCO-listed architecture and Buddhist temples with glittering golden roofs, and go to villages where residents keep many things in their daily life unchanged for hundreds of years.

Exploring the Untouched Scenery - Laos is Incredibly Naturally Beautiful

Laos is rich in wild and untouched natural beauty. Mountainous Northern Laos is covered by beautiful jungles and forests. Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos is home to thriving coffee and tea plantations, and brilliant countryside views. Karst landscapes and the picturesque Nam Song River make Vang Vieng a fabulously scenic city. Not to mention the fascinating 4000 Islands and Don Det where the mighty Mekong River flow through.

Witnessing Wild Creatures in Natural Environment

Laos is home to a variety of wild creatures, including tigers, Asian elephants, and gibbon. In Laos, you’ll get a rare chance to see these wild creatures in their natural environment.

Meeting Various Ethnic Minority Groups

Though Laos is a small country, it is home to 50 ethnic groups which are distinguished into four different ethnolinguistic groups. A Laos trip will enable you to glimpse into the unique cultures, life, and daily works of several hill tribes and villages.

Savoring Excellent Lao Dishes and Food

Lao food is simple and flavorsome and is greatly influenced by French colonialism. During a Lao trip, you can expect to feast your eyes and stomach while visiting the bustling night markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Laos Entry Requirements

Laos is fully reopened to international tourists since May 9, 2022, quarantine and COVID-19 testing upon arrival are no longer required. Foreign tourists aged 12 or older can enter Laos by providing:

  • Fully vaccinated travelers: provide proof of vaccination status.
  • Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travelers: a negative COVID-19 testing result within 48 hours (in English) before arriving in Laos.

Laos Visa Guide

As per Lao visa policy at present, only passport holders of Japan and ASEAN countries can visit Laos visa-free for 14-30 days.

While passport holders of the rest countries are all required to apply for a visa to enter Laos. The good news is that it’s easy to process a Lao visa either on arrival or online.

To get your visa on arrival, passengers must enter Laos from its four international airports (Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Wattay Airport in Vientiane, and Pakse International Airport), border crossings from Thailand to Laos, and some checkpoints boarding Vietnam (Nonghaed, Nam Phao, Na Pao, Daensavan) and China (Boten).

Citizens from over 160 countries can apply for a Laos eVisa through www.laoevisa.gov.la Usually it will take 3 working days to process the eVisa application.

For more detailed information and requirements, please get to our Laos Visa Guide page.

Best Time to Visit Laos

Laos is a landlocked country, so you don’t need to worry about troublesome storms. Altitude and latitude exert a strong influence on its climate.

It is good to travel to Laos every season of the year. Usually, November to March is the most popular time to travel in Laos weatherwise when it is the dry season and the temperature is comfortable at this time.

November to January is the best time for a Mekong River cruise in Laos; November to February is the best time for trekking in Laos. The best time to visit Luang Prabang is from November to February when the town enjoys the most comfortable weather of the year. November to March are the most recommended time to visit Vientiane.

Traveling to Laos during the wet season (May to October) is also not disappointing thanks to its various year-round attractions. Just remember to prepare a raincoat.

Our Best Time to Visit Laos page will inform you more details about the Lao climate, seasons, and festivals.

Where to Go and What to See/Do in Laos?

Visit Pha That Luang in Vientiane

Pha That Luang or Great Sacred Stupa highlights its gold-covered 45-meter-high stupa which is regarded as Laos’ national monument and symbol of the country.

Pha That Luang in Vientiane
Pha That Luang

See Hundreds of Buddha Statues in Buddha Park in Vientiane

Though not a temple, Buddha Park (formerly known as Xieng Khuan) stands out for over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues. Here you will find vivid statues of humans, animals, and all of the Hindu and Buddhist divinities.

Buddha Park in Vientiane
Impressive statues in Buddha Park

Experience the Almsgiving Ceremony in Luang Prabang

Every morning in Luang Prabang, monks in saffron robes will march through main streets of the town to collect food from locals and tourists. Laos is the only country that still preserves this morning ritual.

Alms-giving in Luang Prabang - Local people wait to give alms
Local people wait to give alms

Tour Luang Prabang’s Amazing Temples and Shrines

Boasting 34 UNESCO-listed temples, Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang, at the junction of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, is Laos’ former royal capital city. Temples in the town are living places of study, and worship, but not bland museums.

Enjoy Fun Time at the Kuang Si Waterfalls

The three-tiered 60-meter-high Kuang Si Waterfalls is considered as the most beautiful natural beauty in Laos. A visit here will reward you with beautiful travertine patterns, crystal water, picturesque swimming pools, and exciting hiking.

Kuangsi Waterfall in Luang Prabang
Stunning Kuangsi Waterfall

Laos Transportation: Getting to and Getting around Laos

Getting to Laos

Getting to Laos by Air

The most convenient way to enter Laos. Laos has several international airports offering direct flights to its neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam, Siem Reap (in Cambodia), and Ho Chi Minh City (in Vietnam).

Tourists need to pay for the flight tickets in US dollars or by credit card (only accepted by some travel agencies). The airport tax is 300 kip per person.

Getting to Laos by Train

Travelers can also enter Laos by an overnight sleeping train from Nong Khai in Thailand to Thanaleng (5.6 miles from Vientiane). The overnight train departs from Thailand at 8 pm daily, will drive along the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, and finally reach Thanaleng in the morning. Don’t expect the service on the train as excellent as in more developed regions.

Getting to Laos by International Buses

There are also international buses connecting Laos with its neighbors, including the international buses from Kunming in China to Vientiane (which depart at 5 & 6 pm daily, reach Luang Prabang in 24 hours, Vang Vieng in 32 hours, and Vientiane in 36 hours), and international buses from Thailand to Vientiane which will only take about 90 minutes.

Getting around Laos - Typical Means of Domestic Transportation in Laos

By air 

Domestic flights are available in major tourist cities in Laos like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Savannakhet. Most routes are moderate-priced.

By boat

The Mekong River traverses Laos from north to south, leaving it possible to hop on a boat or cruise to travel from Vientiane to Paske or from Paske to Si Phan Don while enjoying its stunning natural scenery and peaceful local life. The most popular services include a slow boat, speed boat, long-tail boat, etc., each with a different price.

By tuk-tuk

One of the most popular transportation methods in Laos. Riding a tuk-tuk is one of the most convenient and economic ways to discover the city and local life. Don’t forget to bargain before you get in the tuk-tuk.

By taxi

Taxis are available in most big cities like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse. You may frequently see taxis that do not use taximeters in Laos, so make sure to bargain the price with the driver before the ride. (price for reference: $ 0.5 per kilometer)

By bus

Long-distance buses are the main transportation for travelers to get to Laos from its neighboring Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It is much cheaper compared to taking flights. There are 3 bus stations in Vientiane operating buses to/from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and some Lao big cities like Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Xiengkhuang, etc.

What to Eat in Laos: Top Lao Dishes

Sticky rice is the staple food in Laos. Most Laotian dishes are simple and flavorsome, being made of fresh ingredients, like fresh herbs, vegetables, spices, noodles, rice, chicken, duck, pork, fish, and beef. Here are some most popular dishes in Laos.

Larb (Minced Meat Salad)

Widely known as the national dish of Laos, Larb is a kind of meat-based salad often made with medium rare beef, chicken, duck, fish, or pork. Usually, the minced meat is flavored with mint leaves, fish sauce, mime juice, chili, and fermented fish juice, with a zesty flavor.

Tam Mak Hoong (Papaya Salad)

Tam Mak Hoong is a kind of spicy green papaya salad which was originated in Laos and was then imported to Bangkok (similar to Thailand’s Som Tam ). Fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste are its main ingredients, other ingredients include shredded, unripe papaya, garlic, tomatoes, chili, palm sugar, and lime juice. Before being served, all the ingredients will be pounded together in a mortar.

Khao Jee (Baguette)

Khao Jee is a famous baguette-based sandwich that was introduced to Laos during the French Colonial era. Tourists can easily find this kind of baguette on many streets in Laos, usually stuffed with pork, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, papaya, Lao sausage, carrots, cucumber, etc.

Lao Sausage

Lao-style pork sausages are unique from sausages of any other place since it is often seen with ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir leaves, shallots, cilantro, chilies, fish sauce, and sticky rice. After the sausage is stuffed in the casing, it will be put outside for several days before it becomes sour.

Steamed Fish (Mok Pa)

Mok Pa is a kind of steamed fish, with white steamed fish, shrimp paste, herbs, seasonings, green chilis, green onions, sticky rice grains, or toasted sticky rice powder being mixed together and wrapped up in fresh banana leaves before being steamed.

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