Before I traveled to Laos, my Aussie friend Dan told me that it was without a doubt his favorite country in Southeast Asia, citing its laid-back atmosphere and the abundance of outdoor activities one finds there. Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, a characteristic which may turn off beach-inclined Southeast Asia travelers.
I’m a bit on the fence about Laos, to be honest. Although I didn’t wish for even one of the moments I spent exploring its hilly, lush terrain that I was near a beach, Laos is far from a well-kept secret among backpackers. In fact, I encountered significantly more foreign tourists than locals in most spots.
It is nonetheless my hope that you unconditionally love Laos, and I hope my Laos travel guide helps you in that pursuit.
Places to Travel in Laos
Travelers in Laos usually stick to a handful of backpacker hotspots. This is because Laos has a reputation as the world’s most-bombed country, and its countryside is still literally inundated with UXOs — unexploded objects.
The hub of northern Laos is the city of Luangbrabang, situated along the banks of the mighty Mekong. Luangprabang is charming, and hosts a lively market on its main road every night, but I didn’t find my visit to the city particularly memorable.
Further south sits Vangvieng, a river town located amid the lush karsts of central Laos. Vangvieng has gained infamy as a destination for river tubing, among other reasons. For many a Laos traveler, drinking and doing illegal drugs are also high on the list for Vangvieng travel.
Laos’s capital Vientiane is probably my least favorite city in Southeast Asia. Not only is the city significantly less grand than its French-col0nial heritage would suggest, but its sits on a flat plain that is quite boring compared to the rolling green hills that dominate much of the rest of Laos. Vientiane is where you can take an international train to Thailand.
Cost of Travel in Laos
Laos, like most of the rest of Southeast Asia, is an extremely cheap place to travel. Its currency, the kip, usually goes for around 8,000 to a dollar, and you shouldn’t have to spend much more than 250,000 kip (that’s about $30) for backpacker accommodation, three good meals — and I mean really good, thanks to the French-inflected food stalls that dominate Laos — and transport each day.
Transportation in Laos
Aside from its ominously named national Highway 13, Laos has poorly-developed infrastructure. Although a limited network of public buses does serve the country, most Laos travelers end up booking seats in private minibuses, which are comparatively convenient enough to justify the slightly higher premium riding in one of them necessitates.
Overland Travel to Laos from Vietnam
Traveling to Laos from Vietnam? I know the feeling. Click here to read a detailed account about how to travel to Laos from Vietnam overland, the cheap way. You know, how locals do it.
You must obtain a visa prior to visiting Laos, even if you only plan to travel in Laos short-term. Visas can be obtained at certain border crossings and at both of Laos’ international airports. If you are entering Laos by land but aren’t sure which border crossing you’ll use, obtain a Lao visa in advance from the Lao embassies in Hanoi or Bangkok. You’ll likewise need to consult your nearest Lao embassy if you plan to work or study in Laos.