When to visit Laos
If you have a flexible schedule, the absolute best time to visit Laos is from November to February. This is when the country experiences the least rainfall and the climate is pleasant and mild – average temperatures range from 15 to 23 degrees Celsius (59 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit). Travelling in Laos during the summer season (May to August) can be uncomfortable as the thermometer rises to 40°C (104°F).
However, all is not lost – those who travel in the spring have the unique opportunity to take part in the local New Year festival called Songkran. Similar to neighbouring countries that also celebrate, Songkran is held over three days each year from April 13 to 16. Typical traditions include throwing water at each other (symbolising blessings of long life and peace), collecting flowers, and singing and dancing.
Unlike neighbouring Cambodia and Thailand, Laos is still fairly off the beaten track – which is both good and bad, depending on what kind of traveller you are.
For example, those planning their Southeast Asia party route will be surprised to find that nightlife in Laos tends to die down in the early hours of the evening. That’s because there’s a nationwide midnight curfew, and most nightclubs and bars are only open until 11pm. In fact, most locals get up early to give alms to the monks.
Another drawback is that most of the roads here are unpaved, which means lots of dust and long journeys between towns. Although the country has about 46,000km of roads, only 30% of them are paved and even fewer are in good condition.
Despite these minor setbacks, Laos is well worth a visit – it doesn’t suffer from overtourism, which means you’ll find plenty to do and see off the beaten track.
Eating and drinking
There’s no better way to get to know the culture of a country than to try some of the local dishes! Lao food is a national treasure, with a whole range of delicious flavours and spices – and who knows, it might even become your favourite cuisine!
The most famous dish is larb (also spelt laap), a minced meat salad seasoned with mint leaves, chilli, fish sauce and lime juice. Other popular dishes include sai gok (Lao sausage), khao poon (spicy vermicelli soup) and khao jee (similar to Vietnamese banh mi).
When it comes to drinking, it’s better to buy bottled water or try a local drink such as nam saa (tea) or coconut juice.
Money and payment in Laos
The national currency of Laos is the kip. 1 US dollar is approximately 9,500 kip (also known as LAK).
It’s best to get cash on arrival in Laos. Credit and debit cards are only accepted in a few places, such as tourist restaurants, hotels and large chain stores. If you’re planning to travel to remote areas, it’s best not to rely on credit cards as there are no terminals or ATMs.
If you need to exchange money for kip, it’s best to do so at well-known banks or at the airport.
Both Lao kip and Thai baht are used for cash payments in Laos, and in some cases US dollars are also widely accepted.
Before travelling to Laos, it’s important to know that transport is not as developed as in neighbouring countries.
If you want to explore the whole country, one of the best options is to rent a car at the airport or hire a local driver. As mentioned above, paved roads are not everywhere and it’s better to hire a local driver who has experience of Lao roads.
The most popular form of transport is the tuk-tuk, thanks to its reasonable price and convenience. For example, if you want to visit one of the most popular sites in Laos – the Kuang Si Falls – a tuk-tuk will only cost you around 30,000 kyats (US$4).
In smaller cities such as Vientiane or Pakse, renting a bicycle is a great way to see the city and get some exercise.
Health and Safety
The Lao people are very peaceful and friendly, so the country is considered safe for travellers.
A general safety rule is to avoid the border areas, as there are still a large number of unexploded mines left over from the war. Excursions and day trips to such places are only possible with a guide and only on official tourist routes.
The main health risks in Laos are mosquito-borne diseases and tropical diseases such as hepatitis B. It’s highly recommended that you get a vaccine (or tablets) against malaria and other tropical diseases before travelling to Laos.
Keep these travel tips in mind when travelling to Laos and you’re sure to have a fantastic time!