Tips and travel advice for Laos

Laos is known for its laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, earning it the nickname "Land of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol", and millions come to this country each year to experience it. This country also boasts stunning natural landscapes, including cascading waterfalls such as Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang and Tad Fane Waterfall in the Bolaven Plateau. Here's our collection of our best Laos travel advice, to help ensure that you're trip goes swimmingly.

Travel advice and tips for visiting Laos

If your next big trip is to Laos then you are in the right place. Here we have rounded up our favourite travel tips from our local travel experts. We'll cover safety concerns, how to get around, what to budget, and even what to pack. 

Nam Ou, Nong khiaw river, Laos

Nam Ou, Nong khiaw River, Laos  © Shutterstock

Is Laos safe?

Laos is generally considered a safe destination for travellers, but like anywhere, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your trip is smooth sailing.

First off, be mindful of areas where unexploded ordnance from past conflicts may still pose a risk. It's essential to respect these off-limits zones for your safety.

Now, onto a more common concern: theft. Unfortunately, tourists can be targets for thieves (who may include your fellow travellers). Keep an eye on your belongings and take precautions, especially in crowded areas. Vang Vieng, in particular, has a reputation for petty crime, so stay vigilant if you find yourself there.

Another crucial point to note is Laos' stringent drug laws. Possession of even small amounts of drugs, including marijuana, can result in particularly severe penalties.

When visiting temples and religious sites, be sure to dress appropriately.  You’ll want to keep shoulders and knees covered out of respect for the sacredness of these places.

For more information, see the UK Government’s foreign travel advice page, or the US Department of State’s travel advisory.

Laos for women travellers

Laos is generally safe for solo female travellers. However, as with any destination, it's important to take certain precautions. If something doesn't feel right, trust your intuition and remove yourself from the situation. While street harassment is not common in Laos, bag snatching is, so it’s best to be aware especially in the tourist hotspots. 

Laos for LGBTQ+ travellers

Regarding LGBTQ+ travellers, Laos is generally welcoming. However, it's essential to be mindful of local attitudes. Open displays of affection, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, are uncommon and considered rude.  

Laos is a conservative culture, and attitudes towards homosexuality are complicated. You’re unlikely to find any nightlife scene here. That said, most LGBTQ+ travellers, including gender non-conforming travellers, tend to find Laos a safe place to visit.  Respect for local norms and customs is key to a safe and enjoyable visit to Laos.

Kouang Si Falls, Laos

Our Laos travel adivce: don't miss the Kouang Si Falls  © Shutterstock

How to get to Laos

Laos boasts two major international airports: Wattay International Airport in the capital city of Vientiane and Luang Prabang International Airport. Fares to Laos tend to be most expensive during the peak tourist season, which typically falls between November and February, coinciding with the cool, dry season.

For more information, see our guide to how to get to Laos.

How to get to Laos from the UK & Ireland

For travellers from the UK and Ireland, the best way to reach Laos is by flying to Bangkok, Thailand, and then catching a connecting flight to either Vientiane or Luang Prabang. The flight duration from London to Bangkok is approximately 11 hours, followed by a shorter flight to Laos lasting around 1-2 hours, depending on the destination within Laos.

How to get to Laos from the US & Canada

From the US and Canada, the most convenient route to Laos is often via major Asian hubs like Bangkok, Seoul, or Hong Kong. Flights from North America to Bangkok typically take around 20-24 hours with layovers, followed by a shorter flight to Laos, adding approximately 1-2 more hours to the journey depending on the specific route and layover times. Planning for layovers and potential time differences is essential for a smoother travel experience.

Laos mountain view © Kjetil Taksdal/Shutterstock

Laos mountain view © Kjetil Taksdal/Shutterstock

How to get around Laos

When it comes to getting around Laos, you've got plenty of options to choose from. In cities like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, tuk-tuks are practically on every corner, offering a quick and easy way to zip around town. If you're feeling adventurous, renting a motorbike or scooter gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace—just make sure you've got the right license and always put safety first.

For hassle-free city travel, apps like Grab are helpful, summoning rides with just a tap on your phone. If you're only going a short distance within town, keep an eye out for songthaews—those shared pickup trucks turned communal taxis.

For a smoother journey, guided tours offer all-inclusive packages covering transportation, accommodation, and activities. Alternatively, public buses connect major cities at a budget-friendly price, though they may not offer the most comfortable ride.

Is Laos expensive?

Laos is renowned for its affordability compared to its neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. When it comes to daily expenses, your main outlay will likely be on transportation, while accommodation and food remain pleasantly inexpensive.

By eating at noodle stalls and cheap restaurants, opting for basic accommodation and travelling by public transport, you can travel in Laos on a daily budget of less than £30 ( $37 USD). 

Staying in more upmarket hotels and resorts, and eating in the best restaurants will push your budget up to a very reasonable £30–70 ($50–90 USD) a day. Note, however, that prices are significantly higher in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

While restaurants and some shops have fixed prices, in general merchandise almost never has price tags, and the lack of a fixed pricing scheme can take some getting used to. Prices, unless marked or for food in a market, are usually to be negotiated. 

For those seeking the pinnacle of luxury, Laos can set you back anywhere from £240–800 ($300–1000 USD) per day, depending on your preferences.

Kouang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls) at Luang Prabang, Laos © Artit Wongpradu/Shutterstock

Kouang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls) at Luang Prabang, Laos © Artit Wongpradu/Shutterstock

Best time to visit Laos

The cool season (November to February), is generally considered the best time to visit Laos. The weather is just right—cool and dry—perfect for all your outdoor adventures and sightseeing plans. Temperatures sit comfortably between 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F), and the humidity is lower.

Another option is the hot season, from March to May. These months bring some serious heat and humidity. That said, if you're into water activities, this is your time to travel.

Last but not least, we've got the rainy season from June to October. Expect heavy rainfall and a spike in humidity during this time. While it might not be the ideal weather for trekking or river adventures, the landscape transforms into a lush, green paradise. Plus, you'll find fewer tourists and some sweet deals on accommodations.

For a more detailed look, see our guide to the best time to go to Laos.

How many days do you need in Laos?

The ideal amount of days you’ll want to spend in Laos will depend on your budget, and whether Laos is the only destination you’ll be travelling to (versus being a additional leg to a larger trip in Southeast Asia). 

Most find 7 to 10 days a good amount of time to see the main highlights: like Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and the picturesque countryside, without feeling rushed.

That said, if you're keen to dive deeper, really soak in the culture, and take things at a leisurely pace, stretching your stay to two weeks might be more up your alley. This way, you can truly experience Laos' charm and explore its hidden gems without watching the clock too closely.

Tham Pou kham Cave is a Buddhist sanctuary and temple in a natural cave next to the Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng, Laos © Shutterstock

Tham Pou kham Cave, Vang Vieng, Laos © Shutterstock

Do you need a visa?

Yes, typically most visitors to Laos will require a visa. 

If you're from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, most European Union countries, or many others, you're in luck. You can snag a visa on arrival. Just make sure your passport is valid, bring a passport-sized photo, and have some cash (usually in USD) handy for the visa fee. This visa on arrival usually gives you a solid 30 days to explore Laos and you can get it at major airports like Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport, Luang Prabang’s, and Paske.

Laos also offers an e-visa system for folks from specific countries. This means you can sort out your visa online, no embassy visits are required. Just upload a passport-sized photo and pay the fee online. 

If you prefer the traditional route, you can still apply for a visa at a Lao embassy or consulate before your trip begins. 

Travellers with reduced mobility

For anyone with limited mobility, Laos can be a difficult country to explore. Even in the big tourist cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, you’ll be met with uneven pavements, which lack ramps, and small sets of stairs leading into most restaurants and guesthouses. In smaller towns the situation is even worse – there are often no pavements and most of the roads are dirt tracks.

That said, it is still possible to have a great trip. Public transportation in Laos may not be entirely wheelchair-friendly, but private transportation options like taxis or hired cars can be arranged.

Attractions like the Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang or the Pak Ou Caves may require navigating stairs or rough terrain. However, some sites, like the temples in Luang Prabang, may have wheelchair ramps or other accommodations.

When preparing for your trip, it’s a good idea to pack spares of any clothing or equipment that might be hard to find. If you use a wheelchair, you should have it serviced before you go and carry a repair kit.

Wonderful landscape of Nong Khiaw in Laos ©  taboga/Shutterstock

Wonderful landscape of Nong Khiaw in Laos ©  taboga/Shutterstock

What to pack for your trip to Laos

You’ll want to avoid directly drinking the tap water or river water in Laos. Safe bottled water is available almost anywhere, though when buying, check that the seal is unbroken as bottles are occasionally refilled from the tap. For this reason, you’ll first and foremost want to pack a re-fillable filter water bottle or water purifying tablets.

Tampons are not common in Laos, so it’s wise to bring supplies from home if you need them.

Lightweight and breathable clothing is essential, such as cotton and linen shirts, shorts, and dresses. You’ll also want to prepare for rain with quick-dry shorts and a rain jacket.

If you plan on visiting temples, be sure to pack modest clothing: lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants or skirts that cover the knees. 

Finally, you’ll want to bring a good backpack. Look for something durable and comfortable with ample storage space, and padded straps, ideally from trusted brands like Osprey or The North Face.

Travelling to Laos with kids

Travelling through Laos with children can be both challenging and fun, but the rewards far outweigh any negatives. The Lao people are very family-focused, but long, bumpy journeys can make things a struggle at times.

In tourist areas it should be no problem finding food that kids will eat, and dishes like spring rolls, fried rice and fõe, where chilli is added by the diner, are a good choice for those who may not be used to the spiciness of Lao cuisine.

A major consideration will be the long journeys that are sometimes necessary when travelling around the country – these can be bone-numbing at the best of times, and young children may find them excruciatingly boring. That said, bus journeys are a real “local” experience that can make more of an impression than wandering around temples. It is easy, however, to see a fair amount of the country by sticking to journeys of less than six hours.

Most hotels and guesthouses are very accommodating to families, often allowing children to stay for free in their parents’ room, or adding an extra bed or cot to the room for a small charge.

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