Laos

Travellers come to Laos to experience the rolling mountains, remote villages, tribal crafts and the magic of the Mekong. They leave with so much more: irreplaceable memories of smiling locals, saffron-robed monks receiving alms and markets awash with fresh produce. For those searching for authentic Asia, Laos doesn’t disappoint.

Laos Tours & Travel

Top deals in Laos

Departing Days Price AUD
26 Nov 2014 Bangkok to Hanoi 13 $1900
29 Nov 2014 Bangkok to Hanoi 13 $1900
21 Jan 2015 Thailand & Laos Adventure 13 $1230

All our Laos trips

Laos Discovery

15 days from
USD $1,475
CAD $1,525
AUD $1,495
EUR €1,030
GBP £865
NZD $1,665
ZAR R14,965
CHF FR1,245

Discover the beauty of Laos on an incredible journey from Hanoi in Vietnam's north, via Vientiane and Luang Prabang...

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Classic Laos

5 days from
USD $635
CAD $680
AUD $705
EUR €490
GBP £420
NZD $825
ZAR R6,415
CHF FR605

Experience the best of Lao culture, history and attractions on this short but sweet Classic Laos tour.

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Thailand & Laos Adventure

13 days from
USD $1,215
CAD $1,255
AUD $1,230
EUR €875
GBP £715
NZD $1,370
ZAR R12,295
CHF FR1,055

Travel from Bangkok to Hanoi on a tour through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Visit Thailand's charismatic Chiang Mai,...

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Bangkok to Hanoi

13 days from
USD $1,720
CAD $1,830
AUD $1,900
EUR €1,380
GBP £1,135
NZD $2,250
ZAR R17,275
CHF FR1,700

Travel from Bangkok to Hanoi on a tour through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Visit Thailand's charismatic Chiang Mai,...

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Bangkok to Luang Prabang

18 days from
USD $1,960
CAD $2,019
AUD $2,060
EUR €1,481
GBP £1,232
NZD $2,408
ZAR R18,903
CHF FR1,761

Travel through South East Asian favourites Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, visiting Angkor Wat temples, laidback Luang...

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Laos and Mekong Discovery

9 days from
USD $1,870
CAD $1,935
AUD $1,900
EUR €1,305
GBP £1,100
NZD $2,110
ZAR R18,980
CHF FR1,580

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Highlights of Laos & Cambodia

14 days from
USD $3,335
CAD $3,440
AUD $3,375
EUR €2,320
GBP £1,950
NZD $3,760
ZAR R33,785
CHF FR2,810

Travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap. See the famous Buddhist temple Wat Po, cruise down the mighty Mekong and visit the...

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Laos trip reviews

Our Laos trips score an average of 4.48 out of 5 based on 48 reviews in the last year.

Laos Discovery, May 2014

Laos Discovery, May 2014

Articles on Laos

Wet start to the year in Laos

Posted on Sat, 28 Dec 2013 by Maya Markowitz

Why celebrate the start of a new year only once? If you time your trip right, you could enjoy another chance to start afresh and feel cleansed, plus have a [...]

Read more

Wearing a smile in Laos

Posted on Fri, 27 Sep 2013 by Sue Elliot

We’ve all been there! Endured those travel moments when language barriers are too big to overcome and the result is an embarrassing scene that one day we’ll laugh about, just [...]

Read more

crafty community shopping in laos

Posted on Thu, 2 Aug 2012 by Sue Elliot

A really good way to support local communities and to put money back into the countries we visit is to buy handicrafts from local villages or cooperatives..."

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How to run around the Indochina Loop

Posted on Thu, 19 Apr 2012 by Sue Elliot

Nicola Gibson is an avid runner and explains how you can easily jog around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia...

Read more

Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Laos, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Laos you may find yourself staying in a:

About Laos

At a glance

Trips Available: 5
Capital city: Vientiane
Population: 6.3 million
Language: Lao
Currency: LAK
Time zone: (GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin) Type E (French 2-pin, female earth) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
Dialing code: +856

Best time to visit Laos

Laos is a great place to visit at any time of the year as the weather doesn't vary much – it’s always hot and humid! The coolest time to visit is from November to January. This is also the driest time, and the main festival period, so it’s an interesting time to travel through Laos. The wet season runs from June to October. It rains frequently during this time, temperatures average over 30 degrees Celsius and although some roads may be closed due to flooding, it is a great time for river travel. February to May is drier but hot, with temperatures climbing to 40 degrees Celsius.

Vientiane weather chart

Culture and customs

Happy Laotians
The population of Laos is made of up of more than 100 different ethnic groups, with each having their own distinct clothing, language, customs and way of life. The Lao Loum, who reside in the lowlands along the Mekong, make up the largest ethnic group. Smaller ethnic groups include the Hmong and Mien, both highland dwellers, and the Lao Thoeng, who prefer the lower mountains. Many tribes share cultural similarities with tribes from neighbouring countries, so it’s possible to see Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai influences within the dress, food and arts of these people.

Generally, Laotians are known for their laidback lifestyle and calm, steady approach to life. With emphasis on the simple pleasures of family, food and religion, most people from Laos remain closely connected to their family and village for a lifetime. Most Laotians live in villages, rather than the city, where the sense of community is strong and people are connected to their neighbours and friends. Visiting wats (temples) to make offerings and give alms to monks is a common part of daily life for most, with much respect and reverence reserved for monks. Buddhist holidays and traditional festivals linked to harvest time and holy periods are commonly celebrated throughout the villages of Laos and are timed according to lunar cycles. With different dates each year, it can be hard to predict the exact timing of these local celebrations, but visiting one can provide great insight into the fascinating culture of Laos.

Eating and drinking

Fresh seafood

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways of experiencing a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Laotian cuisine draws on culinary traditions from its neighbours, so visitors will be able to taste the flavours of China, Thailand and Vietnam in the food of Laos.

Things to try in Laos

1. Larb

This spicy meat salad is considered the national dish of Lao. The delicious combination of minced beef, chicken or pork seasoned with chilli, lime and mint, served with vegetables and sticky rice is a firm favourite with locals and travellers.

2. Khao Poon

This popular soup of meat, rice noodles, lime leaves, chilli, garlic and fish sauce has a few variations. The version made with coconut milk makes the dish similar to a laksa, while the version without coconut milk is a lighter option.

3. Fresh Fruit

The markets of Laos have a cornucopia of delicious fruits on offer, either fresh or whipped up in a juice. Pineapple, orange, watermelon, guava and banana are plentiful but why not try more exotic fruits like lychee, longan, rambutan or jackfruit?

4. Beerlao

The answer to Laos’ heat and humidity is a bottle of locally brewed Beerlao, best served cold at the end of a long day of exploring.

Geography and environment

Stunning scenery in rural villages
Landlocked Laos is located in South-East Asia, bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. The topography of Laos is very mountainous, with much of the land being covered in forest and unsuitable for farming. Due to the mountainous terrain, Laos lacks a developed road network, with most locals living in small villages in the highlands, lowlands and along the Mekong River. Visiting Laos is like going back in time to when highways, traffic jams, mass transit systems and skyscrapers didn't exist. Visitors will be awed by the lush landscapes and stunning scenery, which is unlike anywhere else on earth.

History and government

Monks Ancient temple in Ventiane

Early History

It's thought that Laos has been inhabited by people for thousands of years, although written evidence reveals that societies existed in the 9th century. Early society was based on agriculture and prior to the advent of Buddhism in the 16th century, people largely subscribed to animist beliefs and Shiva-worship, with archaeological evidence of this remaining today. Like its neighbouring countries, Laos was ruled by a series of kingdoms and was subject to invasion from surrounding forces from nearby domains. Europeans first arrived in the area in the 1600s, with the Dutch being the first to arrive. Despite this, the French have had the most European influence in the region. After enduring years of invasion and control from neighbouring countries, Laos also had French rule to contend with in the late 1800s, when it became a French colony.

Recent History

Laos was controlled by Japanese forces during World War II, was declared an independent state in 1950 and gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1954. The 1960s proved to be a devastating time for the people of Laos, with their nation gaining the dubious honour of being the most bombed country in the world. The United States bombed Laos extensively in an attempt to eradicate North Vietnamese sanctuaries, and sadly contemporary Laos is still dealing with huge amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that is littered throughout the countryside. A coalition government was set up in 1962, but in 1975 Laos became a Communist state when the king gave up his throne in favour of a president and prime minister being instated. During the late 1970s, many people of Laos fled to neighbouring countries as refugees, as trade embargoes from foreign nations led to widespread poverty and disadvantage. By the 1990s, Laos had become a full member of ASEAN and foreign nations had lifted their trade embargoes, which allowed free enterprise to grow.

Top Picks

Kung si falls

Top 10 Outdoors Experiences in Laos

1. Waterfall Wander

Walking around peaceful Kuang Si Falls is a must-do for anyone travelling through the Luang Prabang area. Gentle cascades of water flow into turquoise pools creating a heavenly atmosphere that draws in both tourists and locals keen on some respite from the heat.

2. Play Petanque

The French game of petanque is a lot like bowls and quite popular with the people of Laos. If you’re lucky enough to come across a group of kids playing this game in the streets, try to join in – it’s fun and simple to play, and free.

3. Beautiful Biking

Hiring a bike and cycling past quiet villages, small farms and rice paddies is a great way to spend an afternoon in Laos, as you can take in stunning scenery, meet locals and get fit all at once.

4. Have a Kick

Get amongst the action by watching and playing a bit of Sepak Takwar with locals in the parking lots, streets and parks of Laos. This game (which could be described as a hybrid between football and volleyball) is commonly played throughout South-East Asia, and the locals of Laos are no exception.

5. Power To the Paddle

Paddling a kayak down the Nam Song River is an interesting and energetic way to get active and see the sights of Vang Vieng.

6. Get Back To Nature in Nam Ha

Home to a wide range of rare plant and animal species, this protected area is a hidden gem for nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and animal lovers. The challenging hike through forested terrain provides many rewards in the form of animal spotting and breathtaking scenic vistas.

7. Refreshing River Swim

Taking a dip in one of Laos’ many rivers is the perfect way to escape the heat on a hot summer’s day.

8. Spiritual Stroll

Taking a leisurely walk around Vientiane’s quirky Buddha Park (also known as Xieng Khuan) is akin to taking an active history, religion and art lesson. Full of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that depict myths, legends and stories – the giant reclining Buddha is a highlight for most. Surrounding trees, gardens and flowers add to the serenity.

9. Cruise Along an Icon

Taking a riverboat journey down the Mekong is an iconic journey to savour. Sit on deck, catch the breeze and take photos of the surrounding landscapes as villages, people and mountains glide by.

10. Tough Trek

Test your fitness against some of Laos’ mountains on a challenging trek. With so much mountainous terrain, there are many different options and places to hike all around Laos – bring your best hiking boots and a sense of adventure.

Shopping

Hmong Handicrafts

Apart from being a great place to pick up handmade wares, buy fresh produce and mingle with locals, the many markets of Laos are one of the most interesting places to take photos also.

It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Laos

1. Textiles

Laotian weavers are responsible for crafting an impressive range of top-quality fabric wonders. Silk and cotton are the most common and with everything from handmade bags, scarves, cushion covers, placemats and linen on offer, it won’t be hard to go over your luggage limit here.

2. Saa Paper

Saa paper (also known as Mulberry paper) is made from the leftover bi-products of the silk industry. You’ll be able to find Saa paper notebooks and stationary, cards and even gorgeous hanging stars in some of Laos’ markets and boutiques.

3. Hmong Handicrafts

The Hmong people are famous for creating colourful handicrafts, which can be found in most markets around Laos. Hand-embroidered bedspreads, vibrant clothing and cotton dolls make meaningful global gifts for friends back home.

Festivals and Events in Laos

Bun Pi Mai (Lao New Year)

One day just isn’t enough for Laotians to celebrate New Year - they need a whole three days! The festive period is characterised by water fights, street parties, feasts, laughing and smiles, as the past year’s troubles are washed away to welcome a new year of luck and prosperity.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

Entrants from all over Laos travel to Vientiane to compete in this big boat racing festival held at the end of Buddhist Lent. Food stalls and sideshows line the streets to entertain the thousands of people who gather on the river to watch the races.

FAQs on Laos

LAOS:
Australia:Yes - on arrival
Belgium: Yes - on arrival
Canada: Yes - on arrival
Germany Yes - on arrival
Ireland: Yes - on arrival
Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
New Zealand: Yes - on arrival
South Africa: Yes - on arrival
Switzerland: Yes - on arrival
United Kingdom: Yes - on arrival
USA: Yes - on arrival

We ask all our travellers to obtain their Laos visas at the border, and NOT in their home country. Your tour leader will assist you in obtaining a Laos visa, generally at the border, depending on the current state of affairs, as it can vary.

Please ensure that you have at least 1 passport photos and up to US$60 cash (this may vary too) to fulfil the requirements. There will also be an Immigration Fee of USD1. To assist us in processing your Laos visas, please provide your agent with accurate passport details prior to the departure of your trip as these details will be passed on to our leader.

When crossing the border you will most likely see a lesser entry fee than what you have paid. This is due to the leader having to use a local agent to process the visa which allows the group to cross the border as quickly as possible.
Tipping isn't mandatory or customary in Laos, but a tip of spare change or another small amount would be appreciated by restaurants, drivers and other service workers, especially if the service has been particularly good.
Internet access is available in tourist areas like Vang Vieng and Vientiane, but is far less likely to be found in rural and remote areas.
You'll be able to use your mobile phone in most urban areas of Laos, although rural and remote areas may not have network coverage. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your mobile carrier before you leave home if you wish to use your mobile while in Laos.
You'll have to adjust to different standards of hygiene and sanitation whilst in Laos. The standard toilet is of the squat variety and this may take some getting used to, although western-style toilets can be found in large hotels and some tourist areas.
Market snack = 7,000 LAK
Large bottle of beer = 9,000 LAK
Budget restaurant meal = 23,000 LAK
High-end restaurant meal = 55,000 LAK
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Laos. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water. Ask your leader where filtered water can be found; some hotels we stay in may have drinking water available. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Major credit cards are generally accepted by large shops, hotels and restaurants in the city and tourist areas. However, they may not be accepted by smaller vendors such as small family restaurants, market stalls or in remote towns and rural areas. Make sure you carry enough cash for purchases, since credit cards aren't always an option everywhere in Laos.
ATMs can be found in the cities of Laos, so withdrawing cash shouldn't be problematic. Smaller villages and rural areas may not have ATM access, so prepare for this before venturing too far from a city or major town.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: [site:intrepid_insurance_link]
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Jan 6 Pathet Lao Day
Jan 20 Army Day
Feb 10 Chinese New Year
Mar 8 International Women’s Day
Mar 22 Day of the People’s Party
Apr 13-15 Lao New Year (Bun Pi Mai) *
May 1 Labour Day
May 25 Buddha Day (Vesak)
Jun 1 Children’s Day
Dec 2 National Day
* Dates can vary for these holidays

Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/Laos/public-holidays

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Laos Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Laos

1. Be considerate of Laos’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.

2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.

4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!

6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.

9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

The Intrepid Foundation

The Intrepid Foundation provides travellers with an opportunity to give something back to the many wonderful communities we travel to. By donating to The Intrepid Foundation you can make a difference in local communities - in health care, education, human rights, child welfare and the protection of wildlife and the environment.

In Laos, The Intrepid Foundation proudly supports:

Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

This centre provides a home and rehabilitation for bears that are rescued from hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. This organisation also invests in community education programs that focus on awareness of environment issues and the importance of wildlife conservation.

Image supplied by Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre.

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise)

This worthy organisation provides essential services to people with disabilities. Laos has many victims of landmines living with life-changing disabilities acquired from stepping on unexploded ordinance (UXO). Providing rehabilitation, orthotics and prosthetics, the visitor centre also educates and enlightens visitors on the impact of UXO on the people of Laos.

Image supplied by Jo Pererira.

Peuan Mit Street Children Project

This vital project assists underprivileged children and young people to return to school, find employment and cultivate a better future with counselling, workshop sessions, education and emergency accommodation.

Image supplied by Peuan Mit.

UXO Lao

This organisation was created to reduce the number of casualties caused by unexploded ordinance (UXO) that still lies on much of Laos’ land. By raising community awareness, training locals, surveying and clearing land, this group is working towards savings lives and building a safer future for the people of Laos.

Image supplied by UXO Lao.

To learn more or donate, go to: www.theintrepidfoundation.org

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in LaosBrett Dakin
Coroner's LunchColin Cotterill
The Karaoke World of Cortous HaireBjorn Turmann
Ant Egg SoupNatacha Du Pont De Bie
A Short History of Laos: The Land in BetweenGrant Evans