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
All our Laos trips
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:
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:
At a glance
- Trips Available:
- Capital city:
- 6.3 million
- Time zone:
- (GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
- 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:
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.
Culture and customs
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
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
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?
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
History and government
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.
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 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.
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
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
Large bottle of beer = 9,000 LAK
Budget restaurant meal = 23,000 LAK
High-end restaurant meal = 55,000 LAK
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
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
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. LAOS:
New Zealand: Yes
South Africa: Yes
United Kingdom: Yes
You can get your visa in advance, but a visa can easily be obtained on arrival at most airports from around 35-50USD (dependant on nationality). Please check with the consulate in your country for more details before you travel.
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 New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
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.
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
|Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos||Brett Dakin|
|Coroner's Lunch||Colin Cotterill|
|The Karaoke World of Cortous Haire||Bjorn Turmann|
|Ant Egg Soup||Natacha Du Pont De Bie|
|A Short History of Laos: The Land in Between||Grant Evans|