Travelling in Laos
As a destination, Laos is recently gaining in popularity and owing to its location is perfectly placed to be combined with a visit to Thailand, Cambodia and/or Vietnam, or can be visited as a stand-alone destination.
Getting to Laos
Both Thai Airways and Lao Airlines have direct daily flights between Bangkok and Vientiane. Bangkok Airways and Lao Airlines both operate direct flights daily between Bangkok and Luang Prabang. Currently there are also international air services between Vientiane and Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Saigon and Kunming, and between Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai, Siem Reap and Hanoi. Direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Vientiane on Air Asia have also recently commenced operation. It is also possible to fly direct from Pakse in Southern Laos to Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok Airways offers limited direct flights between Bangkok and Pakse. Alternatively Pakse and Southern Laos can be accessed via Ubon Ratchatani in Thailand, a short road journey away across the Chong Mek land border check-point.
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Vientiane is situated just across the Mekong River from Nong Khai in Thailand. For rail travel enthusiasts, there are regular and relatively comfortable train services between Nong Khai and Bangkok and the journey may be taken during the day in order to appreciate the scenery, or as an overnight trip. There are plans for this rail link from Nong Khai to be extended across the Mekong River to Vientiane in the near future.
From Northern Thailand an increasingly popular way to travel into Laos is via a leisurely two day river journey down the Mekong, from Chiang Khong (nearby Chiang Rai) to Luang Prabang. Please refer to the Laos River Cruising section of our website or contact Global Travel & Tours for more details.
Overland by other means
For experienced and truly adventurous travellers looking to get ‘off the beaten track’ it is possible to access Laos from Vietnam via an overland journey, crossing at one of the land border check-points. These are located in remote mountainous areas and travel is very slow and can be rough – infrastructure in these areas is still very basic, however the rewards for journeying the ‘road less travelled’ will outweigh the lack of comfort. Please contact Global Travel & Tours for the most up-to-date information about the land border crossings and these overland journeys, or to tailor an itinerary to suit your clients’ requirements.
Where to go in Laos?
Most visitors travel to the capital city Vientiane and then head north to enchanting Luang Prabang. With plenty of sightseeing, activities, and traveler facilities it is no wonder that these two cities continue to draw the most visitors. However, the rest of the country should not be left unnoticed!
The size of Laos and the poor quality of roads in the rural areas mean travel time is long, but those who venture out will be well rewarded! Not only is the landscape beautiful at the destination, but there is not a single stretch of road in rural Laos that does not have stunning views.
The country is best described by its geographic divisions: the mountainous north, the flat plains in the center, and the water-filled south.
Northern Laos is home to the majority of Laos’ ethnic minorities and is a trekker’s paradise. The town of Luang Nam Tha is a popular starting point for adventure travel. In the southern part of the country, a wealth of natural wonders await - the cool highlands of the Bolaven Plateau, the 4000 Islands of the Siphandone region, and magnificent waterfalls.
Spending a few weeks in the laid-back atmosphere of Laos is sure create a lifetime of memories. Our staffs have an in-depth knowledge of the country, the hotels, and activities on offer and are more than happy to plan a journey perfectly suited to your needs. Likewise, our guides are enthusiastic about their home and will stop at no length to ensure that you have a fantastic holiday.
Some Facts on Laos
Name in full: Lao People Democratic Republic (Lao PDR)
Land area: 236,800 km2
Population: 6 Mio
Laos, officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic, covers an area of 236,800 square kilometers. It is an entirely landlocked country located in the center of Indochina. It shares borders with Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Latitude 14-23 degrees North. Longitude 100-108 degrees East.
The population of Laos estimated at 6 millions, is comprised of some 49 ethnic groups divided into 4 main linguistic families: Lao-Thai, Mon-Khmer, Tibet-Burmese and Hmong-Loumien. Each group has its own distinct customs, culture, clothing and dialect. The official language is Lao. Vientiane is the capital and the largest city in the country. The major religion is Theravada Buddhism.
Geographically, Laos is divided into three main regions: the north, the Center and the South. While mountains and forests cover most of this land, the majority of the population is settled along the fertile Mekong River valley.
The main rivers are the Mekong (flowing 1,898 kms through Lao territory), the Nam Ou (448 kms), the Nam Ngum (354 kms), the Nam Xebanghiang (338 kms), the Nam Tha (325 kms) and the Sekong (320 kms).
When to Travel?
As in much of this region, the monsoonal influence results in three main seasons. This does have quite a variation in temperature depending on which part of the country you are visiting at the time and as everywhere there are days that are exceptions to the rule!!
Wet season: July – October
Rains can begin as early as May. Extensive road travel may be difficult during the height of the rainy season, especially in the remote areas. Temperatures average around 25 degrees in the highlands/valleys and 29 degrees in the lowlands so quite pleasant. This can be a good time to visit Laos as it is the low season, so reduced rates can often be obtained and there are fewer tourists.
Dry Season: November – February
This is the high season and is generally the favoured time for travelers when there is little rain and temperatures are not so high. In Luang Prabang and the Northern region you can expect to need a warm jacket to keep warm during the chilly evenings and mornings. Daytime temperatures are generally mild but it can start to heat up in mid February.
Hot Season: March – June
April tends to be the hottest month with temperatures reaching the mid 30 degree plus mark. During March and April the northern areas can at times be shrouded in smoke, as local farmers practice ‘slash and burn’ form of agriculture.
Who Is My Guide?
In Laos our Global Travel & Tours local guides are all Laotian nationals, and are all licensed by the National Tourism Authority. English, French, German, and Spain speaking guides are the most commonly used at this stage. Our guides do come from a variety of backgrounds however they share a love of their job, a passion for their country and an enthusiasm for showing visitors their homeland.
Light, comfortable clothing and good walking shoes are beneficial. Lao people dress modestly and revealing clothing is disrespectful and can cause offence. Temples and some tourist sites do not permit shorts above the knee or singlet/vest tops and request that you dress neatly. Shoes are normally removed when entering temples, some shops and local homes, so when around town sandals or thongs (flip-flops) that can be easily removed are recommended. Between November and February it can get quite cool in the mountains and the north, especially in the evenings, so some warm clothes are required.
Currency and Exchange
The Lao KIP is a non-convertible currency and now trades at around 8,500 kip to USD$ 1. Most shops and restaurants in the main cities and towns will also use USD and Thai Baht freely. We recommend that visitors to Laos bring USD cash to use during their visit to Laos. There are limited ATMs at this stage in Laos (in Luang Prabang and Vientiane only), and are perhaps best not relied upon yet. Cash advances from major credit cards can usually be done at banks in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, however credit cards are still not widely accepted throughout the rest of the country and travellers’ cheques can only be cashed at authorized foreign exchange outlets and banks in main centres, and require presentation of a passport. Small denominations of USD cash are the most practical currency to carry although if staying for a while or planning to do a lot of shopping $50 and $100 have the best exchange rate. Clean, new USD currency is recommended as torn, dirty or old style notes are usually not accepted.
Customs and Formalities
Arrivals at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse International airport are generally rather casual events. Carry-on bags are usually not inspected if that is all you have brought. For checked-in baggage, when claimed at counter, passengers are sometimes required to declare if they have brought antiques and silver items with them. Simple formalities should be observed also when entering the country overland.
Passengers have to complete immigration and customs declaration forms during the arrival flight or upon arrival and must submit these documents on arrival. Global Travel & Tours guide will meet travelers at the exit point in the arrival hall after immigration and customs clearance. Our representative or guide will display a Global Travel & Tours signboard with the name of guests or group for easy recognition.
Laos has abundant food supplies and the cuisine is simple and fresh. Sticky rice is the staple of the Lao diet and food is enhanced by such spices as lemongrass, hot chili, peanuts, coconut milk and ginger. In addition to Lao cuisine, the larger hotels also serve a wide variety of Continental, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. In the smaller cities, when the hotels only have one restaurant, ordering a-la-carte may involve a slight wait, consequently it is advised that you take advantage of the large and diverse buffets available at these hotels to minimize any delay.
Bottled mineral water is available at all hotels throughout Laos. The most popular beverage in Laos is the domestically produced Beer Lao. Lao coffee, grown in the fertile south of the country, is some of the best in the world.
An adequate supply of any essential medication should be brought along, as certain medicines may not be available locally. A spare pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses is also advisable. Extra personal insurance is recommended in case of illness, or situations where medical evacuation by air is required, as Laos’s hospitals are generally not up to international standards.
How to Get to Laos
By air: Presently, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet are the four international airports. Overland: The country can be entered or exited overland at the following immigration checkpoints, which are open daily from 08.30 AM to 05.00 PM
Laos – China
Boten, Luang Namtha province, from / to Bohan and Mengla (Yunnan, China)
Laos - Thailand
Friendship Bridge from / to Nong Khai (Thailand)
Houei Xay by crossing the Mekong River by ferry from / to Chiang Khong (Thailand)
Bolikhamxay from / to Bungkan District, Nong Khai province (Thailand)
Thakek from / to Nakhon Phanom (Thailand)
Savannakhet from / to Mukdahan (Thailand)
Vang Tao from / to Chongmek, Ubon Ratchatani (Thailand)
Laos – Vietnam
Muang Mai (Sop Hun), Phongsaly province from / to Tay Trang, Dien Bien Phu(Vietnam)
Sam Neua (Na Meo) from / to Pa Hang on route N0 6 to Vietnam
Nonghet, Xieng Khouang province, from / to Nam Can (Vietnam)
Namphao, Borikhamxay province, from / to Cau Treo (Vietnam)
Naphao / Chalo, route N0 12, which links Thakek to Ving or Dong Hoi (Vietnam)
Denesavanh from / to Lao Bao (Vietnam)
Bo Keua, Attopeu province from / to Bo -Y, Kuntum province, High land (Vietnam)
Laos – Cambodia
Dong Kalor from / to Strung Treng (Cambodia)
Note: visa on arrival at Houexay and at the Friendship Bridge is possible. For most other border crossings the Lao Visa must be obtained prior to travel.
A 30 day tourist ‘visa on arrival’ can be issued at all official international border crossings, and at Vientiane and Luang Prabang international airports. The procedure is usually quick and simple, with one passport sized photograph required and USD$ in cash for the visa processing fee. Visa on arrival fee varies depending on nationality – for example USD$30 for Australians, New Zealanders, French, Germans and Eastern European passport holders, USD$ 31 for Swedish, USD$35 for USA Passport Holders, United Kingdom and some other Western Europeans, and USD$ 42 for Canadians. Often on weekends and Public Holidays and extra USD$ 1 overtime fee will be charged. Alternatively tourists can apply for a 30 day ‘visitor visa’ in advance through Laos Embassies and Consulates abroad.