It took us more than 3 weeks with stops in Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Kong Lor, and Pakse. We didn’t know much about the country. It was almost a “learn as you go experience”! We have to say that Laos is fascinating, both because of its natural setting and because of its people. If you want to learn more about Laos this list of 50 facts you need to know before traveling to Laos were made for you.
Laos and the locals
1. Where is Laos? Laos is located in South East Asia and borders Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It’s the only country in this region that doesn’t have a coast.
2. The Lao people aren’t tourist-ready. Most of the times they don’t seem to know what to do with the tourists… 🙂
In most places, they don’t have any commercial or social abilities (with tourists!). They don’t show any initiative to make a sell or attempt to have a service to sell the tourists and earn money from it.
3. In general, their English is really basic, even in tourist-related public services like tourist agencies, hotels or restaurants. They know a few words and sentences related to their job, but if you want to have a conversation you notice they don’t understand.
4. Laos was a French colony, but today only some old people speak French. Furthermore, even most of these only speak a few words.
5. It’s a rural country! Most of the population lives in small villages spread through the country. The capital Vientiane (and biggest city) only has a population of 200 000 and Luang Prabang, the main tourist center is the 4th biggest city with… 50 000 people!
6. Laos is very scarcely populated, particularly when compared with most of their neighbors. It has only 6.5 Million people and 28 people per Km². The 7th least in Asia.
7. They are honest. Twice we lost things and they returned it. In Luang Prabang, we forgot our sunglasses in a restaurant and then came back only one hour later and they saved them for us. Another time we forgot the wallet in a cafe in Vientiane and the waiter came running after us to return it!
8. Learn how to say “hello” – sabadie (sába̖ai-di̖i) and “thank you” – kop chai (khàwp ja̖i). They will appreciate it very much. In the more remote areas, the children will have a blast hearing you saying them!
9. Don’t forget that Lao are mainly Buddhists! They are usually very patient with tourists but please respect their culture, religion, and habits.
Travel in Laos and tourists
10. Laos has an astonishing natural beauty. While the north is very mountainous, the south is flatter but also scenic. However northern Laos is something else…
11. Luang Prabang lived up to the expectations! It’s easily the cutest town in South East Asia we have been to. And after this trip, we have been to quite a few… 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit crowded but after Thailand, we were much more indulgent to the presence of tourists!
12. Forget everything you read about Vang Vieng! It’s clean of happy shakes, special brownies or mooncakes…
13. However, you can still have a blast tubing in Vang Vieng…
14. Despite this, the best activity we did in Laos was easily Kong Lor cave! A river that goes 7 km into a huge cave that you can navigate a long tail boat through it… In our book, that’s as cool as it gets!
15. There many beautiful and impressive waterfalls in Laos! Our favorites are Kuang si falls near Luang Prabang. It’s a great place for sightseeing, relax and swimming. You can easily spend a full day there.
16. At times it looked like everyone in France was in Laos! French people were everywhere!
Northern Laos is full of South Koreans… particularly in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Apparently, it’s something to do with a TV show… Does anyone know what TV show is?
#17 Vientiane, Laos’ Capital city isn’t particularly pretty nor a particularly great tourist destination. Even so, it has a few interesting attractions like the arch of triumph, the river, several Buddhist temples and particularly COPE visitor center.
18. Unfortunately, Laos is dirty! There are plastic and trash almost everywhere. They really need to work on this if they want to keep their country as beautiful as it is. Afterward, we discovered that Cambodia is even worse, but at the time we were a bit shocked by it!
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Eating and drinking in Laos
19. Lao food is heavily influenced by Thai food. Furthermore, almost every restaurant serves Thai food.
20. However, they were also influenced by the French colonization which means they have bread, pastries, cookies and so on…
21. Arriving in Luang Prabang, after one month barely eating bread and seeing those amazing baguette sandwiches was unreal… They felt like the best sandwiches ever!
TIP: Try the ones by the market with chicken, avocado, and egg! There’s also a “Lao sandwich” that mixes the French baguette with the Lao ingredients like Tofu, Egg and a spicy sauce.
22. Restaurant menus are huge… I have no idea how their cooks can manage so many different dishes… We are talking about 100+ available dishes.
23. Although the dishes are very similar, in Laos there’s much fewer street food than in Thailand. And it’s usually about the referred baguettes.
24. The other big difference is that the Lao version of the dishes is usually less spicy.
Money and Costs of traveling in Laos
25. Overall, we spent 1024 Euros, in 17 full days in Laos, averaging 30 Euros per person. This includes everything, from food accommodation to bank expenses and visa costs. It also includes transportation from Laos to Siem Reap and everything else. It’s 5 Euros more than in Thailand, which fits because we felt that Laos is slightly more expensive to travel than Thailand.
26. Most activities are very cheap. In Kong Lor, we even extra tipped our guide because we felt we paid too little for the great experience we had! We are Portuguese we don’t do that a lot… 🙂
27. Accommodation is also inexpensive, but more expensive than Thailand and Malaysia.
28. Apart from the sandwiches which are fairly cheap, food is probably the most expensive thing in Laos. It’s just slightly more expensive than Cambodia but much more expensive than Thailand or Malaysia for example.
29. As in Thailand and Cambodia, every time you withdraw money with a foreign card you get an ATM charge up to 20 000 kips (2.3 Euros).
30. Very few stores/restaurants/guesthouses accept your credit card, and those who do will charge you up to 5% to pay directly with it.
31. Be aware that Bank notes are very similar to each other and will cause mistakes if you don’t pay attention to it.
Traveling in Laos
32. Very slow traveling. You don’t know what slow travel is if you didn’t travel overland in Laos. Nevertheless, don’t misunderstand us, it is still worth it and the best way to do it!
33. Every time you need to move from one town to another it will take the full day. A simple 200 km bus ride can take all day! The buses are slow and the roads won’t allow them to go faster than 60 km/h, however, most of the times, particularly in the north they go at 15 / 20 km/h.
34. A Bus ride in Laos can quickly become a new experience and something you won’t ever forget. At least we won’t!
35. Another thing that makes the trip take so long is that the bus driver stops everywhere to take passengers! Anywhere and everywhere is a bus stop! 🙂 at least, until the bus is full.
36. However, do you know what a full bus is? Well, we didn’t until our trip from Kong Lor to Pakse. In Laos, even a corridor is a seating place. If all the other seats are taken they get you a small plastic bank and ask you to seat in it. That was definitely something new…!
37. In Laos buses transport everything! From motorbikes in the top of the bus to live animals in the luggage compartment… We have seen it all 🙂
38. But the coolest thing is every time the bus stops in a village or small town a few street vendors come on the bus and try to sell food. Hot, Fresh, Warm, smelly food, any kind of street food can be found in Laotian buses.
39. The coolest way to get to Luang Prabang is by boat… by slow boat from Huay Xai. It takes 2 days (I told you it was slow) but it is relaxing, much smoother than the bus, and you get to see the views… the amazing views of northern Laos and the Mekong.
40. There are no trains in Laos! Well, there’s a 3.5 km train from the border of Thailand, close to Vientiane… but that really doesn’t count, does it?
Other useful info about travel in Laos
41. The Internet is bad! It’s slow and unreliable. We couldn’t do much of our online work while in Laos and failed a few deadlines because of it.
42. As in every other Southeast Asia country bathrooms don’t have shower stalls… It’s all together and all very wet…
43. In Vientiane, there’s a Zumba party every night in the park by the Mekong… This is globalization at its finest. It was fun to watch and way to go LAOS!
44. There are many cassava productions in the south, which we found interesting because they barely use it in their cooking! Apparently, it’s mostly exported to Thailand. Seeing the cassava being dried under the sun made us remember of Angola. It was a very familiar sight…
45. There are bears in Laos… we even went to a bear conservation park near Kuang si waterfalls!
46. Laos is the most bombed country per capita in history! During the Vietnam war, Laos was heavily bombed using cluster bomblets – Lao call these “bombies”.
47. The U.S. military dropped more than 2 million tons of explosive ordinance, including an estimated 260 million cluster munitions!
48. It’s estimated that 30% of the “bombies” didn’t explode. 40 years later, they are still searching for unexploded devices on the floor and people still die because of it!
49. Laos is a very slow paced country, therefore the very opposite of the friends in Thailand.
50. It is a safe country. We always felt welcomed, comfortable and never in danger.
Bonus tip: As said above LAOS is pretty safe! Though, You don’t want to risk having a problem and not being insured! So, always Remember to Buy Travel Insurance Before Your Trip!
In conclusion, if you are at least a little adventurous and like traveling. Our advice is: GO TO LAOS!