50 things you need to know before traveling to Laos

Traveling to Laos is an experience we suggest to almost everyone. We must say that Laos is fascinating, both because of its natural setting and its people. Here you will find a list of everything you need to know before traveling to Laos. From local culture to the best destinations, from the tourists to the costs and many other things you should know when traveling in Laos!

After 4 weeks in Thailand, we decided to explore Laos! We entered the country overland in Huay Xai and went all the way south to 4000 islands into Cambodia. 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”! Now we share with you the things you need to know when traveling to Laos. The good and the bad!

things to know before traveling to Laos - About Laos and the Locals
A Buddhist temple inside a cave

About 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 with no coast.

2. The Lao people aren’t tourist-ready. Most of the time they don’t even seem to know what to do with the tourists… 🙂

In most places, they don’t have any commercial abilities (with tourists!). They don’t show any initiative to make a sale or attempt to have a service to sell the tourists and earn money from it.

things to do in Luang Prabang in 3 days - Facts about Laos
View in Luang Prabang

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 only some old people speak French today. Furthermore, even most of these only speak a few words.

What to know about Travel in Laos and tourists
One of the many cute houses in Luang Prabang

5. It’s a rural country! Most of the population lives in small villages spread throughout the country. The capital Vientiane (and the most prominent 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 its neighbors. It has only 6.5 Million people and 28 people per Km². The 7th least in Asia.

Points of interest in Luang Prabang
Crossing a bamboo bridge in Laos

7. They are honest. Twice we lost things, and they returned them. 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 say something Laotian! Or at least trying.

9. Don’t forget that the Lao are mainly Buddhists! They are usually very patient with tourists, but please respect their culture, religion, and habits.

Things about traveling in Laos
Several Buddhist monks in the Mekong

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…

Laos things to know - What to do in Vang Vieng
Tubing in Vang Vieng

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 visiting Thailand, we were much more indulgent in the presence of tourists!

Check our full guide on Luang Prabang here

Thing to know about Laos travel - What to do in Laos
The cute streets of Luang Prabang

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

facts about laos - Tubing in Vang Vieng
Chilling by the river in Vang Vieng

14. Despite this, our best activity 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!

Check our guide on how to visit Kong Lor cave here.

what do I need to know about Laos - Kong lor Cave Entrance
The entrance of Kong Lor Cave

15. There are many beautiful and impressive waterfalls in Laos! Our favorites are Kuang si falls near Luang Prabang. It’s an excellent place for sightseeing, relaxing, and swimming. You can easily spend a full day there.

Things to know before visiting Laos
Everything you need to know when traveling to Laos

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 which TV show it is? We couldn’t figure it out.

#17 Vientiane, Laos’ Capital city, isn’t particularly pretty nor a particularly amazing tourist destination. Even so, it has a few interesting attractions like the arch of triumph, the river, several Buddhist temples, and mainly the COPE visitor center.

things to know before going to Laos - Tubing in Vang Vieng
Tubing and kayaking in Vang Vieng – that was fun!

18. Unfortunately, not everything is good! There are some bad things about Laos. First, it 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 was even worse, but at the time, we were a bit shocked by it!

Things about travelling in Laos
The good and the bad things about traveling o Laos

Eating and drinking in Laos

19. Lao food is heavily influenced by Thai food. Furthermore, almost every restaurant serves Thai food.

Click here to see a complete guide on Thai food.

20. However, they were also influenced by French colonization, meaning they have bread, pastries, cookies, and so on…

21. Arriving in Luang Prabang after one month of 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.

Things to know when going to Laos - What to eat in Luang Pragang Laos
The delicious Lao Sandwiches

22. Restaurant menus are enormous… 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 less 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.

things know about travelling in Laos
Things to know before visiting Laos

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.

Are you enjoying this Laos Guide? Check the Cambodia Guide here!

26. Most activities are very cheap. In Kong Lor, we even extra-tipped our guide because we felt we paid too little for our great experience! We are Portuguese we don’t do that a lot… 🙂

Laos travel guide - Top attractions of Laos
How beautiful can Laos be….? This is close to Kong Lor…

27. Accommodation is also inexpensive but more expensive than in Thailand or Malaysia.

28. Apart from the sandwiches, which are pretty 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 of up to 20 000 kips (2.3 Euros).

Laos things to know - what to visit in Laos
The karst mountains in Kong Lor

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 them.

Top atractions of Luang Prabang Laos
Having fun on the top lake of Kuang Si falls

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!

Chomphet loop in Luang Prabang 2 2 50 things you need to know before traveling to Laos
A small village lost in Laos

33. Every time you need to move from one town to another, it will take the whole 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 time, particularly in the north, they go at 15 / 20 km/h.

Best Laos Pictures - Tour through Kong Lor Caves
Preparing to navigate a cave – Kong Lor, obviously

34. 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.

35. However, do you know what a full bus is? Well, we didn’t until our trip from Kong Lor to Pakse. In Laos, even the corridor is a possible seating place. If all the other seats are taken, they get you a small plastic bank and ask you to sit in it. That was definitely something new…!

how to travel in Laos
Things to know about Laos

36. In Laos, buses transport everything! From motorbikes at the top of the bus to live animals in the luggage compartment… We have seen it all 🙂

37. But the most remarkable 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.

Everything you need to know before visiting Laos - Transportation in Laos
Street vendors selling their food inside our bus.

38. A long bus ride in Laos can quickly become a new experience and something you won’t ever forget. At least we won’t!

39. The coolest way to get to Luang Prabang is by boat… by slow boat from Huay Xai. It takes two days (I told you it was slow), but it is relaxing, much smoother than the bus, and you get to see the amazing views of northern Laos and the Mekong.

40. There is only one train line in Laos! It crosses Laos from the Northern border with China to Thailand, passing by Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. We haven’t done it, but you can learn about it here.

facts about going to Laos - Travel in the Mekong Laos
Slowboating the Mekong

Other valuable tips about traveling 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.

things to know when going to Laos - what to do in Laos
Everything you need to known before going to Laos

42. As in every other Southeast Asia country, bathrooms don’t have shower stalls… It’s all together and all very wet…

Also, always have toilet paper with you. Toilets very rarely have it.

43. Random Laos Travel tip alert! 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!

cool facts about Laos travel - Best things to do in Laos
We had to have proof of the Zumba parties – just in case you don’t believe us 🙂

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 Angola. It was a very familiar sight…

things to know about Laos travel - What to do in Laos
Fields of drying cassava close to Pakse

45. There are bears in Laos… we even went to a bear conservation park near Kuang si waterfalls!

What to i need to know about Laos - Visit Bear Park Laos
Bear conservation center in Laos

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”.

The U.S. military dropped more than 2 million tons of explosive ordinance, including an estimated 260 million cluster munitions!

47. 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!

Going to Laos - What to do in Laos
COPE visitor center

48. Laos is a very slow-paced country, therefore the very opposite of the friends in Thailand.

Laos and Thailand go together perfectly, check our Thailand tips here

49. In Laos Electricity is 230V, with a frequency of 50hz. The following power plugs and sockets are used:  type A (US, China & Japan), B, C (the European sockets), E, and F.

If you need to buy a universal adapter, we recommend one of these.

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50. It is a safe country. We always felt welcomed, comfortable, and never in danger.

Laos fun facts - Top attractions of Laos
The surreal Buddha park, very close to Vientiane

Bonus travel tip: As said above, LAOS is pretty safe! 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 to TRAVEL TO LAOS!

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50 things about traveling in Laos

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12 thoughts on “50 things you need to know before traveling to Laos”

  1. Such a complete post on Laos! There is a special charm about countries almost untouched by the tourism industry.

  2. Laos seems interesting enough to go and visit. You have take so much efforts to put everything about Laos. Nice one! I loved the waterfalls. It just reminded me of Havasupai, AZ all of a sudden. :D:D

  3. Laos ,seems an interesting place to visit because of its natural beauty as mentioned!! It’s interesting to note that the locals are not tourist teady 🙁 .. but the facts gave me so much information about the place that I really now wanna go and visit it!!… Beautiful pictures!!

  4. Extensive write up and beautiful pictures! I can’t wait to get back to SE Asia for Laos. Thanks for the great information!

  5. Wow, that’s a lot of information! Intrigued by Kong Lor cave and I’m a huge fan of waterfalls!

  6. These 50 things are so so so true! Gave me a real big flashback of our time there reading this. We loved the sandwiches and northern Laos is gorgeous. The slow travel everywhere was super frustrating though!

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