50 things you need to know before traveling to Laos

We have to say that Laos is fascinating, both because of its natural setting and because of its people. Here you will find a list with everything you need to know before traveling to Laos. From local culture to 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”!

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 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.

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 today only some old people speak French. 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 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.

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

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!

Traveling to Laos - Laos night markets
The night markets in Laos

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.

Things about traveling in Laos
Several Buddhist monks by 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 Thailand, we were much more indulgent to 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, 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!

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 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.

Things to know before visiting 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 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.

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

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!

Do you prefer traveling on a group tour? Search for the perfect tour with tour Radar.


Things about travelling in 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 full guide on 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.

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

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.

things know about travelling in 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 the great experience we had! 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 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).

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 it.

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!

What to know about visiting Laos 
- Top attractions of Luang Prabang Laos
A small village lost in Laos

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.

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 seat in it. That was definitely something new…!

how to travel in Laos

36. 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 🙂

37. 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.

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 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?

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

Other useful 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

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. 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 of 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! 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: TRAVEL TO LAOS!

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50 things about traveling in Laos

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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