Laos in a Nutshell:
- EAT! – Papaya Salad: (Som Tam): Sliced papaya, crushed peanuts, garlic, chili, lime, fish sauce, tomatoes and dried shrimp go together to make this famous tangy and spicy dish.
- DRINK! – Beer Lao: It’s the worshipped, national beer of Laos. Sipping a cool bottle as you watch the sun set on the Mekong in Vientiane is unforgettable.
- WEAR! – Fisherman Pants: Get with the laid-back vibe and let it all hang out in a pair of baggy fisherman pants.
- BEWARE! – Tubing: Narrow-minded backpackers that tell you there is no point going to Vang Vieng now that Tubing has been banned by the government… There is so much to do here in this mountainous paradise!
Introduction to Laid Back Laos…
With unspoiled natural landscapes and an authentic way of village life that’s gone unchanged for years, many parts of Laos offer a glimpse into a South East Asia that is rapidly changing in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. A captivating destination for backpackers, if there’s one way to describe the country, it’s laid back – and then some!
The Capital – Vientiane
Take a wander through the sleepy streets of the French infused capital, Vientiane and you’ll see what we mean about the laid back vibe. As the mighty Mekong slowly flows by, drivers sleep in hammocks in the back of their tuk tuks, the smell of freshly baked bread drifts from quaint bakeries and locals go about their daily work with a slow pace of life – always time for a smile. It’s a world away from Thailand’s hectic capital.
Are we in Paris?
Northern Laos – Luang Prabang & Nong Khiaw
Heading North you’ll find the picturesque and popular town of Luang Prabang. With its twinkling temples, sparkling streets and colourful markets; it’s a wonderful place to spend a few relaxed days, fill up on some delicious homemade baguettes, banana and chocolate pancakes and randomly spend an evening at the bowling alley! (Ask the tuk tuk drivers where to go after the 11pm drinking curfew!)
Views above the huge street markets in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is the gateway to the wild north and the amazing great outdoors of Laos. Trekking in the Northern provinces from Nong Khiaw into the stunning mountain and jungle scenery, stopping off at the hill tribe villages along the way is a highlight of many a backpacking trip. Bumpy roads, friendly locals and mountain wilderness in this part of Laos is the big draw for intrepid travellers.
Sunset over Nong Khiaw River
And then there’s the infamous Vang Vieng! The once sleepy riverside town that up until recently had gained a notorious reputation as one of the best places to party on the South East Asian circuit! Now the partying has been banned… is there still any point visiting Vang Vieng? Errr. YES! And we think it’s even better now… a naturally beautiful place where limestone karsts jut from rice-fields and rivers and just five minutes away from the main drag, village life goes on as it has done for hundreds of years. There’s rock climbing, rafting, kayaking and other adventure pursuits available. Read our article about the death of Tubing here!
Now a much quieter tubing riverside scene
Four Thousand Islands
And when you’ve had your fill of adventure and partying and you just want to chill the heck out; head south to Four Thousand Islands, (Si Phan Don) where the vibe couldn’t get more chilled if it tried! While away pleasant afternoons reading and lazing in a hammock as you spot Irrawaddy dolphins from your bungalow porch. If you can’t chill out here you can’t chill out anywhere!
- Capital city: Vientiane
- Main religion: Buddhism
- Main language: Lao (official)
- Telephone code: +856
- Time: GMT +7 hours
- Hellos and Thank-you’s: Sabaydee (Hello) Khawp Jai (Thank you)
- Emergency Numbers: Ambulance – 195, Fire – 190, Police – 191
Laos Language Essentials:
- Hello: Sabaidee
- Thank you: Khop Chai
- Thank you very much: Khop Chai Ly Ly
- How are you? Sabaidee baw
- Delicious: Sep Ly
- I don’t understand? Baw Khowjai
- Learn Lao on your iPod for free
Laos Visa Information
- Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a visa for Laos at international airports and border crossings. The cost is usually US$30 for 30 days. At the Thailand/Laos border if you pay in Thai baht the fee will be more expensive. You will need 2 passport photos and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering.
- Visa extension: Visa extensions can be applied for at the Vientiane Immigration Office or the Luang Prabang Immigration Office, which costs US$2 / day for up to 30 days. Extensions can also be obtained from some travel agents for around US$3.
- Penalty for late departure: US$10 /day. Long overstays can lead to arrest and imprisonment.
The wet season in Laos is between May and October and the dry season between November and April. Temperatures during this time are the most comfortable, and can be quite cold in mountainous areas. The hottest time of the year is between March and May, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees.
10 Random facts about Laos
- The “Plain of Jars” in Laos is an area where hundreds of stone jars, big enough to hold a person are scattered across the landscape. The largest jar weighs over six tons. Experts predict they are approximately 2,000 years old but the purpose of them, how they got there in the first place and who made them remains a mystery. Some experts believe they were used as burial chambers.
- Luang Prabang in Laos was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. It is the ancient capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, which unified the country of Laos in the 14th century. It is home to many ancient and beautiful temple and monasteries.
- Most of the towns and villages in Laos are located near rivers and streams, whose tributaries eventually flow into the mighty Mekong. It is estimated that 80% of the population of Laos live near the water, as it provides a reliable life source for their main existence through subsistence farming.
- Khonephapheng waterfall on the Mekong River in Southern Laos, also know as the ‘Niagara of the East,’ is the largest waterfall in South East Asia. At a height of 21 metres, stretching over six miles, an average 11,000 cubic meters fall from the cataract each second.
- Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) in Laos is an unusual sculpture site located just outside of Vientiane that is home to over 200 concrete, slightly bizarre Hindu and Buddhist statues. The park was built in 1958 by a Priest-Shaman named Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat and is visited by may tourists today.
- During the Vietnamese War, between 1964 and 1973 there were over 260 million bombs dropped on Laos by the US. Today many unexploded bombs (UXO’s) remain in countryside areas which injure thousands of locals every year.
- The secret caves of Vieng Xai in Northern Laos are a network of caverns that were used as a hide-out from nine years of bombing by the US during the Vietnamese war. Earlier this year, the caves were officially opened to tourists. Vieng Xai means ‘City of Victory.’
- Sticky rice or “Khao Neow” is a staple food in Laos and is generally eaten with every meal. In villages and towns you may see sticky rice lined on trays drying under the sun. For sticky rice with a twist, locals like to barbecue the rice with butter and egg to eat as a tasty and crunchy snack.
- From the 8th century onwards, people migrated into Laos from South China. In the 14th Century, the first state of Laos was founded, known as the Lan Xang Kingdom. The kingdom ruled Laos until 1713.
- Pha That Luang is a dazzling golden stupa situated on the East side of Laos’ capital Vientiane. It is a highly important symbol of Buddhism and the national monument of Laos. legend has it that this was once the site of an Indic temple dating back to the 3rd century that housed a piece of Lord Buddha’s breast bone.