Laos is one of the best countries in the world to travel independently. It is a laid-back, charming country with a wealth of natural beauty and a range of activities and cultural highlights so diverse you will never get bored. It is also a relatively compact country, which makes it easier to travel around on public transport.
If you’ve done the highlights of Thailand, visited Cambodia or Vietnam, and are ready for your next adventure, set your sights on Laos. The country is a backpacker paradise, and as it is largely undeveloped and not as tourist-inclined as Thailand, you feel like you are having a truly adventurous travel experience. Here’s what you need to know as you get to see Laos from a backpacker’s perspective.
Reasons to Choose Laos
Laos is largely undiscovered by tourists and it does not yet have a huge tourist infrastructure, although it is developing quickly. This gives the country a natural charm and feel to it, which is not common in Asia. Tourists began coming into the country in the 1990s, and the place has not changed much since the days when it was closed to outsiders. But it is rapidly growing in its stature as a popular Asian tourist destination, so if you go now you get the best of both worlds.
Climate in Laos
The climate in Laos can be broadly divided up into wet and dry seasons. The wet season in Laos is usually between May and August. This means that the dry season is from November through to March. There are “shoulder seasons” in-between that offer a bit of both. There are not usually any major problems encountered when you travel in the rainy season, although obviously be prepared for heavy showers! It can be a little cooler when you travel to Laos in this time. If you travel in the wet season you will normally encounter fewer travellers. And the rain makes the rivers look amazing, and the vegetation fresh and green.
In the mountain regions north of Luang Prabang the temperature can drop quite a lot during the winter, so if you are going trekking be prepared for this and wear appropriate clothing. On the other hand, the temperature can reach up to 40 degrees centigrade during the summer in the south, so you also need to consider this when you are visiting.
Traveling Around Laos
There are three main airports in Laos, one in the capital Vientiane, another in Luang Prabang, and one more in Pakse. You can get into and out to any of the main transport hubs in Asia via these airports. And you can also get around the country by flying, and while this is the quickest way to move around you do miss out on the scenery from a bus or car.
One of the best ways to get around the country is by boat. And in the case of some out of the way places, it is the only way. However, it may not be possible to get around by boat in the dry season as some of the rivers will be low. The boat ride from one end of the country to the other will take a long time – up to two days. You can travel by bus around the country. These buses are usually cheap but the service is not usually that great. And motorcycle is always an option, but not always advisable due to the often dangerous nature of the roads.
Where to Go in Laos
One of the highlights of a backpacking trip to Laos is Luang Prabang. This is a UNESCO World Heritage area that boasts many delightful Buddhist temples and some lovely architecture from the 19th century. Luang Prabang is the hub for all visits to Laos, and you’ll find everything you need here in a relaxed atmosphere.
Vang Vieng is the place to go when you want to try tubing in Laos. This is also the place to come when you want to drink and party as there are many bars and clubs along the river to enjoy. In addition, try rock climbing, trekking, caving, or kayaking here. Heading south from Vang Vieng is the capital of Vientiane.
Vientiane sits on the banks of the Mekong and is a small capital city that nevertheless has some interesting features. There are many markets here, plus parks, gardens, and lots of choice in accommodation.
Visas for Entering Laos
Most visas are issued on entry into the country for a period of 30 days. It doesn’t matter whether you arrive by boat, plane, or on foot – the length of visa stay is the same. If you are planning to stay in Laos for longer than 30 days it is usually a simple matter to leave to a neighboring country before your visa is up, and then to return for another 30-day stay.
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