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Laos

Picture-perfect landscapes, cultural riches and a relaxed pace of life have earned the landlocked nation of Laos something of a cult reputation among travellers during the last decade or so. The least visited of the three countries that make up Indochina, Laos is seen as a special, secret place, and one that has retained much of the tradition that has disappeared elsewhere in the region.

Political and geographic isolation have meant that Laos lags behind other countries in the region in terms of economic growth and tourism. In many ways that is precisely its appeal, a romantic reminder of Indochina as it once was, a land of wats (temples) and saffron-robed monks, notably friendly people and unspoilt scenery that includes the mighty Mekong River.


WEXAS Travel brochure for Laos

China, Japan & South East Asia

Our in depth guide packed with background information, sample itineraries designed by our experts and hand-picked suggestions for what to see and do, where to stay and when best to go.


When to go

"Champa blooms all year round. It blooms in the rain. It blooms when the wind blows and blooms when the sun shines. It is the flower of glory for Laos."
Outhine Bounyavong, "Frangipani"

Laos has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. Most of the year is hot and humid with average temperatures of about 28ï‚°C rising to a blistering 38ï‚°C in April and May. The rainy season runs from the beginning of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October through April. October through January are relatively cool and the most popular months for travel.

In mountainous areas temperatures can be as low as 14-15ï‚°C in the winter months, and at night can reach freezing point. The southern Annamites receive over 3,000 mm of rainfall annually, Vientiane has 1,500-2,000 mm, and the northern provinces 1,000-1,500 mm.

JANUARY FEBRUARY MARCH APRIL MAY JUNE JULY AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER NOVEMBER DECEMBER
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Essential Experiences

We’ve rounded up our list of recommended sites and things to do. Click on the map to enlarge it and see what we suggest or follow the links in the list to discover how to get the best out of your holiday.


Practical Information

"Despite all of the transformation, much about Vientiane remains the same: the monks sweeping their temple grounds at dusk, the joys of a Beer Lao on the riverfront at sunset, the baguette vendors near the morning market at midnight, the refreshing openness and general goodwill. It is still a wonderful place to live - a large village, now slightly larger - and a fascinating place to visit."
Brett Dakin, Another Quiet American

Capital - Vientiane

Size - 236,800 sq km

Language - Lao, French

Population - 6.4 million (2012)

Religion - Buddhist, animist and minority Christian and Islamic

Currency - 1 new kip = 100 ath

Time zone - GMT+7 hours

Flight time - London to Vientiane 18 hours (via Bangkok)

Festivals

The Lao year follows the Buddhist lunar calendar and many religious, cultural and harvest festivals are moveable, so check the dates when you confirm your travel. Most are de facto national or regional public holidays.

February - Elephant Festival and Trade Fairs, Sayabouly. Elephant processions and bathing, ‘Elephant of the Year' competition, mahout demonstrations, Buddhist blessings, fun fairs, night markets, and live music and dance performances.

February - Wat Phu Festival, Champasack. Elephant racing, buffalo and cock fights, and performances of traditional Lao music and dance at the pre-Angkorian remains of Wat Phu.

February - Sikhottabong Festival, Khammouane. Religious festival and trade fair at Sikhottabong stupa, 8km south of Thakhek.
Boun Khao Chi (Makhaboucha), nationwide. ‘Bread made of sticky rice' ceremonies and candle-lit parades around local temples.

March - Boun Khoun Khao or Khoun Lan, nationwide. Rice harvest festival.

March - Boun Pha Vet, nationwide. Three-day festival celebrating Buddha's previous incarnation before being born as Prince Siddhartha.

April - Boun Pi Mai (Lao New Year), nationwide. Attractions include a colourful parade in traditional Lao dress with music and dance, procession of the sacred Prabang Buddha, and Miss New Year beauty contest.

May - Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival), nationwide. A call for rain and a celebration of fertility in which villagers compete for the best decorated and the highest flying rocket, and men disguised as women perform lewd acts to anger the gods and send thunderstorms.

May - Boun Visakhaboucha, nationwide. Ceremonies and processions to mark the birth date of the Buddha.

July - Asalahaboucha Day and Boun Khao Pansa (Buddhist Lent), nationwide. The beginning of a three-month period of prayer and meditation for Buddhist monks.

September/October - Boun Haw Khao Padap Din and Haw Khao Salak, nationwide. On the 15th day of the waning moon in the 9th month, and 15 days afterwards, offerings are made at temples to honour dead ancestors, followed by a candlelit procession.

October - Boun Ok Pansa, nationwide. The end of Buddhist Lent is marked by candlelit processions and floats decorated with flower, incense and candles are set adrift in thanksgiving to the river spirits, followed by a day of boat racing.

November - That Luang Festival, Vientiane. Three-day festival gathering tens of thousands of pilgrims from Laos and Thailand to the Luang stupa to listen to prayers and sermons and ending with a huge fireworks display.

December - Hmong New Year, nationwide. The celebrations feature traditional costumes and jewellery, music, ox fighting, spinning-top races and crossbow demonstrations.
That Inhang Festival, Savannakhet. International trade fair at the Inhang stupa featuring products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, Lao music and dance and sports competitions.

Visas

Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.

Passport requirements

Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry. Make sure you get a stamp in your passport as you enter the country. Not having a legitimate stamp could lead to arrest or a large fine.

Money

Currency

The kip is non-convertible outside Laos. Make sure you get rid of all your kip before you leave the country (unless you want to keep a note or two as a souvenir). Kip can be exchanged with foreign currencies on arrival at Vientiane airport. At mid-2013 £1 = around 12,000 kip. The largest denomination, the 100,000 kip note (worth about £8.50) is uncommon. Notes in general circulation are 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. US dollars are sometimes accepted, though at up to 10% below the official rate. Thai baht are also accepted in many areas near the border, notably in Vientiane. Some resorts and banks also accept the euro. In remote places only kip are accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.

ATMs

There are plenty of ATMs around Vientiane, and just a sprinkling in other cities like Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. ATMs of the largest bank, BCEL, accept Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, with a surcharge of US$1 or 2. The maximum withdrawal from an ATM is normally 1,000,000 kip.

Cash and EFTPOS

Always keep some cash on you for small purchases and shopping at markets, and stock up on cash if heading out to remote areas. Normal banking hours are from 8.30 am to 4 pm from Monday to Friday. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels, resorts and upscale restaurants in Ventiane and Luang Prabang.

Guideline prices

Laos is a little more expensive than Thailand or Cambodia, and basic hotels are of a lower quality. As a rule of thumb, it's possible to live comfortably on as little as £30 per couple per day in any of the main tourist areas. A basic ensuite room can cost under £5 in Vang Vieng, and from around £10 in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, though as with any destination there is hardly an upper limit if you take the luxury option at every turn. Even if you blow out on 5-star accommodation or a luxury river cruise, you don't have to look far to get an excellent Lao, Thai or Vietnamese meal for well under £5 a head. You can wash it down with the ubiquitous Beer Lao, made with jasmine rice, at around £1 for a large (640ml) bottle.

Itinerary ideas [7]

The itinerary ideas listed below are designed to give you a flavour of the things to do in Laos. We can adjust any element and tailor-make your trip though, to suit your individual needs and available time. To start planning your trip, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.

Places to stay [7]

The places to stay listed below only represent a handful of the accommodation options available in Laos. We can also recommend and arrange accommodation to suit your personal tastes and budget. To start planning where to stay in Laos, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.

Sala Done Khone, Laos

Standard

What does Standard mean

?
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WEXAS accommodation rating

  • EXCEPTIONAL: Ultra-luxury hotels that look to redefine the boundaries of experience, service and facilities (typically higher than 5 stars)
  • DELUXE: Outstanding accommodation with top-of-the-range facilities and excellent service, usually in a fantastic location (typically 5 stars)
  • SUPERIOR: A higher standard of accommodation with a better range and quality of facilities, often in a good location (typically 4 stars)
  • STANDARD: A good standard of clean and comfortable accommodation with a reasonable range of facilities (typically 3 stars)
  • BASIC: Simple accommodation with limited facilities that can be in remote areas where accommodation is extremely limited (typically 1 or 2 stars).

Lao colonial heritage meets island life. The essence of Sala Done Khone, a series of intimate bungalows situated on the banks of the Mekong River on Don Khone …

La Folie Lodge, Laos

Deluxe

What does Deluxe mean

?
x

WEXAS accommodation rating

  • EXCEPTIONAL: Ultra-luxury hotels that look to redefine the boundaries of experience, service and facilities (typically higher than 5 stars)
  • DELUXE: Outstanding accommodation with top-of-the-range facilities and excellent service, usually in a fantastic location (typically 5 stars)
  • SUPERIOR: A higher standard of accommodation with a better range and quality of facilities, often in a good location (typically 4 stars)
  • STANDARD: A good standard of clean and comfortable accommodation with a reasonable range of facilities (typically 3 stars)
  • BASIC: Simple accommodation with limited facilities that can be in remote areas where accommodation is extremely limited (typically 1 or 2 stars).

Imagine the serenity of sitting on a secluded beach on a peaceful island surrounded by the natural beauty of lush tropical gardens. This is the idyllic scene …

Angsana Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel, Laos

Superior

What does Superior mean

?
x

WEXAS accommodation rating

  • EXCEPTIONAL: Ultra-luxury hotels that look to redefine the boundaries of experience, service and facilities (typically higher than 5 stars)
  • DELUXE: Outstanding accommodation with top-of-the-range facilities and excellent service, usually in a fantastic location (typically 5 stars)
  • SUPERIOR: A higher standard of accommodation with a better range and quality of facilities, often in a good location (typically 4 stars)
  • STANDARD: A good standard of clean and comfortable accommodation with a reasonable range of facilities (typically 3 stars)
  • BASIC: Simple accommodation with limited facilities that can be in remote areas where accommodation is extremely limited (typically 1 or 2 stars).

Luang Prabang, one of Indochina’s gems in Laos is waiting for you to explore her charms. Within this historic royal city, stay at the hotel which was once …

3 Nagas, Luang Prabang, Laos

Superior

What does Superior mean

?
x

WEXAS accommodation rating

  • EXCEPTIONAL: Ultra-luxury hotels that look to redefine the boundaries of experience, service and facilities (typically higher than 5 stars)
  • DELUXE: Outstanding accommodation with top-of-the-range facilities and excellent service, usually in a fantastic location (typically 5 stars)
  • SUPERIOR: A higher standard of accommodation with a better range and quality of facilities, often in a good location (typically 4 stars)
  • STANDARD: A good standard of clean and comfortable accommodation with a reasonable range of facilities (typically 3 stars)
  • BASIC: Simple accommodation with limited facilities that can be in remote areas where accommodation is extremely limited (typically 1 or 2 stars).

Explore the UNESCO World Heritage village of Luang Prabang in northern Laos at the exclusive World Heritage listed residences, 3 Nagas originally dating back to …

Shinta Mani, Luang Prabang, Laos

For a fascinating adventure in unspoiled territory full of forested hills, refreshing waterfalls and hidden caves, look no further than Laos and the charming …

Holiday types [1]

The types of holiday listed below are just a flavour of the experiences available in Laos. We can also suggest and plan alternative types of holiday to take into account your individual interests. To start planning what to do whilst away, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0613.


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