Lisa Owen

laos temples

With its green mountain landscapes, wide meandering rivers, turquoise waterholes, and extravagant temples, the Southeast Asian country of Laos is a delight to explore.

If you’re visiting for the first time, you’re in for a treat, especially if you love nature and adventure. Read on for what first time visitors need to know about Laos.

Best time to go to Laos?

The best time to visit Laos is during its short dry season which runs from around November to January.

If you visit during this period, you’ll be treated to sunny, dry days and everything will be very green – but like most of Southeast Asia, it will be humid so pack light, cotton clothing.

orange flowers in laos

How to get to Laos?

You can fly into Luang Prabang or Vientiane from other Southeast Asian countries, or both these locations also have regular buses to Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Many nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival when you enter via Luang Prabang or Vientiane airports. The visa cost depends on your nationality. You’ll need to pay cash with US Dollars.

How to get around Laos?

To get between towns and cities, minibuses run regularly between Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. You can easily organise these at your accommodation. Be warned though that they will leave at least an hour after the set departure time due to all the pickups of other people along the way.

Tuks tuks are the best way to get around Laos. They’re not like your usual Southeast Asia tuk tuk though – and are more like converted tractors with covered bench seating at the back. Tuk tuks can get you to and from Laos airports and tourist sites. Prices are negotiable.

laos mountains

What's the local currency in Laos?

The local currency is the Laos Kip. Laos is a cash economy, but there are lots of exchange counters (especially in Luang Prabang) or ATMs accept many foreign cards. If you plan to exchange money, make sure you bring US Dollars.

Laos is cheap and you’ll need lots of small bills to pay for food or transport as change is hard to come by. Make sure you change your Kip on your departure from Laos as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to change it once you leave the country. Changing it to US Dollars is best as US Dollars are handy in other neighbouring countries.

What are the best things to see in Laos?

The usual tourist route goes between Luang Prabang and Vientiane and you can start at either end, however most people seem to start in the capital Vientiane and work north.

gold temple in laos

You don’t need much time in Vientiane, but it is worth at least a day or two to visit the temples and night markets. Start in the Old Quarter, which is filled with plenty of temples and lots of restaurants.

The grand golden Pha That Luang Temple is the jewel in Vientiane’s crown and Laos’s most important temple. To enter the complex, you need covered shoulders and knees but you can borrow shawls to wrap around your knees at the door.

Unfortunately you can’t go inside the 45 metre high temple but you can walk around it. On the way to the temple, walk through the palm tree lined Patuxai Park, where you can get a view of the city from the Patuxai Arch – an Arc de Triomphe lookalike monument that was built to commemorate the Lao people who died in wars fighting for the country’s independence.

laos patuxai arch

Fun fact – the monument was built using cement donated by the US Government for the construction of an airport.

A night market is held near the Mekong River every night and offers a range of clothing and souvenirs.

From Vientiane, it’s about a three-hour bus ride to Vang Vieng, Laos’s adventure capital and backpacker central. There are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors here and take in the beautiful scenery.

laos mountains

The big ticket item during your visit to Vang Vieng is tubing down the river. Simply rock up to the tubing shopfronts, hire a tube and then you will be taken out to the tubing launch spot with a bunch of other backpackers.

You can also go paragliding, hot air ballooning or kayaking, or hire a bike and cycle past valleys, mountains and rice fields.

You can also visit the Blue Lagoon and jump into the turquoise waters from ladders or trees. The relaxing spot gets popular though so aim to get there early.

You can get to the Blue Lagoon by tuk tuk or hire a bicycle. Tours can also be easily organised at your accommodation or at tour shopfronts scattered across Vang Vieng. Many packages combine a trip to the lagoon with kayaking and a visit to local caves.

Sunset is particularly nice on a clear day in Vang Vieng as the hot air balloons float on by and the sun sets behind the mountains. So find a rooftop, grab a drink and enjoy – or organise a trip in a balloon to get a bird’s eye view of Vang Vieng.

When you’re feeling hungry, there are plenty of restaurants in Vang Vieng. You can easily get a sandwich and there are plenty of stands making fresh smoothies.

It’s a very bumpy four-hour bus ride from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang up some precarious cliffsides so hold on! Luang Prabang is another of Laos’ activity centres and you can trek with elephants, visit beautiful waterfalls, or choose to cycle or kayak to caves.

One of the highlights is the Kuang Si Waterfall. You’ve probably seen pictures of tiers of turquoise water cascading over limestone terraces.

kuang si waterfall

You can swim in the lower pools or take the short hike up to the top of the falls to get your feet wet. Kuang Si Waterfalls is located about 50 minutes from Luang Prabang along a windy, green road. You can get here by tuk tuk or minibuses run from the centre twice a day at 11.30pm and 1.30pm.

Other must dos in Luang Prabang are seeing the sunset from the top of Mt Phousi, checking out the many beautiful temples, seeing the monk’s alms giving ceremony at dawn, browsing for souvenirs at the daily Night Handicraft Market, and enjoying a meal and drink overlooking the river at Utopia Café.

Hopefully this guide inspires you to add Laos to your list of places to visit! You won’t be disappointed. 

laos temple

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.