Laos, a peaceful land-locked nation, is one of Southeast Asia’s hidden gems. The stunning natural beauty of forested mountains and valleys teeming with wildlife combined with a fascinating Buddhist culture make Laos a superb destination for those seeking an adventurous and authentic cultural experience.
Laos is bordered by five countries: China to the north; Vietnam to the east; Cambodia to the south; Thailand and Myanmar to the west. The Mekong River, which forms a large part of the border with Thailand, has always been at the heart of Lao civilization and culture. Apart from the Mekong River plains, more than 70% of the country is comprised of highlands, mountains, and plateaus.
Laos has two seasons. The green season runs from May through October and the dry season from November to April. For the most part, Laos is hot, although there is a good deal of fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures. The capital, Vientiane, ranges from the upper-20s Celsius (mid-70s Fahrenheit) in January to mid-30s Celsius (mid-90s Fahrenheit) in April and May. In the mountainous region in Luang Prabang, however, temperatures can plummet to near freezing at night in December and January. During the rainy season, the highest precipitation is in southern Laos.
Please note: It can sometimes be smoky during February and March (in Northern Laos) when local people burn the rice fields and forests to prepare for the annual crops. This may affect visibility and result in minor respiratory irritation.
Laos operates on Greenwich meantime +7 hours. Please note that Laos does not have daylight saving hours.
Popular cities for traveling:
Vientiane is Southeast Asia’s smallest capital city with a population of 800,000 inhabitants. Located along a bend of the Mekong River in the north-west of the country, the city exudes a laidback atmosphere and old world charm with its mix of Chinese shop houses and French colonial architecture. The tree-lined boulevards and low traffic density makes the city an ideal place for walking and exploring ancient temples and pagodas including Wat Ho Phakeo, a former royal temple, and Wat Sisaket, one of the capital’s oldest temples which houses hundreds of small Buddha images. Apart from sightseeing, there is also excellent shopping for silver jewelry and hand-woven textiles which can be found at the Morning Market and a number of boutique shops. A visit to Vientiane is not complete without a relaxing sundowner at one of the many riverside bars along the Mekong River to enjoy a spectacular sunset view.
Getting here: Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport is the gateway to most domestic destinations.
Formerly a pit stop between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, now Vang Vieng has become a destination for those keen to enjoy adventure activities such as kayaking, caving and rock climbing. The main attraction is the spectacular landscape and towering limestone rock formations riddled with caves. Over the year the town has become quite popular with backpackers for its river tubing and social cafes and bars.
While tubing in the river near Vang Vieng has become a popular activity, Lambda Vacations would like to remind you that this can be a dangerous activity. The river can be unpredictable, there are hidden rapids and rocks and you should never try tubing under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, we must advise that most Travel Insurance policies specifically do not cover for adventure activities (1) and (2) the nearest international hospital is in Vientiane which is 3-4 hours drive away.
Getting here: From Vientiane it is an approximately 3-4 hours drive and Luang Prabang a 5-6 hours drive.
Luang Prabang, once the royal seat of the Lane Xang Kingdom or “Land of a Million Elephants”, is a sleepy town nestled in a mountain valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers in north central Laos. Considered as the center of Lao culture, the city offers a fascinating glimpse into the Buddhist religious practice and traditional lifestyle of the various hill-tribe groups in this northern region. The town is endowed with a picturesque landscape of palm lined riverbanks, ornate golden temples, and ancient monuments amongst the backdrop of the towering Mt. Phousi. It is no wonder that UNESCO declared Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site in 1995 describing it as an “outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
The town center has an outstanding range of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. With a growing population of 100,000 inhabitants, the town is becoming busier in recent years. However, it is still relatively peaceful and quaint compared to other tourist destinations in the region, which is one of its most charming features. Nearby attractions include Pak Ou Caves, which houses thousands of Buddha images, Kuang Si Waterfall and several cotton and silk weaving villages.
Getting here: There are daily domestic flights (40 minutes) from Vientiane. By road, it is a 8-9 hour drive from Vientiane and 5-6 hours from Vang Vieng. There are daily international flights from Hanoi, Siem Reap, Bangkok and from Chiang Mai.
Phonsavan – Plain of Jars:
The small dusty town of Phonsavan in northern Laos is the capital of Xieng Khuang province and gateway to the Plain of Jars. This region was one of the most heavily bombed in Laos and today is still littered with half a million tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) and the evidence is everywhere. Bomb casings and other war remnants are used for every purpose imaginable such as fences, tools, and house decoration.
The main attraction to this region is the Plain of Jars. The gigantic stone jars are to Laos as Stonehenge is to England – an enigma. While there are many theories, nobody really knows why hundreds of huge stone jars are scattered across several sites on a barren Laotian plain. They are between 2500 and 3000 years old, and again no one knows why they were built. Carved from solid rock, most of these containers weigh from 600kg to a ton per piece with the largest weighing six tons. The jars are set amongst beautiful scenery of rolling hills which are covered with a smattering of pine trees and green grass during the wet season.
Getting here: There are four flights a week from Vientiane Lao Airlines. The flight takes 30 minutes. Please be aware that these flights have been prone to cancellation and delays.
Situated in southern Laos, near the Thai border, Pakse is the capital of Champasak province. The town itself features Franco-Chinese style architecture and a colorful market stocked with fresh produce grown in the nearby Bolaven Plateau, a highland region inhabited by a number of ethnic minority groups. The main attraction in Pakse is the Khmer-Hindu archeological ruin of Wat Phu Champasak which was built by the founder of the first Khmer empire, Jayavarman II. It is much smaller than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat but still a rival to that ancient empire. Visitors to the complex should take note that some temples have very steep approaches with as many as 70 steps which can be difficult to climb. Although the tourism infrastructure is less developed than the popular north, the government has made efforts into promoting the region as an ecological friendly destination and improving the reliability of services. Other attractions in the Champasak region include the 4,000 islands of Si Phan Don near the Cambodian border; elephant trekking in Ban Khiet Ngong; Southeast Asia’s widest waterfall, Khone Phapeng; and insight into authentic, traditional Laotian life on the islands of Don Khone and Don Deng near Champasak Town.
Getting here: There are daily flights to Pakse from Vientiane (1hr 15mins) year round, whilst from Luang Prabang flights operate 3 time per a week in the low season and daily in the high season (1hr 50mins) on Lao Airlines. Direct flights Luang Prabang-Pakse or Parkse-Luang Prabang might be cancelled last minute in low season, from May- October.