Discovering Laos: A Comprehensive Guide to Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem

From Luang Prabang to Don Det, Laos is one of my favourite places I travelled. It’s untouched, natural beauty, not yet discovered by many travellers, should be at the top of your South East Asia travel list. In this blog I will share my personal experience, route, tips and advice.


  1. Introduction to Laos:
    • Where is Laos located?
    • What makes Laos unique or distinctive?
  2. Travel Information:
    • What are the top tourist attractions in Laos?
    • How can travellers get to Laos?
    • What are the visa requirements for visiting Laos?
    • What is the best time to visit Laos?
  3. Historical and Culture:
    • What is the history of Laos?
    • What is the culture of Laos
  4. Safety and Health:
    • Is Laos a safe destination for travelers?
    • Are there any health concerns or precautions travelers should be aware of?
  5. Tips for Visitors:
    • What are some practical tips for visitors to Laos (e.g., currency, language, transportation)?

Introduction to Laos

Laos is in Southeast Asia, between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. Making it very easy to access and visit on your trip to the region. Despite this, many people overlook the country or don’t know anything about it. The thing that stood out the most to me about Laos compared to other countries in the region, is how undiscovered it is. It hasn’t been modernised and westernised for tourism yet, so you should definitely go before the hidden gem of Southeast Asia gets the TikTok treatment and is the next big trend. You will see some Western influence from when the French colonised, especially the architecture in Luang Prabanag, coffee, bakeries and restaurants.

Map of Laos and surrounding countries

Travel Information

Tourist Attractions

In Luang Prabang you can walk around and see the beautiful architecture, but make sure you take a trip to Kuang Si Falls. It is some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen, potentially the best, with Iceland the next contender. All other waterfalls in Asia couldn’t compare. The night market here was also one of my favourites in Asia. If you are okay getting up early, you can watch the Alms ceremony, where monks walk along the street getting collections, or if you’re a night owl then there is a bowling alley open until 2am. We also did zip lining through a beautiful jungle. Vang Vieng is definitely good for a party and socialising, so a good place to go if you’re solo or looking for that. A lot of the iconic Laos things to do are here, from the sunrise/sunset hot air balloon or paragliding/paramotoring. Other activities here include all the different Blue Lagoons, hiking the Nam Xay viewpoint, tipsy tubing, and lots of outdoorsy activities like zip lining, kayaking, etc. Vientiane is the capital, but there really isn’t much to do there. There is a large night market but it wasn’t anything of note, some landmarks and the COPE Visitor Centre which shows the impact of all the bombs from the war on the people.

One of the waterfalls at Kuang Si Falls

Most backpackers don’t go more south than Vientiane, unless they’re coming to/from Cambodia. If you do head to the south then two places people go are Pakse and Don Det. Personally, I didn’t do much in Pakse and could’ve happily skipped it but there are some lovely waterfalls there to visit. Don Det and the four thousand islands is very beautiful and picturesque. We had run out of money by the time we got here so mostly just sunbathed and walked around, but again there are waterfalls and places you can see, including hiring bicycles and cycling around.

There is definitely a lot more places you can visit in Laos, especially if you want to go a little bit more off the beaten path, so if this is of interest to you, do some research. One thing that a lot of people are starting to do now is the Thakhek loop. Not yet as popular as neighbouring country Vietnam’s Ha Giang loop, but who knows, maybe one day it will be a backpacker must do.

How to Get to Laos

Luang Prabang and Vientiane both have airports if you are looking to fly in. China has built a railway that connects the two countries meaning you can get the train between Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane quickly and easily, as well as to/from China. A lot of backpackers will do the slow boat from Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai to Laos. This takes a few days and you stay in places along the way. It looks extremely basic but beautiful views throughout. We opted for a veeerrrry long bus journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang that consisted of multiple different mini buses, buses, and a sleeper bus, followed by a tuktuk to our accommodation. I think it took about 22 hours. You can also do the reverse of what I did and come from Cambodia up through Don Det via mini bus and boat.

Visa Requirements

We did visa on arrival meaning we didn’t have to pre-apply and did it all when we got to the border. A lady came with us to help us with the process and get us on our way. Make sure you have a passport photo and crisp American dollars, that have no tears and are perfect. I took about $40 but double check how much it is before you go as this may change. You can check all visa requirements on your government’s website, I really recommend checking here for all information and any links you need if you do e-visas for places get them through these official pages.

Girl stood in front of waterfall
A waterfall in Pakse

When to Travel to Laos

I would recommend going to Laos in dry season which is usually around October – April. It is a place you could probably visit in wet season and it not be too affected as it is landlocked so you won’t be spending time on beaches and sunbathing. However, if you don’t want torrential rain spells and potential flooding, I’d go in dry season but look into months that will be cooler and not too hot and humid.

Cost of Laos

Laos was a very cheap country to travel. Food was very cheap costing between less than £1 to £3 for a meal. We even ended up having a three-course meal to treat ourselves at a nice restaurant in Luang Prabang and it was still cheap. Transport between places was also affordable. The train is more expensive than buses between places but definitely worth the slightly higher price. Accomodation will depend where you stay, I stayed in hostels and a private room in Don Det, these were usually between £6 – £10. A nice room in a hotel will cost you about £30 a night. Activities range from free to the most expensive thing I did being about £90 which was the hot air balloon – it is the cheapest place in the world to do it.

Hot air balloons in the sky
Hot air balloons in Vang Vieng

History and Culture

Laos has a very complicated history, and it is surprising such a beautiful and welcoming country has such a sad and dark past. The French colonised Laos in 1893 and occupied the country until 1953. You can still see a lot of French influence in the country to date. The Japanese did invade for a period of time during WWII but left after the war. In 1954, Laos was declared a neutral nation meaning the Vietnamese and American forces couldn’t cross its borders. However, between 1964 to 1973, due to the Vietnamese transporting war munitions down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the US carpet-bombed it, devastating the east and north-east of Laos. It is the most bombed country on the planet due to this. In 1973 the US left and within a few years the communists had taken over and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was born. This is a very basic introduction to the history of Laos and there is much more to it you can read up on. Nowadays, China is investing a lot in the development of Laos, and America has made a point of also showing interest in the future of the country.

The people of Laos were very kind. They definitely weren’t as used to seeing tourists around as other countries like Thailand, so do expect some stares but they aren’t in a rude way. The main religion there is also Buddhism, like a lot of Southeast Asia, so expect temples and respect the dress code. The language sounds quite similar to Thai and the people really appreciate when you learn basic phrases. For example, ‘Sabaidi’ means hello and goodbye, ‘khob chai’ means thank you, and ‘theoa dai’ means how much?

motorbike on a cliff
Nam Xay Viewpoint

Safety and Health

I’d say I felt safe a majority of the time as a woman in Laos. There were a couple of times where the girl I was travelling with and I were walking down a quiet dark street and did acknowledge we wouldn’t of liked to have been solo in that moment. I don’t think that is a reflection of Laos or the people there though, I think anyone would feel that way in most countries. Overall, I felt pretty safe in Laos, but I would still be vigilant like anywhere you travel and apply the usual rules. Watch your belongings, avoid going places at night on your own where you don’t feel safe, etc.

Usual Asia rules apply: don’t drink the tap water, be careful what you eat and make judgement calls whether something seems okay, take bug spray to avoid being bitten, make sure you have travel insurance that covers medical bills, and make sure you get the vaccines and boosters you need. If you are heading to Don Det then I recommend getting some malaria tablets as it is a high risk area there, and I have never seen so many mosquitos in my life! We bought them in a pharmacy in Vang Vieng and they were much cheaper than if we bought them in the UK. I recommend checking your government and the NHS website.

a lagoon
Blue Lagoon 3

Travel Tips

Make sure you have cash (or get cash from an ATM), as most places don’t take card. The currency used in Laos is Laotian Kip.

The same as the rest of Asia, I would just get bug spray when you get there but make sure you take sun cream, skincare, after sun, moisturizer, etc. with you as it is expensive there and often contains whitening ingredients.

You can book all travel between places when you’re there or on 12GoAsia. There is an app to book the train (LCR ticket), but you will need your Laos mobile number to do so. If not you can book in person at places, but you will pay a booking fee.

Get a local sim when you get there, they are so cheap and will work better than your UK sim. I didn’t come through the airport so I’m not sure if they sell them there, I would assume they do. When we came through on the minibus they stopped at a local shop where we got our sims and they set them up for us.

Don’t be scared of eating at the markets and local restaurants. While yes, a little bit of common sense and personal discretion is required, usually the food at these places are fine and you can see it being made in front of you. If the food has been sat out a while or you don’t have a good feeling about the place then eat elsewhere.

Respect the culture. I wouldn’t walk around in tiny shorts and a bikini top, or no top if you’re a guy, as it would be quite disrespectful. It isn’t the done thing there and you will likely be stared at and could feel uncomfortable. As I mentioned before, there aren’t as many tourists and white people, plus it isn’t a beachy country, so they aren’t as used to seeing white people, especially in skimpy clothes or swimwear. If you are visiting a temple, make sure you cover your shoulders, stomach and legs.

If you’re doing just Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng you can do it in a week. If you want to head south too then you will need two weeks.

Orange roofs in front of body of water
Don Det

Laos is a country I deeply love and really enjoyed my time in. I met amazing people, experienced a variety of landscapes and things to do, had some of my favourite experiences here (the hot air balloon at sunrise), and loved how untouched it felt. If you are heading to Southeast Asia, make sure you don’t skip Laos, it is definitely worth the trip.