After years of war and isolation, Laos has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine destinations. It is becoming a popular travel destination and is developing quickly, but still has much of the tradition that has sadly disappeared elsewhere in this region. Village life is refreshingly simple, and even in Vientiane it’s hard to believe this sort of languid riverfront life exists in a national capital. Then, of course, there is the historic royal city of Luang Prabang, where watching hundreds of saffron-robed monks move silently among centuries-old monasteries is an extremely tranquil experience. Away from the cities, there is so much more to see; the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khuang Province, the forested mountains of Northern Laos, the gothic limestone karsts around the backpackerhaven Vang Vieng and in the deep south, past the market town Pakse, is Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), where the mighty Mekong spreads out and all the hammocks are taken!

Small Group Tours

Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos in Depth

Immerse yourself in mesmerising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Travel to the hills of Sapa and cruise along Halong Bay before visiting charming Hoi An.

Airfares included

Days 32
From (Per person / Twin share) $10,295

Laos Facts & Tips

Capital
Capital — Vientiane
Population
Population — 7 million
Language
Language — Lao, Thai, English & French
Religion
Religion — Buddhism
Time Zone
Time Zone — 4 hours behind AEST
Currency
Currency — Lao Kip
  • There were advanced cultures as early as 3,000BC along the Mekong River in the area that is now Laos.
  • The Lao government recognises 68 distinct ethnic groups in the country. Some hill and forest tribal groups are animist, but most Laotians are lowlanders who practice Buddhism.
  • Lao wats and Buddha images look a little different from those in Thailand and other Southeast Asian cultures. Traditional Lao wats have multi-tiered roofs that sweep downward. Lao Buddha images have streamlined bodies with robes that flare upward at the bottom, reminiscent of the whooshing flight of homemade, bamboo rockets that villagers launch into the sky to appeal for rain at planting time.
  • In the countryside, where traditional peasant ways of life prevail, farmers have a saying to express contentment with their lot: “Rice in the paddy, fish in the water.”
  • During the Vietnam War, US planes dropped more than a half a million bombs over Laos—more bombs than were dropped over Germany in World War II.
  • The origins of the huge ancient carved stone vessels at the Plain of Jars remain a mystery to groups who have studied them. A recent survey by UNESCO found more than 300 fields of jars in northern Laos, estimating their numbers to be about 10 times what was previously believed.
  • Guests to rural villages will be invited to participate in a baci ceremony to welcome good tidings for any new venture or journey. A village elder leads residents in a chant as they gather around a centrepiece of folded banana leaves decorated with fresh flowers. Participants take cotton strings from the centrepiece and tie them around guests’ wrists, each time saying a prayer or wish for the guests’ future. Keep the strings on for at least three days for good fortune to take effect.

Australian passport holders travelling to Vietnam need a visa at this time. An eVisa must be applied for before you travel online at: https://laoevisa.gov.la/index

We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.

Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.

Australian Embassy in Laos:
KM4, Thadeua Road
Watnak Village
Sisattanak District
Vientiane
Ph. +856 21 353800
Fax. +856 21 353801

The Lao Kip (LAK; symbol ₭), is the official currency of Laos. Notes are in denominations of ₭100,000, 50,000 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1

The recommended currency to take to Laos is USD. Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.

Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.

If you don’t have Laos Kip with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.

Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.

  •  The price of a cappuccino in Harare is approximately 3USD.
  • The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately 7USD. 
  • The price of dinner in a moderately-priced restaurant is approximately 20USD. 
  • The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately 3USD

Lack of fresh produce in Zimbabwe means that staple foods consist of cornmeal and maize. Meals are generally very simple, and meats such as beef and chicken feature occasionally, and other game such as goat, springbok and kadu are eaten, generally for special occasions. Local specialties include sadza, made of cornmeal and gravy or relish (a thick vegetable stew); dovi, or peanut butter stew; and cornmeal cakes. During the summer months, market stalls sell dried mopane worms and flying ants by the pound. A local drink to try is the Rock Shandy, made from ice, lemon or lime juice, soda water and bitters. As an ex-British colony, tea remains a very popular drink in Zimbabwe. If you are feeling adventurous, you may wish to try the ‘beer’ most locals drink, called Chibuku, it’s a thick, milky drink, and definitely an acquired taste!  

Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later!  If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc. 

If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.  

  • The price of a cappuccino in Laos is approximately $2.30 USD
  • The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately $3.50 USD
  • The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately $12 USD
  • The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately $2.00 USD

There are strong Chinese and French influences in the local cuisine, and the combination is delicious. Sticky rice, served at every meal, is a staple that distinguishes Lao cuisine from Thai food (rice is given to monks in the predawn hours by Buddhists who earn merit by their support). The rice is often served with chili sauce and accompanied by vegetables, fish, pork, chicken or beef seasoned with coconut milk, fresh coriander, lemongrass and peanuts. Fresh basil, lime, peanuts and chili sauces are often served on the side to allow diners to spice up the dishes as little or as much as they wish. Vientiane and Luang Prabang have plenty of eateries, ranging from sidewalk noodle shops and thatch-roofed riverside salas, to international-class restaurants.

Though delicious French and Chinese-influenced meals are available in the better restaurants, distinctively Lao dishes, including lemongrass, tomato and fish soup; spicy ground meat laap; lime, garlic and shredded papaya salad; and, of course, sticky rice, are available at even fairly modest lunch spots. You’ll see street vendors selling whatever fruit is in season and others selling fresh baguettes or crusty pastries. Food from stalls on the street is inexpensive and generally safe to eat, but be wary of any food containing meat or food that has been sitting out all day, as sanitation standards are not the highest. Also avoid fermented fish paste (paadek) and other uncooked fish dishes. Wash down your meal with lao-lao (rice moonshine), Beer Lao, coconut juice or puk puk (strong Lao coffee), which is excellent hot or iced.

Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later!  If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.

If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.

The best time to visit is November to February, when the day temperatures are 27-36C. Humidity is high even then, but from March to May the temperatures and humidity climb even higher. It is not uncommon for maximum midday temperatures in April and May to exceed 40C. The rainy season is June to October, bringing much relief from the preceding hot season, but it can also dampen plans for trekking and sightseeing. Rains are heaviest from September to October, making overland travel difficult because of road conditions (be prepared for delays and cancellations). We suggest you bring cold-weather gear for travel to higher elevations as from November to February, mountain temperatures can reach freezing.

Want to get out and explore on your own?

The best way to get around cities and towns in Laos is simply by walking. Generally, cities are small and things are easy to access on foot. Alternatively, the ‘Jumbo’ tuk tuk is a quicker way to zip around, offering seating for more than 2 people.

When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.

So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Laos…

Shop for baskets, woodcarvings, pottery, watercolour paintings, silverwork and, especially, textiles. Hand-woven silk or cotton fabrics and scarves with traditional, colourful designs are real value. It’s not unusual to see wellheeled Thai’s from Bangkok bargaining for these lovely pieces at Vientiane’s markets. Hmong women are known for their needlework, which adorns bags, quilts and clothing. Bargaining is acceptable, even in shops with labelled prices. Do not purchase antiques or images of the Buddha—it is against the law to export either. Beautiful postage stamps are also for sale.

  • Government offices and business, including tourist offices, close for lunch daily at 1.00pm like clockwork.
  • Be aware that the Lao people are generally shier and less outgoing than their neighbours in Thailand.
  • Be prepared to smile a lot, as the Lao people will always be smiling at you.
  • Remember to remove your shoes before entering a wat or a private home.
  • Use first names to address people rather than family names, even if using their title as well.
  • Don’t let misunderstandings or less-than-efficient service get on your nerves—remember that the liberal use of sabaidee (greetings/good health) and bo pen nyang (it doesn’t matter) diffuses many frustrating situations!
  • Relatively few Lao speak English and even fewer speak French these days, even though French is the official second language of the country.
  • Do not pose for pictures in front of a Buddha or take photographs of members of the Iko tribe. Both are considered taboo; however, feel free to ask permission to photograph the other hill tribesmen in their colourful dress. They will almost always oblige.
  • Be sensitive with political comments—emotions run very high, and what may seem like a casual comment can be loaded with emotion for residents.

Laos is a land of festivals and celebrations, happening monthly. In general, Lao people like to party and they enjoy festivals to go for as long as possible. Festivals in Laos are largely linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays and the majority of these festivals are based on the Buddhist faith, signifying traditional aspects of the Lao lifestyle.

Lao New Year is celebrated under the Buddhist calendar and takes place annually around April. This is an important celebration for the Lao people with colorful parades and visits to the temples to give offerings. The throwing of water is the festival's highlight as Lao people believe that by throwing water they could wash the old spirits away and welcome the New Year. Taking place during the dry season in May, the Rocket Festival is a call for rain. This celebration takes place nationwide, with many villages get together and fire huge homemade rockets into the sky to call for rain for the planting season. There are many contests for projectiles that fly the furthest.

Other national public holidays to be aware of include:

  • New Years Day
  • March Equinox 
  • Lao New Year Holidays (14-16 April)
  • Labor Day (1 May)
  • June Solstice 
  • Lao Womens Union’s Day (20 July)
  • Khao Pansa (24 July)
  • September Equinox
  • Bouk Ok Pansa (20 October)
  • Boat Racing Festival (21 October)
  • That Luang Festival (26 November)
  • National Day (2 December)
  • December Solstice 

Laos Highlights

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