Useful things to know before you visit Laos

Laos changed a lot between my two visits in July 2015 and June 2019. First, the road improved a lot. So what used to take 6-7 hours is now 4 hours. In Vang Vieng are now a few very luxurious hotels and the plants and flowers in the restaurants in Luang Prabang are now much bigger. I was excited to see what else changed and improved, and for the first time I felt like I could live in Luang Prabang. The expats who have a business in Luang Prabang pay quite high taxes. Somehow they could make sure that some of this money gets used for environmental issues. Recycling is strongly promoted and the streets are much cleaner now than most places in Asia.

Luang Prabang

I was happy to see that the Utopia Bar is still there and blooms better than ever. It is the place that most backpackers and expats hang around in the evening. Every morning they offer Yoga at 7:30 am with an amazing view over the Nam Khan River (40.000 Kip). Mats are provided.

Not far from Luang Prabang is my favourite waterfall in the world located (45-60 minutes by mini bus). Believe me, I have seen many waterfalls in my life. To go to the Kuang Xi Waterfall, you either buy a ticket for the mini bus at your hostel (35’000 Kip) or directly on the street with the driver (25’000 Kip). Entrance to the waterfall is 20’000 Kip. In the past, if you walked up the hill, you didn’t see many tourists. This changed. But it is still worth to go up.

Walking up the Mount Phousi is a very nice experience; by sunrise and sunrise. Also check out the morning market, the bamboo bridge, and the night market. D&T supermarket is a big super market. Because of the law all bars and restaurants close at 11 pm. If you still have energy go to the bowling hall. Tuk Tuk drivers will ask you at the exit of the Utopia Bar.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng has a beautiful landscape and many outdoor activities (climbing, river rafting, canoe, caves). In 2015, I spent there one of my best birthdays. I went tubing on the river (some get really drunk since you can stop along the river in some bars), met some amazing people, played volleyball, had fun in the mud, jumped in the water with a hanging rope, and danced in the rain. Since some people died in the past years they closed down some of the bars. The problem is, in the dry season, there is less water in the river and therefore easier to hurt yourself on the rocks. Please take care.

Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital and more a place to live than for tourists. However, we did enjoy the Chao Anouvong Park where people gathered in the evening to practice sport together. The Earth bar often has life music in the evening. Lots of foreigners seem to gather there.

Transport

The most convenient way to travel in Laos is by mini bus. Just choose one of the small companies or families who seem more or less reliable.

  • Mini bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (4 hours): 90’000 Kip
  • Mini bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane (3.5 – 4 hours): 50’000 Kip

To the airport in Vientiane

  • There exists a local bus that travels every day from 8 am to 10 pm between two destinations (15’000 Kip one way). The bus has 16 stops along its route that are marked by a green bus sign https://www.laos-guide-999.com/vientiane-airport-transfer.html).
  • If you have to be at the airport before 7:30 am it is best to take a Tuk-Tuk (50’000 Kip).

Accommodation

Couchsurfing is still not very popular in Laos. In Luang Prabang we stayed with a guy from Sudan for a week: A very interesting human being.

In Vang Vieng, we stayed in the Souksavath Guesthouse. It is family owned and one of the daughters is very talented in decorating cakes. So every morning we would get some of their beautiful decorated cake. Chris loved it 🙂 They really cared that it is clean and that the guests feel comfortable. Free water (might be boiled), tea, coffee and bananas all day. The bed was comfortable and the view (riverside) incredible beautiful. They even gave us a discount because we stayed three nights (100’000 per night / AC included). Even soap, towel, toilet paper and two water bottles were provided. Only downside: WIFI didn’t work well in our room (Nr. 5). But it worked well downstairs.

In Vientiane, I highly recommend to stay at the Barn1920s Hostel. Check out their reviews on Googlemaps. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, the room for the men was already full. So we decided to stay at the Haysoke Guesthouse. It was only 90’000 for both of us, clean, with AC, double bed was ok, but the room was not really nice. So we spend most of the time outside.

Expect to pay between 100’000 and 150’000 Kip per night for a double bed in a guesthouse or hostel. The price is per room, not per person.

Food

Eating in Laos has its own blog post: Useful things to know as a Vegetarian or Vegan in Laos. The tap water is not safe to drink.

Money

  • Official currency: Laotian Kip (LAK)
  • ATM fee: 20’000 (BCEL, PSV, LDB) or 30’000 (JDB) PER million withdrawn.
  • Maximum withdrawal: 700’000 to 2’000’000 Kip (about 200 Euros).

The Laotian Kip is a closed currency which means you can’t exchange any leftover notes outside of Laos (except in some banks in Thailand).

Visa

  • Most people need a Visa that is valid for 30 days (30 or 35 USD). Cash only.
  • Swiss people can stay 15 days for free and therefore don’t need a Visa.
  • Overstay: Every extra day in Laos costs 10’000 Kip.

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