If you are looking for a warm weather, history, culture and adventure, then Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Laos as most of the people know it, might be just for you! This 7-day suggested itinerary will lead you to Laos’ famous tourist attractions and will help you make the most of your trip. Depending on your traveling priorities, you can certainly fine tune this itinerary to suit your needs.
Things to know before traveling to Laos:
Language – Lao, which belongs to the Tai language family (Thai), is the official language of Laos. The Lao language spoken in both Laos and Northeastern Thailand is very similar but have some variation in the tone structure. It’s also important to note that there are five major dialects in Laos, depending on geographic location. In Vientiane and other main tourist destinations, most Laotian speak Lao and Thai. Although English is on the rise, it is not widely used by the locals. It is recommended to learn some Lao or Thai if you are heading towards rural areas where you can expect that a lot of people cannot speak any English.
Currency exchange – The official currency used in Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK). ATMs can be found in Vientiane and some rural towns. Exchanging money in Laos is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Southeast Asia. International credit cards are accepted in most travel agencies, as well in most upscale hotels and restaurants. Keep in mind that you will need cash for most of your day-to-day expenses.
Getting to Laos – Wattay International Airport (VTE) is the main airport in Laos. As of the end of 2016, international direct flights are limited to and from Seoul, Busan, Singapore, Chiang Mai, Kunming, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Bangkok.
Where to stay – Laos has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. In Vientiane, we recommend hotel options in the city center (Riverside) to get easy access to most attractions. In Luang Prabang, you can stay at the city center (main tourist area) just walking distance from the temples and restaurants. If you’ve been to Luang Prabang once before, and would like to venture away from the center, then we suggest guesthouses along the Mekong River.
Getting around – Getting around Laos and taking public transportation might be a shocking experience to foreign visitors. Transportation options include small minivans (tuk-tuks), local buses, tourist bus or VIP mini vans, motorbike sidecar taxis (Săhm·lór), rental cars and public trucks (Songthaews). Although renting a motorbike is one of the most popular ways to get around, we do not recommend it to non-experienced drivers. Renting a car and driving on your own is also not advised because road travel in Laos can be hazardous, as roads are often poorly maintained. Locals have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Laos. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Avoid non-essential travel to Xaisomboun Province, portions of Road 13 of Vientiane Province and the “new road” between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Every traveler, especially solo female travelers, should take safety precautions because there has been an increase in reported armed robberies, sexual assault and violent crime targeting tourists.
Day by Day Itinerary: Best of Laos in 7 days
Day 1: Vientiane
Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Vientiane or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. After your arrival at Wattay International Airport (VTE), check into your preferred hotel/guest house. The airport is conveniently located only 4 kilometers west of downtown Vientiane. Travel time is approximately 10 minutes depending on traffic situation. Rest and settle in before you start the tour. Assuming you arrived in the morning, you will probably arrive at your accommodation just before lunch time.
Where to stay in Vientiane:
Unlike Vietnam, Laos was influenced by the Indian merchants instead of the Chinese. Theravada Buddhism was introduced to the country at the beginning of 8th century and became widespread by the 14th century. To this day, it is still the most prominent religion in the country. There are several wats (temples) in Vientiane that you can visit to get into grips with Laos’ Buddhism history. After lunch, head to your first destination, Wat Si Saket. It is the oldest temple in Vientiane as it was not destroyed during the turmoil brought by Siamese invasion. Next is Wat Si Muang, one of the most popular wats in the city. Legends say, a young lady Si Muang, sacrificed herself during the construction of the wat to appease evil spirits. Another way you should not miss is Wat Ho Phra Keo, once home to the Emerald Buddha before it was stolen by the Siamese.
Day 2: Vientiane
Wake up early and visit the Morning market (Talat Sao), one of the best places in Laos to snap up a bargain. You can find almost everything inside the market – jewelry, clothing, household goods, traditional Laotian clothing and tons of knock off designer clothing. Don’t forget to haggle to get the best bang for your buck. Aside from shopping, the morning market is also a food destination.
Your next destination is the Buddha Park, located about an hour outside of Vientiane. Constructed in 1958 by a monk, the Buddha Park does not really have a religious significance but still a great place to explore.
In the afternoon, make your way back to Vientiane and head to the Great Sacred Stupa (Pha That Luang). This golden temple is one of the most sacred and beautiful monuments in Laos. If you still have time and if you would like to learn a little bit more of Laos’ history and culture, then you can visit the Lao National Museum. If you need a little pampering and would like to experience alternative healing, then you can end the day at Lao Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage, located three kilometers from the city center.
Day 3: Vientiane
Do not leave Vientiane without paying a visit to Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), a charity that supports Laotian with disabilities, many of which are victims of landmine explosions. After the Vietnam War, there have been many unexploded mines scattered around the countryside of Laos, which continues to injure many Laotian. COPE’s headquarters is in Vientiane, but there are also 5 other rehabilitation centers established in rural areas to provide convenient access to healthcare. Also, not to be missed is Patuxai Victory Monument, resembling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. Just like the arc in Paris, you can also climb to the top of the monument to get a grand view of Vientiane.
Day 4: Luang Prabang
Today you’re up early to catch a domestic from Vientiane to Luang Prabang International Airport. Flight time is approximately 45 minutes. Check into your chosen accommodation. Rest a little before you explore the ancient capital of Luang Province designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. On your first day in Luang Prabang, a visit to Royal Palace Museum will be a great start. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Luang Prabang’s history and culture. Take a leisurely stroll along Old Quarter Luang Prabang, part of the city bursting with grand mansions with French Beaux-arts architecture and traditional Laotian wooden houses.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang:
Day 5: Luang Prabang
On day 5, get up early and prepare for a day full of interesting experiences. There is no better way to get to know Luang Prabang than watching the Alms Giving Ceremony, where a large number of monks parade the streets around the city. Then, hire a taxi or tuck tsk to get Kuang Si Falls, a three-tier waterfall in Luang Prabang. On your way to the waterfalls, you may ask the driver to take you to Kuang Si Falls Butterfly Park, which houses a butterfly garden. It’s a great place to observe hundreds of species of butterflies. On your way back to the city center, do not miss to take a quick visit to the Free the Bears Rescue Center, a charity supporting rescue and conservation of bears in Asia.
Day 6: Luang Prabang
The staple food of the Laotian people is steamed sticky rice (Klao niaw). Most Laotian eat sticky rice three times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On day 6, join the Living Land Farm tour and learn about Laos’ rice from making soil, growing rice and using alternative organic farming methods. In the afternoon, you can join a Laotian cooking class conducted in an open-air wooden pavilion by the Living Land’s head chef. On this activity, you will learn how to cook Laos’ national dish and know its history and origin. You will also be introduced to traditional Laotian flavors and learn the best way to cook authentic Laotian food.
Day 7: Luang Prabang
On your final day in Luang Prabang, you can visit the temples, museums, and markets that you might have missed or you can just wander the streets aimlessly. You may also start early and join a full day tour to the Elephant Village Sanctuary, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. The park offers daily or multi-day tours to visitors, which allows close encounters and bareback riding with elephants (you may opt not to ride, of course). You will get a chance to feed, bathe and play with rescued elephants. It is also a great opportunity to learn the traditions and practices of Laos’ mahout culture. In the early evening, it’s time to say good-bye to the elephants.
To celebrate a successful trip in Luang Prabang, treat yourself to dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants like Cafe Toui (72/6 Ban Xieng Mouane | Sisvangvatthana Road), Manda de Laos (10 Norrassan Road) and Khaiphaen (100 Sisavang Vatana Road | Ban Wat Nong).
This is the end of our 7-day suggested itinerary. You may extend your holiday for as long as you prefer or until you get to see all attractions that interest you. Take time to meet the locals, sample the best Laotian dishes and learn about Laos’ rich history. If the pace gets too hectic, then reorder your sightseeing priorities. Happy travel!
Featured image: Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos (Avigator Thailand / Shutterstock.com)