Destination Laos! By Asian Marvels
My name is Jason and I love travelling around Asia and sharing my stories. I want people from all over the world to see the beauty of the landscape, people and culture of Asia. Here are my 10 things everyone should know before they travel to Laos.
Laos is often overlooked when it comes to choosing travel destinations, but here in this landlocked country are some of South East Asia's most beautiful hidden secrets. Unlike the lively tourist hub of its neighbouring countries, Laos seems to be wearing an incredibly calm and slow facade. The unique beauty of this country, the undiscovered culture and the warmth of the local people are the main reasons it is such a special place to see. However, travellers may face a degree of a culture shock for the very first time, especially in places not yet developed for tourism. This article will be helpful for you if you have plans to explore Laos, one of my favourite places to discover!
In Laos, they see the head as noble or sacred, and the foot as inferior or unclean, so disrespectful behaviour towards this cultural practice can be considered as rude. Touching a Lao (especially a man) is not always appropriate and touching a child on the head is also not encouraged.
Feet are considered to be 'unclean' so be mindful of where you walk and how you sit. Lao culture is still conservative and whilst not mandatory it is best to be considerate of your clothing and mannerisms when travelling through the region. Women should cover their shoulders and dress in conservative clothing when visiting holy sites or places of worship. Lao people are very kind and friendly and enjoy interacting with tourists so if you are unsure it is best to be safe, cover up and do as the locals do.
Lao Kip is the main currency and this can easily be confusing for visitors with so many zeroes.100,000 is the highest denomination of Lao Kip. Breaking up the currency into smaller denominations will make managing this issue much easier for you and it is safer not to carry large amounts in the same place.
The US Dollar can be used but only for high-end tourist places such as hotels, restaurants and limited shops. You will wish to have Lao Kip in cash since the daily expenses for a meal, coffee, water or other services is very small and it will make life less stressful for you. Cash will be used at the local market and to pay for transportation.
In Laos, the principal religion is Theravada Buddhism but over half of the population is made up of ethnic tribes or groups who collectively have their own spiritual customs and beliefs. You may see thousands of temples including ones which are now abandoned or closed scattered all over the country.
When visiting the pagoda, turning your back on the Buddha statue is considered a disrespectful act. Also, notice the signs, if you are not allowed to take photos you must comply, otherwise, you will be immediately asked to leave when trying to capture some impressive memories. This is the same with wearing shoes or outfits which are not appropriate so be cautious of the local customs and enjoy learning about a new way of life.
Travelling in Laos, like many destinations in Southeast Asia, requires cultural sensitivity and an awareness of your surroundings. It is best to come with the right attitude towards these expectations and seek out new ideas as you visit these destinations. In general, public displays of affection between men and women are best avoided as it is uncommon and women should be considerate of the nature of the Lao people; especially in areas where tourism is less prevalent.
Overall, Laos has a good reputation for being a safe destination to travel with minimal reports of crime and scams towards tourists. Follow up with the latest safety updates online before you travel if you have particular concerns including local regulations regarding water activities in Vang Vieng. Appropriate travel insurance as always is highly recommended.
If you have visited Vietnam before Laos, you will be surprised because Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is always crowded but you will rarely hear the beeping of the horn. Drivers don't like to use horns, except in dangerous situations that can cause accidents. It won't seem as hectic as other cities in South East Asia and you will find numerous public transport options including passenger cars, buses and taxis.
If you are in a place that offers a tuk-tuk than this is preferable and also a cheaper option. For tourists, traffic accidents are still the main cause of concern or harm/injury in Laos so be proactive about choosing your mode of transport and times of travel, especially during the monsoon season. Road conditions are said to be improving, however, overnight transport or bus trips through the mountains are at a higher risk and require individual research. Choose a reputable tour and travel companies and aim to travel long distance during the day whenever possible.
If you are searching for a slower pace of life, a retreat from the city, than the village life in Laos may be just what you have been dreaming of. There are many opportunities to be out in nature in a place as stunning as Laos which is filled with mountains, rivers, waterfalls, caves and wildlife.
Spend your time relaxing in a hammock, sharing a meal with new friends, riding a bicycle or simply enjoy the feel of Laos and it's the laid-back charm. You can enjoy cooking classes, learn to make traditional handicrafts or volunteer at an ethical animal sanctuary. A little planning around the weather is helpful depending on the type of adventures you wish to have. The rainy season is between May and September.
You might have heard about the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year but Laos actually has it's own New Year which is celebrated annually on 14-16 April. This New Year is called Bunpimay. If you travel to Laos during this time, you will get a chance to join in their water festival: which is similar to the famous Songkran New Year of Thailand. Water jets are a popular game in Laos.
In big cities, it is easy to see trucks carrying dozens of people with buckets of water to splash onto pedestrians. This is a fun festival that everyone enjoys partaking in and celebrating with family and friends. Check with your local tour company or accommodation provider to find out more information on the event and plan ahead as accommodation may book out early.
Compared to other SEA countries, Laos often has a slower internet speed. Even though the WiFi is available in most towns it does not always mean it is reliable. Working online for ex-pat travellers may end up being complicated even in hotels and cafes. So, to avoid unexpected situations, you should have an offline version of some necessary things such as maps or hostel locations.
Save screenshot images of reservations, phone numbers and directions in case you are unable to connect to the local WiFi. The alternative is to purchase a local sim card with a data package for the duration of your stay if you require consistent internet access. If you can, find a good book and enjoy the break from social media whilst you can.
Water & Food
The local drinking water in Southeast Asia is not recommended for tourists due to the chance of contracting the illness. Bottled water is advised to protect your health and is also suggested for brushing your teeth. Be aware of the water and ice that is used when dining or drinking out at local restaurants and aim to go where it is most popular to ensure a fresh turnover of food and a higher standard of care. The street food is fantastic and packed with flavours you may never have tried.
The food is Laos is full of fresh herbs and vegetables with a variety of ethnic and traditional dishes specific to each region. Lao food is often accompanied by the famous sticky rice and you will notice how people enjoy sharing numerous dishes together. You will find grilled fish, noodle soup, black sticky rice, papaya salad and steamed vegetable dishes throughout the country.
Travelling over-land is a popular way to arrive and depart Laos via neighbouring countries including Thailand and Cambodia. Some examples include the train from Bangkok Thailand to Vientiane Laos or Hanoi Vietnam to Luang Prabang Laos. If a 15 - 25-hour land journey is not what you are after you can fly into Laos via numerous air connections with Lao Airlines being the National carrier.
If you are travelling to Laos, don't forget to consider taking a slow boat down the Mekong river, visit some of the local temples and shrines, try the local street food and Lao beer, wander through the markets for great photo moments and even try a traditional massage therapy session. You can find so many wonderful things to do and you can share your unique experience with those you meet along the way. So that is my 10 things to know before you go and I hope you will share your journey with the Travel For Change community.