Laos. Self-guided itinerary. History and practical information about the country
Talking about what to see in Laos on your own. We have traveled in Laos several times, and it all started with the question of where to get a Thai tourist visa in Southeast Asia. This is a question many travelers who stay in Thailand for a long time ask themselves. We found out that the Thai Consulate in Savannaket does double-entry visas, so we decided to combine getting a Thai visa with traveling around Laos on our own during our circumnavigation.
Laos is a beautiful and humble communist state in Southeast Asia. When I first arrived in unhurried Laos, as if preserved in time, it seemed awfully nice and cozy. Yes, the roads were broken, there was almost no civilization – only jungle and old, crumbling buses, as well as a lot of old Soviet military equipment. But the pleasant smiles, sincere conversations, and compassionate attention from the locals touched me. I talked to the monks who, upon learning that I was from Russia, immediately welcomed me like an old friend. So, hello, sabadi, good friend of Laos !
How to get to Laos
The capital of Laos, Vientiane is a very hospitable city. You can fly there with different airlines (Lao Airlines, Air Asia, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Nok Air, Vietnam Airlines) from Bangkok and nearby capitals. Luang Prabang is served by flights from Bangkok and Chiang Mai by Lao airlines. And buses, too, go from Bangkok and Chiang Mai to the border town of Nong Khai, and then a bus across the Friendship Bridge, and there it is Laos.
Currency Exchange in Laos
The local currency, the Lao kip, will make you a millionaire. One dollar is exchanged for about 8,000 kip. So if the rate is more than eight thousand, it is a very good rate, and if less, you see, not so much.
In banks the exchange rate is higher, and the unofficial exchangers, who occupy the tourist areas, are about 3% lower. So try to change the bank at once the entire amount needed, but note that even 100 dollars for most residents of Laos – a huge amount, and therefore try not to shine their money.
Do I need a visa to Laos?
The good news for the Russians, Swiss and Japanese – only these nations can get a stamp for 15 days for free. Only the Chinese are luckier – they get 30 days for free. Apparently, they are real communists, more quality than the Russians. Everyone else has to pay 30-35 dollars and get a monthly visa.
If for some reason two weeks in Laos seems insufficient (and it really is!), then tell the border guards that you are Russian, but still want a visa, and you will have a whole month to enjoy the wonderful Laos!
Laos-China border crossings:
- Boten/Mengla – driving from Luang Namtha
Laos-Cambodia border crossings:
- Ban Nakasang/Stung Treng – one of the most corrupt crossings in Asia. Be sure to check out our story before you travel!
Laos Vietnam Border Crossings:
- Donsavanh/Lao Bao
- Keo Nua.
- Lak Sao
- Nam Can
- Na Meo
- Tay Trang
- Bo Y
Laos-Thailand border crossings:
There are eight border crossings from Thailand into Laos:
– Fourth Friendship Bridge.
- Muang Ngeun/Huay Kon – Exit to Thailand at Nan
- Nam Hueng/Tha Li – exit to Thailand at Loei. Visas must be obtained in advance
- Vientiane/Nong Khai – The First Friendship Bridge
- Paksan/Bueng Kan – Get a visa early
- Tha Khaek/Nakhon Phanom – 3rd Friendship Bridge (Savannakhet/Mukdahan) – 2nd Friendship Bridge – Access to Thailand at Ubon Ratchatani
What to see in Laos
Main sights in historical retrospective
What can be seen in Laos? First of all nature. In South Laos, in the province of Champasak the ruins of Khmer temples of Wat Pu and Wat Tomo are still preserved as a part of Laos from the times when this area was part of the Khmer state of Funan, or Biunam.
Nature in Laos is beautiful. And in it organically fit the main attractions
Then King Fa Ngum married a Khmer princess, and her father, the King of Angkor, gave his son-in-law a huge land, covering the area of modern Laos, parts of northern and eastern Thailand and northern Cambodia. Thus the Lao feudal state of Lansang (translated as the Kingdom of a Million Elephants) came into being. The medieval city of Luang Prabang became the capital of this country. Lansang was a powerful state!
The dark green on the map is the medieval state of Lansang, the forerunner of Laos.
The wars with Dai Viet weakened Lansang over time. The capital was moved to Vientiane. But surrounded by enemy Dai Vyet and Ayutthaya, the state could not withstand the pressure, and by the end of the 17th century, it broke up into three countries, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Thyampasak.
When Siam was invaded by the Burmese, the newly formed King Thaksin sent an army to Vientiane and the future Siam King Rama I took the main relic, the Emerald Buddha, to Bangkok that had been in the Wat Ho Pro Kaew temple in Vientiane for over 200 years (from 1547 to 1778). After Rama overthrew Thaksin and founded Bangkok, the Buddha is still there.
A copy of the Emerald Buddha at the Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai
And the next stage was the French colonization of Laos. The French, who had already established their control in Dai Viet, Cambodia, unified Laos and even took Tyampasak from a weakened Siam. However, the main goal for the French was to conquer Siam, and when those plans were abandoned, they left Laos without regret. And after World War II, Laos gained self-government, but the unstable situation inside the country shook the country for many more years.
The powerful fought for influence in the small country, resulting in a civil war. But in 1975 the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was proclaimed. Now this glorious country is called Lao PDR (Lao People’s Democratic Republic).
Map of Laos (clickable)
And despite the fact that there is no sea here, Laos is an exceptionally curious country!
We were convinced of that from our own experience. We met the friendly country friendly town of Pakse standing at the confluence of two rivers. Built by the French, the city, of course, has its own charm.
- The bridge over the Mekong from Laos to Thailand connects Pakse and Ubonratchatani.
- And the French bridge, built during the colonization of Laos by Europeans, connects the two banks of the river Se Don, and is located in the most picturesque area of the modern capital of the province Tyampasak .
- And Buddha, looking down from the hill, good-naturedly protects its inhabitants.
Renting a bike in Pakse, Thyampasak Province in Laos
Today’s Tyampasak province is quite rich in treasures, and to see all the sights, you will need to rent a bike in Pakse and drive around or even take a tour for a few days to see the innocence and splendor of almost untouched nature.
The Bolaven Plateau is truly a fabulous place! Of course, you can do without a bike, and buses or tour agencies will help you, but unfortunately, then you will be deprived of mobility and the convenience of managing your own time.
4000 Islands on the Mekong River
Yes, really, there is no sea in Laos. And sometimes after a long trip you want to relax on the coast and forget about everything. But there is a way out! The Mekong is such a wide river that in its depths there is a place for islands! We visited two tropical river islands, Don Det and Don Con.
A kingdom of caves in Kammowan province
Not as popular with tourists, but no less beautiful, is the province of Cammowan. To explore it, it is best to base yourself in the town of Ta Kek, which also stands on the banks of the Mekong and looks out over Thailand. Kammouan is called the kingdom of caves, and it is true, there are a great many of them, very different and interesting!
Great Wall of Laos
But the main discovery was the Great Lao Wall! It is a monument of very ancient architecture, almost unknown in the West and not thoroughly studied. The only thing we can say for sure is that it is constructed of huge megaliths with the use of unknown technology and the wall was built in the ancient times! Is this not a reason to go to Laos and wonder how much of the unknown is on our planet, although we think as if we have almost conquered it. No, it still holds riddles and mysteries, including Laos.
Our review of Laos
Our main goal was to get a double Thai visa, which we got at the Thai consulate in Savannaket, but other than that, of course, we wanted to get to know Laos better. And we are happy that this acquaintance took place, and the sympathy was mutual. I was won over by the kind eyes of the inhabitants of Laos, it was so nice to greet strangers and smile at them, stretching the warm word “Sabadi! We came to Laos with joy, the same joy we met with the local people. The world really is just a reflection of ourselves.
Laos. Travel and vacation in unexplored Laos.
Laos is a country in southeast Asia. It has borders with five South Asian countries. It has no access to the sea. In a one-party socialist republic, Laotian is recognized as the official language.
The state consists of 16 provinces, divided into over a hundred districts and thousands of communes. There are also a metropolitan municipality and a prefecture. Dozens of nationalities and tribes live in the territory. Religion is Theravada Buddhism. In recent years there is an economic improvement. The main directions – agriculture, poultry farming, animal breeding. The tourism sphere is excellent.
Population 6,368,162 Laos area 236,800 sq km Southeast Asia Part of the world Lao Capital Vientiane Lao Money Kip (LAK) Domain zone .la Phone country code +856
There are 82 hotels in Laos. The five-star hotels include: Amantaka, Angthong Hotel, Kiridara located in Luang Prabang, Don Chan Palace located in Vientiane. In the rating of four-star hotels leading hotels: AngKham Hotel and Champasak Grand Hotel (Thyampasak, Pakse). Budget three-star rooms can be rented in the capital’s hotels: “Cosmo, City Inn Vientiane, Inter City Hotel and Sengtawan Riverside. All hotels, regardless of their star status, provide tourists with all the necessary services and amenities for a pleasant stay.
Climate: Tropical monsoon climate. Rainy season (May through November). Dry season (December to April).
Among the sights of Laos are two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Luang Prabang, the ancient residence of the Laotian kings and Wat Phu, the ruins of Khmer temples. The latter is now the center of Theravada Buddhism.
Also tourists will certainly be interested in the famous Laotian caves. Paku Cave Complex is located near Luang Prabang and has over 4000 statues of Buddha. The caves were used by the Lao military and political forces as a shelter from bombing raids. A hospital, school, bakeries, stores, and even a theater were built in the thickness of the limestone. Also among the attractions is the Buddha Park. This place can be called a memorial to Buddhism and Hinduism.
Landscape: Mostly rocky mountains. Some plains and plateaus.
Leisure activities in Laos are varied. The center of nightlife is considered almost unfamiliar to Europeans city Khammuan or Thakhek. It is tacitly recognized as the most “party” not only in Laos, but also in neighboring states. A huge number of bars, clubs, casinos, and today attract nightlife enthusiasts from Vietnam and Thailand. Visiting national holidays of Laos is also a great experience. In January the country celebrates Tet – the Chinese New Year. Its Laotian counterpart is celebrated in April. In February there are three religious holidays. May is Visakha Puja, a day dedicated to Buddha. Throughout June, the popular festival of initiation of monks Khao Pansa lasts. August is Liberation Day and All Saints’ Day.
Resources: Wood, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, precious stones.
The field of museums in Laos is limited to four sites. The first is the Lao National Museum, located in the capital. This two-story institution houses a large amount of historical documentation. The first floor is devoted to archaeological finds. The famous Lao National Culture Hall Museum was a gift to the country from China. Now it hosts movie screenings, concerts and exhibitions. In the museum, Lao Gallery, you can not only look at works of Lao and Vietnamese art, but also buy everything you want. Here tourist will find a variety of techniques: charcoal sketches, watercolor paintings on silk, pastels on canvas. Phaeng Mei Gallery is a museum of Lao textiles. It has a collection of materials painted with paintings depicting the history of the state.
Laos currency: The national currency of Laos is kip. Banknotes are issued in denominations from 1 to 5,000 kip. All bills are protected by watermarks. When exchanged for dollars, a Lao kip will equal one cent.
The state of Laos is a landlocked, mountainous country with a subequatorial monsoon climate. Getting to know the resorts of Laos is worth starting with Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Both of them stand on the banks of the Mekong River and are the recovery resorts of the country. A very popular resort destination is the ancient royal city of Luangphabang, surrounded by mountains and dense forests. You can also relax at the resorts of Wang Vieng, Phongsavan, Sawannakhet and Champasak. In each of these resorts the tourist can experience the inexpressible atmosphere of Lao history and unique nature.
Transportation in Laos is available in almost all forms. The country has 52 airports, but only 10 have runway coverage. There is no railroad as such in the country. This industry is currently under development. Five years ago a track was laid from Thailand to Laos. Roads are the most developed, but most roads are unpaved. Traffic in Laos is right-handed. Not all provinces are connected by road, so water transport is a good alternative. The main river routes are the Mekong and its tributaries. You can also hire a cab in Laos. The token fare is 50 cents per kilometer.
Standard of living
Although Laos has recently become no less popular with tourists than Thailand, the standard of living in the state is dramatically different from its more successful neighbor. As many Asian countries, Laos is noted for the huge percentage of poor, even beggarly people. Most of the population lives on the banks of the Mekong River. Peasants, for the most part, live in bamboo huts that lack electricity and running water. The natives work from dawn to dawn to earn their food. They usually spend their evenings drinking beer. The country’s economy is largely based on the tourism business. Travelers are attracted by low prices. For $20 a day you can live in comfort and eat well.
Cities of Laos
The capital city of Laos is Vientiane. The population is a quarter of a million people.
The second largest city is Pakse, located in the province of Thyampasak. Its population is about 120 thousand people.
The city of Kaison Phomvihan has the third largest population – nearly 75 thousand.
Laos also has the following cities: Luang Prabang (before 1975 was the capital of the kingdom of the same name), Samnya, Phonsavan, Thatek and Paksan. The population in these cities is not large. There are definitely positive dynamics in the country – for 15 years, the number of people in the cities of Laos has increased by half or two times.