Saffron-robed monks peacefully gather morning alms as the first rays of sun spill out onto the Mekong, reds and blues of a hand-woven silk scarf flap in the breeze, green jungle stretches as far as the eye can see, the golden hues of sunrise, sunset, and the glistening Wats in between. Experience the colors of Laos!
Trek through the most uninhabited country in Southeast Asia and meet people whose daily lives are nothing like your own. Visit hill tribes not used to foreign guests. See countryside so beautiful it takes the breath away. A sleepy little French colonial town Luang Prabang offers visitors a chance to slow down and enjoy a sunset or two. Once re-vitalized, spend a day exploring the local Wats or head onto the Mekong in a long boat and see Pak Ou Caves or the Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls. The Plain of Jars is one of the world’s great mysteries. How did they get there? Who put them there? And why? A timeless city with a slower pace than its neighbors, Vientiane has a peaceful and charming quality to it. Stroll along the river front and explore the various Wats before heading out for fabulous French dining or a cultural show.
Best Time to Visit
November to February is the cool, dry season in Laos, offering travelers the most freedom to explore without disruption from rain or heat. The main rainy season, from July to October, cuts off many roads in Laos and restricts travelers to the main cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
March to June is hot, but if you plan on exploring the higher elevations it can be bearable.
The United Nations Health Directive suggests that all visitors to Laos should have up to date inoculations for the following diseases: Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, Malaria, Tuberculosis. Over the counter prescription drugs are widely available in major cities.
Vientiane has some of the best restaurants in Indochina. In particular, around the beautiful fountain in the center of town are high quality French, Lao, Indian and Italian restaurants.
Like most of Indochina, the staple diet for local people is rice and fish. Also there are many interesting and innovative soup and noodle dishes served with local vegetables in season throughout the provinces.
3. Entertainment/ Ceremonies
Central to the Lao culture is the Baci (also called the Soookuan) ceremony based on the local belief that the human body possesses 32 “souls” which give health and prosperity to each person. Since unhappiness or bad health might come from the departure of such souls the ceremony is used to call back the souls back to the respective part of the person’s body. As such the ceremony has become an important act of well wishing and hospitality between family, friends and guests.
Often accompanied by traditional music an dance, the recipients are presented with cotton bands, tied around the wrists, which should be worn for a number of days following the ceremony.
For more Western-style entertainment, there are discotheques, dancing and live music in many of the hotels and restaurants.
Lao, as spoken in Vientiane, has six tones and a fairly simple grammatical structure. The most commonly heard foreign languages are French, English and Russian.
The great majority of Lao are Theravada Buddhist. Indeed, even today large sections of the male population attend Buddhist Monasteries for training for a number of years before entering secular life. In addition, a number of the ethnic groups are animist. Anglican-Episcopal, Baha’i Faith, Buddhist, Christian Fellowship Group, Evangelical, Islam. Lutheran and Roman Catholic services all exist with varying frequency.
6. Ethnic Groups
Landlocked between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China, Laos is home to three main ethnic groups: the Lao Loum are lowlanders; the Lao Theung are semis-nomadic mountain dwellers and the Lao Soung who include most hill tribes and minorities.
7. Handicrafts and souvenirs
Laos has a very strong traditional of cotton and silk weaving. In fact several renowned European designers have recently started coming to Laos to purchase the work, which with such a high time and skill content is available in very few countries in the world. The typical style is of highly intricate embroidery, incorporating the dominant scenes and colors of each province. Such pieces can be bought in all the major markets, or directly from the markets in some of the silk weaving villages in Luang Prabang.
8. Climate and Seasons
Generally hot and humid, particularly in the South, there are three seasons in Laos. The hot and dry season from February to May. The rainy and cloudy from June to October and cool , dry season from November to January.
9. Festival and Holidays
Although the Lao New Year, Pimai, begins in December, it is officially celebrated three days in April ( 13th, 14th, 15th ). The festival is characterized by the ceremonial washing of the Bhuddas in Wats.
Other noteworthy festivals include the Baci(see entertainment) and the Rocket Festival(during the full moon in May) when highly decorated rockets are launched in honor of Buddha and as a request for rain. Exciting to watch is the October Water Festival(Boun Souang Heua) on the Mekong River and the accompanying pi rogue races between boats with crews of fifty more.
Particularly important in Vientiane is the That Luang Festival in November. A Buddhist festival in honor of that, the festival accompanied by a week-long carnival, a horse-less polo match, fireworks and a candlelit procession.
Western New Year ( January 1st ), International Labor Day ( May 1st ) and Lao National Day ( December 2nd ) are all officially recognized and observed.
10. Currency and Banking
The official currency is the Kip. Travelers cheques can be cashed at licensed foreign exchange bureau and
commercial banks. US dollars and Thai Baht are freely exchanged. Visa cards are accepted at a limited number of places but cash withdrawal service is not yet available.