Our guide to Laos
Closed off from the outside world for many years, Laos remains one of Southeast Asia’s most beguiling, untouched and mystical destinations with cascading waterfalls, remote hill tribe villages, glistening temples and smiling faces that immediately welcome you. Laos has unfortunately had a turbulent past and remains a poor communist state but despite this its people are some of the warmest that you’ll ever meet. You won’t get far before being welcomed into someone’s home for laap and a Beer Laos. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the country, but first of all here’s a guide to help get you started. Of course our specialists are happy to answer any of your questions.
Think glorious gilded temples, emerald waterfalls, colorful hill-tribe villages, the mighty Mekong River and crumbling colonial villas that line dusty streets. We feel Laos is one of the most beautiful and untouched regions of Southeast Asia with pristine landscapes, a deep cultural heritage and warm welcoming people. The country is yet to be overrun with mass tourism and there are still areas that have been completely untouched by the Western world. It’s perfect for those who love the outdoors as well those in search of history and culture. It’s also ideal for both couples as well as families with older children.
When is the best time to visit Laos?
Laos is essentially a year round destination but October/November to March offer the most ideal conditions for visiting the country. During this time temperatures are agreeably warm with slightly cooler evenings that ensure a comfortable stay and perfect touring conditions. December and January are the cooler months and if you are in hillier areas, such as those found in northern Laos, we highly recommend taking warmer clothes with you as it really can become cold at night. In April and May the temperatures become much warmer and far more humid, and this really is the only time of year that we don’t recommend visiting Laos unless you have no other choice. The rains do tend to break in May or early June and this does offer some respite from the heat. From June to October expect sunshine interspersed by short sharp showers.
How do you get to Laos?
There are no direct flights from London to Laos but getting there is still very straight forward. We can simply arrange your flights with BA or Thai Airways to Bangkok, and from there it’s just an hour hop over to Vientiane, Laos or Pakse. There is also the option of going via Vietnam with Vietnam Airways. Also, do just let us know if you would like us to combine Laos with any other destination in Southeast Asia, as it’s very easy to do so.
How to get around Laos?
Laos is a wild and unexplored destination so we arrange for you to have a private air-conditioned vehicle, driver as well as a guide with you throughout your trip. This ensures everything goes smoothly and that there’s always someone to answer your questions in English. The vehicles that we generally use are Hyundai Grand Starex or something very similar. These are spacious and comfortable and ideal for couples or families up to four people. For slightly larger families of five to eight, we generally recommend a Toyota Hiace air-conditioned vehicle that simply gives you a bit more room.
We’ve found that road conditions have really improved in recent years, making journey times a little shorter, but despite this you may find yourself flying across the country too, as this saves time. It’s very easy to fly between Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vientiane and from Vientiane to Oudomxay, to get to Muang La.
What are the main highlights of Laos?
Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of Laos, is undisputedly one of the major highlights. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is brimming with old world charm, ancient temples and chic cafes. It’s also home to the most beautiful boutique hotels. We feel that northern Laos offers some of the best trekking and hill-tribe communities in Southeast Asia and we highly recommend Muang La or Nong Khiaw if you like walking, hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. The scenery in this area is heavenly. In southern Laos the 4000 Islands is another true highlight of Laos. The area is also home to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vat Phou, and the rare Irrawaddy dolphin. This region really lends itself to relaxing and taking things at a slow pace.
Luxury hotels in Laos
Luxurious 5* hotels in Laos are at their best in Luang Prabang. For the best in refined luxury look no further than Amantaka and Belmond’s La Residence Phou Vao, two incredibly indulgent options that offer the best in terms of service, food and style. Hotel de la Paix also offers fantastic suites with private pools.
Boutique hotels in Laos
There are some beautiful boutique hotels scattered throughout Laos, many of which pay tribute to Laos’ colonial history. Again, these are generally at their best in Luang Prabang with Satri House, Apsara Rive Droite, 3 Nagas and Maison Souvannaphoum among our favorites.
In northern Laos, Muang La offers the most wonderful boutique style accommodation; perched on the edge of a river in the remote hills of Oudomxay, the suites are spacious and luxurious and the food is incredibly impressive considering its remote location. This is one of our firm favorites in Laos.
In southern Laos, The River Resort and La Foile Lodge are two wonderful small hotels offering a really good standard of service and comfort on the Mekong river.
Lodges and guesthouses
Laos is still very underdeveloped, and great accommodation in remote locations is hard to find. This is slowly changing and we are delighted to see properties such as Mandala Ou opening up. This is a small, simple but stylish boutique guest house/lodge that is ideally located on the Nam Ou River, an area famous for trekking and kayaking.
We always tailor-make our itineraries, but have created a few suggested itineraries which can of course be adapted when you speak to us. Highlights of Laos is our classic itinerary that’s perfect if you are visiting Laos for the first time, or if you don’t have too much time. It covers Luang Prabang, Vientiane and southern Laos and includes some of the country’s most wonderful boutique hotels. Essence of Laos really shows of what Laos offers with Vientiane, Muang La in northern Laos, Nong Kiaw and Luang Prabang all included. This is perfect for those who want to see both the highlights as well as really getting off the beaten track. Laos and Cambodia Explorer is a wonderful journey taking in Luang Prabang, the 4000 Islands, Angkor Wat and Kep on Cambodia’s idyllic coast. This trip has many unique and adventurous experiences woven through it.
Laos for families
Laos is a fantastic destination for families and we really feel that children of about eight and above would really enjoy the country’s unique culture and adventurous activities. We have designed lots of experiences for kids to enjoy, from cycling tours to learning how to plant rice, from kayaking on the Mekong to trekking to see hill-tribe communities. Our itineraries can really be adapted to make a family trip truly extraordinary as well as educational.
Laos for honeymooners
Laos is a wonderfully welcoming and romantic destination that really gets under your skin, and for this reason we feel it makes a great honeymoon destination you’ll remember forever. Luang Prabang is arguably the best place for honeymooners, with its glistening waterfalls, luxurious hotels, fine dining restaurants and tranquil spas. Laos also combines brilliantly with the idyllic beaches in Thailand.
We have crafted and created some incredible experiences so that you make the most of your time in Laos and truly get away from the crowds. We do everything we can to avoid contrived and touristy experiences so that you see the authentic and real Laos. Examples include visiting a social enterprise and school near Luang Prabang, exploring Vientiane and the local night markets by tuk-tuk, visiting a school for monks, experiencing a traditional baci ceremony, enjoy a picnic breakfast at Kuang Si waterfalls to escape the crowds that come later in the day.
Combining Laos with other countries
Laos combines brilliantly with Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. There are also direct flights to Singapore and Yunnan in China.
Festivals and public vacations
Please see our festival guide for more information on what’s on in 2016.