5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Laos

Travelers to Laos will enjoy the culture and sights without the hustle and bustle of tourist crowds found elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Our community share the things they wish they knew before they went.

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Photo © Getty Images/Jason Langley

From the laid-back capital of Vientiane and rich traditions found in Luang Prabang, to the mysterious Plain of Jars and backpacker haven of Vang Vieng, Laos is an incredible place to explore. Before you go, here are a few tips from our nomads.

1. Stay on the Beaten Track

Kimberly Haley-Coleman from GlobeAware says, "Many travelers are worried about landmines, but know that these have mostly been cleared in heavily touristed areas." If you step off the beaten track (literally), this is when you should exercise moree caution. She also advises travelers should leave expensive jewelry and expensive items at home. While it seems like a remote place, Laos is actually a short flight from Bangkok, where (if required) travelers can receive world class medical care."

Going to Vietnam or Cambodia next? Download our free Insiders' Guide to see the best of these three Southeast Asian countries.

2. Boiled and Well-done

World Travel Guide suggest that while you're traveling around Laos, assume all water is potentially contaminated. When drinking water, brushing your teeth or freezing water for ice cubes, always boil or sterilize the water first. Milk in Laos is unpasteurised, and should also be boiled. It's a better idea to seek out powdered or tinned milk, which can be found in local supermarkets.

Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made using unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked, and fruit peeled before eating.

Here are a few more tips for better food hygiene while exploring Southeast Asia.

3. Needles Needed

Hepatitis E, Hepatitis B, dengue fever, tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis are common in Laos, so before you go (anywhere in Asia) make sure your vaccinations are up to date. 

Dengue fever is a prevalent mosquito-borne disease in Southeast Asia, find out how you can spot the symptoms and prevent infection.

Scenery in Vang Vieng, Laos. Photo credit: Getty Images/kitchakronCasarsaGuru

4. Cash is Still King

The local currency in Laos is Lao kip. Laos has ATMs available, but they are hard to find in Huay Xai, Luang PrabangVientiane and Vang Vieng. Keith Hajovsky tells us, "Credit cards can be used in high-end tourist shops, hotels and restaurants – but always carry cash with you to avoid disappointment."

When you first see the exchange rate you might think you're a kip millionaire, but don't let all those extra zeroes confuse you. While changing currency at a kiosk in Laos' major cities, carefully count your money to make sure you haven't been short-changed.

5. Mindful Motorcycling

Before you even think about motorbiking around Laos, know that it is illegal to ride a motorbike without a license – regardless of whether or not the rental shop-keeper asks you for proof.

Independently traveling around Laos by motorbike is the best way to see the country, but it isn't easy. Just a few years ago, rental shops could only be found in Vientiane, but now with an increase in travelers' demand for motorbike rental, you'll find a number of vendors elsewhere in Laos, including Pakse, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng.

The quality of the motorbikes varies from shop to shop, so inspect the bikes carefully before you take off. Laos' roads have a mixture of paved and unpaved routes, but traveling around the country is easy. A popular biking route is Tha Khaek Loop – a picturesque five-day ride starting in Tha Khaek. Most bikes available to rent in Laos are Honda Baja or XR 250 dual-purpose bikes.

Helmets are not only mandatory for your safety, but an essential item in a place where traffic rules are broken every minute. Police are cracking down on people who do no have a motorcycle license, so you should expect to pay a hefty fine if you're caught without one.

Confusion around motorcycle licenses is a tricky one for many travelers to Southeast Asia. Find out everything you need to know about motorbike riding in Laos before you go, and read your travel insurance policy carefully to be sure you're covered these activities.

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3 Comments

  • Terisa said

    Thank you! Any insight is helpful!

  • Jess said

    Thanks, good to know :)

  • Ben said

    I have 670,000 kip (about AUD$100) if anyone wants to but it? I'm in Melbourne Australia.

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