Visa on arrival (30 days) – Easiest way to attain a visa to Laos is by arriving into their international airports. Although this isn’t always cheap and there are limited airlines that fly the routes, it’s a good option to beat the hassle of a border crossing. Be sure to have 2 passport size photos on hand and US Dollars to make payment for the visa. The cost for the Visa’s differs for all countries and can easily be accessed online (Australia $30 + $2 process fee, USA $35 + $2 process fee.)
Minivan/Bus/Sleeper Bus/Flight Bookings –
The country is easy to travel through with many option from minivans to VIP buses. Note: Some of the roads are not that great with many turns and steep cliff sides. All forms of transport are very easy to book once you have arrived at a destination. Here is a quick rundown of the costs I paid this year (2015). These prices do change and the best bet is to shop around and find decent companies. Don’t always go with the cheapest options.
Hanoi – Luang Prabang (Flight) – $140 USD (Laos Airlines)
Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng (Minivan) – $14 USD
Vang Vieng – Vientiane (Minibus) – $4 USD
Vientiane – Pakse (Flight) – $160 USD (Laos Airlines)
Pakse – 4000 Islands (Minivan/Boat) – $7 USD
4000 Islands – Siem Reap (Boat/Minivan) – $30 USD (Asia Van Transfer)
Luang Prabang –
If peace and quite is what you’re looking for, then book a one-way flight to Luang Prabang. I have never been to a city that is so quiet, relaxed and peaceful as this UNESCO World Heritage City. This destination lays aside the Mekong River, which is the perfect backdrop for many great bars and restaurants. Accommodation is easy to come by and varies from hotels to guesthouses at affordable prices for all travellers. Many can be booked online via Agoda, otherwise you wont have any trouble finding a place on arrival.
What Not To Miss
Night Market – This market stretches for about 500 meters down the main street of Luang Prabang each evening from 5pm – 10pm. Here you can buy all kinds of souvenirs from hand made fabrics to silver and shoes. Just know that the prices can be negotiated so have your price set, and 9 times out of 10 they will be happy with this.
Alms Giving Ceremony – Awake early and walk to the main street of Luang Prabang where the ceremony will take place each morning. Your best option is to purchase offerings in the form of food prior to the day or arrival. Be sure not to interrupt the ceremony after it has begun. Follow as the locals do by kneeling down ready to give your offering to each of the monks. This is a great experience to be had, and I highly recommend this for everyone travelling to Luang Prabang.
Watch The Sunset From Mount Phousi – Prepare yourself for a short but steep climb to the peak of the mountain that looks over all of Luang Prabang. The cost is 10,000 Kip ($1.50 USD) and is worth every cent. As the sunsets over the Mekong River, this is a perfect spot to snap a few pictures and appreciate the true beauty that is Laos.
Kuang Si Waterfalls – This is a great place to spend the day hiking, swimming and observing the jungles of Laos. This location is also the home to several rescued bears and is a great spot to adventure. Minivans operate from town for $5 USD return allowing you to have 2.5-3 hours at the waterfalls. You will need to further pay an entrance fee of 40,000 Kip ($5 USD) at the gates.
Tad Sae Waterfall – These are my favorite waterfalls in Southeast Asia and offer a great day of relaxation and natural massages from the waterfalls. Although a little bit trickier to arrive at, they are definitely worth the journey and I would highly recommend these for a day trip for families. There are many activities at these waterfalls including elephant rides, restaurants, numerous hiking trails, caves and waterfalls. To arrive at the waterfalls you need to:
- Find a tuk tuk driver and negotiate to pay no more than $5 USD per person for the 20 minute return journey and 3 hours at the waterfalls. If you want more time there then the price should be negotiated at this time. They will not leave until at least 4-6 people are in their tuk tuk.
- Arrive at the boat ramp and pay the 20,000 Kip ($2.50 USD) fee for the return journey on the pencil boats to the waterfalls.
- Arrive at the waterfalls and pay 40,000 Kip ($5 USD) to enter.
- Return journey make your way back to the boat, head over to the ramp and climb back into your tuk tuk who will then drop you in town.
Bike Ride – Rent a bicycle or borrow one from your accommodation and take the riverside road around the town. Its a spectacular ride and very easy for all abilities with a flat, paved road. Be sure to time your ride so you don’t ride in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.
Vang Vieng –
Famously known for its party scene and tubing, let me say this destination is still going strong. After a change to regulations on tubing and the consumption of alcohol on the river, there seems to be an agreement now between the government and locals. In a nutshell, there are still 11 bars open on the river of which only 4 can operate per day. These bars are in full operation, but for those of you who have been tubing previously, there are no longer any high diving boards, zip lines or slip and slides. Everything else is still present with such an awesome atmosphere. There are great accommodation options. It just depends what you’re looking for, and food is very affordable.
What Not To Miss
A Day or 2 of Tubing – Arrive at the tubing rental in town around midday and pay the 55,000 Kip ($6.50 USD) fee for rental of a tube and 60,000 Kip ($7.50 USD) Deposit for the tube, which will be refunded to you if you arrive back before 6pm otherwise you will be fined 20,000 Kip ($2.50 USD) from your deposit. You will also sign your life away for full responsibility if you are injured whilst tubing on the river. Once there are 4 or more people they will provide you with a free tuk tuk ride to the top of the river. Once you jump in, the bars will be sure to throw you a line and pull you into their bar. Beverages are quite fairly priced at a few dollars per drink, and they will play all kinds of games to try and keep you at their location. Once you are finished with a bar, move onto the next. It’s important to note that usually from the last bar it will take you at least an hour to tube back into town to return your tube.
The Sandwich Ladies – If you are hungry, then you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from the numerous stands throughout the main area of the town. For $1 USD, these will blow your mind!
This capital city is almost like a through town for those travelling down to the south of Laos. Best bet is to relax in one of the riverside rooftop bars with a beverage in hand and watch the sunset over the Mekong River. There is an abundance of accommodation, restaurant and café options scattered across the city, which meet the needs of all travellers. The architecture of this city has a French twist and is a beautiful location to jump on a push bike and make your way to the sites of the city.
What Not To Miss
Night Market – Stroll up and down the night market that is set up each evening on the riverside and has all kinds of souvenirs you may be looking to purchase from shoes, clothing, rip off wallets, sunglasses and watches.
This tiny little town is a pit stop to be made on the way to the 4000 Islands in the South of Laos. Pakse is super laid back with one main road that will cater for all your needs from accommodation, restaurants, motorbike rentals and tour operators. When arriving into the airport, be sure to walk outside the gates and jump into a Tuk-tuk (Song-teow) into town for $4 USD. The airport tries to charge $10 USD per person, so don’t be a sucker.
What Not To Miss
Day trip – Rent a motorbike for the day, costing you 100,000 Kip ($12.50 USD), Gas/Petrol ($5 USD) and entrance to the waterfalls around $5+ USD total. The bike rental will provide you with a map and help you choose your path whether to visit the waterfalls and/or villages in the region. The ride alone is awesome with countryside views on each side and a nicely surfaced road. The main waterfalls to get to are Tad Champi, which you can swim in & Tad Fane. I don’t want to give too much away, so just rent a bike and see where it will take you!
4000 Islands (Don Det) –
Anyone who arrives at the 4000 Islands suddenly is overcome with not a care in the world. This is the easiest way to describe this destination. Time goes slowly in Luang Prabang, but in Don Det time goes even slower. This makes for such peaceful and relaxing days. If you’re about adventure or just tucking into a restaurant and relaxing with spectacular views across the water, Don Det Island will not disappoint. It’s important to note that this island has the occasional power shortage, lack of WIFI and most accommodation options only come with a fan. With that said, if you’re travelling through Laos make sure you stop here for a few days as it’s a quiet and tranquil destination.
What Not To Miss
Sunrise/Sunset – The Island of Don Det is broken up with the sunrise side and sunset side. Both sides of the island offer close to the same options however in the evening, your best bet is to tuck into a small restaurant/bar and watch the sunset over the river. I have never seen anything like the sunsets that we witnessed here with such vibrant and bright colours!
Eat at Mama Thanon’s – We dined here many times while on the island, and the small family run business has delicious food options at a very cheap price .The restaurant is located on the sunrise side, and you will not leave disappointed. Mama’s Banana & Chocolate Pancakes are mouth watering!
Kayaking Day Trip – This is a day well spent and the cost should not deter you as you get your bang for your buck! For the cost of 180,000 Kip ($22 USD) you will have breakfast and lunch included, bottled water, an English-speaking tour guide, kayak rental, entrance to both waterfalls, transportation between pit stops and entrance into Cambodia where you have lunch. The kayaking is awesome and if you are lucky you will stumble across the small pod of dolphins. For anyone adventurous, this is a must!
Bike Ride – Renting a bicycle for the day will cost you 10,000 Kip ($1.50 USD). It’s an awesome ride around the Island of Don Det, and there is a pool at each end of the island. The pool costs 25,000 Kip ($4 USD) and is definitely worth it! You can also takes the bike over to Don Khon, which is one of the larger island, but you’ll pay 35,000 Kip ($5.50 USD) to enter the island.