Eco-friendly travel guide to Laos advises how to be a responsible tourist. Learn how to travel in a sustainable way and how to respect the local people and culture. Make your trip green by supporting locally owned hotels, organic restaurants and other businesses. Read more on how to protect the environment by making conscientious choices and how to travel green in Laos, Asia.
- Air quality: 3.0 / 5
- Bus connections: 4.0 / 5
- Train connections: 1.5 / 5
- Hitchhiking: 3.5 / 5
- National parks: 4.0 / 5
- Outdoor activities: 4.5 / 5
- Locals' English level: 1.0 / 5
- Safety: 3.0 / 5
- Accommodation: US$4 - $10
- Budget per day: US$10 - $25
- 1 Responsible Travel
- 2 Air Quality and Pollution
- 3 Respect the Culture
- 4 Top 10 Places to Visit
- 5 Explore
- 6 Eat
- 7 Drink
- 8 Activities
- 9 Accommodation
- 10 Regions
- 11 Cities
- 12 Getting There and Moving Around
- 13 Sustainable Shopping
- 14 Recycling
- 15 Work and Study Abroad
- 16 See Also
If you are planning to have your next holiday in Laos then you should stop doubting its beauty and the next level of greenery that the country provides. It becomes quite easy to romanticize the seemingly prospering views and monuments built from ancient times over this place; Laos is more of a couple of friendly destinations. Though Laos among all the other Mekong nations is the poorest country, it tries hard to become better. Therefore, if you want to experience the people working with full effort and passion then you have chosen the right place. As school is not the priority of the Laotian people, one-fourth of the total population is illiterate. The only complexity faced by tourists is getting along with the people of Laos because it becomes hard to communicate with them as they do not know much of a foreign language. Other than that you are going to enjoy your stay over here.
Air Quality and Pollution
In touch with the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), there has been a question regarding the air quality of Laos as it is moderately unsafe. The main reason for the air being unsafe is the continuous burning of fuel oils; few industries such as mining, automobile, and agriculture also contribute to polluting the quality of air. If you are planning to stay for a longer period it is recommended to have a full-body check-up and carry all the important medicines beforehand to minimize the risk of getting sick while on a trip. When exposed to air in Laos it is recommended to wear sunglasses so that you avoid getting the dust particle inside your eyes and make it itchy. Long-term exposure to air may also irritate the throat and nose resulting in coughing and wheezing. The only way to avoid getting sick is to ask locals around about their daily activities and avoid difficult activities.
Respect the Culture
With the crossroads of inland trade and migration, the Laotian people paved their way to developing a culture of millennia. With the statistical record of 2012, we come to know that the approximate population of the country is 6.4 million. It is by then recorded that Laos has the lowest population among the other Asian country. The Laotian country still has a count of more than 47 ethnicities further divided into 149 Subgroups which speak more than 78 different languages. Over the whole of Southeast Asian country, the Laotian culture is considered as one of the most Indic cultures when compared to others. On a traditional level, the Laotian group is broadly divided into three segments based on ethnicity and location. An approximation of 50% of the total population is considered as the ethnic Lao who are the upper-class people and belong to the Mon and Khmer ancestry. The next 34% of the population belong to the people of “Hill Tribes” who include the Hmong, Yao, Akha, and Lahu ancestry. The remaining 6% of the population are the Vietnamese and Chinese communities. The main religion followed is Buddhism and Animism.
Top 10 Places to Visit
Considered as one of the prettiest cities among the South Asian country is Laos which is also the most underrated place to visit. Tourists fail to find the richness of the land and avoid coming over to Laos due to poverty and illiteracy. Big-hitting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam attract the entire audience leaving this place barren and unvisited. For being a small and landlocked country it has no coastline, on the other hand, it is known well for its limestone mountains which never fails to offer an amazing experience for trekkers and hikers. Mentioned below are the 10 best places that one should visit when in Laos:
- Vientiane - The pleasing capital of Laos, Vientiane is a small town. Formerly this town was known for trading posts for the French over the colonial period due to which old French quarters have not yet been destroyed or renovated. Therefore, you can experience rich French history and explore as much as you want. Former architecture inspired and constructed in the memories of French by the Laotian people is the Arc de Triomphe which is originally located in Paris.
- Luang Prabang - The serene heart of Laos is Luang Prabang which is also a small town that lies on the Mekong and Khan rivers. The cafes designed specially in European style is the signature of this place which makes it gorgeous with the help of river banks that never fails to provide a scenic view on the second half of the day. The scenery is so mesmerizing that it has been announced as a world heritage site by UNESCO. There are several beautiful temples all over the town and hikers would love to trek over the Kuang Si Waterfalls.
- Vang Vieng - The place located between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful locations in the country of Laos. The nightlife scene of this place is vibrant and surprising. The place used to have a wild reputation in the olden days, whereas now the local government has taken strict measures to clean all the garbage. There are different options of adventure that tourists can opt such as the jungle scenery over the dense friendly forest and tubing down to the Nam Song River.
- Huay Xai - Located between the border of Laos and Thailand is Huay Xai. It is one of the most visited places in the country because it falls between two different places. The cruise can be a great adventure as you can experience very beautiful scenery during the second half of the day. The cruise trips from the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. The Huay Xai is also the main gateway for the Bokeo Natural Reserve.
- Si Phan Don islands - Si Phan Don which means “Four thousand islands” is situated in Laos. It might be strange for you because the country of Laos fails to have a coastline. This island is created due to the dispersing of the Mekong River close to the border between Cambodia and Laos. If you are looking for a variety of options for accommodation then head towards some larger islands such as Don Det and Don Khon.
- Bokeo Nature Reserve - This natural reserve lies outside the town of Huay Xai and is very well known for its conservation project to protect the gibbons which came into existence in 1997 after people believed that this species has become extinct. This natural reserve park allows you to reside in houses made above the tree which can give you a view of the place from the top. Along with gibbons, you will find other common animals such as elephants, bears, and tigers.
- Nong Khiaw – Nong Khiaw well known as Nong Kiau is a very beautiful spot. This place is gaining a lot of attraction from all over the world because of the abundant greenery. It is known as a paradise for trekkers and hikers. One can also spend time biking on the off roads. The Karst formation over the limestone is also very famous and tourist from all over the world once in a while comes to visit this place.
- Tham Kong Lo - The Kong Lo cave is the cave from where the Tham Kong Lo has its name from, it is also attached with Phu Hin Bun National Park. The Phu Hin Bun river is the place where the Park is located and is popular for its caves and people from all over the South East Asia comes over to visit this place. The underwater height of the sea is nearly 300 feet and the total area covered is approximately 6.5 Kilometers.
- Luang Namtha - The largest city of northwest Laos, Luang Namtha is a very famous point for tourists traveling between neighboring China and Laos. The ethnic hill tribe people are found in this place and hikers will have a good time trekking over the top spot of this place. This town consists of various villages where a person can wander with either bicycling or scooting on rent.
- Wat Phu – In the Champasak territory of Laos the Phu Kao mountain is situated where the temple of Khmer or interestingly known as the Wat Phu was established between the period of 11th and 13th centuries. This is a Hindu temple.
The thinly populated country which always remains quiet is appreciated for its true wilderness and rural scenario. Due to the improvement made by the local government, it becomes easy for the tourist to head towards the city of Laos. The most underrated destination of all time is an utterly sedate country and is not so much alike and vibrant like the tourist experience in neighboring countries such as Thailand. You might have heard that Laos is a destination for bag packers which was only true back by the year 2010. The country is developing at a quick rate and by the coming 3 to 5 years it might be among one of the countries competing in Thailand and China.
- Tad Sea Waterfall - The famous waterfall situated in Luang Prabang.
- Kuang Si Falls - The largest waterfall is situated in Luang Prabang.
- Buddha Park - A Private tour of Buddha Park which is situated in the capital city of Laos (Vientiane) is a must-visit place.
- Mekong Riverside Park - the beautiful park situated in Vientiane is a perfect place to come and watch the sunset from over the Mekong river.
- Pathet Lao Caves - One among the other Hundred caves in Laos is situated in Sam Neua.
- Don Amphan - In the Attapu Province the Don Amphan national park is located. Tourist from all over the world is attracted to this place due to its ecotourism. The park consists of a massive forest with the suited climatic condition, versatile wildlife options, and the unforgettable formation of Karst Limestone. This heavily forested area covers an area of 200,000 hectares. Taking grounds over one of the areas of National Biodiversity Conservation of Laos. The Don Amphan consists of a few of the intact areas of lowland and tropical forests that remained in the mainland of Southeast Asia. Siamese crocodiles are found in this region as the wetland present is the only home to the.
- Dong Hua Sao - This protected area is located in the province of Champasak which covers an area of 1100 sq km. the major vegetation of this place consists of the evergreen forest and mixed deciduous trees. Animal species include the risky-yellow-cheeked gibbon. Wild elephants have roamed the area, but only wild animals have been found. The life of the bird includes the lizard, which is found only in Indochina, and seldom has holes. Landscapes within the Siamese crocodile, piglets, and green algae, are all endangered.
- Hin Namno - Over central Laos located in a protected reserve of Khammouane province is the Hin Namno National park. The world-famous limestone Karsting is an attraction for many tourists along with a semi-evergreen forest which is suitable for vegetation. The biodiversity of the area is protected by Southeast Asia and Laos. The Karst formation is the main feature that represents the topography of this place.
- Don Daeng Island - Located in the middle of the Mekong River in Southern Laos. We can reach this place only by boat from Pakse which is thirty kilometers away from the destination. You can stop along the way to try fresh juice, coconut or sugar cane. Visit a Buddhist temple, an ancient forest stupa in the middle of the island, or walk along the rice fields, while buffaloes, cows, and sheep cross your path. Greet the villagers as they slowly ride their old motorbike or mini tractor called “doc doc” or stand on one of the beaches and swim.
- Muang La - located in the Northern Part of Laos is the Muang La in the territory of Oudomxay with an exceptional natural beauty all over. Muang La, which has emerald jade rice fields, friendly people, picturesque rivers and wooden bridges, is a special corner of Laos that will attract and enchant visitors. In fact, only a few hundred locals live here. Located in northern Laos, Muang La can be expected to have a distinct climate and a unique set of cultures.
- 4000 Islands - 4000 Islands which is popularly known as the Si Phan Don is located in the region where the Mekong River covers a distance till Thailand. The first big question I asked myself before I got there was, "Are there really 4,000 islands?" To be completely honest, I don't feel like I've seen 4,000, but after that, if every 30cm of land is considered an island, why not. But in the end, we don't really care, the name sounds very attractive, and that's what matters.
- Wat Si Muang in Vientiane
- Golden Buddha in Pakse
- The plain of jars in Phonsavan
- Old quarter in Luang Prabang
- Patuxai in Vientiane
- Setthathirath in Vientiane
- Ock Pok Tok Living Craft Centre in Luang Prabang
- Traditional Art and Ethnology center in Luang Prabang
*Lao Textile Museum in Vientiane
- Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang
- The Savannakhet Dinasaur Museum in Savannakhet
The ethnic diversity of Lao Cuisine is surrounded by its neighboring region. The Laotian people have regional variation among their dishes, even if the dish is common. The staple of the majority of the food is Sticky rice. A common meal of the Laotian people consists of spiced and minced fish or chicken with richness served always with sticky rice. Dipper includes a paste made of crushed chili pepper, fresh papaya salad of a sour taste along with a warm heart-melting soup. Common fruits with important vitamins served as dessert. Last but not least to moisturize the throat comes the rice liquor or local beer served by the majority of the restaurant. Lao cuisine has varieties depending on which region the audience belongs to. a legacy for French is still alive in the capital city of Laos, Vientiane where street food named baguettes are sold. A series of French restaurants can be seen with popular French dishes. The Laotian food originated from the northern region which is now a part of China. As the people moved into the South Region of the country they brought the tradition and style of Lao food with them.
Being curious about the famous Lao drinks along with the gilded temples is one of the unique ways of representing its characteristics when it comes to culture. Besides visiting the mouth-watering Lao Cuisine also don’t forget to enjoy the drinks provided by the Laotian people so that you gain a perfectly balanced idea about the eateries and breweries of this country. Few of the famous Lao drinks available in almost every restaurant are:
- Lao Rice Whiskey
- Lao Jar Liquor
- Beer Lao
- Grilled Coconut
- Nam Saa
It is highly recommended not to drink tap water in Laos. The main reason behind avoiding tap water is that it is affected by many issues ranging from human waste, polluted chemicals disposed of by industries, and old water pipes with leakage. The locals of Laos don’t drink water directly from the tap. The ones that do are not health conscious. It will be better if you drink bottled or purified water, in case if there is no water available you can boil the tap water and then drink.
The best and the most affordable thing to do in Laos is to combine your trip into several segments. Firstly, go trekking over the splendid mountains having historical architectures. With the help of friendly locals, Laos gives you a ‘back-in-time’ feel. It is easy to get lost in the fascination of this place. From the world heritage site of Luang Prabang to the unexplainable mystery of the Plain of Jars, this place holds a very important place in world history.
One thing that you are going to benefit from if you visit Laos either with family or individually is cheap accommodations. The country of Laos as a whole comes with rental bungalows and hotels at a very low price. Guesthouses cost no more than 10$ per night. A normal bed in a hostel will cost half of that price. Few places where accommodation can be expensive is Luang Prabang and Vientiane. People can opt for luxury options over both places. With sudden urgency of people approaching this country has made the local government aware of the significance of hotels and accommodations. Standards have been improved so that the tourists have no problem while they stay. Compared to other South Asian countries finding a place to stay in cities such as Luang Prabang and Vientiane is not a very big deal.
With the increase in the number of audience from all over the world, the Laotian people have worked very hard over accommodations and never fail to allow exploring the city. Gradually, the country has constructed a handful of Eco-friendly hotels. These hotels not only gives us an opportunity for a unique stay but also provide comfort with the help of the local government to such an extent that it always seems a little extra when it comes to Laos.
Hostels and Guest Houses
The country has a wide range of hotels and guest houses at a very cheap rate. There will not be a problem with accommodations when it comes to Laos. The government is working hard in constructing hotels in every city so that the tourist doesn’t have any problem while the time they stay and explore the richness of the city. There are more than 998 Guest houses, 378 lodges, and more than 197 Hostels in the country itself.
There are a few famous and trustworthy websites where you can explore and rent apartments if you are planning to stay for a long time. Some of them are mentioned below:
Couchsurfing is popular in the city with some hosts available
Free camping also is known as wild camping is a dream of every tourist in the South Asian countries. It might be very confusing about the activity being legal or not because some of the state governments have banned camping inside the dense and wild forest for safety purposes. Camping in Cambodia, Thailand, or any other Vietnam city is meant to be very uncommon. Free camping is not forbidden totally, but there are rules to abide by after which one will have no problem and get going smoothly.
|Northern Laos (Ban Nalan Trail, Bokeo Nature Reserve, Houay Xai, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Muang Ngoi Neua, Muang Long, Muang Ngeun, Muang Xay, Nong Khiaw, Pakbeng, Vieng Phoukha)|
hilltribe villages, mountains and the remarkably charming former capital
|Central Laos (Vientiane, Phonsavan, Plain of Jars, Tha Khaek, Tham Nong Pafa Cave , Vang Vieng, Vieng Xai)|
south-east Asia's sleepiest capital city and rural countryside
|Southern Laos (Champasak, Pakse, Savannakhet, Si Phan Don)|
the Mekong flatlands, more mountains and the area least visited by tourists
- Vientiane — the still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River
- Luang Namtha — capital of the north, known for its trekking
- Luang Prabang — a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market
- Muang Xay — also known as Oudomxay, the capital of the multiethnic province of Oudomxay
- Pakbeng — halfway point on the overnight slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang
- Pakse — gateway to the Wat Phu ruins and the "four thousand islands" (Si Phan Don)
- Savannakhet — in the south on the Mekong, connected by bridge to Mukdahan in Thailand
- Tha Khaek — a popular base for exploring the Phou Hin Boun National Park including the famous Konglor Cave
- Vang Vieng - it is a small town surrounded by limestone mountains and caves
Getting There and Moving Around
A few of the most popular places to visit in Laos are Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. The act of tourism flourished from these hotspots. The total routing of the most famous places in the country can be done in a week, but it’s better to have 10 days in hand so that you can enjoy every inch of the city. Figuring out the correct mode of transportation in Laos can be very challenging. Even though there is a variety of transport available, the condition of the road is not very well maintained. The famous Tuk Tuk is found in every nooks and corner of the city. The route to every city under Laos is not very complicated. It is very much known to the locals about the shortcuts and the best routes that a tourist should take to avoid hindrance and delay. If you doubt the opinion of the locals you can also make your route which suits you. With patience and good humor, you can get to any place you want.
While there are a handful of international airlines in the country such as AirAsia, Vietnam Air, Hainan, and many others. On the other hand, there is just one single domestic flight running all over the country which is Lao Airlines. If you are here to travel the country in a short period then it will be better to save time by booking flights to reach places. Searching for flights should be done on their official websites rather than any comparison website. The customer service provided by Lao Airlines is tremendous as it runs professionally as compared to other transport services. Due to the lack of audience, the prices can be very steep and it so might happen sometime that you will find difficulties in booking flights for every destination according to your sustainability. The small Lao airports make us aware that we must reach 40-45 minutes before the departure time.
With the help of local buses you can make your trip way more interesting and exciting. The super Lao-experience as said by the locals of the place is listening to music videos under a fan-cooled seat with curtains to trail over the window and also some regular stops at different bus stations will allow you to get down and take a break out of the hectic transport and smoke cigarettes, pee behind the bushes and lastly having a hot cup of tea to give you the required energy. Local buses that run across the city are cheaper than the tourist buses. Local buses allow the passenger to get down anywhere they want in between the routes, unlike the tourist bus which has fixed stop. It is recommended to travel along with local buses when it comes to exploring the city.
There is not much information about train routes in Laos. Currently, the Laotian government has made train routes connecting Nong Khai to Vientiane through the friendship bridge. The whole route covers a distance of 3 km. local government is planning to construct an underway line to the major cities of the country. In partnership with China, the local government has decided to construct a high-speed train which exceeds the speed of 330km/h and is predicted to be completed by the end of the year 2022.
Hitch-hiking in Laos is quite easy. Simply, head out of the city and wait for trucks. Give them the information about the place you want to go and make sure that you pronounce the word correctly because the Laotian people don’t know proper English. Both North and South portion of the country has different ways of hitching. In the south, it is comparatively easy to hitchhike about 300 km a day and the majority of truck drivers don’t demand money because you are only being a load to them to their ultimate route. While in the north it is even hard to travel 150 km per day. Looking around highways, there comes approximately about 6 cars and 1 truck by every 6 minutes. This makes traveling very different from hitching. Getting lifts in the South region of the city is easier than in the North.
Other modes of transportation include Bicycles, Private cars, VIP Buses, and Jumbo. There is a local and most available type of transport. Renting bicycles can be very much conservative when it comes to money. If you want to explore the developed cities such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the best option for you will be to rent a cycle. Enjoy erotic traffic while exploring the city. Other option includes renting a tuk-tuk. They are found in every corner of the city calling out customers. If you are traveling with friends, family, or any other group then tuk tuk will be the best option to save money and time. Jumbo or pickup trucks are next in number. They are majorly known as public buses which can incur as many passengers as they want according to the capacity of the truck. The locals of the city will be traveling with you too as it public for all.
If you are a traveler with an ethical mind and love to shop, then do stop at the markets of Luang Prabang. Over here you can find the country’s best hand-made responsible spots to shop on. The shopping street has a variety of traditional options such as Lao textiles, organic beauty products, pieces of jewelry, and home appliances. From silk scarves to hand-made indigo shoulders to recycled bracelets, tourists will have a jolly time experiencing their shop in the streets of Luang Prabang. To pick up a perfect souvenir from Laos, visiting the market during the second half of the day will be better and also prove to heaven for tourists visiting from outside the country. Laos comes with traditional craftsmen and artisans who have done mastery in traditionally creating handicrafts, they are known for their skilled work in silk and cotton weaving. The main advantage of buying directly from a retailer is that your money would go straight ahead to the villagers where the items are originally made. This proves to be a plus point for rural women who have no other source of income.
Single used items consume more than 50% of the country’s total plastic population. Due to the abundance of shopping by the travelers and the locals contribute a lot of plastic waste end up being drowned in the ocean polluting the Asian river. Here in Laos, there is not a recycling system and also many areas are short of garbage systems. Some trash which ends up in a landfill is burned down and thrown into the river, where they are eventually eaten up by fishes which are directly consumed by the local Laotian people. The misuse of plastic may cause serious illness to both humans and animals. The local government of the country is trying hard to get in touch with UNESCO and get help in making their city clean and contamination-free.
The Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic) is a land-locked country that is still developing rapidly in the Southeast Asia region. The total population of the city is nearly 6 million. For the past two decades, the economy of the country has been growing at a quick pace. This economic leap has resulted in increased population, rapid urbanization, and rapid change of lifestyle. Due to this, there have been an increase in environmental problems, especially solid wastes. In the capital city of Laos, Vientiane around 650 tons of waste is generated every day. Half of the collected waste is disposed of in landfills. The same situation is seen in other famous cities such as Luang Prabang and Champasak and Savannakhet.
Work and Study Abroad
A real game-changer for students is to study abroad after they finish secondary school. Many agree with the fact that it is the best decision for student life. if your path remains the same after your higher secondary and you keep on elating and mastering the skills you are passionate about then your overall gain is invaluable. A person who wants to complete schooling and study abroad is a traveler kind of person who wants to know about new things and adventures. When we talk about Laos one thing strikes in mind that it is a mesmerizing, pristine, and languid destination. When it comes to the options of studying abroad in Laos, we know that the illiteracy rate over here is higher as compared to other South Asian countries. Therefore, if a student wants to get a degree at a comparatively cheaper rate then they can head towards Laos. The demand for education in this country is not much as most of the population is concentrated to work rather than study and take part in active income. Students who opt to study in Laos will experience the best of class originality of Asian ground.
Despite the city is not very big, there are quite a few options in the educational field according to the interest of the student. Laos doesn’t have the best university as compared to other highly developed countries. The educational sector is mainly concentrated over the developed state such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Vang Vieng, and Phonsavan. Some of the foreign exchange programs held in Laos are mentioned below:
- Fulbright Scholar – in – Residence Program
- Sports Visitor Program
- Study of the U.S Institutes for Scholars
- International Writing Program Fall residency
- Global Under Graduate Exchange Program
- Fulbright Foreign Student Program
- Community Solutions
If you are having difficulty in making both ends meet, you can also work part-time in Laos through online portals. One can find a suitable job for themselves after a quick search over the internet. There are quite a few options according to your needs, be it part-time, full-time, babysitting, housekeeping, or personal assistants. Students or persons speaking multiple foreign languages have high chances of getting a job as a personal assistant. The most famous foreign language spoken in Laos is English at an advanced level and Vietnamese.
Volunteering in Laos is as same as experiencing the richness of the city which outstands from its neighboring South Asian countries. Laos is under development; therefore it is the least visited place in the Asian region. The majority of the audience is unaware of the most stunning nature of this place where the people follow a traditional lifestyle and respect their culture more than anything. For being a volunteer you can be a part of the team you are in touch with or as a traveler you can teach English to young children, volunteer at a day care center. there are a few volunteering programs open currently in the Laotian nation mentioned below:
- Global Vision International
- Global Nomadic
- Love volunteer