Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia at the heart of the Indochinese Peninsula, bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and China in the northwest, Vietnam in the east, Cambodia in the southwest, and Thailand in the west and southwest.
Laos presents a tropical savanna climate, with some periods of monsoons. In general, Laos has two distinct seasons: the wet and the dry – each has advantages and disadvantages for travelers visiting the country. However, seasoned travelers know that Laos is a gem – adventure awaits in every nook and corner, for a refreshed and rejuvenated stay. If you don’t know the best time to visit Laos, you may miss some enjoyable things that the country has to offer: let’s check out this blog to answer your question!
1. Dry season – From November to April
Laos’ dry season has two distinct sub-sections: the first one comes from November to February, and then comes the hot dry season, from March to April.
What makes the hot dry season even more unbearable is the smoke factor. From March to May, farmers set fire to rice stubble and degraded (and not – so – degraded) forest to improve soil fertility in preparation for a new rice crop. The resulting fires cover most of Laos (including Luang Prabang) in a layer of smoke which can may irritate your eyes.
The cool dry season, on the other hand, is an excellent time to travel. Temperatures are relatively low, the air is cleaner and, particularly in November and December, the rivers are high enough to provide the land with soft breezes. Not surprisingly, this period in Laos is the peak season for travelers.
2. Wet season – From March to October
The wet season in Laos runs from around May to October, and as in many southeast Asian countries, the monsoon is characterized by a downpour falling for a few hours each day. While the rainy season tends to strike Laos a lot, there are a couple of regional oddities. Laos’ wet season tends to hit Phongsali a little early due to some rain coming from southern China, while Hua Phan and Xieng Khuang tend to get a little early rain from Vietnam.
In general, the higher place you get to, the more rain refreshes the air.
As in Cambodia, the most obvious effect of the wet season is damaged infrastructure. Landslides are common, as are severely rutted roads. While the road network is generally far better (that is, sealed) than Cambodia’s, the topography of Laos (pretty mountainous) lends itself to landslides, some minor, some not-so-minor. Also, with all this rainfall, the rivers can become beastly and delays due to bridges being down are not uncommon. Don’t be surprised if your trip takes longer than expected. All in all, land transport during Laos’ wet season can be slow and soggy.
Other advantages of this season are lower temperatures, cleaner air and smaller crowds.
The best time to visit Laos is:
3. What you shouldn’t miss while traveling here:
a. Main cities you should visit: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Pakse
b. Key festivals throughout the year:
- Boun Pha Vet (January – February): this temple centered festival cerebrates the birth of the Prince Vessanthara, Buddha’s penultimate existence. The jataka or birth story of Buddha is recited. This is the favored time for Lao men to become ordained as monks. Festival activities are staggered between villages.
- Full Moon (September): the festival is made up of sermons followed by beautiful candlelight processions.
- Boun Pi Mai as “new year” (April): it is the time when Laos cerebrates the start of the Lunar calendar year.Houses are cleaned, people wear new clothes and Buddha images are washed with holy water.
- That Luang Stupa (November): this religious festival is held in and around That Luang Stupa, the national symbol of Laos, where hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral votives from the people. The festival includes a grand fireworks display at night.
c. Some places you should check out:
Bokeo Nature Reserve, Nong Kiau, Tham Kong Lo, Luang Namtha, Wat Phu, Si Phan Don, Phonsavan…
d. Clothes to pack:
Light long sleeved tee-shirts and trousers, hiking shoes, swimwear, hats, sunglasses…
Other notices for you while traveling to Laos
- Language: Lao, also called Laotian, is the official language in Laos. French and English are identified as minor languages in Laos.
- Currency: the official national currency in Laos is the Laotian kip (LAK). Although only kip is legally negotiable in everyday transactions, in reality three currencies are used for commerce: kip, Thai baht (B) and US dollars (US$). In larger cities, baht and US dollars are readily acceptable in most businesses, including hotels, restaurants and shops.
1 USD = 8,580 LAK at the moment we are writing this blog.
- Visa: all visitors entering Laos must possess valid passports. Visas can be obtained from Lao Embassies and Consulates abroad. In addition, visas can also be obtained on arrival at the international checkpoint. Visas can be secured in advance of arrival at Lao Embassies. This can be done in several ways through a tour company recognized by the Lao PDR, from Lao Embassies or Consulate in countries.
For those wishing to extend their stay, it is possible to extend your visa at the Immigration Office in Vientiane, through travel agencies. It is also possible to obtain a Visa-on-Arrival at international checkpoints.
Validity starts from your day of entry into Laos. Tourist/Business: 30 days (can be extended twice in Vientiane for 30 days). Visas must be used within three months after being issued.
Note: People requiring visas should obtain them in their home country before travelling to Laos. Visas are available on arrival at international checkpoints. When entering Laos, visitors must ensure that they receive an entry stamp in their passport. All visitors’ passports should be valid for at least six months.
- Transportation: you can find motorbikes, taxis, buses and bikes.
- Accommodation: prices for the most basic double room start from $3.5 – 4.5 in the provinces and $4.5 – 8 in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Dorm beds (usually found in the main tourist areas) can only amount to $3 per night. At these prices, rooms can be pretty shabby, although there are a few diamonds in the rough. For $12 – 23, you can get more comfort, whether it’s the luxuries of a standard hotel or the coziness and hospitality of an upmarket guesthouse with a garden, tucked away in a quiet side street. If you’re willing to spend around $25, you can get something quite luxurious, with wi-fi and a flat-screen TV.