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Laos is well-known for its laidback atmosphere, friendly people and breathtaking landscapes. Despite being the only country in Asia that has the least temples to visit, Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic) – or simply Laos – promises the experience like no other.
I am grateful for the chance to explore Laos’ capital city, Vientiane, then to Vang Vieng (which used to be a party town but has now become the hub for eco-tourism) and finally Luang Prabang, the scenic UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What captured my heart to explore Laos were its people whom I met and their heartfelt sincerity and innocence. Below are some tips that I hope would be useful for all travel enthusiasts out there who are keen to explore Laos soon:
1. Hello is sabaidee. It is normal for unknown strangers to greet you on the street – it is polite to greet them back the same way.
2. Thank you is kop chai, but if you are truly happy with the service, kop chai lai lai means ‘you are most welcomed’. By adding lai lai , you are saying ‘very much’.
3. A preferable drinking water brand is Tiger Head. Do not drink straight from the tap. If you are hiking or jungle trekking in Laos, bring a water neutralizer.
4. It is normal to feel like you are being scammed when you pay for transportation in Laos. For example, you may be given a minivan instead of the VIP Bus that you paid for. The best way is to really ask around – usually most tour agents in the town shares the same transport provider.
5. Opt for night travel if you are traveling to Laos’ mountainous Northern Provinces. This will give you the opportunity to greatly enjoy stargazing as the bus climbs up the highway that cut through the highlands.
6. Try the baguette in Laos – it is available everywhere with a variety of fillings to choose from. Do note that baguettes in central Laos are lighter compared to the ones up north. You may find differences in term of texture and taste.
7. There is an exit fee of USD 1 or 10,000 Kip if you exit overland from Laos.
8. Rent a bungalow overlooking the river in Vang Vieng, which offers an experience like no other. It is also one of the cheapest options for accommodation. Price starts from 20,000 Kip to 200,000 Kip (USD 2 to USD 20).
9. Do not be at the riverbank of Mekong River in Vientiane at night. There have been cases reported of undercover police asking for 1 million Kip bribery from unsuspecting tourists.
10. There are curfews for towns in Laos – ask the locals or your hotel/hostel about it. Please adhere to the curfew time.
11. Tuk tuk in Laos will quote the price for the whole vehicle, not per person. It is best to share your tuk tuk transportation with other people.
12. At the outskirts of Vientiane lies and attraction called the Buddha Park. It is possible to get there via the local bus. Though the road leading to the place can be a little grubby, it is an experience on its own! Take the local bus from the bus station and then change to a smaller bus at the Thanaleng border. Price is 8000 Kip one way.
13. The auto teller machines (ATMs) are available in major towns and the most visible bank is called Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao Public (BCEL). The ATMs are in blue and red.
14. When the French arrived in Laos over a century ago, they left one enduring legacy: pastries. Try out the croissants, breads and biscuits in some of the many bakeries in Laos. A notable one is Joma Bakery in Luang Prabang, which Mango crumbs come highly recommended!
15. Hiking and jungle trekking is popular in Laos but do follow the path stated or follow the instructions from your guide. This is because Laos is still largely infested with UXO or landmines from the previous war between the American and the Khmer Rouge. It is said that there are about 7.5 million UXOs still buried in many of Laos’ provinces, especially in the south.
16. Mekong river fish, which are fresh and sweet, is abundant in Laos. Do try it out at the local restaurants. The prices range from 25,000 Kip to 50,000 KIP. The best ones are usually by the riverside.
But above all else, if there is only one thing that I must suggest to you to do in Laos, it is to lay back, take your time and enjoy the journey. This is the only country that I am sure you would not be constantly harassed or forced to buy stuff. Laos has taught me to truly appreciate life at a far slower and appreciative pace, which I think could even be the other meaning for PDR – Please Don’t Rush.