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Laos, a peaceful land-locked nation,
is one of Southeast Asia’s hidden gems. The stunning natural beauty of forested mountains and valleys teeming with wildlife combined with a fascinating Buddhist culture make Laos a superb destination for those seeking an adventurous and authentic cultural experience.

A daily life of Laos monks
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Vientiane full day highlights
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Visit to Don Daeng
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Visit to Bolaven Plateau
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Discover the Plain of Jars
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Cycling – Luang Nam Tha valley
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The best time to visit Laos

Laos has two seasons. The green season runs from May through October and the dry season from November to April. For the most part, Laos is hot, although there is a good deal of fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures. The capital, Vientiane, ranges from the upper-20s Celsius (mid-70s Fahrenheit) in January to mid-30s Celsius (mid-90s Fahrenheit) in April and May. In the mountainous region in Luang Prabang, however, temperatures can plummet to near freezing at night in December and January. During the rainy season, the highest precipitation is in southern Laos.

Please note: It can sometimes be smoky during February and March (in Northern Laos) when local people burn the rice fields and forests to prepare for the annual crops. This may affect visibility and result in minor respiratory irritation.

Laos Predeparture

Visa requirements:

All nationalities with exception of some Asian countries must have a tourist visa to enter Lao. You may apply for a visa through a Laotian embassy or consulate in your country. You are required to submit an application form with 2 passport-size photos, your passport and fee to process the visa. If you do not want to send off your passport or need your passport for your current travel, you can obtain a visa on arrival at international airports/borders. (There are several countries in Africa and Middle East who cannot obtain Visa on Arrival. Also, Turkish nationals cannot obtain Visa on Arrival. Please check with your travel agent or Justravel Asia for the latest information.)

The visas fee for most nationalities is US$ 35 per person for visa on arrival. Please note an additional service fee of US$ 1 will be added to each visa. Bring payment in US dollars and one passport photos or allow an extra US$1 if you do not have a passport picture. Please be aware that sometimes there can be long queues at the airport when obtaining a visa on arrival.

Even when organizing your own visas from home or other countries, it is a local requirement to provide Justravel Asia with your full passport and visa information prior to entering Laos. This is also applicable for the airlines to issue the air-ticket and for the hotels to prepare the check-in procedure.

Please make sure your passport is valid more than 6 months from the date of departure of each country you are visiting. Also, make sure you have enough blank pages – you may need up to 1.5 pages for each country you visit in Southeast Asia.

Insurance:

It is compulsory to have comprehensive travel insurance whilst travelling in Laos. Comprehensive travel insurance, may cover you for unforeseen circumstances prior to departure should you be forced to cancel. Comprehensive travel insurance should cover you for emergency and medical evacuations, hospital fees, loss of property etc. Justravel Asia would like to a copy of your insurance in case of emergency, please forward your policy details to your agent who will in turn advise Justravel Asia.

Health:

Please consult your doctor to discuss your particular health or immunization requirements. If you would like to have a source of further information, please refer to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov

Money:

The Laotian currency, the Kip, exchanges at a rate of about 18,000 Kip to the US Dollar. However, the US Dollar is also widely accepted. Bring new, clean US Dollars and small denominations ($1 and $5) which are useful for making local purchases.

Cashing traveler’s cheque is not possible anymore in Laos. ATMs are now available in main towns and are widespread in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. They will only issue the local currency, the Kip. Many banks (open Monday to Friday) issue cash advances for Visa and MasterCard, usually for a small commission.

Mobile Phone:

Laos uses a GSM (GSM900/1800) mobile phone network. There are 4 main phone carriers in Lao, with Lao telecom and Beeline having the widest coverage. It is easy to purchase a pre-paid SIM card in Laos (approx US$4) – just make sure your phone is unlocked to accept SIMs from other networks, or buy another handset. Handsets are cheaper in Thailand and Vietnam.

Internet:

Many hotels have wireless (wifi) internet access available in the lobby or business center. There are many cheap internet cafes in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and a couple in smaller towns. Be careful not to save your password or sensitive information on public computer terminals. 

Electricity:

Laos has 220V, 50Hz electricity. As both two-prong and flat pins are in use you would be wise to bring an adaptor. Three-pin plug adaptors are usually provided by hotels; just ask the reception. In all countries, protect sensitive electronic equipment like laptops from power fluctuations by using a surge-protector. 

Clothing:

Since the weather is consistently warm throughout the country, it is advisable to bring comfortable lightweight, loose fitting, cotton clothing and long-sleeved items for protection from mosquitoes and the sun. During the rainy season an umbrella and open-toe sandals are recommended. A jacket may be needed in hotels and restaurants using excessive air-conditioning. A hat and high-factor sun block is advisable for protection against the hot sun when sightseeing. T-shirts and knee length shorts are acceptable for visiting temples or pagodas. From November to January, particularly in the northern mountainous region, the temperature can dip below zero so you will need to bring a sweater or a light jacket. Since the cities and towns in Laos are ideal for walking, be sure to bring comfortable and supportive walking shoes

Travel documents:

You should bring a money-belt to safely carry your travel documents and cash, and ensure that your luggage has a lock. Bring photo-copies of your passport and visa, plus some extra passport-sized photos if you’re applying for on-arrival visas. When flying into or within Laos, you will probably be given baggage claim tags (they will be stuck to the back of your ticket). Keep these, as you might need to show them when leaving the airport. 

Tipping

While not compulsory, tipping is greatly appreciated throughout Southeast Asia, especially in  the service industry, when you are pleased with the services provided. For reference, we have provided a general guideline below: 

  • Guides (>4 travellers): $10-$15 per day per traveller 
  • Drivers (>4 travellers): $5-$7 per day per traveller 
  • Guides (<5 travellers): $5-$10 per day per traveller 
  • Drivers (<5 travellers): $3-$5 per day per traveller 
  • Restaurants: 10-15% of the total bill 
  • Hotel Maid Service: $2 – $3 per day 
  • Porters: $2 – $3 at time of service 
  • Local Boat Transport: $5 – $10 per boat 
  • Overnight Cruise: $5 – $10 per night per traveller (to cover all crew) 

Water

It is advisable not to drink water from the tap unless it is boiled properly. 

Medical

When traveling in Laos, it is advisable to avoid public hospitals as they may be unsanitary. If 
a problem arises where you are in need of medical attention, the best option is to visit an 
international clinic. Please contact your hotel or guide for information on clinic services and 
to find one that is appropriate for Western visitors. Additionally, when traveling to Laos, it is 
important to remember to bring enough of your regular medication for the duration of your 
stay 

A daily life of Laos monks

With some 30 or more temples in Luang Prabang, the town exudes an aura of spirituality. Spend a peaceful late afternoon interacting with Buddhist monks and learning about Buddhism. In late afternoon, proceed to one of the serene monasteries in town in time to hear the chanting of the monks, a peaceful daily ritual. Later, meet with one or two monks and learn about their monastic life, Buddhism or Lao culture. Your visit includes a small donation and depending on the monastery, other offerings may be made.

Notes:

  • Availability: Late afternoon
  • Suggested time: 16:00
  • Duration: 01 hour
  • Please dress appropriately. Shoulders, chest and legs should be covered.
Vientiane full day highlights

Spend a leisurely morning visiting the tranquil side of Vientiane, Laos’ capital and largest city on the Mekong River near the Thai border. Drive 1 hour southeast of town to Buddha Park. The park, which opened in 1958, is a whimsical sculpture garden filled with Buddhist and religious symbols, featuring a strange large concrete pumpkin with a three-level interior portraying Hell, Earth, and Heaven. Spend some time wandering around among the odd and sometimes ornate statues. 

In the afternoon, you can explore some of the city’s most famous temples, known as “wats,” such as Wat Sisaket, the only temple to survive the Siamese invasion of 1828 and famous for its cloister wall housing thousands of tiny Buddha images; Wat Phra Keo, a former temple that is now a museum, decorated with carved wooden features, a magnificent 16th-century lacquered door with Hindu carvings, numerous Khmer stone carvings, and Check out the Patuxai Victory Monument as well, a military memorial honoring those who fought for independence from France that resembles the Arc de Triomphe. Observe the mythical creature that are half-woman and half-bird that adorn the monument; they are distinctive of Laos. That Luang, a massive gold-covered Buddhist stupa in the heart of Vientiane, is the tour’s final stop and is often considered the most significant national monument in Laos. Return to your hotel.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 09:00.
  • Duration: 8 hours.
Visit to Don Daeng

Spend the day on Don Daeng, a tranquil Thai island. Several pre-Angkorian remains can be seen in Don Daeng, which is part of the Champassak Cultural and Natural Heritage Landscape, and visitors may also get a glimpse into traditional activities including basket making, fishing, and rice farming. Take the picturesque 1-hour drive south of Pakse to Ban Muang, and from there, the 30-minute boat ride to Don Daeng. Take a bike ride around the island instead of a boat ride, and enjoy the cool shade of the island’s many trees. Try some of the island’s fresh fruits along the way, and refuel with the naturally sweet juices made from coconuts and sugar cane. After eating at a nearby restaurant, you can spend the afternoon seeing some of the area’s old Buddhist sites, including a forest stupa and a protected forest. Take a ferry back to the mainland, where a car will pick you up and transfer you back to Pakse.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 08:30 
  • Duration: 7.5 hours.
  • Cycling is over mostly easy terrain and suitable for those with an average level of fitness.
Visit to Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau, formed by an ancient volcano and noted for its coffee and tea plantations, is home to a number of tribal settlements, some of which continue to practice Stone Age customs, such as the use of exceedingly rudimentary agricultural implements and animal sacrifices in an animist belief system. Depart Pakse on a 40-kilometer (25-mile) trip to the Bolaven Plateau for a full-day excursion that includes the Tad Lo Waterfall, a series of three falls named Tad Suong, Tad Lo, and Tad Hang. Continue to the Tad Fane Waterfalls for lunch in this picturesque setting. The enormous jungle of Dong Hua Sao continues beyond the waterfall, from where the flawlessly timed twin falls start and plunge down a 200m (656ft) valley. Walk to the 42m (138ft) Tad Yeung Waterfall, which is surrounded by thick flora. Finish the day by visiting a tea and coffee plantation and learning why the Bolaven Plateau is a perfect location for growing these products. Return to Pakse via private vehicle later.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 09:00
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • It is recommended that guests wear proper walking attire for the visits to the waterfalls as these areas can be slippery at times.
Discover the Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars is one of Laos’s most famous and baffling tourist attractions. Over the course of hundreds of hilly square kilometers, archaeologists have found what could be as many as 2,500 enormous stone jars from the Southeast Asian Iron Age (500 BC to 200 AD). You may get a better look at this archaeological spectacle of huge carved jars, which are likely used as death urns according to the discovery of bones, teeth, charcoal, and glass beads within some of them, if you leave your hotel and drive 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, to three different sites. After that, stop by the MAG basecamp to get an update on the organization’s latest efforts to rid the country of its unexploded ordnance (UXO) threat. It’s time to head back to your hotel for the day.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 08:30.
  • Duration: 7.5 hours.
Cycling – Luang Nam Tha valley (joined-in or private)

We set out from our hotel and pedal to the Black Tai village of Ban Poung, then to the Tai Leu hamlet of Nam Thuong, and finally to the Lantern village of Ban Nam Dee. In addition to visiting a tiny waterfall, you will also see a silk factory, a silk weaving workshop using only natural dyes, a Lao alcohol distillery, beautiful mountain scenery, and miles of rice paddies. Lantern paper making classes are available during the winter months. Lunch will consist of traditional Tai Leu fare, cooked by locals. After visiting That Phoum Pouk Stupa, we’ll head back to town to visit the provincial market.

Notes:

  • Suggested time: 08:30.
  • Duration: 7.5 hours.
  • Cycling is over mostly easy terrain and suitable for those with an average level of fitness.
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Hanoi countryside tales by traditional crafts

Today, drive an hour along the Red River to Ha Noi’s neighboring countryside through immense rice fields and fruit farms. Visit the village that birthed Vietnamese incense upon arrival. This village’s incense, made from over 30 herbs with skills passed down from generation to generation, is known for its pure, light scent. A guided stroll through the hamlet with older residents will take you to various family-run workshops to see the entire incense-making process and hear about the glory days of this traditional craft. Help the host make incense.

Take another short drive to a rural community behind endless rice fields and duck farms. The locals’ 200-year-old fish-pot crafting heritage includes bamboo weaving. Walk around the village to see the typical Northern countryside architecture: dark brown tiled roofs, three-room houses with elders sitting in front weaving fish-pots and chatting. Visit a local artisan who rode his bike across Vietnam to proudly promote his village’s unique traditional craft. Create your own fish pot with his help and give it as a present.

Notes:

  • Availability: Morning
  • Suggested time: 08:00
  • Duration: 6 hours

*Optional to add Nha Xa silk village
*Incense making at Thon Cao, Hung Yen. Fish-pot making village at Thu Sy, Hung Yen.
*Possible to have lunch at Hung Yen