Laos

Laos: When to Go

In northern Laos, including Luang Prabang and Vientiane, November to mid February is the 'cool' season - dry and quite warm, an ideal time to come. Mid February to May is the hot season and out in the rice fields the lushness disappears, but 85% of Laos is forested mountain, so it's still green. In March and April, smoke from agricultural fires can be a nuisance. The rainy season is May to late October - hot, humid and wet, especially in June-July; but Luang Prabang gets much less rain than Vientiane.

13-15 April: Lao New Year (Pi Mai) is celebrated with great gusto - folk songs, circle dances and and candlelit processions - particularly in Luang Prabang, where effigies of Naga (protector of the city) and Nang Sang Kham (guardian of the new year) are carried into town from the stupa on Mt Phusi.

May (date varies): Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Phai) where bamboo projectiles are fired into the sky to bring on the rains, and those whose launches fail are thrown into the mud.

August (Luang Prabang)/September (other locations): Boat races on the Mekong river, with crews of up to 50 men and women, to celebrate the end of the rainy season.

October (Vientiane): Boat races take place on the river to celebrate the Bun Nam Water Festival.

November (Vientiane): Boun Phra That Luang is celebrated, a 3-day religious festival at That Luang every year when hundreds of monks accept alms and flowers from the people.

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TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting There

Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.

BY AIR INTO LUANG PRABANG

There are no long-haul flights into Luang Prabang. A few international flights connect neighbouring countries:
Lao Airlines from Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand; Siem Reap in Cambodia; Hanoi in Vietnam and Vientiane in Laos
Bangkok Airways from Siem Reap and Bangkok
Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi

OVERLAND FROM THAILAND TO LUANG PRABANG

From Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, you can travel by bus or car to Chiang Khong on the Mekong river (the border), and then take a boat across to Houei Xai in Laos. From Houei Xai there are boats down river to Luang Prabang (1-2 days), but there are no schedules or safety enforcements, so you should be prepared for an adventure. We'd recommend Luang Say Cruise, a leisurely overnight trip.

BY AIR INTO VIENTIANE

There are no long-haul flights into Vientiane but you can connect with flights from Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia), Bangkok (Lao Airlines, Thai Airways, Lufthansa), Hanoi (Vietnam Airlines), Phomn Penh (Lao Airlines and Vietnam Airlines).

BY AIR INTO CHAMPASAK PROVINCE

Fly to Pakse International Airport. Lao Airlines flies here thrice weekly from Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, and also from Ho Chi Minh City, Luang Prabang, Phnom Penh, Savannakhet, Siem Reap and Vientiane.

BY AIR TO NORTHERN LAOS
Fly to Oudomxay Airport. Lao Airlines flies here from Vientiane.

Visa / Entry Requirements

15-day tourist visas can be bought on arrival at Luang Prabang or Vientiane airports, or at most Mekong border points. Ensure you get an entry stamp in your passport. Not having a legitimate entry stamp could lead to arrest or a large fine. You need 2 passport-sized photos (though we only presented one and no one asked for another). If you reach Luang Prabang without photos, they will scan your passport photo and charge you 1 dollar for it (at least this was true in November 2007).

30-day visas are available from Lao embassies and consulates for a higher fee. If you overstay your visa, you will be charged a high daily rate, or you can buy an extension (before it runs out).

This information is subject to change.

Other Essentials

Malaria is prevalent in Laos and you are advised to take prophylactic medicine, preferably something other than chloroquine as there is a high level of resistance.

Other advisable vaccinations include hepatitis A, tetanus, polio and typhoid (these last 3 may be covered by previous inoculations or boosters which you have had). HIV is widespread.

There are occasional incidences of dengue fever (hard to protect against), and avian flu seems to be an increasing risk (keep informed).