One of the original albergues on the Camino de Santiago

Laos

Landlocked Laos is often overlooked on Southeast Asian itineraries. Receiving only 4.2m visitors in 2016, lower than Cambodia (4.8m) and dwarfed by neighbouring Thailand (29.8m)*. 

This 236,800 square kilometre (91,429 sq. miles) country is traversed by the meandering Mekong River and is known for its French colonial architecture, Buddhist monasteries and hill tribe villages.

The mountainous countryside consists of forests, caves, jungles and waterfalls providing the perfect environment for an adrenaline-junkie to get a kick or two. The less action oriented can get a culture or historic fix at the various historical sites, markets, museums, and well-preserved towns and villages.

Although we found the capital Vientiene enjoyable, we much preferred the relaxed and friendly Luang Prabang. Laos countryside is beautiful too. Laos deserves its place on any SE Asia itinerary.

Fast Facts

  • The Lao People’s Democratic Republic was a constitutional monarchy until 1976. Today it is a one-party dictatorship and one of the world’s last official communist states. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries, heavily reliant on aid.*
  • Life expectancy of the 6.5 million inhabitants is a rather paltry 57 years, and there’s a young population, with the average age just 19.5 years.*
  • Laos has the highest per-capita consumption of sticky rice in the world, eating over 345 pounds a year. Sticky rice is a national staple, and is served sweet, sour or fermented, traditionally eaten using one’s fingers.*
  • Giant, ancient stone jars can be found scattered over the land near the city of Phonsavan, known as the Plain of Jars. There are over 2,500 jars, and nobody knows who made them or placed them there. Some think that it was part of a Bronze Age burial ritual, but a popular legend has it that the pots were used to brew celebratory rice wine after an ancient military victory.*

 

When to Go

Laos has a dry season (October to April) and a wet season (May to September). Temperatures can vary considerably with March to June typically being the hottest. Outside of these months you may need a jumper in the evenings as they can get quite cool.

Altitude also impacts temperatures with the north, eastern and central regions typically cooler due to their higher elevation. In the Mekong River valley in the south, humidity is higher and temperatures in excess of 35°C are not uncommon between March and April.

November to January is the best time to visit lowland Laos, when daytime temperatures are agreeably warm and the countryside is green and lush after the rains. High water levels on the Mekong make river travel best at this time too.

Another consideration is the burning of the fields in the north (including Luang Prabang) from March until the beginning of the monsoon. This can be uncomfortable as well as making your photos hazy.

 An early morning view of the Mesta, Camino de Santiago

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