Follow this Laos itinerary to experience stunning temples, unspoiled nature and other Laotian must-see spots in just one week.
Despite its small geographical area, Laos offers everything you could hope for in a Southeast Asian adventure. With this Laos itinerary, you will get to see most of the country’s highlights in just 7 days. Laos is a mountainous, relatively undiscovered country. The local tourist infrastructure is far less developed compared to the standards of neighboring Vietnam or Thailand. The roads are still in poor condition, so be prepared! Even a short overland journey can take several hours.
Even if you only have a few days for visiting Laos (for example, many visit Laos as a side trip from Thailand), you can still squeeze in a wide variety of experiences, including jaw-dropping temples and unbelievably beautiful nature. Below I will share with you my itinerary featuring the best places to visit in Laos, and well as travel tips that will make it easier for you to plan your trip!
Here is my Laos itinerary for 7 days, covering the country’s main highlights!
Things to know before visiting Laos
Getting to Laos
Getting to Laos is not as easy as it may seem. There are currently no direct flights to Laos from outside of Asia.
As many travelers visit Laos as a part of a larger trip to the region, most visitors travel there overland, with the crossings from Thailand near Vientiane and at Houayxai in the north being the most popular options. In this case, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is the most convenient place to arrive from overseas.
If you are elsewhere in Asia, connections to Bangkok are possible from Chiang Mai and Udon Thani (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (Vietnam), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Kunming (China) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).
When to go to Laos
The best time to visit Laos is from November to March when the weather is dry and warm. By April, though, the weather becomes extremely hot, especially in the south of Laos, and the rainy season takes place from May to October bringing muggy weather and intense downpours every day.
If you are planning to embark on a river expedition, go between November and January, when the water level is lower.
How to get around in Laos
Getting around in Laos takes more time than you might expect. Due to poor infrastructure, you need budget some extra time, even for short distances. If you only have limited time for visiting Laos, I recommend heading directly to the north and concentrating on Vientiane and Luang Prabang, which both offer the greatest concentration of points of interest.
You can use minibuses to travel between cities and get to more remote places on your own by renting a scooter or joining an organized tour.
Chances are, you will need a visa for visiting Laos. Most EU citizens and travelers from North America and Australia can get a visa on arrival. These are valid 30 days and you can get them at international airports and most land borders.
The other option is to get a visa online, which was the option I chose for my trip. This is how it works: you apply for the visa on the official website. It costs 45 USD, and within 3 days you receive an email with your visa. You should print two copies: one for entering the country, and the other for departing. For online visas, you will still need to pay an administrative fee of 1 USD at the border. Try to bring exact change.
Before visiting Laos, I definitely recommend that you check the specific visa requirements for the country you come from. There are few countries that have visa-free access to Laos (ASEAN countries, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Switzerland). On the other hand, citizens of some African and Middle Eastern countries must apply for a visa in advance. It would be a pity if you got denied at the border.
Just like for traveling to other Asian countries, basic travel vaccination consisting of hepatitis A + B and typhoid is recommended. Additionally, you can consider a rabies vaccination in case of spending more time in nature, and a meningococcal vaccination for spending time with many people (bigger cities, etc.)
Internet and data
WiFi is available in every ho(s)tel as well as most restaurants and cafes. On the contrary, do not expect it to get connected at railway stations or on public transportation including long-distance buses.
You can easily get a local SIM card in the shops of individual operators or in tourist offices. However, a local SIM card is not a must in Laos; you can easily get around without one.
Laos is a safe country where you don’t even have to worry about pickpockets. The only time you’ve got to pay attention is when bargaining with taxi drivers or tuk-tuk drivers. Also, when moving between locations, keep in mind that the roads that are in terrible condition and the rather insane local drivers seem unwilling to adjust their speed accordingly.
Money and paying
The official national currency in Laos is the Lao kip (K). Although only kip is legally negotiable in everyday transactions, Thai baht and US dollars are generally accepted, too.
You will use cash for pretty much every purchase in Laos. It’s not impossible to pay by card, but it will only be accepted in hotels and “better” restaurants. Sometimes they have a minimum amount for using a card. It is, therefore, better to exchange dollars or euros at the exchange office.
During my trip, I managed to change both Vietnamese dong and Thai baht into the local currency. Yet somehow, I could not get rid of my Cambodian riels. Alternatively, you can always withdraw from an ATM, but be prepared to pay a fee of about 2-3% of the withdrawn amount.
Transportation in Laos
In Laos, you can easily travel between the major cities by bus or by minivan. You can find the approximate prices and travel times on Rome2Rio, but it is definitely easier to arrange transportation at your ho(s)tel or at the tourist office. They both usually have transportation companies they work with and are able to issue tickets on the spot. The routes between major cities and major attractions are operated several times a day.
When it comes to less-visited places, here the connections proved unreliable. For example, you could walk into a bus station and find out that the bus is not going today for some reason. Keep enough time in your schedule for these situations and don’t leave places you really want to visit to the last minute of your trip.
Each main tourist spot in Laos offers a wide variety of accommodation, so you will definitely be able to find something that fits your budget. As compared to Vietnam, accommodation in Laos is a bit more expensive and slightly lower quality.
You can get a bed in a 6 to 8-person mixed dorm for 3 USD. However, if you check the reviews online, you will find that such places are usually noisy and unclean. Decent places cost around 5 USD per night.
Here are the places I recommend:
You can always use Booking.com for deciding where to stay and checking prices.
Food and drink
Lao cuisine is very similar to Thai. You can expect rice noodles with meat and vegetables, hot curries, fried sticky rice or everyone’s favorite: green papaya salads. There is no doubt that you will eat well when visiting Laos.
The French colonial past is still visible in Laos today and this is reflected in a number of cafes and bakeries. You will find tasty baguettes that could be sold in Paris without any shame. Coffee is one of Laos’ main export items, but surprisingly they can’t prepare it properly in many coffeehouses, I found it tasted burned. Ideally, choose cafes that are also roasteries.
Tap water is not drinkable anywhere in Laos. Use your hotel’s drinking water dispensers or get a water filter.
What to buy in Laos
In addition to a lot of beautiful memories, I recommend that you put at least one bag of Laotian coffee and/or tea in your backpack. I recommend going to Aromdee Fair Trade store in Luang Prabang (find it here on GoogleMaps).
What to pack for visiting Laos
The mountains of northern Laos can have surprisingly cool weather, so pack a sweatshirt or light jacket in addition to summer clothes. To visit temples, you should have your shoulders and knees covered. Sandals or flip flops are enough for sightseeing in towns, but you should still pack comfortable hiking shoes if you plan to do outdoor trips.
For more tips on what to know before traveling to Southeast Asia and what to pack, check out this article.
Backpack and a Daypack
It’s best to take two backpacks with you to Laos: a decent-sized backpack where you’ll pack all of your clothes and other items and a smaller daypack for all of your valuables. Your main backpack can be checked in on flights and put in the luggage compartment on buses. However, your daypack, containing your passport, phone, money, and all other important items, should be kept on your person at all times.
Quick Dry Towel
Bringing a quick-dry towel is a great idea as there are many waterfalls in Laos, so it’s better to always be prepared for a quick dip. Apart from that, you can use the towel as a blanket for bus trips, a scarf, or an extra layer for colder or more conservative areas.
It is also great to have hand sanitizer and wet wipes with you. You never know when you will need to wash your hands, for example during train trips there may not be running water. Dry shampoo is great to bring, too.
A trip to Laos is easily doable in just sandals. However, if you plan on doing any serious hiking while you’re there, or you plan to visit waterfalls and mountainous areas, you’re going to need something more than sandals. Ventilated comfortable hiking shoes are a great companion for the temples, cities, and hills of Laos.
A warm layer of clothes
As mentioned above, the mountains in the north can be colder than expected, so it’s a good idea to bring a long-sleeved layer. For traveling in the mountains and unexpected showers, a lightweight rain jacket is an essential item that you should always have with you. Additionally, hiking pants are comfortable for most kinds of trips in Laos.
If you are going to follow my 7 day Laos itinerary, there will be a number of hours to spend in a bus or minivan. Make your time on the road is as comfortable as possible; a travel pillow will aid you in getting that much-needed shut-eye whilst in transit.
You should definitely bring a sarong or a large, versatile scarf to Laos because they have so many uses for travelers: towel, blanket, swimsuit cover-up, curtain, skirt, beach towel, and scarf—the list goes on. Remember that sarongs might not be an absolutely ideal replacement for all of those items, but they work great in a pinch. Plus they’re lightweight, and they dry quickly.
Of course, make sure you haven’t forgotten to pack your passport, driver’s license (only if you are planning to drive), insurance card and a good book (or your Kindle). Also include a good old-fashioned paper notebook, pen and printed itinerary with addresses and phone numbers of all of your hotels. Bring a file or passport holder so that your travel documents won’t suffer from the humidity.
Hopefully, you now have a pretty good idea of what to pack for visiting Laos. Below is my one-week itinerary, complete with recommendations on things to do in Laos.
Overview of Laos itinerary – Best places in Laos
Day 1 & 2: Vientiane and Buddha Park
Day 3 & 4: Vang Vieng – exploring nature and caves
Day 5 & 6: Luang Prabang – colonial town
Day 7: Kuang Si Waterfall – a refreshing dip in cool water
Day 1 & 2– Vientiane and Buddha Park
Despite the fact that Vientiane is the capital, it’s a rather quiet place where the majority of the tourists seem to be French pensioners. You won’t enjoy many parties here, but Vientiane, with its historical sights, is still one of the main places to visit in Laos.
Make sure to visit:
- Patuxai Victory Gate – inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
- Pha That Luang – 45-meter gold-covered Buddhist stupa
- Wat Si Muang – a temple known for giving luck and fortune, where many people come to pray and receive blessings from the monks
- Wat Si Saket: the oldest temple in town
- That Dam/Black stupa – dating to the 16th century, the stupa is said to protect the inhabitants of the city.
Also don’t forget to visit some of the quaint little cafes influenced by the French colonial past (I recommend Cafe Vanille or Le Trio Coffee) during the day, and later head to the Mekong River Market to watch a spectacular sunset.
The next day, set out on a 25-km trip to Buddha Park (Laos Xieng Khuan), where you can admire over 200 sculptures with religious themes.
Where to stay: Hive Hostel is situated in the city center near the river; the price includes a small breakfast consisting of toast and bananas.
Day 3 & 4 – Vang Vieng: exploring nature and caves
Vang Vieng is a small town about 4 hours’ drive north of Vientiane. Young people once flocked here from all over the world for wild parties (and unfortunately, easily accessible drugs), but the city has largely been cleaned up and transformed into a great base for exploring the beautiful nature in the area.
There are many cool things to do in Vang Vieng. The city is surrounded by several caves, from the well-known and perhaps too accessible Tham Chang, which is paved and well lit, to the nameless caves you can explore on your own. So get your hiking shoes and headlamp ready and prepare yourself for an amazing half-day to full-day hike!
A very popular place to visit in Laos is definitely Blue Lagoon, but you will have to deal with some tourist crowds there. To get to Blue lagoon, you can either rent a bike or a scooter (even better). The roads around the town are pretty bumpy so you may have a hard time biking.
Once you have rented the scooter, you can definitely also visit the Kaeng Nyui Waterfall the next day. Adventurous spirits can go rafting on the river or fly a hot air balloon; these are some of the most adventurous things to do in Laos.
Where to stay: Vang Vieng Freedom View – a backpacker’s hostel in the city center with breakfast. The best part is the terrace with a view of the sunset in the surrounding hills. You will love it!
Day 5 & 6: Luang Prabang – colonial town
Luang Prabang takes pride in its picturesque center full of French colonial buildings that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most interesting things to doing is to take part in the daily worship that takes place on the streets, when people donate alms to Buddhist monks and receive their prayers in return. I do urge you: stand at a respectful distance and consider whether taking 10 000 pictures in half an hour is really necessary. Remember that this is a religious ceremony and it’s highly impolite to disturb it.
During the day, go to the Royal Palace and Museum and climb to the top of Phousi Hill in the middle of the city. When going back, take the east side of Wat Chom Si Temple to see a series of large golden Buddha statues along the way. There are many other historical sights and things to do in Luang Prabang: the city as a bit for everyone.
To wind down, choose one of the many great cafes and roasteries and enjoy a cup of coffee. I recommend Saffron (where they have delicious food) or DaDa Cafe. In the evening, head to the market to not only have a tasty dinner but also to buy incredibly cheap clothes and/or beautiful souvenirs.
If you are interested in a cultural program, films are screened every night at L´Etranger Books & Tea. Admission is free; all you have to do is to order something to eat or drink. The program can be found on their Facebook page.
If you want to escape from the city center, cross the river and climb the hill to Wat Chompet, which offers beautiful views of the city, especially at sunset. Alternatively, take a bike ride to Ban Xang Khong to explore the mulberry farms.
Where to stay: The World Hotel near the center has cheap private rooms (13 USD per night) and an excellent breakfast buffet.
Day 7: Kuang Si Waterfall – a refreshing dip cool water
Kuang Si, arguably the most famous waterfall in Laos, is situated 30 kilometers southwest of Luang Prabang. It can be reached on one of many organized tours or on your own; simply rent a motorbike and follow the marked route (this is what I did). The waterfall consists of several cascades, the longest being 60 meters. Below it merges into several lakes, most of which are suitable and easily accessible for bathing. This waterfall and its incredibly clear waters definitely make it one of the best places to visit in Laos.
Most tours to Kuang Si waterfall include a stop at one of the elephant rescue stations. Please check ahead; while some of these “rescue stations” are real the elephants are well taken care of, others are not at all about rescuing. Some of them continue to use elephants for slave labor.
I hope that this one week in Laos itinerary will help you to plan your trip. If you have any questions left, feel free to ask in the comments! 😊
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