Laos destination guide

Best time to visit Laos

Laos experiences three seasons: the cool dry season lasts from November to February, the hot dry season lasts from March to May and the rainy season occurs during the months from the end of May to as late as early November.

Weather

Although Laos is slightly cooler than its immediate neighbours it is still a tropical country and there is an abundance of sun year round. The dry season is characterised by pleasant cool weather from November to February which is perfect for strolling to ancient temples and trekking. It is important to remember that the mountainous regions can also get very chilly in the evening with extreme weather shifts between night and day. The weather gradually gets a lot warmer and by March, April and May the country experiences its hottest months. The rainy season arrives in June and lasts until October, characterised by afternoon showers in low-lying areas to more steady showers in mountainous regions which cool the land and nourish the great Mekong River – the lifeblood and pride of many people in Laos.

When to go

The best time to visit Laos is during the cool dry months of November to February, however, the early months of the rainy season can be quite pleasant as the normally sunny weather is punctuated by short rain showers in the afternoon. The Laos’ festival season takes place in the cool season and the end of the rainy season like the traditional Naga festival in October and the Boat racing festival in September. Another great time to visit, if you can handle the heat, is the Laotian version of Theravada Buddhist New Year in April which includes water splashing and the uniquely Laotian Rocket Festival which takes place in May.

 

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Best time to go

Central Laos (Vientiane, Vang Vieng)

The best time to visit Vientiane is from November to February when the weather is at its most pleasant. The rainy season begins in June till October,

 

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
14℃ 17℃ 19℃ 23℃ 23℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 21℃ 18℃ 16℃
 Average maximum temperature
28.4℃ 30.3℃ 33℃ 34.3℃ 33℃ 31.9℃ 31.3℃ 31℃ 30.9℃ 30.8℃ 29.8℃ 28.1℃
 Average hours of sunshine
8 8 7 8 7 5 5 5 8 8 8 8
 Average rainfall in mm
7.5 13 33.7 84.9 245.8 279.8 272.3 334.6 297.3 78 11 2.5

Northern Laos (Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, Phongsali, Nong Khiaw)

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
13℃ 14℃ 17℃ 21℃ 23℃ 22℃ 23℃ 23℃ 23℃ 21℃ 18℃ 15℃
 Average maximum temperature
28℃ 32℃ 34℃ 36℃ 35℃ 34℃ 32℃ 32℃ 33℃ 32℃ 29℃ 27℃
 Average hours of sunshine
5 6 6 5 5 5 4 4 6 7 5 4
 Average rainfall in mm
13.5 16.1 33.7 94.1 149.2 177.3 223.8 226.2 165.8 107 28.2 13

Southern Laos (Champasak, Bolaven Plateau, 4000 Islands)

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
18℃ 21℃ 24℃ 26℃ 26℃ 25℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 23℃ 22℃ 19℃
 Average maximum temperature
31℃ 35℃ 36℃ 35℃ 34℃ 32℃ 31℃ 30℃ 31℃ 31℃ 31℃ 31℃
 Average hours of sunshine
9 9 9 8 7 5 5 4 5 6 8 8
 Average rainfall in mm
10 14 77 296 454 626 792 739 769 227 34 10

General travel tips

Currency

The kip is the currency unit of Laos and is presently in distributions of 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 and 100000 kip. US dollars, Euros and Thai baht are also accepted in many places.

Clothing

Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for travelling in Laos. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat is a good idea in the rainy season. Warm clothing is needed for visiting the northern Laos during the winter months from November to February. Visitors to Laos should not wear shorts, short skirts or other skimpy clothing when visiting religious buildings and shoes should be removed before entering a private home.

Electricity

Lao uses 220V. Power outlets usually feature two-prong round or flat sockets, however, there is no set standard. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.

Food

Lao cuisine has many similarities to Thai with lots of aromatic herbs and spices such as lemon grass, chillies, ginger and tamarind used to flavour dishes. Sticky rice, or Kao niao, is the main ingredient in Lao cuisine, usually served with fermented fish and a fish sauce similar to that used in Vietnamese cuisine called nam pa. Chicken and pork dishes are also popular but beef is expensive in comparison. Soups served with noodles, bamboo shoots and fresh vegetables can be found everywhere.

Health

We strongly recommend having good health insurance and carrying a good first aid kit. In general, there is a lack of international standard medical help and hospitals. For minor ailments, the Vientiane International Clinic offers good service.

Language

The national language of Laos is Lao, which is closely related to Thai and is spoken in many different dialects. Lao, like Thai, is a tonal language. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane, English is widely spoken and French is still spoken by many government officials and educated members of the older generations.

Manners

As with all cultures everywhere in the world, there are some general rules of conduct that a traveller in Laos should follow. It is best to avoid the time around 11 a.m. when visiting a wat, as this is when monks usually take their last meal of the day. Women should not attempt to shake the hand of a monk, hand anything to him or sit beside him since monks are not allowed to touch women. When talking to a monk, try to keep your head lower than his. When sitting down, feet should point away from the altar and main image. Arms and legs should be fully covered when visiting wats and shoes should be taken off before entering. A small donation is advisable, and it is appropriate to kneel down when giving it. In general, pointing with the index finger is considered rude. Touching children on the head should be avoided as it is the most sacred part of the body. The traditional form of greeting is with hands together prayer-like, and with head bowed, as in most parts of Asia, but handshaking is done more frequently today. Laos’s people are modest in their dress, so shorts or revealing clothing should be avoided.

Sensitivity also pays when taking photographs. Be very wary in areas that have (or could have) military importance such as airports, where all photography is prohibited. Also be careful when photographing official functions and parades without permission. Always ask permission before photographing a person or in a temple. Tipping is practised in hotels and restaurants, though not extravagantly.

Religion

As in the neighbouring countries of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion and saffron-robed monks are a common sight in Laos. There are also a small number of Catholics and Protestants.

Safety

Laos is generally a safe country. Nevertheless and as a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. In some tourist sites, you may encounter some insistent souvenir sellers. A polite but firm “No, thank you” usually will suffice.

Shopping

The best buys in Laos are ethnic minority handicrafts and textiles. The Lao sarong or pha sin made from silk or cotton is a popular souvenir. Other souvenirs to look out for include silverware, in particular from Luang Prabang, and wood carvings.

Time

Laos is GMT+7 and does not operate on a daylight-savings system (therefore GMT+6 in summer time).

Tipping

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in Laos. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.

Transportation

Lao laws do allow foreigners to rent and drive a car themselves. It is highly recommended to arrange a self-drive package in advance to get road maps, suggested stops and advice on driving in Laos as traffic conditions may vary dramatically from what you are used to.