Laos is known for mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. Thinking about visiting? Here’s some of the key things you need to know before travelling to Laos.
Laos has a rich history stretching back 10,000 years and is one of the world’s last remaining Communist states. Surrounded by Thailand, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, this landlocked country is still a little jewel of South East Asia. Best of all, the country is untainted by mass tourism.
Things to Know Before Travelling To LaosHow do these rankings work?
1. There’s A Strong French Influence
Laos was a French colony until 1953, with Communist forces overthrowing the monarchy in 1975. You’ll see French influences throughout the country, especially in the beautiful colonial-era buildings in Luang Prabang.
There’s crusty French baguettes too, and some people still speak a few words of the language.
2. Don’t Go Trekking Without A Guide
From 1964-1973 the United States dropped over 260 million cluster bombs, making it one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. While most tourist areas have been cleared of landmines, more rural areas are still a danger of unexploded landmines. Xieng Khouang is the most affected province.
Only go trekking with a local guide who knows the area, and never wander off the marked path.
3. “Happy” Meals Usually Mean There’s Drugs Involved
Don’t expect some McDonald’s toys. Be careful when ordering anything that has the word ‘happy’ in it, especially in Vang Vieng. Happy Mojitos, Happy Pizza, or Happy Tea – these usually all have some sort of psychedelic mushroom or marijuana in it, so be wary.
4. The Country Is Laos But The People Are Lao
Confused about how to pronounce ‘Laos’? You’re not the only one! The county of Laos (rhymes with blouse; pronounce the ‘s’) but to say Lao (rhymes with cow) you can use its alternate name, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Simply put: Lao (cow) people live in Laos (blouse).
5. Travelling Around Laos Can Be Slow
Travelling around Laos can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time there. But fear not, we’ve got all the info you need to know here. The country is not exactly known for its modernised roads and transport, but isn’t that half of the fun of travelling?
Laos is a real adventure, so just dive right in, but to explore further afield you’ll need to suss out buses, boats, automobiles and more.
6. Be Respectful – Don’t Touch Anyone With Your Feet
Laos is a Buddhist country and you should respect the culture here. This includes covering up when visiting temples and taking off your shoes before entering homes or even some cafes. But one key thing to know before travelling to Laos is that it’s very rude to to accidentally step over someone or brush your foot off them.
Feet are the lowest, and the head is high, so never put your feet up on a chair or table.
7. Laos is One Of The Last Communist States
Most Laotians live in rural areas, with 80% working in agriculture. The state maintains strict control over the media, with all newspapers and online media controlled and owned by the state. Online use is growing, but is low. You should never argue with police and don’t break the law here.