Laos is one of the lesser-visited countries in Southeast Asia. It seems to disappear alongside everyone’s enthusiasm about the temples of Cambodia, bounty islands of Thailand and rice fields of Vietnam. While Laos has no major highlights to attract hordes of tourists. But don’t be mistaken: it has just as much to offer as its better-known neighboring countries! Idyllic islands, impressive temples, beautiful cities, and huge waterfalls make Laos a must on your travel wish-list! We will share the perfect travel itinerary for backpacking in Laos, including practical tips.
How much time do you need?
There are travellers who explore the country in just one week. If you make the same choice, be prepared to travel very fast and see only a small part of the country. That is not how we like to visit a country, so we recommend you to take more time. Our advice? Go for two to three weeks!
How much time you need, pretty much depends on your wish to do one or more of the amazing multi-day experiences in Laos! The Gibbon Experience is famous among backpackers and bring you along all kinds of hikes, ziplines and tree houses for three days. And do you want to make a multi-day hike? Or rent a motorbike for the four-day Tha Khaek Loop? Make sure to take this into account when deciding how much time you want to spend in Laos.
How to get around?
The easiest way to travel around the country is by public transport. Pretty much all cities are connected by bus.
Sleeper buses are available for longer distances. We chose to take the night bus from Southern Pakse to the capital Vientiane. It was quite an experience that we often look back on, but it was certainly not something we can recommend you. The bunk beds are very tight. Where we thought we had found the first bed for just one of us, it turned out to be a double bed. And 2 meter long Sebastiaan didn’t fit in it at all. So take the bus, but think twice before taking one during the night.
Do you want to travel through Laos with your own transport? The roads are fairly claim there, certainly in comparison with busier neighbouring countries. So a rental car or motorcycle is definitely an option. We chose to rent motorbikes on the spot to explore the area. Getting around on a motorbike is definitely a must in Laos. Perhaps you even wanna go on a multi-day trip! The best options for that? At Pakse or Tha Khaek. Both options will be included in our travel itinerary below.
The best time to visit Laos
The high season is quite long and runs from approximately October / November to March / April. The temperatures are pleasant and it is not too wet. We travelled around Laos ourselves in January and can definitely recommend that time of the year.
The rainy season is in the summer, so roughly around July and August. Rain showers can be heavy and the land will damp and wet. But we have been told that there are some benefits from all that green: the country is beautifully lush green around that time!
The best travel itinerary for 2 to 3 weeks
Laos is an elongated country, so we recommend a travel itinerary from the south to north or vice versa. That’s just a bit difficult in Laos, as the country has no international airports in the far south. To make it even more complicated: there aren’t many direct flights from non-Asian countries to Laos. But don’t worry. You can easily solve this both and our solution will make your trip even better!
Our solution is not an easy one, it is fantastic: start your trip outside of Laos. To be exact, in Siem Reap in Cambodia. This way you can start your Laos trip with a visit to the majestic temple complex of Angkor Wat. From Siem Reap, you can easily travel to the beautiful islands in the Mekong River in southern Laos. From there you can slowly make your way up north. In northern Luang Prabang, you can board the plane home again. Or continue your trip to northern Thailand or Vietnam of course!
#1 Siem Reap, Cambodia and Angkor Wat. So we start our travel itinerary for Laos a bit unconventionally in neighbouring Cambodia. Book a ticket to the international airport of Siem Reap. And spend at least three days here to visit the impressive temples of Angkor Wat.
#2 The 4000 islands. Take the bus from Siem Reap to southern Laos. Many organisations offer bus options from Siem Reap to this impressive island group in the Mekong River. Make sure to plan a full day for the bus ride, as it can take a while to cross the border. You can arrange your visa on the spot. The islands in the south of Laos are just beautiful! How about idyllic beaches, palm trees, cocktails on the water, canoe trips and river dolphins?The best places to stay are at the popular islands of Don Det and Don Khon.
#3 Pakse. For many travellers, Pakse is just a convenient stopover between the islands and the northern part of Thailand. But the area is beautiful and definitely worth a visit! Rent a motorbike to visit the temples, waterfalls and coffee plantations.
Do you have enough Laos? Then you can travel from Pakse to Tha Khaek (also written as Thakek) first. It is the perfect starting point for The Loop of 500 kilometers. You can cover this drive in about 3 to 4 days by motorbike. The circuit leads you through green rice fields, impressive mountains, and local villages. We heard so many great stories about this experience. So we regret we didn’t have enough time for it!
#4 Vientiane. Take the (night) bus to your next destination: the capital of Laos. This was one of our least favourite places in Laos, to be honest. So if you don’t have enough time? Feel free to skip the capital. The city has beautiful temples and you can have delicious food there, but it wasn’t enough to keep us interested for longer than half a day or so
#5 Vang Vien. Every traveller experiences this river city differently. Some remember it as a place to party and tube down the river while drinking beer. We ourselves chose to explore the beautiful area. On our first day we rented a motorbike to go around the caves and lagoons. The other day we went on a canoe trip on the river and explored a huge cave in a tube!
#6 Luang Prabang. This city is in our opinion the highlight of Laos! The beautiful architecture, relaxed vibe, beautiful temples and delicious food make this place a must. We totally fell in love with Luang Prabang. It is our favourite city in all of Asia.
Is this the end of your trip? Then catch your flight from the international airport of Luang Prabang like we did. But if you want to see even more of Laos, then the Gibbon Experience close to the Thai border or the many hike options in the beautiful landscapes are a must.