Everything You Didn't Know About Laos

by - 3:00 PM


I was gone for a long time this summer. You might have noticed it, that entire month of quiet on this little part of the internet. And you probably already figured out I spent a lot of time in Thailand. That wasn't the only country I visited in Southeast Asia though. No, I was already getting ready to tell you all about the second country, Laos, when I realized most people barely know that it exists. Seriously, you deserve a freaking medal if you can immediately point it out on a map and name its capital. It's a little sad how few tourists visit this place, just because they don't know much about it. Laos deserves so much more love. But then again, barely anyone ever talks about the place. So I figured I'd use this post as an introduction/guidebook to Laos, also known as my favorite Southeast Asian country!

First things first: you'll hear people call this place Laos, Lao and Lay-o. It's pretty confusing, but two out of three are correct and people will know what you mean. Laos is correct in English, Lao is the name of the country in its own language and Lay-o is what you get when people perpetually brain fart.

Laos borders to China in the north and Thailand in the west and southwest, just to give you a general idea of where it is. If you want to visit the country it's easier and cheaper (also a lot more fun) to buy a ticket to Bangkok and travel to Laos from there. You can buy a simple ticket to Laos' capital Vientiane or Luang Prabang, or take the super awesome slow boat. Believe me, you'll want to take the slow boat. First a van will bring you from Chiang Mai to the Thai-Lao border, where you can get a Lao visa on arrival. There you'll board the boat which will take you to Luang Prabang in two days. Some people will turn it into a booze cruise, but once you find the right people it'll be an awesome ride. We had ukulele jam sessions, impromptu Lao language classes and time to rewrite Niall Horan's 'Slow Hands' into 'Slow Boats'. It was pretty great.


Upon arrival you might have a serious culture shock, even if you've been to Thailand first, like me. Laos is similar to Thailand, yet very different. Laos is a former French colony and the French influences are pretty obvious in some parts of the cities. You'll see it in the architecture and food. I've eaten more baguettes and croissants in Laos than the last time I was in France. Speaking French won't get you anywhere though, because barely any Lao speak it. Which doesn't keep the French tourists from expecting everyone to speak French. Don't go for a quick 'bonjour' when greeting someone, it's way better to use the Lao 'sabaidee'. The locals will really appreciate it.
Apart from the French influences there is another thing you'll see everywhere: poverty. I think Laos is the least developed Southeast Asian country after Myanmar. France does help its former colony by subsidizing construction sites, but there's still a long way to go. It can be quite devastating to see. Everything in Laos is super cheap for western tourists because of the poverty. A western tourist is literally a billionaire there, as the local currency is virtually worthless. It's called the 'kip', which is hilarious for Dutch people because that's also the Dutch word for 'chicken'. Not a day could go by without multiple jokes about chicken coops, chicken farms and chickens in general. Anyway, a single kip is equal to €0,0001. Exchanging some money will instantly make you a chicken millionaire. Sorry, bad inside joke.

Once you've got your kips, learned to happily say sabaidee and have explored Luang Prabang, you're probably going to want to see more of the country. Plane tickets to the capital Vientiane are relatively cheap. Bus tickets are even cheaper though, but there's a good reason for that. It's only about 400 kilometers from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, but it'll take you twelve hours by bus. Lao roads are horrible, road sickness waiting to happen. If you do take the bus you can break the journey up by visiting Vang Vieng. The place is famous for it's tubing route down the river, and also for its past full of drug-related deaths. Not the place to be for a goody two-shoes like me.
A good thing about the bus is that you'll get to see the most amazing views. If you can forget about reckless drivers getting you pretty close to your untimely death, you'll love looking out of the windows at a landscape that looks like Ha Long Bay with trees instead of water. Eventually you'll get to Vientiane. Loads of people skip this city, but I think it's worth it to visit the Lao capital. That's another story for another post though. Vientiane was my last stop in Laos and I was sad to leave. Laos deserved more of my time, but I didn't have any more to give...


At the end of my visit I'd fallen in love with Laos. And you know what? I think it deserves better. That's why I'm going to blog about all the Lao awesomeness I encountered this summer. And now that you know the basics of Laos and my route through the country, you're all set to follow me on my journey in blog posts - or visit Laos one day yourself!

x Envy

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8 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Honestly, this sounds like a fantastic trip. I was only vaguely aware that Loas even exists but other than the name I couldn't pinpoint it. However, your post painted a good picture about what a beautiful country it must be. :)

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    1. It was an awesome trip, one I'll never forget. In my high school textbooks there was literally one paragraph about Laos, which was only five lines. It's so sad how Laos is overlooked all the time, so that's why I'm promoting the shit out of it now. I have so much love for the place!

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  2. HI, I have to confess to if not knowing about Laos before reading your post. It looks and sounds like a delightful post to visit. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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    1. There's absolutely no shame in not knowing, there are loads of people who don't know Laos exists! But now you know it does and I'm glad you think it sounds like a great place to visit :)

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  3. I've actually not read any travelogues from Laos before, so I'm quite interested to read the posts you'll be sharing! The slow boat sounds like such a fun, unique way to travel. I think I'd enjoy it! And so funny about the name of the currency, but sad that it has so little value outside Laos.

    xx
    Emily

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    1. Honestly I read literally one post about Laos before I went, then one more when I came home (that one only went up the other week). I hope you'll have time to read the next few posts, I still have about three Lao posts to go.
      I think you'd love the slow boat. I'd never traveled that way before and the experience was amazing. By the way, now you know two farm animals in Dutch and that made me laugh.

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  4. It sounds amazing. I wouldn't have been able to point it out on a map before but now 1) I know it exists and 2) thanks to Google I know where!
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

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    1. Pointing it out is something no one I know can, but knowing it exists is already a big step!

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