Thailand shares borders with Laos to the north and northeast. This mountainous and landlocked country is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia and was forgotten by tourists for a long time but nowadays the tourism in Laos grows significantly. The country attracts visitors with its laid-back lifestyle and beautiful landscapes formed by the Mekong River and surrounding mountains. Even if it’s a poor country, prices here are not that low and can be several times that of Thailand.
The kingdom of Laos was first created in 1353 and called Lane Xang ("Million Elephants"). Later it was conquered by Siam but soon overtaken by France which set up Laos as a unified territory. French influence can still be felt in the country’s architecture. During WWII Laos was briefly occupied by Japan and when retaken by France until finally got full independence in 1953. The inner war continued between the Communist Pathet Lao (ally of North-Vietnam) and the monarchy supported by the United States until the fall of Saigon when the communists took control of Vientiane and ended monarchy in Laos. The communists rule the country until now.
Places to visit in Laos
Vientiane - the sleepy capital of Laos located on the Mekong River.
Luang Prabang - historical city with numerous temples and colonial era architecture, which is a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Pakse - city which is gateway to two most important touristic objects in the area - Wat Phu ruins (UNESCO World Heritage Site with Angkor-style Khmer temples) and Si Phan Don (the "four thousand islands" nestled within the Mekong River).
Vang Vieng — small town on the way from Vientiane to Luang Prabang famous as a backpacker hangout for exploring limestone caves in the surrounding area and tubing on the Nam Song River.
Phonsavan – the city mostly visited for nearby Plain of Jars — Iron Age cemetery sites.
Vieng Xai — the village famous for the surrounding complex network of caves which was home to the Pathet Lao leadership and thousands of civilians during the 'Secret War'.
Thais and other ASEAN nationals as well as Russians, Korean, Japanese, Swiss can enter Laos "visa free". Tourists of all other nationalities need a tourist visa issued by a Lao embassy/consulate or visa on arrival.
Laos Tourist Visa
Tourist visas can be obtained from Lao embassies/consulates. In Thailand you can get Lao visa from the embassy in Bangkok or at the consulate in Khon Kaen. A tourist visa costs around 1,400 baht for most nationalities and extra 200 baht if you want it to be processed the same day. It's cheaper and faster to get a visa on arrival at the border.
Laos Visa on Arrival
A visa on arrival can be obtained at the international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, and at all border crossings, including the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai in Thailand and Vientiane. Fees vary depending on the nationality (Visa cost ranges from 20 USD to 42 USD) and the time of arrival (extra 1 USD is charged if arriving out of working time). Most of the countries need to pay 30 USD. The fee for the visa should be paid in US dollars as it’s the cheapest option. If only possible, you should avoid paying in Thai Baht as the exchange rate is really bad at Lao immigration - paying in USD can save you about 10 USD.
When applying for a tourist visa or visa on arrival, one passport photo usually is required.
Getting to Laos
From Thailand you can get to Laos by plane or by land.
Flights to Laos
The international airports at Vientiane and Luang Prabang are served by national carrier Lao Airlines and a few others, including AirAsia, Thai Airways, and Bangkok Airways.
There are plenty of options to choose from when flying from Bangkok to Vientiane's Wattay Airport (VTE). This is the only direct route from Thailand to the capital of Laos which is served by Lao Airlines, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and low cost carrier Air Asia.
Luang Prabang International Airport (LPQ) receives direct flights from two cities in Thailand. Direct flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang are offered by low cost carrier Air Asia and full service airlines such as Lao Airlines, Thai Airways, and Bangkok Airways. There is also a direct route from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang which is served by Lao Airlines.
There is a cheaper option for getting to Vientiane - you can fly to Udon Thani International Airport (UTH) in Thailand with low cost airlines Air Asia or Nok Air and then take a shuttle bus from the airport to the border at Nong Khai or take a direct bus from the city of Udon Thani to Vientiane.
Arriving to Laos Overland
Most border crossings from Thailand to Laos are open for foreigners and visas on arrival can be issued there.
There are 8 Thailand-Laos border crossings open to all and the most popular of them are:
- Chiang Khong / Huay Xai – Thai side is well connected to Chiang Rai, the route is mostly used for reaching Luang Prabang from Northern Thailand.
- Tha Li / Nam Hueng - Thai side is easily reached from Loei, the border crossing used when taking a direct bus from Loei to Luang Prabang.
- Nong Khai / Vientiane – the first Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge is the busiest land crossing between these two countries. For detailed information on using this border crossing check Border Crossing: Thailand to Laos via the Friendship Bridge.
- Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek – the third Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge.
- Mukdahan / Savannakhet - the second Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge is convenient crossing for making a visa run and getting new Thai visa at Thai Consulate – General in Savannakhet.
- Chong Mek / Vang Tao – border crossing mostly used traveling from Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse.
Weather in Laos
The dry season in Laos lasts from November to March. During this time low rainfall is expected and temperatures in mountainous areas can get as low as 15°C or even 0°C at night higher in the mountains. The dry season is the peak tourist season in Laos.
The hot season in Laos lasts from March to May. It’s not unusual for temperatures to get as high as 40°C. During the hot season little rain is expected.
The wet season in Laos lasts from May to October. This season is slightly cooler but temperatures are still around 30°C. Laos is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall is at its heaviest. The rain can be heavy and constant enough, traditionally reaching peak levels in July and August. The peak of rainy season in Laos usually starts a bit earlier than in Northern and Northeast Thailand.
Useful tips for traveling in Laos can be found here: Laos Travel Tips.