If you are ever interested in visiting Laos whether it is for families or fun, here are a few key items to note down:

1. Decide what time of the year you want to go
The best time I recommend for you to visit Laos is between November through April. Although that is considered their dry season, the weather is nice with a hint of cool air. There are also plenty of local cultural events and festivals to explore in the country. The wet season is from May to October and is wet and soggy. Depending on the road conditions, it may be tough to get around in rural areas.

2. Apply for your passport months prior to the trip
You will definitely need it to enter Laos. Do it ahead of time so that you don’t have to pay an extra rush fee. The passports can be processed within a month without a late fee but don’t risk it. In the U.S., you can apply at your local post office or go through the US Department to find information and forms for applying for a passport.

2. Start searching for your flight ticket early
Whether you want to use a travel agency or just google it yourself, it doesn’t hurt to start early. The earlier the search, the cheaper the flights will be. Flights to Laos during the dry season are the most expensive ranging from at least $1000 and up per ticket. During the rainy season, the prices usually drop really low. Flights are never direct and usually require a connection in some other countries such as Thailand, Tapei, and Vietnam depending on where you are flying from.

I recommended going through a travel agency because they can help you find the lowest deal regardless of the season although it may not always be the best flight times.

3. File for your visa to enter Laos
Entering Laos requires a visa and there are two options on how to do this.
Option A: You can file via the Laos Embassy in the U.S. if you want to be prepared ahead of time. The cost in the is about $50 per visa application and will require at least three weeks to process. You are required to send your original passports to the Laos Embassy and they will return everything back along with the visa once the application is approved and processed.

Option B: Apply for a visa once you landed in the country. I did this process because I was short on time and it only costed me $35 US per visa application. You will have to wait in line at the Visa counter to process it but the flight attendant will come around and ask you before you land if you need a visa application.

4. Get the proper vaccinations
If you have never been out of the country, to Laos, or Southeast Asia, be sure you check in with your doctor for the proper vaccinations and antibiotics at least a month before your trip. You can read about a list of vaccinations for Laos in this blog post.

5. Be prepared to have small bills for tipping Although there are signs everywhere at the airport that states that the country does not support tipping, the staff and people around the airport may ask for tips. I want to believe this was a gentle gesture from a visitor a long time ago and now, it has become a part of the norm for airport staff to ask for tips.

5. Pack a light carry-on
When I say pack light, I mean the size of a backpack. The Laotian plane is tiny and will not be able to hold any carry-on luggage bags that are bigger than 15LBs on the upper shelves.

Packing for trips to the Hmong Villages and around the City

Shoes: Depending on what season you go, a pair of sturdy flip-flops and one pair of closed toed shoe will suffice your trip. Flip-flops are extremely popular and flip-flops are available for less than $2 around the village markets.

Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock lotion, bug repellent spray, body soap, shampoo, conditioner, napkins, floss, and rolls of toilet paper (yes, toilet paper. They do sell them but they are thinner than the quality here in the U.S.)

A few extras for the women (if necessary): hand wipes, hand sanitizer, face wipes, makeup remover sheets, face cleanser, hair ties, dry shampoo (if you won’t have access to water for a couple of days).

Photo Equipments: camera, camcorder, sd memory cards, charger, extra batteries, and charger adapter (Walmart have a wonderful travel kit for any part of the world in the Travel Section for $19.99).

Sleeping: bed sheets, carry-on blankets, and flashlights.

Medicines: Advil, Anti-itch cream, malaria pill, upset stomach pills, daily vitamins, Tylenol, gums, first aid kit, and pain killers. ( I ended up using my first aid kit due to an unexpected fall—be prepared for the unexpected.)

Clothes:
The temperature tend to be hot during the day and cool at night depending on what area of Laos you are at but be sure to pack at least a warm jacket/sweater and comfortable loose-fitting clothes. In the villages, most women are still dressed in long skirts, and does not reveal their legs so short-shorts will not be appropriate. Note: your clothes will get so dirty from all the dirt around so I suggested packing clothes that are easy to wash (hand-wash) and dry).

Travel Accessories: daytime travel bag, a undetected pouch to keep your money and passports safe from possible thieves and locks for your suitcases.( Also at Walmart).

A few other items to consider: Any non-perishable food that you might crave. 🙂

We arrived 2 hours early at the airport for our morning flight back to Hanoi, Vietnam only to find out that our flight was delayed. We debated for a good minute about going back into town to sightsee, but between catching a ride back and the possibly of not getting back in time for our flight, we ended up waiting at the airport for another 8 hours. Unlike other international airports, you can not check in until the hour before your flight depart from the Vientiane airport. The airport was small and did not offer too many options for entertainment, but I had fun watching random people interacting until it was time to check in. 🙂

My parents and I went shopping at the famous open market (Talaso) in Vientiane on our last day in the country. Everything was so cheap, and I admitted, I ate almost 5lbs of Lychee AND 5lb Logans by myself. Ah, the trip was worth it just getting to eat those fresh fruits.

That evening, my cousins took us to explore an area in the city that was built by Japan along the Mekong River and right across from the Thailand border. It had a modern feel compared to the rest of the developing city and provided a space for walkers and joggers. It felt wierd to be standing on a boardwalk that looked so similar to Santa Cruz, CA yet was a world’s apart from California.

We left the Hmong villages on our 18th day and spent the day touring the Laos National Zoo, a 1.5 – 2 hours drive south of the capitol. It was definitely not what I expected and the animals looked so mal-nourished and sad, but I’m surprised by the number of animals they had there, especially crocodiles and alligators. There was also a really, really ugly camel that stuck out its tongue every time we walked by and a dancing elephant.

While we were living in the refugee camps in Thailand, my aunt left the family and got married. I was too young to remember her but my family spoke of “the aunt who got left behind” all the time growing up. My aunt and I met for the first time. She lived two hours east of Nong-Hai Village. Her house was nested between two hills, the north side led to a Laos Village and the south side led to a Hmong Village, and the closest market was an hour car ride away. Apparently, she had just moved to this part of town and was currently the only resident on the block.

This morning at 4am, we caught the first bus out of Nasavang Village and headed to Nong-Hai, a Hmong Village about a 4 hours drive south of Nasavang, where my mom’s sister lived. Unlike Nasavang where villagers were extremely mal-nourished due to limited access to food, Nong-Hai had tons of food markets and people actually looked healthier. Nong- Hai was also one of the only village in the surrounding areas with a post office.

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