Laos is a smart choice for solo travel, particularly if you’re looking for quiet charm and fewer crowds. Often overlooked by its more favourable neighbors of Thailand and Vietnam, Laos remains largely under-the-radar as a travel destination in its own right. It might not have the golden beaches and buzzing metropolises of other nearby countries, but herein lies its appeal.
Vientiane is possibly the world’s sleepiest capital. Instead of skyscrapers and traffic jams, you’ll find tree-lined boulevards and laidback riverside cafes. To the north, Vang Vieng offers outdoor adventure against a spectacular backdrop of towering karst cliffs. But the jewel in the crown is peaceful Luang Prabang, with its spellbinding array of gilded temples and nearby Kuang Si waterfalls.
Ethnic hill tribes populate the forest-clad mountains, while Buddhist monks cloaked in saffron-coloured robes collect alms outside ornate golden temples. The smell of freshly baked baguettes wafts from French colonial shophouses in the likes of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet on the Thai border. From the vivid green rice paddies of the north to the tropical river islands of the south, the country is bound together by its lifeline: the mighty Mekong River.
The people of Laos are among the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere in the world. But if you’d rather not explore entirely alone, Flash Pack’s 10-day Off-grid in Thailand and Laos trip brings together like-minded travelers – all in their 30s and 40s – for adventures and can’t-do-by-yourself activities. Here’s everything you need to know about a group solo trip to Laos.
Laos travel facts
Nestled between China, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is Southeast Asia’s only landlocked country. Set on a broad curve of the Mekong, Vientiane is perhaps the regions most modest capital city, too, a pleasant place to pause for a day or two to witness the 16th-century golden Buddhist temple of Pha That Luang, before continuing on to southern Laos.
From Luang Prabang, one of three Unesco World Heritage Sites, head east to the second, the Plain of Jars, an enigmatic area of giant stone urns dotted across the countryside, or south to Vang Vieng, the adrenaline sports capital of Laos. Here you can go trekking, caving, rock climbing, white water rafting, tubing and kayaking amid some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. North in the province, the quiet town of Nong Khiaw is surrounded by towering limestone peaks, and the laidback village of Muang Ngoi Neua, is accessible only by boat. The town of Luang Namtha is a top spot for visiting the villages of the Lao ethnic hill tribes.
South in Champasak, the third Unesco site, is where you’ll find the hilltop ruins of Vat Phou, the greatest Khmer temples outside of Cambodia. Scattered across the Mekong are the sleepy river islands of Si Phan Don, where you can seek out thundering waterfalls and rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
Is Laos good for solo travel?
Laos is a wonderful country for solo travelers, offering a relaxed environment and excellent value for money. Less developed than other southeast Asian countries, travel can be slow but there’s plenty to discover through history, nature and outdoor adventures. You could find yourself exploring temples and historic sights, trekking through jungle to a remote hill tribe, or rafting down one of the country’s many rivers. But language barriers can be harder to navigate alone so it’s worth considering a group solo trip to Laos with Flash Pack, which will take care of all the logistics, accommodation and domestic travel, with a carefully selected itinerary and immersive local experiences to boot.
Best places to visit in Laos
What should you do on a solo trip to Laos? If you only visit one place, make it Luang Prabang. With its art deco riverside shophouses, weathered colonial facades and saffron-robed monks strolling between ancient gilded temples, it’s a solid contender for Southeast Asia’s most beautiful city. On Flash Pack’s 10-day Off-Grid in Thailand and Laos adventure, as well as visiting the northern reaches of Thailand, you’ll experience much of what Laos has to offer on a two day river cruise. You’ll also a visit a community-run rice farm for some hands-on learning to plant and grow sticky rice, plough the paddies, dip in the Kuang Si waterfall and enjoy a private Baci ceremony hosted by the local community.
Where to stay as a solo traveler in Laos
What are hotels like for solo travel in Laos? Although Laos is often considered more of a budget destination in terms of accommodation, there’s actually a variety of places to stay, from rustic guesthouses to riverfront lodges to serene spa hotels. Larger towns, such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, have the highest standards and the greatest choice, with restored colonial villas and large five-star hotels. Vang Vieng has long been popular with backpackers but has also seen an upsurge in smarter options in recent years.
On a group solo trip to Laos with Flash Pack, luxury accommodation is arranged for you, with a focus on top-notch facilities, authentic local cuisine and indulgent wellness spas. To avoid the single supplement, you’ll have the option to share a room. If you’d rather have a room to yourself, that’s fine, too.
How to get to Laos
Laos has three international airports: in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse. However, there are no direct flights from outside of Asia. If you’re flying from the USA or Europe, you’ll need to connect via Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China or Malaysia.
Many solo travelers visit Laos as part of a wider trip, entering via border crossings from neighboring countries. Private air-conditioned buses are the best way to do this or there are trains from Thailand and China for which you can book tickets online. Alternatively, if you sign up for Flash Pack’s 10-day Off-grid in Thailand and Laos adventure, you’ll enter Laos in the most scenic way possible – a private cruise along the Mekong.
How to get around Laos
The transport infrastructure is basic, so allow yourself plenty of time to get from A to B on your solo travels in Laos, particularly in the mountains. Although the road system has improved significantly, many routes are still unpaved and can become muddy and potholed in the rainy season. Timetables are notoriously unreliable, resulting in the nickname ‘Lao PDR’ (Please Don’t Rush).
Buses provide a great cheap option between towns and regional hubs. On major routes, you can pay a little more to travel in comfort in an air-conditioned VIP coach, while buses in remote areas are still prone to overcrowding and breakdowns. Away from the Mekong Valley, songthaews (converted pick-up trucks) are ubiquitous and can be privately hired. Within towns, samlaw (motorised three-wheeled tuk tuks) and bicycles are the most common form of transport for solo travelers.
With so many navigable waterways, boat travel is very popular, especially along the Mekong, with slow boats or speedboats available. For longer journeys, internal flights are available but you’ll need to book well ahead to secure tickets in high season. With Flash Pack, all internal travel is included and arranged for you with private minibus, tuk tuk and boat.
Best time to visit Laos
The most popular time for a solo trip to Laos is during the relatively cool and dry months of November to March. Temperatures are pleasant, averaging around 20ºC, and the roads are in better condition as they aren’t sodden from tropical rains. Upland areas, like the Plain of Jars plateau north of Vientiane, can be surprisingly chilly though, dropping as low as 8ºC at night.
April to June are the hottest and most humid months, with temperatures reaching 40ºC. The monsoon from May to October can make it harder to get around, although the flora bounces back to a vibrant emerald green and the waterfalls are in full cascade.
Laos travel itineraries
The towns of Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang form the traditional solo traveler itinerary and can be covered in just over a week. On Flash Pack’s Off-grid in Thailand and Laos trip, your Laotian adventure starts in style. Crossing the border at the Golden Triangle (where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand converge), you’ll sail slowly along the Mekong on a two-day private cruise. Passing through gorgeous scenery, you’ll watch local life unfold along the river banks, stopping off at the village of Pakbeng and the Buddha-filled Pak Ou caves.
Arriving in Luang Prabang, you’ll explore the golden temples and wake at sunrise to witness the Buddhist alms-giving ceremony. You’ll even spend the day with a Laotian rice farmer, learning how to plough with a water buffalo. Along the way, there’ll be markets and street food, waterfall swims and tuk tuk adventures, not to mention sunset drinks.
What to pack for solo travel in Laos
For solo travel in Laos, you’ll mainly need lightweight clothes to protect from the sun and keep you cool in the heat. Clothes that cover up your arms and legs are also useful for visiting religious sites, where modesty is appreciated. Take some warmer clothes for chilly evenings, especially in the northern mountains.
Laos might not have a coast, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities for swimming in pools, rivers and waterfalls so bring swimwear. If you’re traveling in the rainy season, an umbrella or light poncho is better than a raincoat, but don’t forget a sunhat and sunscreen as the sun is strong all year round.
Solo travel advice for Laos
Laos is an excellent choice for solo travelers with friendly people, a laid back pace of life and delicious local food. Coffee lovers will also be in heaven – there’s some of the best coffee in Southeast Asia here. Family-style cuisine is based around sticky rice and flavouring from fish sauce, lime juice, chilli and palm sugar.
The low cost of living means your foreign currency goes a long way but Laos remains one of the world’s poorest countries. The standard of transport and accommodation might not always be as you’d expect and you’ll need plenty of patience for unexpected delays. To ensure a smooth visit with the support of a group, Flash Pack’s group solo trip to Laos is led by local experts who will show you the best of their country in a secure and accessible way.
Is it safe to travel solo in Laos?
Thousands of visitors experience solo travel to Laos every year and most trips are trouble-free. However, do check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK), the Department of State Travel Advisories (US) or your country’s local government guidelines for the latest advice before traveling. Once there, follow local advice and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Laos is generally a very safe place to travel. The main religion is Buddhism and locals are kind, gentle and hospitable. As with anywhere, there is a risk of theft or pickpocketing in crowded touristy places, so take precautions to protect your valuables. One safety concern specific to Laos is the risk of unexploded post-war ordnance. As a result, certain areas remain off-limits and it’s inadvisable to strike out into the countryside without following well-trodden paths. A group solo adventure will add an additional layer of safety to any trip, meaning you can travel through Laos’ beautiful landscapes without having to worry about a thing.
Ready for your next adventure? Try group solo travel in Laos with Flash Pack – designed exclusively for people in their 30s and 40s, seeking the independence of solo travel within the safety of a group.
A cool 98% of Flashpackers arrive solo to join our group adventures. So, you’ll be in good company – whether a first time solo traveler or a seasoned pro looking for like-minded new friends.
Images: courtesy of Maison Dalabua, Unsplash and Flash Pack