Many people wouldn’t even know where, Luang Prabang, Laos is without looking at the map but this landlocked nation steeped in history is the safest country to visit in South East Asia after COVID19. Read on to find out why and what you can do in this offbeat gem.
At the beginning of 2020 when I decided to spend my new year holidays in Singapore and Laos, it wasn’t even in my wildest dreams that a deadly virus will halt our movement and change our lives forever. Although COVID-19 started from China before becoming a global pandemic, most people still see China and its neighbouring Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos as not safe to visit.
The situation has changed now, and today Laos is one of the safest countries to visit in South East Asia after Coronavirus outbreak. It was never too bad in Laos – just 19 cases with zero deaths, and on June 10 the Southeast Asian nation declared itself free of the coronavirus. No wonder many International health organisations lauded Laos for its timely response to contain the novel coronavirus.
Life after Lockdown
As the world is slowly marching towards the new normal after stringent lockdowns, many people have started taking short road-trips or have at least started thinking to travel once again. In the upcoming months, once the COVID19 is controlled and quarantine rules are relaxed, domestic travel will pick up followed by international travel through a new trend called ‘travel bubble’. Travel bubble or a travel corridor is a new term coined for an exclusive partnership between neighbouring and nearby countries to open borders and allow people to travel freely within the zone without needing to undergo on-arrival quarantine.
If you are one of those people who wants to travel but is unsure of where to go post coronavirus, this post is for you. I highly recommend you to visit Laos as it is the safest country to visit in South East Asia after Coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, you’ll be completely bowled over by its rustic, authentic Asian beauty, that’s impossible to find anywhere else. Here nature is as vivid as the colours of a rainbow, landscapes as stunning as the screensavers of your computer, culture as rich as the history of Buddhism. It is an enigmatic experience that will bring you up-close to the painful past and optimistic future of a tiny land-locked nation. But let’s first talk about how Laos handled the coronavirus.
How Laos handled the COVID 19?
After the first two COVID19 cases were confirmed on March 24, Laos imposed strict measures to contain the pandemic, which included the mandatory lockdown of all citizens except to buy essentials or visit hospitals. Borders were sealed, and domestic travel to other provinces was prohibited. Bars, restaurants, gyms and markets were closed too.
As per the government claims, aggressive testing of migrant workers and travellers entering the country, Laos was able to achieve the lowest number of cases in Southeast Asia. Till date, there have been just 19 COVID19 positive cases and zero fatalities.
After 33 days of no new infections recorded in Laos, the restrictions were eased at the end of May, with the opening of businesses, educational centres and both Indoor and outdoor sports activities but the borders remain shut, except for urgent cases with special authorisation. Large gatherings are still banned, you can’t organise a party or visit night markets, beer shops, online game shops, karaoke venues, cinemas, casinos, and team sports tournaments.
When will it be safe to visit Laos again
While Laos has shown no new cases, the country is taking baby steps to revive its economy and tourism. As on June 30, Laos’ 7 million citizens can travel domestically, though foreign travellers are currently not allowed to enter Laos except in very limited cases. Passenger flights out of Laos have stopped, and land borders remain closed.
So, it won’t be wrong to say that once the COVID19 curve is flattened in most countries with no second wave, it would be safe to travel again to Laos and other countries. On a safer side, you can say, foreigners can enjoy the Christmas and New Year holidays in Laos. It’s a very safe country for both solo travellers as well as group travellers.
So, if you want to take a quick international trip, Laos might be the best place. While there are many unique places to visit, my favourite is Luang Prabang.
What’s unique about Laos?
Until I visited Laos, I never knew that Laos is run by a communist government with Buddhist ethos. It’s one of only five remaining communist countries in the world (the others being China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba).
Here are the 15 must-do things in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang, Laos has so many exciting things to experience – whether you’re interested in exploring the nature, learning more about local culture, walking through beautiful temples and monasteries, or shopping in local markets for tasty treats and souvenirs. Don’t miss these 15 top experiences in Luang Prabang, the former Royal capital of Laos.
- Start your day by witnessing the Alms Ceremony
- Invoke the adventurer in you by kayaking on the Mekong River
- Go on day trips from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou Caves & Whisky village
- Visit Kuang Si Waterfall and Rescued Bear Centre
- Cross the Bamboo Bridge at dawn
- Shop local knick-knacks at local day markets
- Enjoy exquisite Fusion Cuisine
- Bike around the UNESCO World Heritage city
- Visit 30+ Buddhist Temples and witness the evening prayers
- Marvel the unique architecture of the old French Town
- Shop authentic souvenirs at the Night Market
- Relish the Street Food at night market from 5 pm until around 10 pm every night
- Double the fun with free drinks during happy hour at Mad Monkey
- Enjoy fun-filled Games Nights at Mad Monkey Hostel
- And wrap up the night with community dining every night at Mad Monkey
Here is a video about my experience in Luang Prabang.
Travel Tips to visit Luang Prabang, Laos
- How to get a visa for Laos: 30-day visas are available on arrival at all international airports and most international border crossings. Make sure your passport has six-month validity and has two blank pages. The whole process is straightforward. All you need is US$30 -US$42 (depending on your nationality) in cash, one passport-sized photo and the name of a hotel or guesthouse where you are staying. Japanese citizens and Cambodians do not need a visa.
- When is the best time to visit Laos: November to February when it’s the cool and dry season with the temperature reaching a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius during the daytime, but the evenings and early mornings can be quite chilly. Carry a thin fleece or a light jacket.
- How to reach Laos: Flying is the easiest way to get into Laos. I flew in from Bangkok which has regular flights to Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse. You can also travel by road, train or boats from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.
- How much does it cost to visit Laos: dinner at a local street stall costs around $2-$3, at a cheap local place for $4-$5 and famous touristy spots it can cost $10-15 for a meal. A massage costs about $5 at a small place and approx. $15 at a fancier spa. As far as daily budget is concerned per person for accommodation, food & a beer, it could be anywhere between Budget traveller- $18-$25 (budget travel), $30-$80 (mid-range) and $100 and above (deluxe).
- Where to stay in Laos: No fancy big hotels here but you can find accommodation from as low as $3 on Don Det for $3 to a suite at the Lao Plaza Hotel for $530. I stayed at Mad Monkey Hostel, which was 900 metres away from the night market. The best part about the hostel was its on-site bar and café, which worked as a community place to meet fellow travellers. Besides, there was free Wi-Fi, rooftop outdoor pool, sun terrace, free parking space. While the city centre wasn’t far off you could avail the facility of daily complimentary shuttles to and fro from the centre point. Also, the hostel organises day tours to several attractions such as Kuang Si Waterfall, Pak Ou caves and Whisky village. Motorbike and bicycle rental are available upon request. What I loved the most about the hostel besides its friendly staff was its lively vibe – every night there’s a happy hour serving free drinks, community dinner serving a different kind of cuisine and activity nights to wrap up a fun day. It’s a great way to break the ice with strangers.
- What kind of currency is used in Laos: Cash is still the king in Laos, and the official currency is the Kip, approximately USD$1 is 9000 Kip. Dollars and Thai baht are also accepted, but most people will be happier to be paid in Kip as it is easier for them to calculate, and you even end up getting a better deal. Some hotels will accept credit cards but may charge a fee (usually at least 3%) to use them. ATMs, as well as money changers, are available in most cities. However, every time you withdraw money, you’ll be charged a fee of 1-5 dollars in addition to the fee of your Bank.
- What are some good souvenirs to buy: Lao handicrafts such as wood carvings, silk scarves and silk fabric, silver items, souvenirs made from unexploded shells of the bombs, weaving products, bamboo products, and T-shirts. I loved the Lao coffee, Lao whisky and wine, and jeobong (spicy paste famous in Luang Prabang).
Have you been to Luang Prabang, Laos? If yes, how was your experience? Which country do you think is the safest country to visit in South East Asia after Coronavirus outbreak