What to expect
Laos is a great destination all year round and it will be up to you to decide when you want to go, depending on your preferences and the regions you want to visit. Laos is a landlocked country. No beaches means that visiting Laos requires more preparation than simply knowing when it’s raining or not. This little guide will help you to take the right decision and will answer the questions that will come to your mind when planning your trip to Laos.
How Many Seasons Does Laos Have?
The cold season, sometimes referred as cool season or winter, is determined and regulated by the North-East monsoon which brings on Laos good weather, dry air and cooler temperature, especially at night and on the mountainous region.
When we say that it starts in November, it is of course just an estimation based on historic records. It’s impossible to define a precise date when the rain stops every year and sometimes you can see the phenomenon starting already in the second half of October.
The colder months are December and January and in the North there are places where occasionally the temperatures go down close to the freezing point at night. This is not the normality, but it’s better to keep it in mind when travelling the region. In the center and the south however it’s extremely rare to see the temperatures going under 15 degrees. In February it starts to become hotter and hotter.
The extremely low level of humidity makes it pleasant to travel everywhere in Laos even on a hot day. The temperature at noon can be close to 30 degree (or occasionally even higher in the south), but it will be a lot more bearable when compared to the same temperature during the rainy season.
Cold season is great for
The cold season is the best time of the year to visit Laos and it is considered high season. Going trekking, visiting National Parks, wandering around towns, travelling the Mekong by boat; everything is more pleasant due to the lower temperatures, the clear sky, and the dry air. Since it just came out of the long rainy season, the nature is still lush, the waterfalls are full, and the water level of the rivers is high enough to make all the boat trips possible. And the absence of heavy storms makes everything also safer.
Cold season is not great for
The only downside of travelling in the cool season is that you can expect hotel rates higher in some place, considerably higher in the peak weeks around Christmas. In those places which apparently don’t apply different rates, it generally means that the rates are not negotiable, which is instead quite common in the low season.
With the temperatures going up both at night and during the day, and no sign of rain coming to give a bit of refresh, the hot season in March and April might be a really hard time to travel for everyone who doesn’t cope well with extreme heat.
It’s worth noticing that this is not the case of the mountainous regions where the temperatures can be significantly colder when compared to the lowlands. Another factor which makes uncomfortable to travel during this periods is the habit of the farmers to set the fields on fire to improve the soil fertility, causing big areas to be constantly smoggy and unpleasant for the eyes.
Towards the second half of April, occasional afternoon showers might occur, but the intensity and the duration are normally low enough to be seen as a short blessing rather than a problem.
Hot season is great for
This is the best season for people interested in cultural events. Most of the festivals happen in fact during this time of the year, since historically this is the time to pray the gods for an abundant rainy season. The Lao New Year which takes place in mid-April consists of three days of celebrations and parades. The whole country stops and everyone will be on the street splashing each other with icy cold water. Not only a lot of fun, but a much needed refreshment when it’s almost 40 degrees. The rocket festival which takes place at the end of April or beginning of May is another festival happing everywhere in the country (and in Isaan in Thailand) celebrating the coming wet season.
Hot season is not great for
If you struggle with the heat this is definitely not a good time to visit Laos. Even an half an hour stroll in a city can be a nightmare, let alone a multi days trekking in a natural park. And even if in the north and on the mountains the temperatures are not as high, the nature is suffering after 5 months of drought and everything looks dry. The water level in the rivers is at its minimum making it impossible boat trips at certain times.
The rainy season lasting from May till October is generally characterized by a few hours of rain in the late afternoon which is determined by the South-West monsoon which affects every country in South East Asia. The intensity and the frequency of the rain can vary depending by the month and the region. July, August and September are the worst months in terms of days of rain, mm of precipitations and strength of the storm.
Even if the monsoon hit uniformly all the country, it is generally a bit lighter on the west on the South, while the North and the East seem to receive more rain. This is also due to the seasonal typhoons which hit Asia coming from the South China Sea between August and October, adding more rain and powerful storms to the monsoon. They usually badly affects the coast of Vietnam where they lose big part of their power, but they can occasionally reach also the eastern part of Laos.
During the whole season the temperatures can be really high before the daily rain shower and the high level of humidity can be hard to bear. But when the rain comes they can drop down quite quickly (almost never below 23 degrees) and this will guarantee a good night of sleep.
Rainy season is great for
This is when Mother Nature shows its power, and the natural wonders are at their best. The waterfalls are powerful, the forest are lush and green, and the rivers are full. Boat trips are available everywhere with slow boats, while it will be more dangerous with speed boats. This is also the less visited season, so you can expect no crowd anywhere and you’ll have more power to get a good deal on the hotel rate.
Rainy season is not great for
It might sound a bit obvious, but if you don’t like rain don’t travel in this season. There’s no way you’ll be lucky enough to have a week straight without precipitation, and even if they normally last for few hours it can occasionally go on all day long with high intensity. As a result of that delays on transportations can be expected, floods might happen and the roads will be in poor conditions. Even if most of National Parks are open all year round, some of the attractions might be impossible to reach, and trekking independently is not a good idea.
Regions in Laos: the Best Time to Go by Month
The best time remains the cool season even if it can be slightly overcrowded in some period, especially Luang Prabang. Here is where the temperatures reach their minimum in Laos, so be prepared to cold nights in December and January. During the day the temperatures hardly get higher than 26 degrees, making the weather perfect for any kind of activity. The sky can be occasionally cloudy even in this season, but rain is still an exception.
During the hot season temperatures can be a bit more bearable than in the south, but expect the waterfall around Luang Prabang to be in poor conditions.
The rainy season is still a wonderful time to visit the region, admitting you’ll be prepared to some delay and occasional floods.
Central Laos is where the capital Vientiane is situated. While many people visit it just for a few days to get a new Thai Visa (and in this case the weather is quite irrelevant), more and more come to discover the natural attractions and outdoor opportunities of the nearby Vang Vieng, which was unfortunately popular just as a party destination until few years ago.
If nature is what you’re looking for the early dry season is the best time to visit to be sure that everything is still lush and impressive. The low temperature will help anyone looking for a trekking experience. We would avoid the hot season while the rainy season can be a beautiful surprise for more adventurous people.
In the south of Laos the differences between cold and hot season is less evident with temperatures that can easily reach 30 degrees and more during the day in December and January. Even at night it never gets as cold as it does in the north.
The rainy season of the provinces near the Mekong is slightly less strong, but the area around the river can still experience floods. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to visit Si Phan Don, Savannakhet and Pakse instead can be a good destination all year round.
Travel Tips – What to Pack
Regardless the period you travel and your destination don’t forget to bring with you a good sun screen with high protection. Laos has no beaches so people tend to forget about it, but the damages the hot tropical sun can do just on your face shouldn’t be overlooked. This is even more important in the cold season, when because of the lower temperatures you’ll spend more time walking in the sun without feeling uncomfortable.
Cotton clothes are a good choice all year round, and a bath suit is a must for a dip in a waterfall or in the river. When visiting a temple women are required to cover their shoulder and knees, while even if it’s not a strict rule, men should avoid sleeveless t-shirt. Keep this in mind when packing you bag.
A light jacket is enough when travelling in the south while in the north heavier clothes are necessary in the cold season. A jumper is always a good idea if you’re using buses as a mean of transportation. An overnight trip in an air-conditioned bus with just a light t-shirt will be a nightmare.
A rain coat is a must during the rainy season. An umbrella is also a good idea, but it will be completely useless during a heavy storm. During this season mosquito can be really nasty, so a mosquito spray is highly recommended as long as long cotton trousers if you want to protect your legs better at night.
Regarding shoes, sandals and flip flops are everything you need to move around towns, while sneakers or trekking shoes are needed if you plan to go hiking. Leaches socks are recommended if you’re going trekking during the rainy season.