I spent a lot of time travelling in 2016, but one of the countries I was quite excited to visit was Laos courtesy of Silkair. Considering that Laos is just 3 hours away from Singapore, it is surprising that I’d never considered visiting Laos before as a long weekend getaway option – quite honestly I don’t think I had any clear sense of its culture before this and it’s never been a country on my radar.
I was pretty lucky to be one of those on the inaugural Silkair flight from Singapore to Laos – the first time my plane has been greeted by water cannons! And after spending just 5 days in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, it’s a place I think you definitely need to visit soon before everyone and their mother discovers it.
(Funnily enough, my mum actually booked her trip to Laos 2 weeks after me, so you know, get clicking!)
WHY LAOS FOR YOUR NEXT VACATION?
When it comes to travel, Singaporeans are terribly predictable. Long weekend getaway? Pretty high chance it’s going to be Bali, Bangkok, Penang or if a little further, Taipei or Hong Kong. We’re pragmatic people and with a short amount of time, we like easy.
The Occasional Traveller is all about the easy – and I’ve been to each of these cities listed above multiple times myself – 5x each for Bangkok and Bali! But I’m also about veering off that trodden path when you can, and going somewhere a little different from where all the other tourists are going while still managing your precious holiday time.
And now with direct flights to the two major cities in Laos, there’s really no reason not to go there anymore. And you need to get there before you start hearing too many Singaporean accents on the streets. I swear that Bangkok’s Chaktuchak market feels a bit like being at home…
Silkair has 3 flights to Laos on Mon, Thur and Sat and flies the loop Singapore > Vientiane (VTE) > Luang Prabang (LPQ) > Singapore. So you can fly directly up to Vientiane, and fly back direct from Luang Prabang, which is great if you plan to visit both cities!
Lao Airlines is its codeshare partner* and has 3 flights to Laos as well on Wed, Fri and Sun, but it flies Singapore – Vientiane – Luang Prabang, which basically means you have to stopover in Vientiane getting to and fro from Luang Prabang.
*Eventually you should be able to book your own flights across Silkair and Lao Airlines websites – last I checked the websites still show only each airline’s dates as they are still finalising this recent agreement, but travel agents should be able to get you the flights you need.
I put it in table format below:
Mon / Thur / Sat
|DEP 1320||ARR 1515
Wed / Fri / Sun
|DEP 1415||ARR 1610
Wed / Fri / Sun
|NA||NA||DEP 0740||ARR 0825
The flight from Singapore to Vientiane is just under 3 hours, and Laos is 1 hour behind Singapore time. I like the Silkair timings because you can check straight into your hotel once you land in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, and you have till lunch time at least to try and maximise your time in Laos before returning to Singapore, and it’s not too late if you need to get into work the next day.
Some suggestions on when to fly and taking leave:
- Vientiane only: Fly up Silkair on Saturday / Fly back Silkair on Monday – 2 days is quite sufficient if you just want to see the city sights and then spend some time cafe hopping. Only 1 day of leave needed.
- Luang Prabang only: Fly up on Silkair on Thursday / Fly back Lao Airlines on Sunday or Silkair on Monday – I think there’s a little more to see around Luang Prabang so you need more time there. You’ll need 2-3 days of leave. If you only had time for one city, I’d suggest Luang Prabang because I think it’s more interesting overall.
- Vientiane and Luang Prabang: We spent 6D5N exploring both Vientiane and Luang Prabang, which sounds like a lot of time but it probably is enough to cover the main highlights. The best option then would be fly up Silkair on Saturday to VTE / Transit to LPQ via Lao Airlines / Fly back Silkair on Thursday – that’s 4 days of leave for 6D5N, or you could just take 5 days and fly back on Saturday then you can do 8D7N and still have Sunday to recover before heading back into work
ERM, WHERE IS LAOS?
Many people know it’s somewhere in South-east Asia but don’t exactly have a sense of where exactly it is.
Just remember that Laos is the only landlocked country in SEA – that means no beaches and coastlines, and that it’s smack in the middle of all the IndoChina countries and has borders with 5 countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Yunnan in China. Because of this close distance, you can see a lot of intermingling of these countries cultures all in Laos.
BEST TIME TO GO TO LAOS
The peak season for Laos is in November and December because of good weather – it’s cool and dry during this period, particularly up in Luang Prabang which is hilly so it’s generally cooler than Vientiane. I visited in early November which was actually pretty nice – the nights were starting to get cooler though the days still felt pretty hot, and it wasn’t too crowded.
Pack a light jacket for the cool mornings and nights during this time, but you’ll need a good sweater when it gets colder – it apparently snowed for the first time in Luang Prabang last year, but that’s pretty exceptional!
January and February are also good months for IndoChina region in general. Laos gets most happening in April when its Laos New Year and they celebrate something similar to that of Thailand’s Songkran water festival – you can expect everywhere to be quite booked up and crowded then!
LAOS ESSENTIALS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Laos uses the Kip – you’re unlikely to find anyone in Singapore who will change that currency for you, not even at the airport! Your next best bet is the USD which is also accepted quite widely in Laos – ask for small change if possible. If you go to Thailand a lot, you could also try to use the Thai Baht. Remember to change your Lao Kip back before heading back to Singapore (unless you’re planning to go again of course!).
The rough exchange rate when I was there worked out to about roughly 60,000 Kip to SG$10, or about 80,000 Kip to US$10.
Kip can be a bit confusing because some of the numerals on the notes are in Lao, so you often have to do a it of flipping around to find the correct number. Sometimes you’ll pay in USD and get Kip in change.
I had a Lao Telecom SIM Card with 5GB of data for 60,000 Kip – that’s 10,000 for the SIM card and 50,000 for 5GB/30days worth of data. Connection and speeds were quite decent overall.
What to wear
As in the video – both downtown Vientiane and Luang Prabang are pretty walkable cities where most of the sights are not too far apart, so a good pair of walking shoes is essential.
There are lots of temples to visit, you need to have your knees and shoulders covered and take off your hat when you visit. It’s useful to bring around a scarf or sarong, though they usually have some at the entrances of most temples if you forget. They are quite strict about his covering up rule, some more so than others, do follow as a sign of respect for their culture.
Big ups to my fellow media and bloggers on the trip! Check out #SilkAirMarvelLaos (LOL the hashtag I know) on instagram for more of our antics in Laos – we had a ball of fun hanging out together 🙂 Spot them in the video!
AND… CONTEST (OVER!)
I hope I’ve convinced you to consider Laos for your next getaway! And to get you going, Silkair is kindly offering one of you, one of my lucky readers, one economy class ticket to fly up to Laos in December 2016! I’m going to make it easy for you to participate by holding a raffle – tons of ways for you to earn more chances to win.
Take note of the T&Cs, but some points to highlight:
- You need to travel in December 2016, no extensions
- This only covers the flight ticket for 1pax, everything else is at your own cost
- The rafflecopter widget will close on 22nd Nov 2016, 12am