Capital City: Vientiane
Climate: Tropical monsoon
International Dialing Code: +856
Prime Minister: Phankham Viphavanh
The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, Laos, boasts uniquely beautiful landscapes featuring ancient temples, tropical jungles, mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. One of Laos’ distinctive qualities is that it is off the beaten tourist track, making it one of the least visited destinations in Southeast Asia. Laos’ characteristic laid-back feel is perfect for expats who want to immerse themselves in tranquility and live off-the-grid.
Laos is a relatively small country, with a population of about 7.5 million people. Sharing its borders with Myanmar (formerly Burma), Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, Laos has often acted as a buffer between its more powerful neighbors throughout history.
There is evidence of human activity in Laos dating back at least 50,000 years. However, it wasn’t until 1353 when the first official Lao kingdom was founded. Since then, Laos has endured rulerships from Japan, France, and Thailand, finally gaining independence in 1953. Despite wanting to stay neutral, Laos suffered terribly during the Vietnam war, and as a result, is the most bombed country in the world (per capita) to this date.
In 1975 the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was founded, and a communist regime took over as Laos recovered from its years of horrific violence. Now, Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies, with initiatives to sell hydropower to its neighbors successfully generating income for the country.
Laos has a hot tropical climate, with a monsoon season lasting from May to October. Temperatures are hottest during this period, with highs of 105℉ in some areas. The rest of the year sees little rainfall, with a cool period from November to February, after which it starts to heat up again in March and April. This climate is optimum for growing rice, coffee, cotton, and tropical fruits, which are Laos’ main source of income.
Improving the country’s infrastructure is the Laos government’s current priority, to maintain its steadily growing economy. The recent extension of China’s high-speed railway into Laos aims to change the country from land-locked to land-linked, improving trade connections between Laos and its neighbors.
Lao, or Laotian, is the official language of Laos, although up to 80 minority languages are spoken around the country. Most people in the capital, Vientiane, and other busy tourist areas will speak at least basic English, some of the older generations, too, having used it during the Vietnam war. There is also a high level of French spoken across Laos, after the French occupation of the country. If you have a few words of French, Lao, and of course, English, you should get by just fine in Laos.
The cost of living in Laos has slowly crept up as the economy gained traction in the last 20 years. Yet, for anyone coming from the States, Canada, or Europe, the cost of living in Laos is incredibly cheap. Since Laos is a communist state, investing in property here is not easy for foreigners, but the extremely low rent rates make up for this. You can rent a two-bed condo, complete with a swimming pool, in a gated community just outside Vientiane for as little as US$400 a month.
Save money on groceries by picking up fresh, locally grown produce at the farmer’s markets. Buying imported products will cost you significantly more, so keep these out of your weekly shop if you are on a budget. Utilities, eating out, entertainment, and public transport in Laos are a fraction of the cost of what you would pay in the States.
The public health care system in Laos falls behind Western standards. Due to under-funding, the equipment is basic, and many hospitals are understaffed. Private clinics, found mainly in Vientiane, are better. Many have modern facilities, English-speaking doctors, and a high level of care.
Unfortunately, even these private clinics often lack the provisions to deal with medical emergencies and treat serious illnesses. For this reason, many expats choose to include medical evacuation on their private health insurance plan when living in Laos. This means that if any serious medical issue arises, you can be brought to nearby Vietnam, Thailand, or Singapore and receive appropriate treatment under your insurance.
There are no direct flights from the United States to Laos, so you will need to make one or two stopovers on your journey. Connecting flights are usually from Bangkok, or if you are flying from the east coast, you may need to make a stop in Hong Kong first.
When you have landed in Laos, you can decide to make one last flight to your final destination or take a bus, taxi, or rent a car. Lao Airlines provides domestic flights around the country, but it’s a small airline, so flights are limited and fares can be expensive.
Laos’ capital, Vientiane, is a wonderful retirement destination. The city has a relaxed feel, with plenty to see and do. Laos’ French colonial past can be observed in the colonial architecture which makes up the city center. This European architecture lies side by side ancient Buddhist temples creating a unique fusion of European and Southeast Asian heritage.
Vientiane is an ideal base for expats in Laos, as it has the best job opportunities, health care facilities, international schools, and universities in the country. The cost of living is higher than in other parts of Laos but still very cheap compared to Western standards. Despite being a bustling capital city, Vientiane is surrounded by beautiful nature, including waterfalls, caves, and mountains. Vientiane offers the expat the best of Laos’ stunning natural beauty, combined with vibrant city life.
Luang Prabang is a small city in northern Laos, found at the confluence of the major Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It has become one of Laos’ most visited cities, as it is an excellent base to explore some of Laos’ best natural features, including the famous Kuang Si waterfalls. Similar to Vientiane, Luang Prabang’s center features the unique mix of colonial architecture and Buddhist temples.
Every morning in Luang Prabang, there is a procession of monks walking through the streets, receiving offerings from locals and tourists alike. This is a fascinating tradition and a constant reminder of the depth and richness of Laotian history and culture. Luang Prabang is an ideal destination for expats who want to know the true Laos, and explore the best of Laotian nature.
These days Vicki and I try to only do visa-free travel. That is, we only visit countries that allow us to enter without requiring we go through a cumbersome visa process. Some countries still require that we show up at their consulate somewhere. Once there we have to fill out a form, present a picture, and sometimes show plane tickets, hotel reservations, bank statements, a detailed itinerary, and so on. Then we have to wait a few days, leaving our...Read more