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When’s the best time to visit Laos

In which we'll do our best to answer what is probably the most frequently asked question concerning travel in Laos

Probably the most frequently asked question in respect to this part of Southeast Asia is ‘when’s the best time to visit Laos’. In our opinion, there’s no simple answer so read on for a brief overview of Laos weather and a few of the pros and cons of travel at different times of the year.

The landlocked, mountainous Southeast Asian country of Laos – or Lao People’s Democratic Republic to give it the full name – weighs in with a very similar surface area to the UK. (243,000 square kilometres we’re reliably informed.)

Laos is also somewhat elongated in a north-south sense so, for Phongsaly, close to the Chinese border in the far north, to Chanpassak bordering Cambodia in the far south, think John O’Groats-Penzance in terms of regional variations.

Some 90 % of the country is mountainous – rising to Phou Bia, the country’s highest mountain at 2,818m – while the Mekong River flows from Luang Nam Tha Province in the far northwestern corner of the country to the Four Thousand Islands and Khonphapaeng Falls in the far south.

Mekong sunset in Luang Prabang
Mekong sunset in Luang Prabang

Unlike northwestern Europe however, Laos possesses just three distinct seasons throughout the year. It is still in the northern hemisphere so their ‘winter’ comprises the coolest months of November, December, January and early February. Average temperatures hover around 20 degrees although can often get down to single digits at higher elevations. Southern temperatures will be slightly higher and northern, lower. Fortuitously, these months also correspond to the dry period with showers few and far between.

From mid-February things start to hot up leading into the hot, dry season of March and April when temperatures can get into the high 30s and low 40s. (The rare shower that does occur is very welcome.) Rains usually begin in late April/May coming up to the principal Laos rainy season months of June, July, August and September. Statistically July and August have the highest precipitation while May and October are less predictable, inter-season months. (At this juncture we’d point out that, as with much of the planet, weather patterns are becoming far less predictable overall.)

So far then – in answer to when’s the best time to visit Laos – we’d avoid uncomfortably hot March and April and indeed we’re generally reluctant to schedule any Laos tours during these two months. (It’s not only the temperatures but landscapes can become very dry and rivers and waterfalls very low.)

Dranatic skies over the Mekong, Wat Phu, Champassak
Dranatic monsoon skies over the Mekong, Wat Phu, Champassak

Next up, the much-maligned rainy season. While travel literature and general info websites may advise against travel in Laos during the monsoon, a brief description is warranted. Firstly, dismiss images of non-stop downpours every day. Even the continuous drizzle much loved by British weather gods is – while not unheard of – certainly not common. As with much of Southeast Asia during the monsoons, it tends to rain very hard for relatively brief periods. Humidity can build up during the day before the heavens open in the late afternoon with nighttime storms being a frequent phenomenon.

In terms of Lao tours, this is fairly easily dealt with. If we’re hiking on the Plain of Jars for instance – take a waterproof – and if we’re on a walking tour of Luang Prabang then we’ll simply dive into the nearest coffee shop, watch the spectacle and continue walking when it’s over. (Bear in mind temperatures are warm so it’s no exaggeration to say that, in our experience, many travellers enjoy a refreshing shower!)

Furthermore, despite overall rainfall levels, it’s not uncommon to see blue skies for several days at a time during the monsoon.

Laos, Thailand and Laos tour, Nong Khiaw
Water levels are lower during the dry season

Back to the websites and travel literature; you’ll see November to January consistently touted. It’s cool and skies are blue but bear in mind everyone else considering a tour to Laos is reading the same advice. This is high season so hotels are charging premiums, first choices are often booked up well in advance and popular destinations can get very busy. (Last but not least – airline prices will also increase.)

All things considered, our answer to ‘when’s the best time to visit Laos’, would be a rather noncommittal ‘apples and oranges’ style answer. As we said, probably avoid March and April but if you can cope with some humidity and are prepared to risk a shower or two, the rainy season is a good solution. Everywhere is quiet, the scenery is looking its best, sunsets and sunrises are at their most spectacular and, after all, this isn’t a lying-on-the-beach holiday anyway.

If cool temperatures are a priority then play safe with the dry, cool season while the intermediate months of May and October are also a good compromise.

Overall, our most important piece of advice would probably be – just go for it! As we said, weather patterns in Laos are increasingly less predictable anyway and we’d be confident you’ll have a fantastic time in this wonderful destination at pretty much any time of the year.