These three unique Southeast Asian neighbors are great options to visit as part of a larger, longer trip. With the beauty of their ancient beliefs and monuments, you’ll have plenty to explore.
Below you’ll find my suggestions for what to wear in Vietnam and Laos, what to pack for these countries, plus what NOT to bring and some tips for traveling around the region.
Remember to keep your open mind and bring your sense of adventure, and enjoy these gorgeous countries!
1) LifeStraw – This region’s drinking water availability is limited to bottled or manually filtered water. You’ll have to buy bottles or bring your own method of filtering water to ensure it’s safe to drink. I highly recommend bringing this LifeStraw. It filters the water via layers within the tube itself so making water is as easy as drinking from a straw! It’s essential on any trip where you may be hiking or backpacking. You may also consider bringing a water bottle with built-in filter. View on Amazon.com ➜
2) Activated Charcoal – Stomach upset and travelers diarrhea are difficult to avoid in these countries. It’s best to bring activated charcoal with you just in case. It absorbs any toxins that may be plaguing your system, and can help you regain digestive balance after a variety of stomach ailments. View on Amazon.com ➜
3) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – This great service can enable you to browse the internet uninhibited while traveling, even if the countries where you’re browsing limit, monitor, or censor internet use. All it takes is the push of a button and your VPN will unrestrict your existing access to the internet, and will add an extra layer of security encryption to your private data to keep you safe. If I’d used one in Paris when I traveled there recently, I wouldn’t have had my credit card information stolen! View NordVPN.com Plans ➜
4) Universal Power Adapter – Vietnam & Laos use a wide array of power outlets such as Type C, E, F, G. These are all different shapes to the outlets in the US so it’s essential to have a power adapter that will work in all these different situations. We recommend using an adapter that has built-in fuse protection so that it’ll protect your devices even if there is a power surge which is common in SE Asia. It’s also handy having the two USB ports. View on Amazon.com ➜
5) Travel insurance – Unfortunately for us travelers, even the most meticulously planned trips can sometimes take a turn for the worse. You’ll need to be sure that if this happens you’re well protected and insured for a variety of problems. Hospital visits, emergency trips home, theft… it’s best not to take your chances, as plans are often very affordable and can give you peace of mind. View their plans at WorldNomads.com ➜
6) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – Your phone is an important part of your travel planning and communicating with folks back home. You’ll want to keep it protected from dirt and dust, scratches, water, and shocks while you’re moving from place to place. This case does it all so that you can stay connected while traveling. View on Amazon.com ➜
7) Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger – Charging this little device up before you set off to explore each day is a wise idea. This small, portable charger can hold multiple charges and can charge while on-the-go, so you don’t have to worry about your phone or camera dying in the middle of something important. View on Amazon.com ➜
8) First-Aid kit – I recommend bringing an emergency first-aid kit on every trip, foreign or domestic. Having a way to treat even the slightest wounds is especially important in places where you’ll be exposed to germs you’re not as accustomed to – you really don’t want an infection or another injury to ruin your trip! View on Amazon.com ➜
9) Passport pouch – You’ll want to carry your ID documents with you, along with any small amounts of cash or other payment methods you may need for the day. This pouch will allow you to do that, but much more safely than if you carried them in your bag or your pocket. It stays tucked discreetly under your shirt but remains accessible so that you can get to the things you need without advertising them to potential thieves. View on Amazon.com ➜
10) Packing cubes – Having an organized suitcase will save you a lot of stress and hassle. These packing cubes are sturdy and compact, but washable and easy to use so you can continue using them for all of your future trips. They’ll allow you to keep track of your items and easily move things from your suitcase to your day bag and back. View on Amazon.com ➜
11) Backpack or day bag – The items you’ll want to carry with you each day can be unwieldy if you don’t have a good day bag to carry them in. A backpack is ideal, and I’d certainly recommend it over a bag that you carry only on one shoulder, as those can cause backaches if you intend to carry items in them for any length of time. This backpack is designed to be perfect for traveling – it’s light, easy to use, and can be stowed away easily. View on Amazon.com ➜
12) Southeast Asia Guidebook – These countries are so frequently traveled together that there are several guidebooks dedicated specifically to the area. This one is a great option, and is accessible both digitally and in print. Guidebooks are a good tool to help you narrow down the list of attractions to a manageable amount, and they also provide great insider tips and ideas that will make your trip that much more fun! View on Amazon.com ➜
13) Rain jacket: Women’s and Men’s – Tropical locations are well-known for their rain and southeast Asian countries are no exception. Rains can come and go quickly, and it’s best to be prepared with a lightweight rain jacket that can be carried with you in your day bag. This one is especially compact when folded, and dries quickly. View on Amazon.com ➜
14) Waterproof Underwater Camera – There are plenty of water activities to be enjoyed in Vietnam and Laos, and many other adventures that may expose your camera to moisture. A camera like this is easy to budget for, and bringing it with you will help you get those epic shots to remember your trip by. View on Amazon.com ➜
15) Slip-on Mesh Water Shoes: Women’s and Men’s – You’ll likely be in and out of water on your trip, and it’s a real pain to carry extra shoes with you wherever you go. These shoes will suit your needs well: they can be used for various activities on land and in the water (including swimming and snorkeling), and they won’t keep your feet wet for hours like sneakers or hiking shoes will if they get water in them. View on Amazon.com ➜
16) Mosquito Repellent Wristbands – Mosquitoes and other biting insects can be an issue in these areas, and it’s best not to take any chances. These wristbands keep you protected without having to apply messy, smelly, chemical-laden sprays, and they’re comfortable enough that you’ll forget you’re even wearing them! View on Amazon.com ➜
17) Travel towel – You’ll need a way to dry off after water-related activities, but you may also need a reliable towel for use in your accommodation if they don’t provide one, or the one they provide is sub-par. This sporty travel towel does both. It’s absorbent and quick-drying, plus it’s small enough to carry with you if you need to. View on Amazon.com ➜
Layers are good here, and fabrics that dry quickly. Zip-off quick-dry pants, moisture-wicking garments, and anything that will protect you from the sun will serve you well.
Opt for good sunglasses, a quality sunhat that can get wet without damage, and good hiking/walking shoes that can also get wet.
It’s best to dress a little more conservatively here, too, in order to respect local culture and customs.
Seasons in Vietnam, and Laos
The Dry Season – November, December, January, February, March, April:
This is also the high season for tourism in this region. You’ll find that different areas in each country vary a little with regard to weather, but for the most part these countries follow very similar seasonal patterns. Layers are most important here, and even though it’s the dry season you should make sure that your fabrics are light and quick-drying. A hat is also a good idea to keep the strong sun off of your face and neck. During the dry season, expect less humidity and fewer rain showers – though still be prepared for some rain while you’re there. Bring a good rain jacket that you can carry with you in case of pop-up storms. Temperatures are typically around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Wet Season – May, June, July, August, September, October:
It’s called the wet season for a reason – the vast majority of annual rainfall for these countries falls between May and October, with the least rain in the beginning of the season and the most near the end. It may surprise you that the temperatures are often warmest during this season, too, so plan to wear fewer layers, and to have your rain jacket and umbrella handy at all times. Waterproof shoes are essential, too. Don’t worry, it’s still a lovely time to visit if you pack appropriate rain gear. The area is lush and beautiful, and tourist attractions are less crowded. Temperatures in the wet season hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit but can reach as high as 100 degrees.
What NOT to bring to Laos and/or Vietnam
1) DON’T PACK offensive or revealing clothing: Most temples have clothing requirements — long pants for men and no shoulders or legs showing for women. Avoid sticking out like a sore thumb, and avoid insulting locals by preparing to dress more modestly.
2) DON’T BRING extra books: Besides a trusty guidebook, you really shouldn’t bring any books with you. They’re heavy, they take up a lot of space, and they can easily get ruined. I’ve found that e-readers like a Kindle hold up well and are light and compact.
3) DON’T TAKE valuables like jewelry: Leave all but essentials at home. Don’t bring anything that you can’t bear to lose, damage, or have stolen. While violent crimes are rare, crimes of opportunity — petty theft, for example — can occur.
4) DON’T PACK your hair dryer: Western hair dryers are too much for outlets in this area. You’ll short out in no time flat. Save the space and stick with a provided dryer, or just air-dry and rock your best beach hair!
5) DON’T TAKE expensive electronics: These can too-easily get damaged en route or at your accommodations, and can easily paint you for a thief’s target. Unless you’re a risk-taker and/or your insurance policy covers these items while traveling, leave them at home.
6) DON’T BRING local currency with you: Don’t get it exchanged before you go, just use an ATM at the airport for the best exchange rate! Most international airports will have an ATM within them or nearby. It’s always my first stop upon landing.
FAQs for Laos and Vietnam
1) Can I drink the water in this region?
NO. It is not safe to drink the tap water in Laos or Vietnam. Bottled water is easy to come by, but you’ll have to pay for it each time.
Some accommodations do have a water dispenser if you bring along a reusable bottle. You can get the best of both worlds with a filtered water bottle which will allow you to control the drinkability of your water, and always have a supply on hand.
2) What type of accommodations are there in these areas?
Accommodations in these countries range in style and price. Guesthouses are common budget options. On the higher end, look for hotels or resorts. If you’re doing a Mekong River cruise or Halong Bay tour, overnight boats are usually a bit pricier, but most include meals, and it’s certainly a memorable experience!
3) Do I need additional health insurance on top of my own?
Make sure your health insurance covers emergency evacuation before you leave. If not, you should look into travel health insurance. Additionally, it’s a good idea to cover your trip as well, in case of last-minute changes due to emergencies.
4) What’s the best time of year to go?
The wettest part of Laos’ rainy season runs from May or June until September or October.
For Vietnam, fall and spring are the most popular times to visit for international tourists. I encourage you to look outside of those times, though — low and shoulder seasons can have better prices and smaller crowds, which will add to your overall experience.
5) Do people speak English?
While English is more common in major cities, don’t count on everyone you meet to speak it. Have a few key phrases on hand, and be sure to print out all your travel information with the local address (in the respective language) ahead of time.
6) What vaccinations do I need?
This depends on your itinerary and length of stay. Visit a travel health clinic for the most accurate advice.
7) Is Angkor Wat worth it?
Yes. While crowds are crazy, especially at sunrise, it’s worth scoping out a spot away from the main lake for a good view and fewer people. As the sun comes up, you can wander around to different locations to get a variety of photo angles.
Most people will visit for sunrise, head back to their hotel for breakfast and a nap, and then return at a later hour. If you can power through starting at daybreak, you’ll be able to see the inside more quickly and easily.
We opted for a half-day tour guide who showed us through different temples, including Angkor Wat. It was helpful to hear a local’s perspective.
8) What’s the best way to pick a Halong Bay tour?
Tours on Halong Bay range from budget party boat to luxury high-end getaways. Start with what fits your budget and go from there. Most will provide a transport to pick you up from your Hanoi hotel and drive the four hours (or so) to the docks before setting off.
9) What’s the best day trip from Luang Prabang, Laos?
While it’s a better idea for a long weekend, I highly recommend Nong Khiaw just north of Luang Prabang. It’s about 3.5 – 4 hours ride via minibus.
You can either book minibus passage in town or take the public bus from Luang Prabang’s northern bus station. The town has a laid-back vibe, with many options for activities, including visiting nearby caves, kayaking, and trekking.
10) What’s a food tour?
While “which Southeast Asian country has the best food” is a hot-topic debate among travelers, Vietnam gets my vote. Its street food is truly unique. An easy way to sample a wide variety of foods is to book a food tour. You’ll hop on the back of a motorbike and get a quick tour of the city while you’re at it. If you’re adventurous enough, try the fertilized duck egg — tastes like a hard-boiled egg, with a few almost-formed feathers.
Other tips for traveling in Vietnam and Laos:
Get off the beaten path: whether it’s a remote island or a day or two in the hills for a homestay, it’s always best to allow for a bit of flexibility in your schedule. These countries are the perfect place to unplug.
Extra packing space: Make sure you leave yourself some extra room in the luggage. If you’re visiting Hoi An, Vietnam, you might be tempted by the custom-made suits and dresses. Or if you’re in Laos, handwoven silk and cotton textiles are a great memento to bring home with you.
Mekong trips: If you have the time, one unique way to see Laos and Vietnam is by boat. The Mekong River is a lifeline for villages and communities throughout the countries — not to mention a beautiful, scenic journey. No matter how long you are planning to be in the region, I highly recommend spending at least a portion of your trip floating down this majestic river. Be sure to bring a camera! You’ll want to capture these memories.