If you’re planning a trip to Laos, determining the best time to visit should be a top priority. Most top Laos destinations are at their best from November to January, but you may want to plan your trip for a different time depending on where in Laos you’ll spend the most time, and how you plan to get around.
Scheduling your trip to Laos requires balancing a few trade-offs. The lower costs of the monsoon season from May to October offsets the higher risk of washed-out roads, while the pleasant climate of the cool, dry months will find you jostling with peak-season crowds in Luang Prabang.
Consider each season’s pros and cons before planning your Laos visit. Read on to find out about Laos’s weather, its top holidays and what to do in Laos from season to season.
Weather in Laos
Due to its tropical location, Laos experiences only two seasons: a dry season from November to April and a wet season from May to October.
There is a change in temperature during the dry season, however, splitting it into a cool, dry sub-season from November to February and a hot, dry sub-season from March to April.
The temperature in Laos ranges from 57-79 degrees Fahrenheit (14-26 degrees Celsius) in December to 77-90 degrees Fahrenheit (25-32 degrees Celsius) in June. Humidity peaks during the worst of the rainy season in August, reaching highs of 85 percent, accompanying rains of 5-12 inches (120-300mm) that make many roads impassable.
Dodging these extremes, the cool, dry sub-season allows you to take in Laos’s sights under the best possible conditions, making it the consensus pick for the best time to visit Laos. As you experience pleasantly warm days and nippy nights, you’ll find yourself traveling through Laos’s flourishing green countryside or cruising on the swiftly-flowing Mekong, both fed by the recent rains.
Laos’s Cool, Dry Season
Sometime around October, the prevailing winds throughout Southeast Asia shift direction. The northeast monsoon blows down from Siberia, bringing cold, dry winds to areas still soaked from the rains brought by the late southwest monsoon.
These ghosts of the bitter taiga winds make Laos a pleasant place to visit between November and February. Temperatures hit an all-year low of 57-79 degrees Fahrenheit (14-26 degrees C) in December, with rains likewise dwindling to a mere 0.4 inches (10mm) in the same month.
As a rule, the climate feels chilliest in the north and east of Laos, at higher-altitude destinations like Luang Namtha and Phongsali, where temperatures can drop down to 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees C) in the evenings. Vientiane and Luang Prabang experience comfy temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees C) in the cool season, while Pakse and other parts of Laos’ southern region still feel warm at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).
Pack accordingly for the cooler, drier weather. Bring light sweaters for lower-altitude locations like Luang Prabang, but wear heavier clothing if headed north or east of the country.
Waterways in Laos will still be swelled from the recent rains, so travel on the Mekong or other waterways will be easy in the cool, dry season. This is a great time to take a day trip to Muang Ngoi, far up the Nam Ou River from Nong Khiaw.
Events to check out:
- Bun That Luang (full moon of the twelfth lunar month; November 4-11, 2019): a week-long festival situated around That Luang stupa in Vientiane
- Lao National Day (December 2): Independence Day festival marking the triumph of the ruling Communist Party over the Lao monarchy
- Wat Phu Festival (full moon of the third lunar month; February 8, 2020): traditional festivities like buffalo-fighting, elephant racing, and performances of Lao music and dance take place amidst the ruins of Wat Phu
Laos’s Hot, Dry Season
It’s no coincidence that the Lao celebrate the splashy New Year festival Bun Pi Mai (Songkran) during the height of the hot, dry sub-season from March to April. As temperatures rise to a scorching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), the green countryside wilts and the rivers start to run low.
And as the rice harvest comes in, farmers set fire to their fields, a traditional way of preparing the ground for the next crop. As a result, much of Laos is covered with a smoky haze that irritates eyes and aggravates allergies.
If you’re coming for Bun Pi Mai or planning to brave the hot season regardless, pack light, quick-drying clothing that wicks away sweat; bring sunblock, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats to ward off the sun.
Laos’s Wet, “Green” Season
Sometime around April or May, the prevailing winds perform another switcheroo, with the southwest monsoon bringing moist, hot air from the Indian Ocean. Rains begin to fall on Laos’s parched, brown countryside; as the storms ramp up, the Lao begin planting rice around June.
The “green” season from May to October is Laos’s official low tourist season, with package tours, hotel rooms and fares sinking to all-year lows. This is partly due to the increased difficulty in getting from place to place: some roads may be washed out or too dangerous to drive on, and the jungle trails can be too slippery or flooded to hike on.
This is an excellent time to go on a Mekong cruise, though, as the waters will be running high and fast when the rains come.
Laos’s rains are actually quite moderate – instead of day-long torrents, expect short, strong showers in the afternoons, averaging about 4-11 in (120-300 mm) and lasting no longer than a few hours. The rains also don’t affect Laos equally; areas further north get more (at an earlier time), and the areas south of Vientiane get less.
Expect high humidity and temperatures between 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). To deal with the showers and the climate, pack rain-gear and light, moisture-wicking clothing for the warm and humid weather.
Events to check out:
- Visakhaboucha/Bun Bang Fai (full moon of the sixth lunar month; May 6, 2020): the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passage to Nirvana is celebrated with an ancient Rocket Festival tradition
- Khao Padap Din (14th day of the waning moon of the ninth lunar month; August 29, 2019): the Lao day of the dead, accompanied by boat races on the Nam Khan River
- Awk Pansa (full moon of the eleventh lunar month; October 13, 2019): celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent with Bun Nam boat races along the Mekong
Crowds & Peak Prices in Laos
The weather in Laos affects its major tourist destinations in different ways. Bun Pi Mai in the hot, dry sub-season will tie most transportation and hotel bookings up (this is the biggest Lao festival, bringing Lao back to their hometowns), so plan your trip in advance if visiting during the water festival.
The green season brings some unique opportunities for sightseeing despite (or because of) the low rates. The 4,000 Islands come fully alive during the rainy season. However, certain attractions look less charming in the rains – Kuang Si Waterfalls near Luang Prabang, for example, turn into a muddy mess during the rainy season, and should be avoided at all costs.
Price differences between peak season and low season vary from establishment to establishment, but expect a 50-80 percent difference, particularly for higher-end establishments and more well-trafficked tourist areas, kicking in during the cool, dry sub-season and Bun Pi Mai.