In 2019, Laos had a record-breaking 4.5 million international visitors. Visitors to Laos can explore historic cities with Buddhist temples and palaces such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
The nature in Laos is also stunning — highlights include the tumbling Kuang Si Caves and Waterfalls and the trek to the mountain village of Nong Khiaw.
Lovers of ancient culture will certainly want to see the UNESCO-listed ruins of Wat Phu. But while it’s rich in history and culture, is Laos safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Laos Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Laos is mostly safe to visit. However, there are high levels of property crime, both minor crimes such as petty theft and more violent ones such as armed robbery and mugging.
You will have to take some precautions to protect your valuables, but as long as you do, you should have a safe time in Laos. A good place to start researching safety in Laos is to look at travel advisories that different governments put out.
The United States advises travelers to exercise increased caution in Laos. The Australian government is more relaxed, telling its citizens to exercise normal precautions in most of Laos and just to be careful in certain areas.
Common problems that governments warn tourists about when visiting Laos include:
- Civil unrest
- Bag snatching
- Theft from the back of a motorcycle
- Scams and fraud
- Armed robbery
- Shooting attacks (only in certain regions of the country)
While these risks are all present, they are not evenly distributed throughout the country. Avoiding dangerous regions can go a long way towards minimizing your risk of certain problems.
Crime is certainly present in Laos, but petty crime is not as bad as it is in neighboring countries that are more used to tourists such as Thailand and Vietnam. You should certainly be aware of the risks of all of these problems and prepare for them.
However, don’t let your fear hold you back from visiting Laos as it is just the purpose of government advisories to warn you about these things.
Some government advisories mention civil unrest as a possible risk in Laos. The current government is undergoing an economic crisis, which is angering many locals because they feel as if they are bearing the brunt of the effects.
From June 2022 to early 2023, Laos saw a wave of protests — which is even more extraordinary considering that protests are completely illegal in the country.
You might see a demonstration happening when you visit Laos, especially in bigger cities such as the capital Vientiane. Avoid all protests and demonstrations as they are completely illegal and will be repressed by police.
You don’t want to have to explain to authorities why you wound up at an illegal demonstration. Finally, another major concern for safety when traveling in Laos is the risk of unexploded ordinances.
From 1964-1973, the United States bombed Laos heavily as part of the Vietnam War, so heavily that Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the world.
Many of those ordinances were unexploded, although the Laos government has cleared 1.8 million devices over the past few decades. Some authorities estimate that 80 million unexploded bombs, mines, and other ordinances remain in Laos.
These bombs are most concentrated around the Plain of Jars and Laos-Vietnam border, but they are everywhere in the country and often unmarked. When visiting rural areas, always stick to well-marked trails to avoid an accident.
Crime in Laos
Crime is the most common concern for people traveling to Laos. People are worried about a fun vacation turning into a nightmare with no money, wallet, or ID — or something even worse happening.
Although violence against tourists isn’t common in Laos, the crime rate is still sometimes cause for concern. The World Bank does not have homicide data on file for Laos.
Other data sources say the homicide rate is 6.9 incidents per 100,000 people, which is about the global average. Most violent incidents affect locals, not foreigners. Violent crime is not as much of a concern in Laos as property crime.
According to Numbeo, the crimes people worry about in Laos the most are break-ins, drug-related crimes, and corruption and bribery. Laos scores a 30.43out of 100 on the crime index, which is a low value.
There are some concerning trends regarding crime in Laos. In 2022, crime reports increased by 28%,, which is a very high number.
Most crimes were drug-related, such as possession and trafficking. Most violent crimes were also drug-related, either done by people who were high on illegal substances or part of score-settling between rival gangs.
Another addiction that is driving crime is the rise in gambling addiction. Gambling debts increased in 2022, and many people turned to crime to try to settle their debts.
The Laos authorities are cracking down on both gambling sites and drug traffickers. The crime that is increasing the most is motorcycle theft. Laos residents lost 1,758 motorcycles to theft in 2022, which for many families is an irreparable loss.
However, this is a crime that you as a tourist don’t have to worry about unless you decide to rent a motorcycle while you are in Laos. Another worrying trend in Laos’s crime landscape is the prevalence of organized crime.
According to the Global Organized Crime Index, Laos struggles to control criminal syndicates that are involved in human trafficking, the heroin trade, and weapons smuggling.
These problems shouldn’t directly affect you as a foreigner, but it is good to be aware just in case.
The most common crime you will encounter in Laos is petty theft. This is the most common problem you will encounter anywhere that you go in the world.
The Australian government includes a rundown of petty theft problems on its website. The most common problem you will encounter in Laos is bag snatching. You will never see locals hang their bags off the back of chairs because thieves operate frequently in restaurants.
Thieves often operate on the backs of motorcycles and target tourists in busy pedestrian areas.
Basic precautions can help you prevent this type of theft. Make sure that you are wearing a bag that is hard to snatch, such as a cross-body bag or backpack with buckles.
Try to walk facing the direction of traffic and as far away from the curb as possible. Another common form of theft that affects travelers in Laos is theft from guesthouses.
The UK government warns in its travel advisory that residential burglaries are common in Laos. Some guesthouses may offer safes, but these tend to be poor quality. Bring your own lock and use it to secure your possessions.
Pickpocketing sometimes occurs in Laos.
Thieves operate primarily around popular tourist attractions and on public transportation. Make sure that your valuables are secure at all times, especially on intercity and international buses.
Try not to flash your valuables to draw attention to yourself. Pickpocketing and other forms of street crime does occur in Laos.
However, it occurs at a much lower rate than it does in neighboring countries such as Vietnam or Thailand. Tourist scams are also less common here. You should take some precautions, but don’t let your fear ruin your trip.
Although violent crime rarely affects tourists to Laos, the exception is armed robbery. Criminals often target foreigners because they perceive them (rightly) as more affluent than locals.
The New Zealand government advises its citizens to be careful about flaunting their possessions to avoid making themselves into targets. The Canadian government warns that robberies in Laos sometimes involve violence.
Armed robberies and muggings most often occur at night, usually in bigger cities such as Vientiane. Avoid moving around at night unless you are with a trusted group in an area that you know well.
After dark, robbers often wait by the roadside for unwary travelers. Be careful when stopping at bars, food stalls, or restaurants after sunset as it could be a trap.
Bandits often operate along Route 7 and the northern end of Route 13. Robbers sometimes target people when they withdraw money from ATMs or exchange money at money change bureaus.
If you are carrying a fair amount of cash, make sure that you go to the ATM or bank with at least one more person. Spread your money around, keeping some away from your main wallet and bag so you have some cash to get home just in case.
Avoiding Bad Areas
The risk of violent crime in Laos is often concentrated in certain areas. As long as you avoid those parts of the country, you should be safe. Avoid Xaisomboun Province and be careful in Vang Vieng due to high levels of violent crime.
Travelers here have been robbed and/or sexually assaulted. Some restaurants sell items that are spiked with drugs such as opiates, sometimes leading to fatal overdoses.
These are known as “happy” or “special items.” If you see these on the menu, be very careful. Avoid the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone and Bokeo Province, which is on the Laos-Thailand-Myanmar border.
This border crossing is a hot spot for drug traffickers, smugglers, employment scams, and other criminals. In Vientiane, be careful after dark, especially in poorly lit side streets outside of the center and in the areas along the river.
Things to Consider
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when traveling to Laos:
- Police in Laos are slow to respond to crimes and often don’t respond at all. Take a native speaker with you if you need to talk to them. Sometimes, officers may ask you to pay their transportation and telephone costs! Check with a local to make sure that you are not getting scammed.
- Get permission from local authorities for business travel. Sometimes, tribal chiefs and provincial governors look suspiciously at people that come to take lots of photos.
- Drink spiking is common throughout Laos. Never leave your food or drink unattended. Only go to restaurants or market stalls where you see plenty of locals.
- Penalties for taking drugs are severe in Laos. Some people have been sentenced to the death penalty in the past. Avoid taking any substances, including marijuana.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you may want to ask before heading to Laos:
Is Laos safe for female travelers?
For the most part, Laos is safe for female travelers. Violence against women is rare, although there have been cases of assault in the past. Local norms are a bit conservative, so make sure that you dress modestly.
Is Laos safe to travel to in 2023?
Yes, Laos is safe to travel to in 2023. There is a slightly higher risk than before due to rising crime rates and civil unrest. However, basic precautions are enough to keep you safe.
Is Laos worth seeing?
Laos may not be the most popular country in Southeast Asia, but it is absolutely worth seeing. It has beautiful nature, food, and well-preserved historical sites. Plus, there are fewer crowds, so your experience will feel even more special.
Is Vientiane safe for tourists?
Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is safe for tourists. There is a higher rate of street crime here than in smaller towns, and some streets are unsafe after dark, so keep your wits about you.
When should you avoid Laos?
July to October is the worst time to travel to Laos. The weather in the summer gets very hot, and the rainy season lasts into early fall.
So, Is Laos Safe to Visit?
Laos is mostly safe to visit, and travelers have a unique experience here. You will have to take some precautions to secure your valuables, but you need to take those most places that you travel to.
So, with a relatively safe atmosphere and some of the most picturesque sights in the world, what are you waiting for — book your trip to Laos today. Happy travels!