We’re not gonna’ lie: There are some pretty darn dangerous animals in Laos. From hulking Asian elephants that could crush you in a single charge to venomous snakes that can kill at a bite, there are all sorts of critters you’ll want to avoid as you come to explore this incredible country of mystical Buddhist shrines and wiggling riverways.
This guide to the most dangerous animals in Laos will flit from the dense jungles in the north of the country to the dusty plains of the south, seeking out the fauna you probably wont want to meet when you come to see the UNESCO wonders of Luang Prabang or the karst mountain ranges of Vang Vieng.
Of course, the chances are that you won’t have a run-in with any of these beasts. Snake bites are formidable but remain rare here, and many of the other dangerous animals in Laos – tigers, leopards – are now critically endangered. Still, it’s surely a bunch of critters to have on the radar during your Southeast Asian odyssey…
Laos has loads of snakes – this is Southeast Asia, after all! You’ll find many of the same species here that you do in neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia, including the recognizable likes of the Malayan krait, the banded krait, and the small-spotted coral snake. The monocled cobra is another one that’s found all across the region, and it remains one of the most feared of all.
The reason? Well, this one’s got one darn potent venom. It’s been enough to give it the unenviable rep of the most deadly snake in the Land of Smiles. Causing local necrosis of the flesh at the site of injection, partial or full paralysis, and respiratory failure, all within as little as 60 minutes of a bite, there’s nothing pleasant about it at all! More than that, the monocoled cobra is known to be an extremely aggressive customer when feeling threatened, while some have the ability to spit their venom straight at prey.
You can easily recognize when a monocled cobra is looking to attack. It will often raise its head, fan its hood, and make a sharp hissing sound. They’re also relatively easy to spot thanks to a very distinctive dorsal pattern that includes the outline of spots and speckles down the back. Finally, spectacled cobras are usually only found in the very far south of Laos, right on the border with Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
It’s up for debate whether these majestic beasts are still even in existence in Laos. A recent study by Science Direct showed that the Indochinese tiger is now considered to be functionally extinct in the country, and in much of Southeast Asia generally. However, there’s still a chance that some survive in the remote rainforests of the Northern Annamites and in the lush jungles of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area.
Given that they’re so rare, it might seem a little much to list them alongside the most dangerous animals in Laos. However, fully grown male Indochinese tigers can grow to weigh up to 440 pounds and can measure up to 95 inches in length. They’re also masters of stealth and guile, with an attack that mixes prowling, scramming, and biting to subdue prey in a matter of seconds.
Of course, tiger attacks on humans are extremely rare in Laos. In fact, virtually all of them now occur on illegal tiger farms and not in the wild. The truth is that we’ve proved far more of a threat to tigers than them to us. The combo of habitat destruction, demand for tiger goods in alternative medicine, and game hunting has ensured numbers continue to dwindle, and there’s a chance that the species will disappear for good in the decades to come.
The clouded leopard is named for the distinctive, cloud-like spots that cover its fur. Despite being officially listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, they still roam territory all over Southeast Asia. In Laos, they’re mainly found in the very remote forests in the far north of the country, with the Nam Ha National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area leading the way in terms of population counts, but are also present in the jungles immediately east of Vientiane on the Vietnam border.
Well adapted to life in the rainforests, these guys posses exceptionally good camouflage and are masters of prowling. They usually live on a diet of gibbons, slow loris, macaques, small deer, and wild boar, but are also known to eat birds and small rodents. There aren’t many instances of attacks on humans, but they also aren’t unheard of, especially with an uptick in habitat encroachment in the last few decades.
The main risk in Laos is to trekkers who head into the rainforests. That’s the domain of the clouded leopard, which can usually be found (but rarely seen – thanks to that awesome camo) lazing in the lower boughs of trees on the lookout for monkeys and macaques. Not typically aggressive, these guys will rarely become confrontational unless they feel threatened or have young about them.
Found in the dense lowland forests of Southeast Asia, the sun bear, or honey bear, takes its name from the bib-shaped golden or white patch on its chest. They have a fondness for honey and can be found eating fruit, berries, roots, insects, and rodents. These rare bears are actually nocturnal, so seeing them during the day isn’t that common. Laos is thought to be one of the last strongholds for these guys due to its rugged terrain, scarcity of human population, and its abundance of forested areas.
Sun bears are known to be fierce animals and will only attack if provoked. Their claws, which are around four inches long, can inflict serious damage. If they have their cubs nearby they may also be more territorial and likely to attack. The key thing to remember is that if you come across one, remain calm. Keep food and trash out of sight, and make sure you never run away from them. They may see running away as a game and come after you. Stand your ground, make lots of noise, and if needed fight back, aiming for sensitive areas like the nose.
Asiatic black bears can be found throughout Central and South Asia, as well as in Russia and Japan. They are known to eat around 160 different tree-borne fruits throughout Thailand alone, and inhabit the woods of Laos to boot. They are omnivores and tend to feed mainly on sugars, nuts, and insects. The Asiatic black bear is nocturnal and is often hard to spot during the day.
These mammals do not attack humans unless provoked and they feel threatened. They are almost always more scared of us than we are of them. Asiatic black bears have decreased in numbers over recent years due to deforestation and being hunted for their body parts, specifically their gallbladder, which is used in traditional medicines and as culinary delicacies in some regions.
If you do happen to come across an Asiatic black bear, there are some tips to remember to avoid angering them. When walking or trekking through the forest, make sure to make a lot of noise. If seen, do not run away. Instead, stand your ground. You are unlikely to see Asiatic black bears through the winter months (November to April) as they hibernate. You are more likely to see a sleeping bear than you are one that’s awake at those times!
No matter where you go in the world, you are bound to come across some spiders, and Laos is no different. In fact, there are probably more spiders in these parts than in most due to the tropical climate, and it can sometimes feel that every bungalow hotel or backpacker hostel from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang has a resident creepy crawly.
The most dangerous spider you can encounter in Laos is the giant huntsman. It can have a leg span of up to 12 inches (30 cm), making it the world’s largest spider by limb length. Often mistaken for a tarantula, huntsmen are widely feared. However, they aren’t really all that bad. Yes, their bites can pack a nasty punch and lead to swelling around the wound. along with potential complications like vomiting, nausea, and headaches. But they remain a timid character by nature – not even a speck on a cobra or krait.
It’s possible to come across huntsmen in all quarters of Laos. They pop up in both rural and urban areas, are common in forests but also indoors in hotels and accommodations. Our advice? Check your shoes before slipping your foot in and you should be okay.
Last but certainly not least, it comes down to the minute mozzie. This is a ubiquitous danger all across Southeast Asia and pretty much any tropical destination in the world. They’re not a threat in themselves. The bite from a mosquito is little more than a pin prick that you won’t even feel because it comes with a side of natural anaesthetic. Really, the risk is in the diseases that are carried by the bugs.
Malaria is the most feared of the bunch. Laos has some of the more concerning malaria rates in the region, too. Here, you’re looking at an incidence rate of around 4.2 per 100,000 people. That’s almost double what it is in neighboring Thailand, where the rate is just 2.2 per 100,000. In total, that equated to Laos counting over 5,600 malaria cases in 2019.
Of course, malaria is just the beginning. You’ve also got dengue fever to contend with, along with the debilitating chikungunya, a tropical ailment that causes joint pains, out-of-control fever, nausea, and skin rashes. You’ll want to use a DEET-infused spray to keep these critters off, or cover up at key times like dusk and dawn to avoid bites.
Are there tigers in Laos?
Tigers are considered extinct in Laos and Vietnam. However, there may still be a handful of them in the evergreen forests of the Northern Annamites and potentially also in the dry forests or Central Annamites landscape in South Laos and Central Vietnam. So the likelihood of spotting them is fairly rare.
Are there venomous snakes in Laos?
There are roughly 22 species of venomous snakes in Laos. They include the Monocled Cobra, the Malayan Krait, the small-spotted coral, and the Banded Krait, to name a few. Symptoms from a snake bite include swelling and redness around the wound, pain around the bite site, vomiting and nausea, blurred vision, numbness in the face and limbs, and breathing difficulties. If you suspect you have been bitten by a venomous snake, get yourself to a hospital as soon as possible.
Are there venomous spiders in Laos?
There are venomous spiders throughout Laos, however, most are harmless to humans. The most well-known is the Giant Huntsman spider. Which isn’t hard to spot, since it’s leg span can reach a whopping 12 inches long. This makes it the world’s largest spider by leg span. If bitten you are likely to experience some unpleasant symptoms but are not likely to die. Deaths from spider bites are uncommon, but they may happen due to allergic reactions or other causes, not usually from the bite itself.