Famed for tubing, which in recent years has been on the decline due to so many accidents, there is so much more to Laos than just partying down a river. This landlocked beauty has a mixture of stunning scenery, outdoor activities and a rich Buddhist history. As much of the food and ammenties in the country are imported due to its inland location, Laos is slightly more expensive than it’s neighbors but don’t let that curtail you as it is less visited and more than makes up for the minor added expense in natural beauty and rich culture.
Accommodation in Laos is geared towards the budget traveler making this the ideal backpacking location, with decent dorms and cheap double rooms. Dorm’s range between 35,000 – 80,000 LAK, Double rooms with A/C average at around 120,000 LAK, although they can be found for as cheap as 80,000 LAK. Most hostel s or guesthouses offer free Wifi, as well as a free breakfast. Breakfast varies in quality but some of the offerings are excellent. Every hostel I stayed in had a decent social area, some with pool tables and bar games, most have bars making it easy to meet like-minded travelers.
Money Saving Tips
Follow the basics of eating street food and eat where the locals eats, don’t eat western food (unless you have a serious craving!). Look where the tours go and do them yourself, either with a group you’ve met in your hostel or solo. If you’re going to drink heavily make sure it’s the local alcohol, a bottle of whiskey from a shop is cheaper than one beer in a bar, so get some friends together and pre-drink in your hostel’s social area.
Buses are the main way to get around and are fairly cheap. Roughly speaking you’ll pay 15,000 LAK per hour you travel, so the 7-8 hour ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang will cost in the region of 100,000 – 150,000 LAK, depending how well you negotiate. The cities in Laos are small, so locally you can walk most places. To get outside the city using Tuktuk’s and Taxi’s are pricey but you can negotiate hard on the rate, local buses are fairly easy to navigate and incredibly cheap, 1,000 LAK for a 30 minute ride.
International buses to Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand are all easy to find and depending on start and finish point range from 200,000 – 400,000 LAK. Just beware that some of the buses are over 24 hours long which does not make for a comfortable experience, check the flights and even if it’s more expensive it may be worth paying for the ease of travel!
Motorbike rental is more expensive in Laos’ than in other Southeast Asia countries. For 24 hours you’ll pay around 80,000 LAK, sometimes you’ll be able to get 12 hour deals for 50,000 LAK.
Where To Eat
Due to being landlocked most of the food is imported, making it more expensive than its neighbors and not as good in quality. Street food is the cheapest way to eat in the cities with meals costing between 10,000-20,000 LAK, you can get a delicious serving of spring rolls for as cheap as 5,000 LAK . A decent sized meal in a local restaurant of curry, rice or noodles will set you back 20,000 – 30,000 LAK, Western food is more expensive starting from 40,000 LAK.
Beer: Beerlao is the national beer, a bottle from a shop costs 8,000-10,000 LAK, in a bar 15,000-20,000 LAK
Local Spirits: Lao whisky is cheap, depending on where you are you can get a bottle for as little as 10,000 LAK
Best Time To Visit
Peak season is November to February, when temperatures are hot but not unbearable during the day and temperatures cool down in the evening. March to May are the hottest months, from May to September the monsoon season moves in which can make navigating the country a challenge due to the condition of the roads.
Visa / Border Crossings
The Visa for Laos is pricey, depending on your citizenship it ranges between $30-50, check your visa requirements with your government travel website. If you don’t have a passport photo you’ll pay $1 extra.
Be careful at land border crossings of people taking your passports to expedite the process. Know the amount you are meant to pay and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. At the land border the bus takes between Hanoi and Vientiane border cross is a quick and simple process and the exchange rate to change money into Kip is a fair price.
Wifi is accessible across Laos so you can make do without a SIM, although we recommend that you always buy one purely for internet coverage and never for calls or texts. The best coverage is with:
Unitel: 30 Days with 5GB of Data is 50,000 KIP
How are you? Sab-bai-dee bor?
Thank You: Khorp-Jai
How much is this? Thao-Dai
Laos is a relaxed, chilled out country so its an excellent location for budget travel. I averaged 130,000 LAK a day ($15) and did all the activities I wanted and ate great food! I’d suggest a budget of $25-30 a day, giving you a fair amount of wiggle room to enjoy some luxury. An average daily expenditure looks like:
Hostel: $4 (32,000 LAK)
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: $6 (48,000 LAK)
2 x 1.5 litres of water: $1 (8,000 LAK) Free with a Water Sterilization Pen
Misc (beer, snacks, soft drinks): $4 (32,000 LAK)
Entrance fees / activities: $5 (40,000 LAK)
The main religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism, more than 90% of the population is Buddhist.
Laotian and English are the main languages spoken in Laos. Laotian is also commonly spoken in Northeast Thailand. Common Thai phrases can also commonly be interchanged and understood in Laos.
Explore the 4000 Islands
The name is a bit of a exaggeration as there are only a handful of islands that are inhabited. Head here to hang out on the Mekong, watch the nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphins and relax and soak in the fresh air and sunshine!
The smallest capital city in Asia, Vientiane is a remarkable to walk around due to it’s small stature. Full of historic monuments including the Patuxai Victory monument, it’s an easy city to amble around and we highly recommend that you relax and grab some coffee. Be sure to visit the Buddha Park home to hundreds of statues of Buddha in a small area on the Mekong.
Experience natural beauty in Vang Vieng
What used to be party town throughout the late 90’s early 00’s Vang Vieng has mellowed out a little bit now; don’t worry you can still party if that’s what you want to do but for us it was the natural scenery that stood out and made this a top destination. Here you’ll find Blue Lagoons, mountains to climb, rivers to paddle in and underwater caves to explore, a complete winner for outdoor activities.
Chill out in Luang Prabang
One of the most relaxed cities in Asia Luang Prabang is a great place to be lazy, watching sunsets over the river Mekong, walking the huge night market which stretches for over a 1km and hanging out in coffee shops. Be sure to factor in more time than you need, most come for a few days and end up staying for much longer.
Learn more about the Champasak Kingdom in Pakse
Pakse in the south of Laos is well worth stopping off at, and a visit to Vat Phou makes it all worth it. Entrance fee is 30,000 LAK and you can learn about the Champasak Kingdom and see the ruins that used to be connected by road to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. While in Pakse also be sure to visit the Bolaven Plateau home to a plethora of waterfalls.
Learn about the legend of Kuang Si Waterfalls
Outside of Luang Prabang are are some of the prettiest waterfalls in Asia, not due to their stature but purely based on the colours and ambience of the site. The legend of the waterfall involves a golden stag and is best told in Laos by the locals. Admission is 20,000 LAK. You can trek all around the falls and each level has something different to offer, take your swimsuit for a refreshing dip and marvel at the magic of this waterfall.
Visit the Plain of Jars
A strange archeological phenomenon which no one really knows the reasoning behind, here you’ll find an open plain filled with thousands of stone jars which legend has it that a race of giants used the jars to store alcohol. Entrance ranges between 10-15,000 LAK for each of the 3 sites.