Dates Visited: December 3, 2014 – December 22, 2014
# of Days: 19
Average Daily Budget: USD 32.21 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 8000.00 Laotian Kip (LAK)
Affordable accommodations in Laos was a struggle to find at times. Since we were in Laos during peak season, it made finding decent, clean and cheap accommodation nearly impossible. Everything was either dirt cheap and awful or super nice and super expensive. We looked for our usual criteria – clean double room with private bathroom, free wifi and AC.
Pakbeng (1 night) – The 2-day slow boat from Thailand into Laos had an overnight in Pakbeng. We stayed at the Duangparsen Guesthouse (USD 12.00 / night) and it was arguably the best (and cheapest) room we had in Laos.
Luang Prabang (6 nights)– Luang Prabang was a real challenge for accommodation. After walking for nearly two hours, we settled down for a room at Merry Guesthouse (USD 19.84 / night) for two nights. With some more research and luck (all places in town were full), we got a room at View Khem Khong (USD 17.36 / night), which was cheaper and better than the previous room we had. Wifi was shaky and undependable… but that was the case in most of Laos.
Vang Vieng (1 night) – Vang Vieng was more of a stop-over in our trip down to Vientiane than a stop to explore the town. Since we were staying only one night, we picked a random room at the Somphathai Hotel (USD 11.16 / night). It was not the cleanest and wifi pretty much didn’t work there.
Vientiane (5 nights) – Similar to Luang Prabang, we had a hard time finding decent, clean rooms in Vientiane. We stayed one night at the Vayakorn Guesthouse (USD 22.32 / night), and since they were full thereafter, we were forced to change hotels the next day. For the remainder 4 nights, we stayed at the Mixey Paradise Hotel (USD 14.88 / night), which ended up being better and cheaper. Mixey Paradise Hotel had the best wifi anywhere in the entire country and we enjoyed it while it lasted.
Konglor Village (1 night) – We got a room at one of the many guesthouses available, which was surprisingly one of the cleanest and cheapest rooms we had in Laos. Our stay here cost only USD 7.44 / night.
Don Det (2 nights) – Our room at Le Bijou Hotel (USD 12.40 / night) in Don Det (4000 Islands) was very spacious and clean, with decent wifi. There were much cheaper options in the form of beach bungalows, but we opted for a place with private bathrooms.
Pakse (1 night) – On our way out of Laos and back to Thailand we stopped in Pakse for one night and stayed at the Daovieng 2 Hotel (USD 16.12 / night), which had a room fine enough for one night.
Money Saving Tips – If you are traveling in Laos during peak season, booking your accommodation in advance will save you time. However, you do run the risk of not knowing what kind of room you’re getting and its conditions; walking in allowed us to see the room before agreeing on the price. The more nights you plan on staying, the more negotiating power you have. Most semi-full guesthouses won’t bother with guests who only want to stay one night, but if they hear you plan on staying 3 or 4 or 5 nights, then suddenly they have availability and they’re willing to move rooms around.
Food & Drinks
Just like Khmer food, Lao food wasn’t particularly memorable. Both sanitary conditions as well as equal prices kept us out of the streets, forcing us to eat at restaurants 100% of the time. All of the restaurants served a mix of Lao, Thai and Western food, with the quality and size of the portions varying drastically from door to door. One of our philosophies in Laos was once we found a restaurant we liked, we stuck to it. We usually love trying out new places, but every time we did, it was only a disappointment – less food for a higher price.
We ended up spending USD 9.40 per person per day on food, which was less than in Cambodia but still more than in Thailand. We also ate a lot more Western food than we would have preferred, but just like Khmer food, Lao food portions were small and the variety lacking.
Money Saving Tips – We could have cut the costs down had we not ordered so many shakes / fruit smoothies. Many restaurants also offered a “Specials” menu that can save you some money and potentially serve you decent food. There was such a thing as a street food buffet in the street markets of Luang Prabang that was dirt cheap – 10,000 kip (USD 1.25) for as much food as you can pile on a plate. However, you get what you pay for – there was no meat and everything was flavourless. For those on a serious budget, it doesn’t get much cheaper than the buffet.
This category is split into two parts, intracity and intercity:
Intracity – Most of the cities in Laos are small enough that you can walk its whole extension multiple times during a day. When the distance became too far to walk, we relied mainly on tuk-tuks. This usually happened between bus stations and the city centers – bus stations were always far outside the city such that tuk-tuk drivers could make money off of foreigners.
Our cost in this category was USD 1.30 a day per person, with a typical tuk-tuk ride (3km) costing around USD 2.50.
Money Saving Tips – Walk as much as you can to explore the cities. Cities in Laos were small enough that you shouldn’t need any other means of transportation. For remote sites in the cities, tuk-tuks or songthaews should be your choice. As usual, always negotiate the price beforehand. For catching public transportation from bus stations into cities, walk away from the big crowds gathered right by the bus to negotiate a better deal.
- Intercity – Intercity transportation in Laos was the worst we’ve experienced so far. You can expect long, bumpy and noisy bus journeys no matter where you go. For example, a bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (185km) took 8h, through the windy mountains of northern Laos. In addition to the bad roads, there were “extra” people sitting on plastic stools in the corridor. From Konglor Village to Don Det Island, the journey took about 20h. Buses in Laos were not cheap – our cost from north to south was USD 95.84 per person. Having said that, it did give us some interesting travel stories to tell in the future.
Money Saving Tips – Buy bus tickets at the bus stations, unless in some cases when it was cheaper to buy with agents in the city because it included free pickups from the hotel. In those cases the bus stations were too far away from the city center and the tuk-tuk rides there would have cost us more. If you’re tight on time, then flying would be the only other option besides buses.
Laos had numerous free and paid attractions. Below is a list of the ones we paid for:
- Royal Palace (Luang Prabang) – Entrance fee USD 3.70 per person
One of the few city attractions in Luang Prabang was the Royal Palace and for only USD 3.70 per person it was worth the visit.
- Phousi Hill (Luang Prabang) – Entrance fee USD 2.50 per person
Overlooking the picturesque town of Luang Prabang, the Phousi Hill provided a beautiful view of the sunset over the Mekong and the mountains in the background. A USD 2.50 fee per person is required to climb the 350 steps uphill.
- Mahout Training Tour (Luang Prabang) – USD 99.00 per person
One of the highlights in Laos was the day we spent at the elephant village. Even though there were companies offering similar packages for half the price, we decided to go with the Elephant Village Laos for their commitment to taking care of the elephants.
- Kuang Si Waterfall (Luang Prabang) – Entrance fee USD 2.50 per person
The Kuang Si Waterfall was located on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, in the middle of the dense green jungle. A visit to the park is a must-see in the area and the USD 2.50 fee made it super affordable, even for budget travellers. You could easily spend a whole day there.
- Pha That Luang (Vientiane) – Entrance fee USD 0.60 per person
The national symbol of Laos has a symbolic entrance fee (USD 0.60) and deserves a look if you are in Vientiane.
- Patuxay (Vientiane) – Entrance fee USD 0.30 per person
The entrance fee is only to climb up to the top of Patuxay – a small price to pay for the view you get from the top of the Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe.
- Wood Carving Course (Vientiane) – USD 18.60 per person
Since Vientiane lacked attractions, we took a wood carving course with the Backstreet Academy. Everything was pretty well organized and the experience was worth the money.
- Konglor Cave Tour (Konglor Village) – Entrance fee + boat ride USD 7.70 per person
Getting to the remote Konglor Village wasn’t fun, but once we were there, the boat ride through the 7km cave was one of the best experiences we had in Laos. We could have saved a bit here, since you pay for the boat (USD 12.5 – fits up to 3 people) and we were only a party of two.
There were few miscellaneous expenses in Laos:
- Visa On Arrival fee – USD 72.00
We got our visas to Laos on arrival and the cost of doing so was USD 30 for Carlos (Brazilian passport) and USD 42 for Julie (Canadian passport).
- 30-day SIM Card with 600MB of data – USD 2.48
By far the cheapest SIM card of our trip, we got the 30-day, 600MB data only SIM card from Unitel. The signal and 3G speed were spotty and slow (we were usually on EDGE), but still decent for Laos’ standards and for how much we paid.
In addition to the expenses above, we had other miscellaneous expenses like laundry, postage, public bathroom fees, etc. that summed up to USD 17.37.
Traveling in Laos was more expensive than we initially thought, mainly due to peak season that skyrocketed accommodation and food prices. Transportation costs were also higher than in the neighboring countries; however, cheap entertainment and miscellaneous expenses made up for the difference. All in all, we are happy that we were below our expected budget.