To continue my travel budgeting series around Asia, next up is Laos!
I finally made it to Laos after missing it during my last trip to Asia in 2013. Since I went in the low season this year, I found it harder in some aspects for traveling around and budgeting.
I still managed to meet quite a few new traveler friends, but starting off my time in the country with a week straight of heavy rains in Luang Prabang, put a bit of a damper on my time, literally.
Offseason or not, Laos turned out to be on par, or even a little cheaper, than its neighboring Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Food and drink especially were inexpensive and accommodation prices varied a lot depending on where I was in the country.
This is everything I spent during my 28 days in Laos!
Note: All prices are in US dollars and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy. Please note as well that this is the budget for one person in Laos. If you’re traveling with one other person, accommodation prices can sometimes come out cheaper for double rooms vs. dorms.
The currency in Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK) and the conversion rate (in 2017) comes to about $1 US = 8,230 LAK.
Time spent = 27 nights, 28 days
ACCOMMODATION = $217 (AVERAGED AROUND $8/NIGHT)
Huay Xai (1 night) = $9/night. One bed in a 4-bed mixed dorm at Little Hostel
Vang Vieng (2 nights) = $3.50/night ($7 total). One bed in 10-bed mixed dorm at Easy Go Hostel.
Pakse (3 nights) = $4.70/night ($14 total). One futon in 8-bed mixed dorm at DownTown Pakse Hostel.
Accommodation in Laos was hit or miss. There weren’t many places that I absolutely loved. Although there are still options for hostels in most cities, it’s not the same plethora of choices that you find in Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam. And the ones that I did stay at were dirty and run down, for the most part.
My average cost per night came out higher, because I splurged on a couple of nice hotel stays during my month in the country. It was in Laos that I started to recognize my travel burnout, and I was craving more luxury and less roughing it.
Laos was also where I turned 27, so I wanted to stay in a nice hotel for my birthday.
Most of the places I stayed didn’t have breakfast included, and I found it interesting that many of the dorms were separated by gender, especially if it was run by locals as opposed to westerners. Something to keep in mind if you’re traveling as a couple, always make sure they have a mixed dorm available.
The nicest place I stayed at by far was BABA Guesthouse, which was my birthday present to myself. It was a clean and fancy French colonial accommodation that looked out over the Mekong River. It was one of the best room views I had in Asia.
I also really enjoyed Thawee Guesthouse in Vientiane. As it was my last few nights in the country, I booked the most expensive room and enjoyed three nights in a wonderful little heritage hotel with great WiFi.
Probably the worst place in terms of cleanliness was Backpackers Garden Hostel, where there were so many mosquitos in the bathrooms that I felt sure I was going to pick up malaria or dengue at some point. And YaYa Guesthouse (now Savanna Restaurant & Hostel) had some pretty disgusting bathrooms and fellow guests that liked to smoke in the hallways.
My least favorite stay over all was at Easy Go Hostel in Vientiane, it was dirt cheap and also quite dirty. I also didn’t click with any of the people staying there which is pretty unusual for me at a hostel. Luckily, I made friends with a fellow digital nomad my first day in town though, who I hung out with for most of my stay.
Even though it was a simple dorm, with thin futons on the floor, my favorite hostel turned out to be DownTown Pakse. Mainly this was because of the fellow chilled out guests and the owner, Adam, who was always funny, kind, and helpful. Check out this blog to learn about the things to do in Pakse.
I took three overnight buses in total, which cut down on a few nights of accommodation costs. However, I’m getting to the point now where unless I absolutely have to, I try to avoid overnight buses since I never sleep on them.
TRANSPORTATION = $116 ($4/DAY)
Transportation in Laos was either buses or minivans depending on the duration and how treacherous the roads were. I didn’t realize this for some reason before but Laos is a mountainous country with winding roads, especially in the north.
The majority of overnight buses are flat beds instead of regular seats that recline. The flat bed is for two people, so if you’re traveling by yourself it can get real awkward real quick if you get a rando that you have to spoon with all night in a cramped space.
I lucked out and had a flat bed to myself my first journey to Luang Prabang. I shared another bed with a Dutch girl who I befriended on the overnight to the 4,000 Islands. For my last overnight bus, I shared a bed with an Australian guy who I met in Pakse and who I ended up hanging out with for a few days in Vientiane.
Although I didn’t rent a motorbike in Laos this time, it’s another popular way to get around the country. There are a few motorbike loops in the south that are 2-3 days each and are a popular adventure for backpackers to do.
FOOD =$205 ($7/DAY)
I couldn’t quite put my finger on Laotian food – it was part Thai, part Chinese, and party something completely its own. The food could be hit or miss in the country as well.
The first half of my trip, while I was in the north, I found at least 1-2 bugs in every meal I ate. The food prepartion didn’t seem to be the cleanest, especially at the really local spots where it felt like I was eating in the living room of someone’s house (I’m pretty sure I was).
But those places are where I usually found the best noodle soup and the cheapest meals, so I went to them often.
Luckily, I didn’t get sick which I was very happy about after my misfortune with the food in Myanmar. As I went further south, there were more touristy restaurants and much more Thai influence to the food.
Some interesting eats included trying water buffalo meat and congealed blood cubes, laap, and the many cold and spicy salads that are a popular fixture to Laotian cuisine.
COFFEE = $50
I spent so much on coffee during my travels in Laos mainly because I was working a lot. The best WiFi was always found at the expensive western cafes, and even then only half the time the WiFi would work.
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Vientiane itself, I did enjoy it’s exceptional craft coffee scene and more reliable WiFi – it’s partially why I ended up staying there so long at the end of my trip.
SMOOTHIES/JUICES = $27
I had fresh juice or smoothies everyday in Laos. I was still completely addicted to having that daily fresh taste of goodness from my recent four months in Thailand. There weren’t any smoothies in particular that blew me away, but they were still a refreshing treat to look forward to in the humid hot weather.
ALCOHOL = $45
I didn’t drink a whole lot in Laos, but when I did I went all out.
Namely, I drank in Vang Vieng which is known for its drinking and tubing on the river. I also splurged on a nice bottle of wine for me and my friend Irma for my birthday, which was a nice treat.
Lastly, I had a fun night out in Pakse with a few hostel mates, and a few relatively expensive cocktails and beers in Vientiane at the local live music venue.
WATER (1500 ML) = AVERAGED TO $0.60 EACH/$10 TOTAL FOR 16 BOTTLES
I may have missed out on writing down some of the waters I bought because I definitely drank more than 16 bottles in 28 days. Regardless, the most common price I found for a big water was 5000 kip, which came out to about US$0.60.
MISC = $105
Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases, including the extra things to do in Laos besides the basic living expenses :
- Palace Museum in Luang Prabang = $3.60
- UXO Center in Luang Prabang (donation) = $2.50
- Art + Ethnology Center in Luang Prabang = $3
- Wat in Luang Prabang = $2.50
- Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang = $2.50
- Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng = $1.20
- Buddha Park in Vientiane = $0.60
- Cope Visitor Centre in Vientiane (donation) = $1.20
- Kuang Si Waterfall = $2.50
Other Misc Prices
- Wonder Woman movie = $5
- Two nights of outdoor Zumba with locals in Vientiane = $1.20
- Toiletries = $3.75
- Laundry (2x) = $3.75
- Private tour around Pakse = $24
- Beer Lao shirt from the Luang Prabang Night Market= $3
- SIM Card + credit = $8.50
- Bracelet = $1.20
- Inner tube rental in Vang Vieng (including transport) = $7
- Public Bathroom = $0.12
- Bday kayaking trip = $19.50
- Massage = $7
My biggest miscellaneous expense was doing a private tour around Pakse with a local via motorbike. In the low season they don’t run any public tours in the smaller cities in Laos, so you either have to rent your own motorbike or hire a local to take you around.
However, my private tour ended up being one of my favorite days in Laos and I got to see the ancient Wat Phu complex, so I don’t regret the extra expenditure.
My other splurgy item was my birthday kayaking trip, which was quite the adventure! And even still at less than $20 for a full all day kayaking tour including lunch, it really wasn’t that bad.
INCLUDING EVERYTHING, I SPENT ABOUT $28 A DAY, OR $775 TOTAL FOR 28 DAYS IN LAOS.
Again, I probably could’ve done it cheaper and saved $100 or so, but I was ready to have a bit more luxury this trip. In general, as I’ve gotten older in my travels, I’ve started to appreciate the odd luxury now and then, and I embraced more of the “flashpacker” style in Laos.
I’ve realized that I much prefer staying in design-friendly, clean boutique hostels or hotels than the bohemian party hostels, and also being able to afford the local specialties on a menu and not just the cheapest meals.
Regardless of my extra splurges, $775 is not bad for a month of traveling and I’m happy with what I spent in Laos and the experiences I had along the way.
Let me know – how expensive did you expect Laos to be? More? Less? Have you been to Laos or any other Southeast Asia country before?
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