Laos is often overshadowed by its bigger neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It doesn’t help that it is the only country in Southeast Asia without a coastline. The country has not undergone a major industrialization and modernization like other countries in the region. There are a lack western comforts like 7-Elevens, McDonald’s, or even paved roads in some areas, but what it makes up for is its beautiful scenery and its laid back atmosphere. Below, I will give you my budget breakdown of what $40 per day can get you in Laos.
My adventure in Laos started by taking a ferry from the border of Thailand to the UNESCO World Heritage Town Of Luang Prabang. After I headed to the wild backpacker scene of Vang Vieng. My last stop in Laos was the sleepy capital, Vientiane.
Currency Info: In December 2019, the exchange of the Laotian Kip to the Canadian Dollar was around 6,449 LAK to $1 CAD.
Food & Drinks
During my week and a half in Laos, I was spending an average of 80,125 LAK ($12.24 CAD). Although there are some great Lao dishes, I actually don’t like sticky rice, which is a staple in this country. Therefore, I ate my fair share of Western food, especially in Vang Vieng.
Here are some the food & drinks I got in Laos:
- Lao sausage 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- Baguette sandwich 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- Lao Khao Soi 15,000 LAK ($2.33 CAD)
- Laab 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- Pork fried rice 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- Papaya salad 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- Burger and fries 30,000 LAK ($4.65 CAD)
- Fruit shake 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- Coconut cake and coffee at Joma Bakery Cafe 37,000 LAK ($5.74 CAD)
- A bottle of the national beer; Beerlao 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- A 750ml bottle of Lao whiskey 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
Make sure you check out what makes it to the Top 5 Eats in Laos!
Don’t expect getting from place to place quickly. The country’s public transportation is nothing like its neighbours of Thailand and Vietnam. Roads are poorly maintained and many are not even paved. So expect delays, cancellations and even breakdowns.
Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
This is a very popular route among backpackers. The slow boat takes you from the border of Thailand down the majestic Mekong River. The journey is not for everyone as the it’s not comfortable at all. The seats are either benches, used car seats, or the floor. As you can tell from the name, the boat goes quite slow and takes a total of two days. The engine is quite loud so if you want a quieter spot, try to sit as close to the front of the boat as possible.
But what you get is a very unique experience. The journey is very scenic from mountains, to animals and people playing in the water. I was able to meet a good group of other travellers and we were able to pass the time with drinking games.
Food and drinks are available to purchase, but it is going to be double the price compared to off the ship. Be sure to bring lots of food and drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) for the trip!
I booked this as a part of a three day slow boat tour from Chiang Mai for 1800 THB ($71.46 CAD) through my hostel in Chiang Mai. It included transportation from Chiang Mai, a visit to the unique white temple in Chiang Rai, accommodation in Chiang Khong (border town in Thailand) and the slow boat. As the slow boat is two days, you will then spend the night in Pakbeng in accommodation at your own cost.
And the minivan/bus rides I took:
Minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng 100,000 LAK ($15.51 CAD)
Bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane 50,000 LAK ($7.75 CAD)
For booking transportation within Laos, I used 12go.asia as I found their website have the best prices for booking trains, buses, transfers.
Accommodation in Laos is one of the cheapest I’ve encountered. Dorm beds in highly rated hostels can be booked for only $8 CAD! Having really only stayed in three cities in Laos (spent one night in Pakbeng for the slow boat), I had a great stay in two of them and had a horrible experience with the other.
Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel for 3 nights at 52,202 LAK ($7.78 CAD) per night
This hostel is located within walking distance from most things to do in the city. Tourist attractions from the night market, Mount Phousi, the alms ceremony and more everyday things such as Utopia bar (best bar in town!), a supermarket and a local gym. They have great free breakfast available where you can choose between banana pancakes, omelets, scrambled eggs. There is a great lounge area where you can meet fellow travellers and a pool, which I did not have the time to try.
Nana Backpackers Hostel for 5 nights at 47,292 LAK ($7.73 CAD) per night
Just to give you a warning, this is a not a place to get some peace and quiet. This “party” hostel has a good common area filled with a bar, swimming pool, and a billiards pool creating a really good social atmosphere. They also organize groups for tubing, the most popular activity in Vang Vieng! Make sure to take advantage of the FREE whiskey & vodka everyday from 7PM to 9PM.
Sailomyen Hostel for 1 night at 72,000 LAK ($11.16 CAD) per night
I really liked this hostel but there is one thing that made me check out early, BED BUGS! This modern designed hostel had great beds, clean facilities, free breakfast with eggs and sausages, and a good location close to all the landmarks in the city. Unfortunately, after staying one night, I woke up with bites all over my body and blood stains on the bed sheets. I showed the staff, and they were not surprised (not a good sign). They moved me to another room, but when I met other travellers who had experiences with finding bed bugs in the same hostel (different rooms), I checked out early and moved to a hotel. I took a long hot shower, washed all my clothes, and steamed my bad and the rest of my stuff.
While there are not as many activities offered compared to Thailand, you can still find many things to do in Laos. Laos offers great adventure activities especially in Vang Vieng for cheap prices.
Here are the things I did in Laos:
- Take in the nightly activity in Luang Prabang – drunk bowling 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- And also drunk archery 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD) for 5 shots
- Watch the sunset over Luang Prabang at Mount Phosi 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- Go to Laos’ #1 attraction: Kuang Si Falls 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- Wake up really early in the morning to watch the alms ceremony. This ceremony is where monks collect alms of rice from kneeling villagers at the crack of dawn. FREE
- Do one of the most popular attractions of the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit: Tubing in Vang Vieng 65,000 LAK ($10.08 CAD)
- Check out the many blue lagoons scattered around Vang Vieng (Skip Blue Lagoon #1 and check out Blue Lagoon #3) 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD)
- Shred those dirt roads of Vang Vieng with a dune buggy 500,000 LAK ($77.53 CAD) for 5 hours. Share with someone if you can to split the cost!
- Gaze at one of the most beautiful viewpoints at Nam Xay Viewpoint 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD)
- Explore Vientiane’s outdoor collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities at Buddha Park 15,000 LAK ($2.33 CAD)
These were my miscellaneous expenses while I was in Laos
- VISA on arrival fees (btw Canada pays the most out of all the countries) $42 USD
- ATM fees 20,000 LAK ($3.10 CAD). Make sure you don’t get any additional fees from your bank by using a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK!
- A much needed work out at a local gym in Luang Prabang 15,000 LAK ($2.33 CAD)
The Sum of Backpacking in Laos
Laos is the land of booze! You can find a local 750ml whiskey and vodka bottle for as low as 10,000 LAK ($1.55 CAD). Places in Vang Vieng, gave out free alcohol such as the Nana Backpackers Hostel and Viva Bar. That’s why drinking and partying here is such a popular activity! Accommodation, food and other activities are also very very affordable. Over the 12 days I was in Laos, I spent $484.72 CAD which came out to $40.39 per day.