Last Updated: 7/2/20 | July 2nd, 2020
I first visited Laos when I was living in Bangkok. But I never spent much time there beyond a few visa runs to Vientiane, the former French trading post and capital of the country.
Years later, on a massive trip through the region, I changed that and finally explored the country.
It did not disappoint.
I spent three weeks in the country, basking in the land-locked nation’s stunning nature and laid-back atmosphere. While I loved my time there, I was actually a little surprised about how expensive it was relative to its neighbors.
I had this image of Laos being super cheap, an assumption stemming from the fact that it’s less developed than its neighbors.
But Laos was more expensive than I thought.
At first, I thought I was doing something wrong. Was I missing something?
Was I just being oblivious to super cheap Laos?
When I travel, I try to uncover as many inexpensive ways to experience a destination as possible. But Laos was leaving me stumped.
But after speaking with some local writers, I realized that I hadn’t missed anything. There’s a reason Laos is slightly more expensive when compared to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Few things here are locally produced and, because the country is landlocked, it has to import almost everything. That raises prices for goods, services, and transportation. When combined with little domestic food production and higher petrol prices, you have the recipe for a country with higher-than-average prices for the region.
However, it’s by no means an expensive destination and backpackers will be able to manage easily without having to pinch pennies. To help you save money and enjoy your trip, here’s everything you need to know about traveling Laos on a budget.
How Much Does Laos Cost?
If you’re a backpacker on a budget, I think $30-35 USD (315,000 LAK) per day is a reasonable budget. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, eating mostly street food, having a few drinks per night, taking public transit, and doing about one paid activity (or a couple of cheap temples) per day.
Here are some example prices to give you a sense of what things cost in Laos (prices in LAK):
- Hostel dorm – 45,000
- Private room with ensuite bathroom – 130,000
- Overnight bus – 150,000-200,000
- Tuk-tuk – 50,000
- Bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng – 150,000
- Shared ride to Kuang Si Waterfalls – 50,000
- Entrance fee to attractions – 10,000-25,000
- Restaurant (local food) – 28,000
- Restaurant (Western food) – 45,000
- Street food – 15,000-30,000
- Bike rentals – 15,000
- Beer – 11,000
- Water – 8,000
- Tubing in Vang Vieng – 60,000
If you’re looking for a more comfortable trip, a mid-range budget of about 564,162 LAK ($65 USD) per day will get you a private two-star hotel room or a private hostel dorm, taxis, fancier restaurants (and Western food), and more activities per day.
If you are coming here as a backpacker or moderate budget traveler, you’ll be hard-pressed to really spend a lot!
How to Save Money in Laos
Though expensive relative to its neighbors, Laos is still a cheap country to visit. You really have to try to spend money here.
Besides the normal “stick to the local food/transportation” common sense travel wisdom, here are a few extra tips that will help you reduce your costs:
1. Book Your Own Activities & Transportation
Most attractions are near cities and don’t require you to go with an organized group. You can either rent a motorbike or hire any number of tuk-tuk drivers. If you can find other travelers to join you, you can share a ride and lower your costs even more.
For example, when I went to Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, most hostels wanted 80,000 LAK for the trip.
However, taxis from the center of town were only 30,000 LAK if you arranged it yourself. Not only is that cheaper but you get more time at the waterfalls and can be on your own schedule.
Another example: my friends and I got a bus to Vientiane from the company our hostel used. It was $5 USD more than the public bus but it was more convenient.
Or, it was supposed to have been more convenient.
We left an hour later and there were numerous stops. We would have saved time and money if we organized transportation ourselves right from the bus station.
2. Use Agoda for Accommodation
If you’re booking accommodation in advance, use Agoda. It’s my go-to website for booking budget accommodation in Asia. While you can definitely wander around and find accommodation on your own, Agoda has a lot of options if you want to pre-book.
3. Bring a Water Bottle (and Filter)
A water bottle (with a purifier) will come in handy in Laos since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money (and lots of single-use plastic bottles) by getting a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
4. Avoid Western Food
Western food is always going to be more expensive than local food. And while the prices aren’t that high, it will slowly add up over the course of your trip. If you’re really on a budget, skip the western food. You can eat burgers when you get home!
While Laos will never be found on a list of expensive countries, it’s not the bargain you might expect given the region of the world it is in, especially if you plan to drink and party a lot.
But, while it may not be as inexpensive as its neighbors, it is still a wonderful and affordable budget travel destination in the grand scheme of things. If you’re traveling around Southeast Asia, don’t miss it!
Book Your Trip to Laos: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
- Friendly Backpackers Hostel (Luang Prabang)
- Sunruse Riverside Pool Hostel (Luang Prabang)
- Dream Home Hostel (Vientiane)
- Nana Backpackers Hostel (Vang Vieng)
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Laos?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Laos for even more planning tips!