Laos may not instantly strike you as the most popular vacation spot, but this landlocked country in Southeast Asia has a rich cultural history, breathtaking waterfalls, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang that will make you want to revisit this country over and over again. For this article, I’ll focus on a mid-range travel budget, but keep in mind that your costs would be much lower if you backpack through the country. So just how much does it cost to go to Laos?
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to suggest a 10-day itinerary to visit three towns in Laos by bus. This itinerary will start in Luang Prabang, stop in Vang Vieng, and end in Vientiane, the capital city. Since Laos borders Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, you may want to visit Laos as part of your trip to Southeast Asia. Depending on which country you choose to fly into Laos, the itinerary can be done in reverse.
Please note that this guide is based on the costs for a single person. If you are travelling as a couple, make sure to double these estimates (except for hotels).
|Food and drink||$105|
The above estimate is in American dollars, so please use XE.com to find out the average costs in your home country.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Express Platinum card gives you a signup bonus of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $600 (potentially more if you transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy). There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has no foreign transaction fees, a sign up bonus worth $250 and it comes with airport lounge access.
Laos is quite far from North America and the international airfare will be the most expensive part of your trip. Rarely would you ever fly to Laos “directly.” If you’re flying from within Asia, flights will cost you much less on budget airlines such as Thai Smile, Lao Airlines, and AirAsia. To get the most savings out of your trip, plan your travel to Laos as part of a larger Southeast Asia itinerary and fly into Luang Prabang or Vientiane from the most common connection hubs – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Hanoi.
With that in mind, an estimate for one-way airfare from Bangkok to Luang Prabang is $145, while a multi-city flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, and Vientiane to Bangkok can be about $205. I strongly suggest flying into one city and out of the other to save time from having to backtrack to your starting destination.
The advantage of travelling within Laos is that the cities are relatively small and everything is reachable by foot. There is so much to see along the way that you can easily hit 10,000 steps on your fitness tracker without even noticing! Biking is another common way to get around locally, especially in Vang Vieng if you want to see the Blue Lagoon and caves. Some guesthouses offer free bicycle rentals. Otherwise, it costs around 20,000 Kip ($2.30 USD) to rent a bicycle for the day.
Taking a tuk-tuk is a thrilling way to see the city while weaving in and out of traffic but you need to set a price before hopping in. Typically, tuk-tuk drivers will ask for 20,000 Kip to get to your destination within the city. With some bargaining, certain drivers may accept 10,000 Kip for the same ride. Considering how low the exchange rate is, you may not want to bargain too hard.
Local buses and bus routes are plentiful in Vientiane. From the Central Bus Station, you can travel to the outskirts of the city where Buddha Park is located. It can be a bit daunting trying to figure out which bus to take, but the route maps are clearly displayed and colour-coded with bus numbers. Bus fares range from 3,000 Kip to 6,000 Kip ($.35 – $.70 USD) depending on your destination.
For regional travel within Laos, long-distance buses are the best option considering Vang Viang does not have an airport. Travel time can be an issue since it’ll take 8 hours to get from Luang Prabang to Vang Viang or 14 hours from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Another option is to take the overnight bus if you would rather sleep through the hairpin turns along sheer cliffs.
Do keep in mind that VIP buses may not be at the same luxury standard you may be accustomed to in North America and although you may pay for a VIP ticket, the air conditioning onboard may not always be functional. The VIP regional bus fare from Luang Prabang to Vientiane is 160,000 Kip ($18.50 USD), while it costs 190,000 Kip ($22 USD) on the VIP Sleeper bus for the same route. Both include a light meal at one of the stops on your ride.
Accommodations play a large factor when determining how much it costs to go to Laos. In Laos, you could spend a few dollars a night for a hostel to a few hundred at a luxury international resort chain. Depending on the type of vacation you want to experience, you could save or splurge a little. For this article, I have estimated accommodation costs based on mid-range accommodations. For 10-days in Laos, you can expect to pay about $600.
If you are looking for recommendations, I suggest the following:
If you have the right credit card, you can save a fair amount of money on hotels. For example, Canadians should consider the BMO World Elite Mastercard since it typically has a sign up bonus of $250 when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months of card membership. This card does have an annual fee of $150 but it’s normally waived for the first year so you’re getting $250 for free. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which gives you 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months. That’s enough points for up to five free nights at some hotels which could easily have a value of over $650.
Slow Boat Ride
One travel bucket list experience for many intrepid travellers is the 2-day slow boat on the Mekong River. This is yet another option for how you can travel to Laos without having to fly. From the sleepy town of Huay Xai near the Thailand-Laos border, board a narrow wooden boat for the 16-hour boat ride split over 2 days. Budget around 230,000 Kip ($25.66 USD) for the boat ticket plus an extra 15,000 Kip ($1.75 USD) per day for lunch.
The scenery is unforgettable as you drift by the Thailand countryside on your right and Laotian farm life on the left of the River. After 8 hours on the first day, the boat will stop in Pak Beng. Basic accommodations in a local guesthouse are unbelievably cheap at around $8 for a shared room. On the second day, you will arrive into beautiful Luang Prabang by late afternoon.
Food and Drink
Sampling local Laotian cuisine is one of the major highlights of visiting Laos. With early morning markets where vendors sell everything from the Mekong River’s daily fresh catch to hand-made noodles to Khao Nam Kok (coconut cake snacks), there is something to satisfy every palette. Sticky rice is a staple in Laos, and it’s traditionally served in cute bamboo baskets with mok pa fork, a local dish of steamed fish, shallots and coconut milk.
For budget eats, pull up a seat next to locals at road-side noodle hawker stalls offering 10,000 Kip ($1.15 USD) beef noodles and 15,000 Kip ($1.75 USD) fried rice. Khao Nam Kok snacks are 5,000 Kip ($.60 USD) at most street markets. On certain nights where you may want to enjoy a sit-down meal at a restaurant, expect to pay around 112,500 Kip ($13 USD) for a traditional Laotian dinner for including a round of Beerlao.
Missing the taste of food back home? Most hotel restaurants offer North American cuisine on their menus, such as pizza, pasta, and burgers, but prices will set you back around 225,000 Kip ($26 USD). There is even a Hard Rock Café in Vientiane.
It’s interesting to note the French influence around Laos, as France was once a colonial power in Southeast Asia. As such, you can indulge in French pastries, freshly baked croissants, baguettes, and a mean cappuccino at a number of boulangeries.
When in Luang Prabang, be sure to experience the backpacker favourite, Night Market Buffet. For 15,000 Kip ($1.75 USD), you can pile on as much organic veggies and carbs as you can into one bowl, one time.
In Laos, breakfast is included with almost all types of accommodation. With that in mind, a mid-range selection of meals including a mix of street food and sit-down meals means your average daily dining costs would look something like this:
- Breakfast: included
- Lunch: $3
- Dinner: $7
- Total: $10 per day
There are many cultural sights in Laos, many which are located within walking distance in the city, and a few others are worth the trek via boat, tuk-tuk or minivan.
In the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang, most temples and parks cost around 20,000 Kip ($2.30 USD) to get in, including Wat Xieng Thong and Mount Phousi. A half-day trip to Pak Ou Caves will cost around 105,000 Kip ($12.15 USD) which includes the hour-long boat ride on the Mekong River and a stop in Whiskey Village. This day trip can be combined with another half-day visit to the famous Kuang Si Falls for an additional 40,000 Kip ($4.60 USD), plus 20,000 Kip ($2.30 USD) admission.
A visit to the Blue Lagoon swimming hole is a must in Vang Vieng. There are three different Lagoons in Vang Vieng, but Blue Lagoon 1 is the closest one to town, making it suitable for a leisurely bike ride. The entrance fee is 10,000 Kip ($1.15 USD).
A trip to Vientiane isn’t complete without a visit to the Phra That Luang Museum (10,000 Kip) and the Patuxai Victory Monument (3,000 Kip to climb to the top). Be sure to take advantage of free attractions such as the Vientiane Riverside night market, Ban Anou Night Market, Chao Anouvong Park, and watching the sunset along the Mekong River. Further outfield is Buddha Park (3000 Kip admission) where you can take a local bus for 6,000 Kip for the 25 km ride.
Plan to allocate around $100 for incidentals. Upon arrival in Laos, you’ll have to fork out $42 for a visa, plus a $1 overtime fee if you arrive on the weekend. The visa fee varies depending on your nationality but generally runs between $30 to $42. Don’t forget to bring a passport photo with you.
Since Laos is known for its night markets, you may want to browse handicrafts, souvenirs and knick-knacks. I’m not usually one for souvenirs, but my favourite item from the market is a keychain made of aluminum from bombs left behind from the Secret War of 1964-1975. It’s always fun to test your bargaining skills at these markets! If you’re apprehensive, try haggling at a few booths to get the hang of it.
Budget a few dollars to buy snacks and drinks for bus ride between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. 14 hours will pass by more comfortably when you are well fed!
How much does it cost to go to Laos? The estimated costs for a 10-day trip would be about $1,070 per person based on my suggestions and itinerary as indicated above, but it can easily be done for much cheaper.
Laos is a beautiful country you should definitely add to your travel bucket list and it’s one of the most affordable places for budget to mid-range travellers. While you may not want to spend your entire vacation here, it makes a great addition to the start or end of a trip to Southeast Asia. Check out my guide on how much does it cost to go to Southeast Asia if you’re considering visiting other countries in the area.