Laos vs Thailand and Cambodia
While not as cheap-cheap as good ol’ Thailand or Cambodia, travelling Laos and exploring all its hidden gems is still possible for those with a low budget. For travellers who like to get off the beaten track; are okay with occasionally walking; enjoy munching tasty, local street food; are fine with fan-cooled rooms and shared bathrooms; and are prepared to take overnight buses rather than fly; exploring the country of Laos without breaking the bank will be completely doable.
Independent vs packaged tour in Laos: what to choose
Pros of independent travel
The perks of independent travel are naturally a heightened sense of freedom, flexibility, autonomy and independence as well as the lower costs of no tour packaged commissions being added on. You are obviously able to leave any attractions as quickly or as leisurely as you wish, can attempt bargaining your way around transport costs, and can eat as cheaply or as lavishly as you want.
Cons of independent travel
The cons of independent travel in terms of your wallet may be that you have less bargaining power than you might otherwise have had in a group. Transport costs will have to be yours alone rather than divided by the members in a bigger group and will almost always end up costing you more.
Pros of packaged travel
Packaged tours also save you a lot of time in organising a trip and allow you to meet other (hopefully) likeminded travellers. You holiday is also relatively stress-free in commuting from attraction to attraction and generally you are able to squeeze in significantly more sights and activities than you would have been able to arrange alone.
Cons of packaged travel
Well, you are not flexible at all!
Combining independent and packaged travel!
Due to the majority of the attractions in Laos charging a very affordable entrance fee of between LAK 30,000 to LAK 80,000, sightseeing is well within most budget backpacker’s budgets. For this reason, it might make more sense to meet fellow travellers at your hostel or guesthouse and then attempt arranging group transport to a particular hotspot the following day to save on travelling costs. This still allows you to decide how long to spend there, what to do next, and where to eat or not eat. For other budget-savvy travellers, knowing exactly how much things will cost and paying a tour company a specific amount upfront for a full, all-included package can be stress-relieving and preferable. It really comes down to each individual traveller’s needs and preferences.
Top budget itineraries
Vientiane is made up of two main areas: downtown Vientiane and outside city centre. Downtown Vientiane is essentially the city centre where everything is located in very close proximity to the Mekong River, shops and night market. Outside the city centre includes anything that is further than three kilometres from the heart of the city. You’d think that the outskirts of Vientiane would offer the cheapest accommodation options, but we found the opposite to be the case. Perhaps as a result of the competitive market of the many guesthouses, homestays and hotels smack bang in the centre, the accommodations here were quite a bit cheaper. Plus, you’ll save on transport costs as you’ll be able to walk everywhere.
Cheap food in Vientiane is fortunately here in dizzying abundance and inexpensive baguettes, French pastries, inexpensive bakeries, local eateries and food from the night market will sort out any and all growling stomachs.
For those with no more Kip to spend on sights and attractions, Vientiane boasts a few completely free things to do. COPE Visitor Centre is a rehab that assists Laos bomb victims from American bombs that still accidently detonate in the country after being dropped in WW2. Donations are welcome, but entrance is free. The centre offers visitors free bicycles to explore the city too. Other sites that are LAK 5,000 or under in Vientiane include, Buddha park, Wat Sisaket, Patuxai Monument, Great Sacred Stupa and Ho Phra Keo.
Luang Prabang has a somewhat upmarket reputation but for those with decidedly less Kip to spend, there are still places to catch some z’s if you know where to look. Stay away from the historic quarter situated in the peninsula as this is home to a smorgasbord of expensive, luxury boutique hotels. Rather look down the back streets for cheaper rooms and avoid properties that have a riverside location as this tends to jack up the nightly rate a fair bit. A dorm room at Spicy Laos hostel is an excellent choice for solo-travellers.
Cheap eats in Luang Prabang can easily be found at the outdoor buffet at the local night market for cheap sweet pastries, sandwiches and many local specialities. Be sure to try Luang Prabang salad with the classic creamy dressing which is an East-West dish from Laos’s French colonial days.
Aside from the standard Kuang Si Waterfall, Mount Phousi and Wat Xiang Thong, all of which only cost LAK 20,000, there are also free things to do in Luang Prabang. These include the beautifully spiritual Alms Giving Ceremony that occurs at sunrise each morning where the monks walk in procession through the streets to collect donations; wandering through the UNESCO World Heritage, Old Quarter; and people watching at the Morning Market and Night Market.
Fortunately for travellers in Vang Vieng, accommodation prices are fiercely competitive with private rooms often being priced at the same rate as beds in a shared dorm.
Sadly, although the accommodations offer high quality and superb value for money, the same cannot really be said for Vang Vieng’s dining scene. Mediocre food seems to be the rule rather than the exception but fortunately meals are mostly very inexpensive with most of the restaurants and eateries offering the same dishes at the same prices. It could be worse.
With plenty of fun and adventurous activities on offer in Vang Vieng such as tubing, riding in a hot-air balloon and visiting all the bars in the area, you might be feeling a tad broke after a couple of days. Fortunately, the gorgeous Blue Lagoon and Cave, as well as the Water Cave only costs LAK 10,000 to enter and you can spend the day there if you wish. Plus, the Elephant Cave is only LAK 2,000. For those who don’t have two pennies to rub together you can cycle or walk around exploring the rice paddies, admiring the looming karsts and taking photos of the locals planting rice in the fields.
Despite the fact that [Savannakhet[(/en/laos/savannakhet) is largely known as being the place that foreigners come to get a Thai visa, accommodation in this area has improved significantly over the years and amenities are of pretty good quality. Travellers are easily able to be choosy when selecting one of the many well priced guesthouses or hostels in the area.
Finding cheap, tasty food in Savannakhet is fortunately very easy too and there are plenty of small bars, eateries and cafes scattered along the river front at the northern end of town. Riverside vendors also line the Mekong River selling a wide variety of local snacks and scrumptious meals. For travellers craving the standard Khao Jee (filled baguettes) or rotis from street vendors, make your way to the bustling Ratsavongseuk Street.
Filling up your time cheaply during your stay in Savannakhet can be done by exploring the historic downtown and colonial buildings in Talat Yen plaza on foot; waking up early for the morning market and seeing the monks from the nearby temple, Wat Rattanalangsi; visiting the Dinosaur Museum; and wondering through The Church of Santa Teresa.
Although not expensive, sadly accommodation in this city offers little value for money and is mostly situated on the main road along the Mekong River with plentiful budget, sub-standard accommodations.
Food options in Champasak are largely limited but the food itself is not half bad once you locate an eatery or restaurant. Look out for The Kitchen, Champasak with Love and Nakorn Café and Restaurant for well-priced, generous helpings of tasty food.
Spend your day visiting Champasak’s oldest temple, Wat Muang Kang; and take a small boat to the little island of Don Daeng for a few hours of strolling around and taking in the sights.
Top 10 best budget-friendly accommodations in Laos
Sokdee Residence in Luang Prabang is an excellent budget-friendly spot to spend a night or two. With the welcoming host and complimentary tea, coffee, noodles and even whiskey it’ll be difficult to find anywhere cheaper in Laos.
Vientiane Garden Hotel offers excellent value for money with its comfy rooms, pool and included breakfast.
- Cosmo Hotel also in Vientiane is even cheaper. With its beautiful pool, excellent service and large colonial-style hotel, it is a good spot for budget travellers who don’t want to skimp on comforts.
*For travellers whose biggest goal is to find the cheapest bed for the night without worrying too much about service and quality, Mixay Guesthouse is just the place for you. Unbelievably cheap and great location.
Pakse Hotel with its free Wi-Fi, comfortable beds, refrigerator and exceptionally well-priced nightly rates offers penny-saving travellers an absolute bargain.
Another wallet-friendly hotel in Pakse is, Sala Champa Hotel. With the very low nightly rates, free Wi-Fi, hot showers and great location, there’s very little for those on a budget to complain about.
Khampaseuth Hotel in Vang Vieng offers guests free bicycles to explore the city, spacious rooms and excellent bang for your buck.
RoungNakhone Hotel in Vang Vieng with their stunning views, cheap prices and buffet breakfast offers guests an inexpensive and pleasant stay.
Mountain View Riverside Boutique Hotel also in Vang Vieng is a surprisingly beautiful budget hotel with gorgeous views and a superb location.
- Despite the fact that Savanbanhao Hotel in Savannakhet will not win any prizes for being aesthetically beautiful, it is one of the cheapest places that we found in Laos. Clean, simple and ordinary it is a great spot for travellers whose main aim is to save money. Opt for a fan-cooled room over air-con to save even more on nightly rates.
Top tips for budget travel in Laos
- Eat street food rather than eating at restaurants.
- Walk wherever possible to save money on transport costs or try sharing taxis and tuk-tuks with other travellers for those travelling alone.
- Travel during low season (July to October).
- Get off the beaten track and visit the lesser known areas.
- Spend your days exploring the natural beauty on foot or on bicycle.
- Stay in homestays or hostels to stretch your Kip.
- Download Maps.me before going before leaving and you’ll be able to find your way even when offline.
The stunning country of Laos with its slower pace of life, spectacular scenery and magical processions of saffron-robed monks make it an ideal destination for those longing for a dose of fascinating Southeast Asian culture and raw natural beauty. While slightly pricier than other countries in the southeast, Laos is still largely inexpensive for most travellers; and with these helpful tricks and tips, there’ll be no reason why a trip to Laos isn’t on the bucket lists of budget travellers.