The cost of living in Laos
Despite the steady influx of tourism in Laos, the cost of living is still relatively low even when compared to other Southeast Asian countries. Cheaper than Malaysia but slightly more expensive than Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is an attractive, affordable and competitively priced travel destination for most. However, as a result of Laos being a rather poor country which relies largely on imports, certain things can be slightly pricier than in other parts of Southeast Asia. In Laos prices vary somewhat between cities and villages with Luang Prabang being the country’s most expensive destination. Fortunately, even if on a strict budget, this popular tourist spot is still largely affordable and penny saving is still possible for the savvy and determined.
Prices in Laos
Knowing where to save money and where spending is unavoidable is only possible once one has a breakdown of the general cost of things. Below we’ll explore the nitty-gritty expenses of a travel experience in Laos from taxi rides, to zip-lining through forests, to the price of a bowl of noodle soup on bustling street corners. Calculators and pencils out, everybody! Here we go.
Transport costs in Laos
Getting around the towns and cities of Laos are possible by putting one foot in front of the other or renting a bicycle. Bicycles will generally cost you around LAK 10,000 for the day and offer travellers a convenient and easy means of exploring the various villages, towns and cities at their own pace.
Larger motorcycle tuk-tuks, called Jumbos, are also convenient and relatively affordable ways of commuting about town and should cost around LAK 10,000 to LAK 20, 000 for a short distance and around LAK 50,000 for a ride to and from the airport. Agree on the fare before jumping inside the tuk-tuk as drivers are known to spike up the prices for foreigners to at least double the standard rate. As with any travel in foreign countries, sharing tuk-tuk rides or taxis with other travellers is an easy and obvious way of cutting down your daily expenditure without too much compromise or sacrifice.
For those who enjoy independent travel, renting a motorbike for the day is an excellent means of thoroughly exploring a city at your own leisure and discretion. Expect to pay around LAK 60,000 to LAK 80,000 for 24 hours.
Taxis can also be hired by the trip, hour or day and 12 hours can cost anywhere from LAK 300,000 to LAK 600, 000 depending on distance, city, driver and the individual traveller’s negotiation skills.
Local 1-hour boat journeys between the various villages should cost around LAK 20,000 and LAK 35,000 for a one-way trip.
With no railway lines in Laos, buses and minivans are your predominant modes of transportation between towns and villages and fortunately the facilities are generally decent, reliable and reasonably priced. Overnight buses are available for longer distances which are obviously useful in saving on accommodation costs; whereas minivans are available for longer daytime trips to and from the various cities or towns.
To give you a rough idea on prices, popular bus journeys in Laos, such as the 10-hour overnight journey from Vientiane to Luang Prabang will cost between LAK 80,000 to LAK 120,000 for a one-way ticket.
The 5-hour local bus from Pakse to Savannakhet costs around LAK 40,000; and the 8-hour local bus ride from Savvakhet to Muong Khong costs around LAK 70,000.
Another town-to-town method of transportation in Laos can be done on the back of a songthaew (a converted pick-up truck with benches installed for sitting). These journeys can cost anything from LAK 10,000 to LAK 30,000 depending on distance and the city in question.
Food prices in Laos
Although not as cheap as its neighbouring country, Thailand, food in Laos can be sourced pretty cheaply for those on a budget. However, much like hotspots the world over, food in the more touristy places of Laos are significantly more expensive and so it may be wise to take this into account when picking your destinations of choice.
Eating local food and street food are sure-fire means of stretching your Kip and as a result of the prevalent French influence here in Laos, travellers can snack on affordable and tasty baguettes and pastries to their hearts content. The ever-popular Khao Jee (baguettes filled with meat, salad and sauces) will cost around LAK 6,000 and makes for a tasty and satisfying lunch while exploring. The local Beer Lao is extremely cheap with large bottles costing around LAK 10,000 and a 1.5 litre bottle of water will set you back around LAK 5,000.
Local street food dishes and traditional snacks in the lesser-known areas can cost around LAK 5,000 to LAK 30, 000, while the more popular tourists hubs will sell the same meals for double the price.
A sit-down meal at one of the main Italian, French and Western restaurants in the bigger cities are significantly more expensive with each dish costing anywhere from LAK 50,000 to LAK 100,000. Cocktails, beers and drinks in these upmarket establishments are obviously significantly higher too.
Cost of a Lao visa
For the majority of passport holders, a 30-day Lao visa can be purchased upon arrival at all ports of entry including the airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse. Visa costs vary from USD 20 for citizens of China to USD 42 for citizens of Canada and everyone else seems to sit somewhere in between. Keep in mind that an additional USD 1 is charged for ‘overtime’ for those travellers arriving after 4pm. Travellers will need one small passport photo and US dollars to pay the visa charge. Thai Baht can also be used but due to the extortionate exchange rate used by Lao immigration, will cost quite a bit more.
For travellers who are not quite ready to leave lovely Laos, extending one’s visa is possible if you apply before the expiry date. Visas can be extending for around USD 1 per day.
Accommodation prices in Laos
Accommodation options in Laos range from a budget hostels, riverside bungalows to 5-star hotel suites; and naturally the prices for each of these vary dramatically. For those determined to save as much Kip as possible we advise you to seek out fan-cooled rooms with shared bathrooms. Getting away from the more popular streets and seeking accommodation a few blocks outside of the tourist hullabaloo will generally guarantee lower nightly rates too.
Dorm rooms are obviously the cheapest option and generally start from around LAK 20,000 for the bare basics consisting of a simple bed and linen. A private double-fan room ranges from around LAK 30,000 to LAK 60,000 for the night depending on location and the quality of the facilities provided by the guesthouse. Air-conditioned rooms start from LAK 60,000 and extend to about LAK 80,000 for a night. Homestays are also on offer here in Laos and provides travellers with a cultural rewarding and authentic experience. This can set you back anywhere between LAK 40,000 to LAK 80,000.
For those with deeper pockets and more generous budgets, Luang Prabang and Vientiane have excellent high-end boutique hotels and luxury resorts and prices generally start around LAK 1500,000 and increase steadily. The facilities at the more high-end establishments frequently include a pool, beautiful views, a swanky onsite restaurant, beauty spa, fitness centre and sometimes even a personal butler.
Costs of excursions and activities in Laos
Entrance into most of the national parks, waterfalls and temples are priced around LAK 30,000 to LAK 80, 000. Food and drink inside these areas are normally around double the price of the street food sold outside so those on a budget would do well to pack snacks and water prior to entering the tourist hotspots.
The highly acclaimed zip-lining Gibbon Experience in northern Laos costs around LAK 800,000 for the day as well as accommodation in a treehouse for the night.
A three day boat ride on the Mekong River will cost around LAK 250,000 to LAK 300,000 and makes for a fun and memorable experience.
- Tubing in Vang Vieng is a wonderful activity to partake in and renting a tube for the day will set you back around LAK 60,000.
Note: Aside from entrance fees, travellers in bigger groups have more negotiating power when trying to organise and book excursions, transport and occasionally even accommodation.
Laos travel cost per day
The daily budget for Laos will obviously be largely determined by where you choose to eat and sleep and what you decide to do. Below are the rough figures of what you can expect to pay for each day when travelling around Laos. We’ve determined that for the budget conscious traveller it is possible to spend around LAK 220,000 to LAK 260,000 per day. The estimated budget is rather conservative so if you are a high-end traveller who plans on fine dining and luxurious accommodation needs please take this into account.
Travel budgeting for Laos
A fan-cooled, private double room coasts between LAK 30,000 to LAK 60,000 per night, whereas a room in a dorm can start as low as LAK 20,000.
x1 average street food meal will cost between LAK 15,000 to LAK 30,000, whereas a Laotian meal in a mid-range eatery can cost between LAK 50,000 to LAK 80,000 per dish.
The local BeerLao will cost LAK 10,000 and a 1.5 litre of water costs around LAK 5,000
Tuk-tuk rides over short distances cost between LAK 10,000 and LAK 30,000 and taxi rides generally start anywhere from LAK 30,000 to LAK 100,000
Tuk-tuk to the airport costs around LAK 50,000 to LAK 100,000 where a taxi ride will start from about LAK 80,000
Depending on the souvenir in question expect to spend anywhere from LAK 20,000 to LAK 200,000
LAK 30,000 to LAK 100,000
- Long distance travel:
LAK 50,000 to LAK 120,000
To wrap up all the calculations and detailed figures, our verdict confirms that Laos is indeed a travel destination for a wide variety of travellers and back accounts. There are facilities that cater for penny-saving backpackers simply looking for a comfy room for the night, and there are facilities for the luxury travellers looking for pampering, spectacular views and speciality dishes. No matter what your spending habits may be or what your bank balance currently sits at, Laos is a relatively affordable option for most.