Laos – Costs & Essential Information

I had no idea what to expect in Laos, after reading the UK travel advice and learning that Laos is still one of the few remaining communist countries, I was a little apprehensive. Sean and I both agree that Laos has been the most pleasant surprise we’ve had while traveling.

This small country has completely won our hearts, it’s the perfect blend of history, culture, landscapes and nature. All at a much more peaceful pace than it’s Asian neighbours.

Costs:

Laos is really good if you’re on a budget, we stayed in some really good hotels and ate at some pretty good restaurants, our average daily spend was £52 between both of us, including accommodation, food, transport and everything else.

Getting Around:

Buses are the way to go in Laos, you generally have three options, 1) a VIP Coach which is slow but cheaper than the alternative, 2) a tourist mini bus which is more expensive but a lot faster, 3) a sleeping bus, we never tried this but heard lots of nightmare stories about how uncomfortable they can be.

Visa:

UK passport holders can get a visa on arrival for $36 (USD only), fill in the form and attach a passport photo then wait around 15 minutes for your passport to be returned. It was a lot simpler than the Cambodian visa on arrival.

Vaccinations:

At the time of writing (March 2018) there are no specific vaccinations and malaria is only present in certain areas, check the NHS website for the latest malaria risk area map, click HERE.

Money:

The currency in Laos is the Laotian Kip although USD can be used in a lot of the hotels and major tourist attractions. ATM’s are really easy to find although a few did reject my UK issued MasterCard. Exchange rates in March 2018 below:

£1 (GBP) = ₭11,700

$1 (USD) = ₭8,311

€1 (EUR) = ₭10,245

Our Itinerary:

We spent 3 nights in Vientiane, 4 nights in Vang Vieng and 4 nights in Luang Prabang, though I would have spent forever in Luang Prabang if I could.

Hope you found this useful.

xxx

Vientiane – Laos

We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in the capital of Laos, we were tired, hungry and a little grumpy. Seeing Vientiane for the first time instantly lifted our spirits, with all the beautiful architecture and relaxed feel we knew we would love the next 2 days here.

Things To Do:

The COPE Centre, a charity set up to help the victims of land mines within Laos, they make prosthetic limbs and provide physical therapy. (Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world, thanks to the Americans during the Vietnam war.) It’s free to enter but there are donation buckets at the door, it’s heartbreaking and I guarantee that you’ll want to empty your whole wallet into the buckets as you leave.

The night market, on every night as soon as it gets dark. Mainly clothes for super cheap, perfect for backpackers who need a t-shirt for 10,000 kip.

Chao Anouvong Park, a peaceful setting based on the river banks, a perfect place for a picnic or to just relax.

The Patuxay Monument celebrates Laos independence from France, it costs 3,000 kip to climb the stairs for a birds eye view of the city.

Vientiane has more temples than you can count, we spent one full day visiting temples, here are our favourites:

That Dam – Free

Sisaket Museum – 10,000 kip

Wat Phra Kaew – 10,000 kip

Wat Si Muang – 10,000 kip

Where To Eat:

Budget – Khow Hoom, cheap local dishes

Upmarket – Vialy Steak House, affordable lunch time specials

Italian – Via Via, classic stone baked pizza

Indian – Dhaka, traditional Indian food for affordable prices

Getting There:

We paid 400 Thai Baht for a taxi from the border between Thailand and Laos. I think we probably overpaid but it was a 45 minute journey and it was really late at night, we just wanted to get to the hotel.

If your coming from the airport there is a direct public bus that runs through ‘downtown’, and if your coming from elsewhere in Laos, a bus from Vang Vieng costs 50,000 kip and takes around 4 hours.

Where To Stay:

Vientiane is really small, most things are within easy walking distance, all the budget accommodation is within the ‘downtown’ area, with a few fancy hotels a bit further out.

We stayed at the Mixok Inn, which was perfect for only £16 per night including a fantastic cooked to order breakfast. They also do cheap laundry and bus tickets. We booked through our trusty favourite, hotels.com.

How Long To Stay:

Can be done in 1 night if your tight for time, better for 2 or 3 nights but I wouldn’t want to stay any longer, it’s a really small town.

Luang Prabang – Laos

This old French Colonial town in northern Laos is so beautiful that it’s earned UNESCO world heritage status year after year. (Think HoiAn in Vietnam but without the crowds and inflated prices.)

Things To Do: (Daytime)

The Bamboo Experience was the most expensive thing we did in Laos, though it was worth every penny. You’ll learn all about the uses for Bamboo and how local people use it in their every day life, for building, hunting, cooking and crafts etc. A half day trip costs 336,000 kip per person and includes hotel pick up, lunch and you get to make your own souvenir to take home. Click HERE for their website.

That Phu Si, the walk to the top of the hill takes around 15 minutes each way and visitors need to pay 20,000 each. Apparently sun rise and sun set gets busy but we visited during the day and enjoyed the place to ourselves, the views of the city are worth the short but steep walk.

For 6 months during the year there is a bamboo bridge that provides access over the river for local people. Visitors are asked to pay 5,000 each to support the family who rebuild the bridge each year. When tides get too high the bridge needs to be removed.

The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre highlights the crafts and cultural difference between the many ethnic minorities within Laos today. The museum is small but fits a lot in and it’s really interesting.

The Royal Palace is interesting if you can get in, the opening times seem to change regularly. Tickets are 30,000 per person, they are very strict about not taking photos inside. The palace grounds are also impressive.

The Tad Sae Waterfall is about 30 minutes from the town centre in a tuk-tuk, from the parking area you need to take a very short boat ride to the base of the falls. Unfortunately we visited during dry season so there wasn’t much of a waterfall but in wet season this is by far one of the best things to do in Laos. Boat trips cost 10,000 the entry to the falls is 15,000.

The mighty Mekong Rover runs along side town, either hire a bike and cycle as far as you can or hire a boat for 1 hour, there are lots of people trying to sell boat trips as you walk past. This is also a really good spot for sunset photographs.

Thing To Do. : (Nighttime)

The night market in Luang Prabang is huge, it’s completely catered toward tourists (think elephant pattern trousers and Laos flag t-shirts), if you plan on picking up any souvenirs in Laos, wait until you get to this market.

There is a free black and white movie played at the Victoria Xiengthong Palace Hotel, ‘Chang 1925’ was the first movie about Laos, filmed in a documentary style following one local family for 18 months. The movie plays every day at 7pm, it’s free but they expect you to buy a drink (and every drink comes with free popcorn).

The town theatre is inside the royal palace complex, we went to see a traditional dance show but their performance schedule changes all the time so it’s best to visit the ticket office during the daytime. The cheapest seats we 100,000 but we still had a perfect view of the stage.

L’Etronger Books and Tea store play a different movie every night in their lounge area, the movie is free but your expected to buy a drink. Check out their Facebook page to find out what they are playing that week.

Where To Eat:

Indian – Chennai Restaurant is not only delicious but it’s also the perfect place to watch the sun set on the Mekong river.

Local – House 47/5, B Xieng Mouane (it’s on the weekend walking street), the local food here is cooked fresh and each dish is around 20,000 kip.

Getting There:

From the airport a taxi will cost around 50,000. A mini bus from Vang Vieng takes around 5 hours and costs 105,000 per person. Night buses travel to Vientiane every night but we heard a few horror stories about those.

Where To Stay:

The Nocknoy Lanexang Guesthouse was a beautiful little place, the rooms were clean and the cocked to order breakfast was good. Located in a lovely street just a few minutes walk from the town centre. We paid £17 per night through hotels.com.

Vang Vieng – Laos

With its dramatic scenery, Vang Vieng will never disappoint. As the glowing red sun disappears behind the jagged mountains you will feel eternally grateful that you made the long journey to Laos. If you’ve ever been to Vietnam, the mountains here reminded us of Ninh Bin and Ha Long Bay.

Things To Do:

Water sports are a huge part of Vang Vieng life, from blue lagoons, underground tubing to river kayaking, a full day trip starts from 130,000 per person including hotel pick up and lunch as well as all activities listed.

Bike hire is really cheap here, we spotted it as cheap as 10,000 per day. The roads are fairly flat and cycling is the easiest way to get around if you don’t like the idea of renting a motorbike.

There are numerous night markets around town, one large market in the bus station car park and two smaller walking streets nearby. The street food looked OK, but nothing to tempt us away from the delicious cafes close to our hotel.

Where To Eat:

For good quality local food try Luangxaikham Restaurant. The local curries are around 23,000 and absolutely delicious, we could have worked our way through the full menu.

Getting There:

The best way to get to Vang Vieng is by bus, from Luang Prabang a mini bus takes around 5 hours and costs between 105,000 to 120,000 depending on where you book. A large coach takes 4 hours from Vientiane a costs 50,000.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Vang Vieng Boutique Hotel, it was clean and had a great breakfast. We paid £18 per night through hotels.com. The town is so small that you can stay pretty much anywhere and never be far from everything else.