Vang Vieng - River and Mountain View with cow.

Laos Budget Guide – How Much Does It Really Cost to Travel in Laos?

Laos is often overlooked as a destination in Southeast Asia but despite it not being as famous as its neighbours, there is plenty to see and do!

Even with the increasing numbers of tourists over the last two decades, Laos retains much of its authentic Southeast Asian charm, which other countries are arguably losing. So how much does it cost to travel in Laos?

Whether you’re in it for the cheap beer (all hail Beerlao!), amazing landscapes or some of the friendliest locals you could hope to meet, Laos is a country that brings a new meaning to the word affordable.

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Laos Budget Travel Guide

Cost Of Backpacking in Laos – Quick Answers!

  • Cost of Street Food: 10,000-50,000LAK ($0.55-2.75USD)
  • Cost of Local Food in a Restaurant: 25,000-80,000LAK ($1.400-4.40USD)
  • Cost of Western Food in a Restaurant: 60,000-200,000LAK($3.30-11USD)
  • Cost of Bottled Water (1-1.5L): 5,000-9,000LAK ($0.25-0.50USD)
  • Cost of Beer: 11,000-35,000LAK ($0.60-1.90USD) per bottle
  • Cost of a Hostel Bed: 90,000-180,000 ($5-10USD)
  • Cost of a Private Room: 180,000-730,000LAK ($10-40USD)
  • Cost of a Tuk Tuk Ride: 10,000-50,000LAK ($0.55-2.75USD)
  • Cost of Scooter Hire: 80,000-200,000LAK ($4.40-11USD) per day
  • Cost of Long Distance Buses/Minivans: 60,000-220,000LAK ($3.30-12USD) 
  • Cost of Trains: 90,000-360,000LAK ($5-20USD)

Suggested Budgets for Travelling in Laos

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Shoestring Backpacker: $20-25USD Per Day

Laos is friendly to those on a shoestring budget. For around $20USD per day, you can expect to stay in nice dorms, eat mainly street food and go on some of the must-do trips and tours in Laos. The more DIY you can do these day trips the better. 

You’ll even be able to afford a cheeky beer or two most days! The only time you’ll have a problem is on transport days when your bus or train fare will eat a big chunk of your daily budget.

Lunch in Sanga Hostel, Pakse, Laos
Sanga Hostel in Pakse costs $7 US per night and is super friendly!

Living It Large Backpacker: $25-35USD Per Day

As a living it large backpacker, you’ll be able to enjoy a mixture of dorms and private rooms. You can easily afford to eat in restaurants or from street stalls and go on almost as many day trips as you can imagine. You’ll be able to party and shouldn’t have an issue getting transport between cities!

Magic Monkey Garden Hostel, Vang Vieng, Laos.
Magic Monkey Garden Hostel, Vang Vieng – your own bungalow for $17 USD.

Flashpacker: $35-50USD Per Day

Flashpackers rejoice! For less than $50USD per day, you’ll be able to stay in some amazing boutique guesthouses or hotels, like the Belle Rive Boutique Hotel in Luang Prabang! You can also eat practically anything you want, go on all of the trips and pickle your liver with booze. There will be very little out of reach in Laos if you are travelling on this kind of budget! 

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Currency in Laos

The currency used in Laos today is the Lao Kip (LAK) and as with most countries in Southeast Asia, it has been through many iterations. Each time a new group took control of the country, they minted their own version of the Kip, except for the French in the 1940s who introduced an entirely different currency, the French Indochinese Piastre.

Coins are not used in Laos due to the insane levels of inflation that have plagued the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had close links with Laos and offered a huge amount of international aid. This means it is common to handle banknotes up to 100,000 LAK!

Laos Kip
The Laos Kip is the official currency of the country.

Laos Currency Conversions

Currency conversions fluctuate often so we always recommend checking what the markets are like before you embark on your trip!

  • $1USD = 18,154LAK
  • £1GBP = 22,836LAK
  • €1EUR = 19,527LAK

How Much Does a Trip to Laos Cost?

Cost of Street Food in Laos

10,000-50,000LAK ($0.55-2.75USD)

Laotian street food is very similar to that of neighbouring Thailand but with even more sticky rice! The further you get from the Thai border, the more you’ll notice influences from Laos’ French colonial past. 

In most places, you can pick up a basic noodle or rice dish for less than $1USD. A baguette with simple fillings also comes in around this price. If you want to add meat or fish to your dish, expect the price to increase but don’t be disheartened, it doesn’t rise too much. 

You can usually pick up a couple of bowls of rice and an entire fish, enough for two people, for around $5USD! Som Tam salad is a Laotian favourite (watch out, it’s spicy!) which consists of crab, papaya, green beans, chilis and limes. It will set you back around $1USD.

Som Tam Papaya Salad, Laos
Som Tam, Papaya Salad, Laos

In very popular tourist spots, like Luang Prabang, expect the prices to be higher, with some basic Laotian dishes reaching as much as $2-3USD! If you find yourself somewhere like this but don’t see any locals eating nearby, walk away from the main strip. You’ll eventually find somewhere serving great local food at proper local prices!

The vegetarian buffer at the Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos.
The vegetarian buffet at the Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos is $1.50USD all you can eat!

Cost of Restaurant Food in Laos

25,000-200,000LAK ($1.40-11USD)

While street food is super common across Laos, if you want to sit somewhere a bit more sheltered, there are plenty of cheap restaurants to eat too. 

Local restaurants in Laos will set you back somewhere between $1.40-4USD per meal. More classy joints will be closer to $6USD and Western food is on the high end of this budget.

Cost of Water in Laos

5,000-9,000LAK ($0.25-0.50USD) per 1-1.5 litres

Tap water in Laos is far from safe to drink – even the locals tend not to touch it. In cities such as Vientiane, you can probably get away with brushing your teeth with tap water but be careful not to swallow it!

Thankfully, bottled water is incredibly affordable throughout the country. In busier locations expect to pay around 7,000LAK ($0.40USD) but in quieter or more remote spots, it’ll be closer to 5,000LAK ($0.25USD) for a 1.5-litre bottle.

Of course, we should all be trying to reduce our impact on the environment while travelling. Buying bottled water every day is not a great way to go about this! Instead, consider getting yourself a filtered water bottle so you can purify tap water on the go.

Cost of Beer in Laos

11,000-35,000LAK ($0.60-1.90USD) per bottle

Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without the odd evening beer when travelling. Sitting outside a bar and soaking up the ambience of a busy Southeast Asian street is one of my favourite things to do when backpacking through the region.

The price of domestically brewed beer in Laos is very reasonable. For 11,000-18,000LAK ($0.60-1USD) you can get a large bottle (more than a pint!) of Beerlao. If you drink in higher-end bars, expect the price to be more. Likewise, if the locally brewed options aren’t for you, imported beer is closer to $1.50USD for a small bottle. If you’re on a budget, stick to local choices!

A BeerLao in the sunset
A BeerLao in the sunset!

Be aware that most bars shut at 11 pm. There is a national curfew on places being open past midnight which is strictly enforced. Most businesses will shut an hour before this to allow time to kick everyone out and avoid the hefty fines. When I was in Vientiane a few years ago, the army was marching down the streets making sure everything was shut!

There are a few brave bar owners who defy the rules but it can be pretty hard to find these spots. Have a word with your taxi or tuk tuk driver if you’re after a late-night tipple, they will know where to take you!

Cost of Accommodation in Laos

Hostel Dorm (per night) = 90,000-180,000 ($5-10USD)

Outside the popular tourist spots, hostels are not overly common in Laos. Most backpacker-friendly accommodation comes in the form of small, family-run guesthouses. 

When you do find a hostel, expect the price and quality to be to your liking! 

It’s possible to pick up a bed in a large dorm for around $5USD per night in most cities. Even a bed in a treehouse dorm room near Luang Prabang will only set you back around $8USD per night if you book in advance!

Vang Vieng Rock Backpackers Hostel from $4USD a night.

Hostel Double Room (per night) = 180,000-450,000LAK ($10-25USD)

So you’ve found a place with plenty of hostels. Now you need to decide whether to put up with another night of Bert partying away his gap year or invest in a private room for a better night’s sleep. 

Private rooms in Laotian hostels start at just over $10USD per night but depending on where you are, they can rise as high as $25USD. Honestly, if you are looking at spending the high end of this budget, you’d be better off looking for a decent guesthouse or hotel. The beds will be comfier, the air conditioning is more likely to work and chances are, you won’t have to share a bathroom!

Hotel Double Room = 90,000-730,000LAK ($10-40USD)

Realistically, unless you are flashpacking your way across the country, you won’t need to get near the high end of this price estimate. You can get a decent en suite room, with a fan, for between $12-16USD per night. If you want air con and breakfast included, you’ll be looking at closer to $25USD per night. 

Of course, there are hotels throughout Laos that cost significantly more than this but they aren’t aimed at backpackers. 

Cost of Transport in Laos

Short Distance Transport

Taxis = 36,000-720,000LAK ($2.00-4USD) for a short trip

Estimating the cost of a taxi in Laos is much more challenging than you’d expect. The prices vary by the location, time of day, time of year and seemingly, the driver’s mood. Some newer taxis in big cities will have metres which generally start at 36,000LAK ($2USD) and go up 27,000LAK per kilometre travelled. 

If your taxi of choice doesn’t have a metre installed then you’ll need to break out your haggling skills. It is common practice for drivers to quote two to three times the actual price because you are a tourist. Remember, they are trying to make a living but don’t allow yourself to be mugged off at every turn. If you are planning to use taxis in Laos, ask your accommodation how much the ride should cost.

While Grab doesn’t operate in Laos yet, there is a Laotian ride-hailing app up and running. LOCA works in the same way as Uber or Grab and even allows you to pay the driver in cash! If constantly haggling for your rides is getting too much, the transparent pricing in LOCA will be a godsend!

Tuk Tuk = 10,000-50,000LAK ($0.55-2.75USD)

Lining the streets in Laos’ towns and cities are the famous Laotian tuk tuks. They are slightly larger than their Thai counterparts and fit up to six people. Often cheaper and easier to flag down than taxis, tuk tuks are the gift that keeps on giving for the cash-strapped backpacker!

As with taxis, tuk tuk drivers are likely to quote upwards of two times the normal price for a journey. Unless the route you plan on taking is particularly long, you’ll never need to pay more than 30,000LAK so get ready with your haggling skills again!

A tuk tuk on a street in Luang Prabang, Laos.
A jumbo in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Scooter Hire = 80,000-200,000LAK ($4.40-11USD) per day

Hiring a motorcycle in Laos is a great way to avoid the bone-jarring local transport options and explore the country at your own pace. There are some popular motorcycle routes throughout Laos, the most famous being the Thakhek Loop. This almost 500-kilometre route can be completed in 3-5 days, depending on how much time you spend riding as opposed to exploring!

Although rental prices vary across the country, you can usually expect to pay $6-8USD per day for motorcycle rental. Some rental shops might quote you as much as $50USD per day but you don’t need to pay these exorbitant costs. Just walk away and head to another rental place, they are everywhere!

Thakhek Loop, Laos
Scootering on the famous Thakhek Loop, Laos.

It’s worth noting that when visiting popular tourist spots by motorbike, you’ll likely be charged a small parking fee. While you could just abandon your bike by the side of the road, paying the $1USD parking fee is well worth it as you’ll get a security guard to keep an eye on your bike while you are otherwise occupied!

Helmets usually cost extra but some rental firms will throw them in as part of the deal. Make sure you check before you leave and if you need to, pay the few dollars extra. Laos is notorious for having terrible healthcare and hospitals so you don’t want to be getting seriously injured here!

Finally, to ride legally in Laos you do need an International Driving Permit and a motorcycle licence in your home country. While it is highly unlikely you’ll ever have to prove you have these, your travel insurance will be invalidated if you get into an accident!

Forgot Your IDP?
International Drivers Association

If you forgot to arrange your International Drivers Permit, you're probably not driving or riding legally abroad.

So what?
Riding or driving without your IDP means you could be fined for riding illegally. Worse still, it means your travel insurance is unlikely to cover any claims you make relating to riding or driving!

What can I do?
Rather than ride or drive illegally, check out the International Drivers Association which can hook you up with an IDP even if you're already abroad! 

Don't say we never help you out! 😉

Long Distance Transport

Buses/Minivans = 60,000-220,000LAK ($3.30-12USD) per ride

As a general rule, long-distance bus journeys will cost you $3-12USD for each journey. These rates will shift slightly depending on where you are getting the bus from and to but it’s not a dramatic shift in either direction. Buses are cheap but do not expect them to be comfortable – or on time! 

The Sleeper Bus That Runs The Hanoi to Luang Prabang Route
The long-distance Hanoi to Luang Prabang bus ride is legendary!

Bus timetables in Laos are only good for one thing, starting fires. They are guidelines at best and completely ignored most of the time. As for the buses themselves, they can be uncomfortable and cramped. A lot of the time you’ll find the seats stuck in their fully reclined position or so shredded that you’re sitting on hard plastic! 

Of course, there are higher-end VIP buses which have working air conditioning, reclining seats and proper cushioning but these are often only available to book through your hostel as they don’t use the same bus station as local buses. The cost is usually twice as much but for longer journeys, it can be worth it! Don’t expect VIP buses to be the same quality as in Thailand though, they still fall far short of that!

Planes = 600,000-1,400,000LAK ($33-77USD)

Flying in Laos is not the cheapest way to travel, especially when compared to buses. Even when booked in advance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find flights for the low end of the above estimate. Most will average close to $40USD per flight and with the country being comparatively small, these sub-one-hour journeys are super costly!

Boat = 110,000-600,000LAK ($6-33USD)

From Huay Xai, near the Thai border, it is common practice for backpackers to take the slow boat to the town of Luang Prabang. The journey takes about two days but if you jump on the cheapest boat you can find, it’s questionable whether you’ll even make it! The safety records for some of the cheapest boats are not great!

If you do take the slow boat, both the cheapest and more pricey options stop at villages along the way. Sometimes this will be so the tourists can see what rural village life looks like and sometimes it’s to drop off locals. You’ll also stop at a village overnight so you need to ascertain whether accommodation is included or whether you need to sniff it out yourself. Both options are pretty normal.

Boarding the Slow Boat
The famous slow boat is a very popular way to get from Thailand to Laos.

Overall, you can expect to find a decent quality slow boat for somewhere in the region of $10USD but if you want a higher-end experience where you’ll be pampered, you can find nice tourist cruises for around $100USD.

Cost of Activities in Laos

These are a few of the most popular activities available which will help give you an idea about how much money you’ll be spending on trips and tours throughout Laos. For more inspiration, check out our Laos itinerary for backpackers!

Tubing in Vang Vieng – 150,000LAK ($8.30USD)
You’ve probably heard the horror stories about tubing in Vang Vieng. Hundreds of tourists getting messed up, floating down the fast-flowing river, stopping only for more booze. Reportedly, there were upwards of 20 backpackers dying every year tubing along a three-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River!

The "olden days" of Tubing in Vang Vieng.
The “olden days” of Tubing in Vang Vieng.

These days tubing in Vang Vieng is a much more sedate experience. Whereas the water’s edge was once lined with bars offering super cheap booze and providing precarious rope swings, there are only a small handful of bars left. It’s so heavily regulated now that only a couple of places are allowed to be open at a time. This makes the whole tubing experience about the ambience of being on the river, rather than a quest to get ruined!

You can rent a tube from the official vendor in town for 150,000LAK but you’ll have to leave another 60,000LAK as a deposit. Included in this price is your tuk tuk ride upriver. It usually takes around two and a half hours to float back down, assuming you don’t stop at one of the open bars. 

As long as you arrive back at the shack you rented the tubes from before 8 pm, you’ll get your deposit back. Check the clock in the rental place before you leave. Many travellers have been caught out because the owners sometimes leave the clock 15 minutes fast, meaning if you arrive back after 7.45 pm, you’ll lose your deposit!

It’s worth starting your tubing adventure in the morning if you intend to make a couple of stops en route. The sun drops behind the mountains by around 3 pm, at which time the temperature along the river starts to fall. 

Kuang Si Waterfalls – 45,000-600,000LAK ($2.50-33USD) – Luang Prabang

Located less than 30 kilometres from Luang Prabang is the famous Kuang Si Waterfall. Seven individual falls, each cascading into a beautiful sky-blue lagoon, make up the waterfall. Honestly, even the best photos don’t come close to portraying the stunning beauty of this spot. The only downside is the number of people that traipse through every day! 

Tad Si Kuang Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos
The amazing Kuang Si Waterfalls, Luang Prabang, Laos.

There are a few options for getting to the falls. You can hire a vehicle and driver for the day which will set you back around 600,000LAK ($33USD) or find a tuk tuk heading in that direction. As a general rule, a shared tuk tuk will cost around 250,000LAK ($14USD) but you can split this with other travellers. It’s possible to squeeze 5-6 people in, making the cost less than 50,000LAK ($2.80USD) per person. 

If you aren’t travelling with many people, ask about in your hostel, or go to the centre of town and get chatting with the drivers. They are usually willing to wait for more people to arrive.

Once you arrive, you will need to pay the 25,000LAK ($1.40USD) entry fee. Just like Game Of Thrones, the falls live up to the hype and unlike George RR Martin’s masterpiece, there’s no disappointing final season! 

Insider Tip! Once you leave the car park, there will be a sign that says ‘Kuang Si Waterfalls’ and one that reads ‘Walking Path’. Follow the latter and you’ll also walk through the Moon Bear sanctuary. If you wish to support them, you can pay $50USD for a volunteer experience. Help to prepare the bear’s food and feed them by hiding their snacks in their enclosures!

There are a few options for getting to the falls. You can hire a vehicle and driver for the day which will set back around 600,000LAK ($33USD) or find a tuk tuk heading in that direction. As a general rule, a shared tuk tuk will cost around 250,000LAK ($14USD) but you can split this with other travellers. It’s possible to squeeze 5-6 people in, making the cost less than 50,000LAK ($2.80USD) per person. 

If you aren’t travelling with many people, ask about in your hostel, or go to the centre of town and get chatting with the drivers. They are usually willing to wait for more people to arrive.

Once you arrive, you will need to pay the 25,000LAK ($1.40USD) entry fee. Just like Game Of Thrones, the falls live up to the hype and unlike George RR Martin’s masterpiece, there’s no disappointing final season! 

Insider Tip!

Once you leave the car park, there will be a sign that says ‘Kuang Si Waterfalls’ and one that reads ‘Walking Path’. Follow the latter and you’ll also walk through the Moon Bear sanctuary. If you wish to support them, you can pay $50USD for a volunteer experience. Help to prepare the bear’s food and feed them by hiding their snacks in their enclosures!

COPE Visitors Centre, Vientiane – Free

As the most bombed country in the world, Laos is still struggling with the blight of unexploded ordnance (UXO). The sheer number of UXOs is staggering, with some estimating there are as many as 80 million left scattered across the country. Sadly, they are usually only discovered when they finally detonate. They sadly still maim and kill thousands of people every year. 

COPE is committed to helping those who have been injured by the bombs by providing them with prosthetics and rehab facilities free of charge. As you can imagine, in a country with poor medical infrastructure and massive poverty, this is a huge task. 

A visit to COPE Visitor Centre is completely free and here you can see how much hard work goes into helping those affected. They have exhibits describing the history of UXOs in Laos as well as the key issues Laotians face in getting rid of the UXOs. 

Even though it is free, don’t leave a visit to COPE with just memories. Buy something from their shop or leave a donation on your way out. The work done by this small but dedicated team truly is remarkable. 

Plain of Jars, Phonsavan – 30,000-700,000LAK ($1.70-38.60USD)

Don’t miss these thousands of stone jar structures dating back over 2500 years. They range in size from one to three metres and no one truly knows why they are there. Ancient stories tell of a race of giants who used them for brewing booze but the reality is that they were probably used in ancient funeral ceremonies. Remains have been found nearby and excavations of a cave in the region point towards it being used as a crematorium. 

Whether you want to believe in a race of giants running amok (it’s a much more fun story) or what the archaeologists are saying, the site is well worth a visit!

The Plain of Jars, Xiang Khouang Province, Laos.
The Plain of Jars, Xiang Khouang Province, Laos.

The price of a visit to the Plain of Jars varies dramatically depending on whether you are doing it by yourself or as part of an organised tour. You can visit most of the sites independently and you’ll pay around 30,000LAK ($1.70USD) for entry to each site. 

Once you are at the main site, it is easy to follow well-marked trails to some of the others. DO NOT STRAY FROM THE PATH! This area of Laos saw some of the heaviest bombings during the Vietnam War and there are still loads of UXOs in the area. 

If you want to visit the jars on an organised tour, prices start at around 250,000LAK per person but can rise steeply if there are not enough people on the tour. To be honest, if you can make your own way there, a tour is unnecessary as the guides won’t be able to tell you anything about the site that you couldn’t learn for yourself after 20 minutes of reading Wikipedia! 

Kong Lor Cave (from Pakse) – 112,000LAK ($12USD)

Most famous as a stop on the Thakhek Loop, Kong Lor Cave is well worth visiting even without the stunning motorcycle ride. The seven-kilometre-long cave is close to 100 metres high in places and is home to a glowing emerald pool which locals believe to reflect the skin of the Hindu god Indra.

The Nam Hin Bun River runs through the cave and you can hire a boat and captain for 110,000LAK ($6USD). Glide effortlessly through Kong Lor while gazing in awe at the karst limestone formations within. 

There are usually a couple of occasions where you’ll have to get out of the boat as the pilot navigates particularly shallow spots but don’t worry, there are plenty of walkways so you won’t get wet! 

As you reach the mouth of the cave you’ll be spat out near a small village where you can spend some time wandering about or having a quick lunch before jumping back in your boat for the return journey. 

The overall costs for visiting Kong Lor cave are as follows:

  • 2,000LAK entry fee for the national park
  • 10,000LAK entry fee to the cave
  • 110,000LAK boat and driver hire
  • 180,000LAK fee for motorbike to be brought to other side (if applicable)

How much money would you budget for a trip to Laos? Head on over to our Facebook community to let us know!

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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