Google Laos and you’ll quickly learn that it holds the unfortunate moniker of being the most bombed country in the world. During the Vietnam War, US troops dropped an estimated 270 million bombs on Laos. That’s more explosives than were dropped during the entirety of WW2.
But there is so much more to Laos than it’s violent past. Even with the massive influx of tourists over the last two decades, Laos retains the authentic Southeast Asian charm that some would say is rapidly disappearing from countries like Thailand or Vietnam.
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.
While it didn’t make it into the top three cheapest countries in Southeast Asia, in our poll, Laos certainly didn’t miss out by much. There are not many places in the world you can buy a large bottle of beer and your evening meal for $4US!
- If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve read our budget travel guide for general hints about saving money while travelling in Southeast Asia.
- And, if you haven’t quite got your travel funds together yet, check out this guide on how to save money for travel here.
Cost Of Backpacking In Laos – Quick Answers!
- Cost of Street Food: 6,500 – 73,000LAK (75 cents – $8USD)
- Cost of Local Food in a Restaurant: 40,000 – 73,000LAK ($4.30-$8USD)
- Cost of Western Food in a Restaurant: 90,000 – 120,000LAK($10-$13USD)
- Cost of Bottled Water: 5,000 – 8,000LAK (50 cents – 80 cents USD)
- Cost of Beer: 8,000 – 23,000LAK (80 cents – $2.50USD) per bottle
- Cost of a Hostel Bed: 23,000 – 120,000 ($2.60 – $13USD)
- Cost of a Private Room: 60,000 – 450,000LAK ($6.50 – $50USD)
- Cost of a Jumbo Ride: 10,000 – 30,000LAK ($1.10-$3.30USD)
- Cost of Scooter Hire: 75,000 – 140,000LAK ($8-$15USD)per day
- Cost of Long Distance Buses: 9,000 – 18,000LAK ($1-$2USD) per hour of travel time
Suggested Budgets For Travelling In Laos
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 fare will eat a big chunk of your daily budget!
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!
Flashpacker: $35-$50USD per day
Flashpackers rejoice! For less than $50 USD 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!
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 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, who 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 Currency Conversions
All conversions correct as of August 2020. Unless inflation gets worse, or something else drastic happens, these will give you a good idea of what your money is worth in Laos.
- $1USD = 9,100LAK
- £1GBP = 11,900LAK
- €1EUR = 10,700LAK
How Much Does a Trip to Laos Cost?
Cost of Street Food in Laos
6,500 – 73,000LAK (75 cents – $8USD)
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 though, 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 will also come in at 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. In fact, you can usually pick up a couple of bowls of rice and an entire fish, enough for two people, for around $5USD! Somtam 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 $1 US.
In very popular tourist spots, like Luang Prabang, expect the prices to be higher, with some basic rice dishes reaching as much as $3-$4USD! If you find yourself somewhere like this but don’t see any locals eating nearby, just walk away from the main strip. You’ll eventually find somewhere serving great local food at proper local prices!
Cost of Restaurant Food in Laos
40,000 – 120,000LAK ($4.30-$13USD)
While street food is super common across Laos, if you want to sit somewhere a bit more sheltered than a plastic stool in the middle of a local market, there are plenty of cheap places to eat. Local restaurants in Laos will set you back somewhere between $4-$8USD per meal. More classy joints will be closer to $10USD per meal and western food is on the high end of this budget. If you can, save the burgers and pizza until you get out of Laos!
Cost of Water in Laos
5,000 – 8,000LAK (50 cents – 80 cents USD) per 1.5 litres
Tap water in Laos is far from safe to drink. Even 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 8,000LAK (80 cents USD) but in quieter or more remote spots, it’ll be closer to 5,000LAK (50 cents USD) for a 1.5-litre bottle.
Of course, we should always 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
8,000 – 23,000LAK (80 cents – $2.50USD) 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 8,000 – 12,500LAK (80 cents – $1.30USD) you can get a large bottle (more than a pint) of Beer Lao. If you drink in higher-end bars then expect the price to be more. Likewise, if the locally brewed options aren’t for you, imported beer is closer to $2.50USD for a small bottle. If like me, you can’t resist the lure of a cheeky pint, stick to the local choices!
It is worth being 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 that can fall their way. When I was in Vientiane a few years ago, the army was literally marching down the streets making sure everything was shut. Our hostel owner rushed out and dragged a group of us inside and out of the way!
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 are bound to know where to take you!
Cost of Accommodation in Laos
- Hostel Dorm (per night)
23,000 – 120,000 ($2.60 – $13USD)
Outside of 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 overall quality to be to your liking! It’s possible to pick up a bed in a large dorm for around $3USD per night in most cities. Even a bed in a treehouse dorm room near Luang Prabang will only set you back around $10USD per night if you book in advance!
- Hostel Double Room (per night)
60,000 – 275,000LAK ($6.50 – $30USD)
So you’ve found a place with plenty of hostels. Now you need to decide whether to put up with another night of Bert the snorer, partying away his gap year or to invest a private room for a better night’s sleep.
Private rooms in Laotian hostels start at just over $6USD per night but depending on where you are, they can rise as high as $30USD. 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!
- Double Room In A Hotel Or Guesthouse
73,000 – 450,000LAK ($8-$50USD)
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 $8-$20USD per night. If you want good air con and breakfast included, you’ll be looking at closer to $30USD per night.
Of course, there are hotels throughout Laos that cost significantly more than this but those aren’t aimed at backpackers. To be honest, they probably don’t want us in there anyway!
Cost of Transport in Laos
Short Distance Transport
20,000 – 50,000LAK ($2.20-$5.50USD) 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 meters which generally start at 15,000 – 20,000LAK ($1.60-$2.20USD) and go up 2,000LAK per 300 metres travelled.
If your taxi of choice doesn’t have a meter installed then you’ll need to break out your haggling skills. It is common practice for drivers to quote 2-3 times the actual price because you are a tourist. Remember, they are just 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 and try not to pay much more than that!
While Grab doesn’t operate in Laos yet, there is a Laotian ride-hailing app up and running. LOCA works in exactly 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!
- Jumbo (Tuk Tuk)
10,000 – 30,000LAK ($1.10-$3.30USD)
Lining the streets in Laos’ towns and cities are the famous ‘j’, the Laotian answer to the infamous tuk tuk. They are slightly larger than their counterparts across the border in Thailand and are capable of fitting up to 6 people along the back benches. Often cheaper and easier to flag down than taxis, jumbos are the gift that just keeps on giving for the cash strapped backpacker who can’t be bothered to walk!
As with taxis, jumbo drivers are likely to quote upwards of 2 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 those badass haggling skills again!
- Scooter Hire
75,000 – 140,000LAK ($8-$15USD) 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 $10-$15USD per day for motorcycle rental. Some rental shops might quote you as much as $50USD per day but you really don’t need to pay these exorbitant costs. Just walk away and head to another rental place, they are all over the place!
It’s worth noting that when visiting popular tourist spots by motorbike, you’ll likely be charged a small fee for parking. While you could just abandon your bike by the side of the road, paying the $1 parking fee is well worth it as you’ll get a security guard keeping an eye on your bike while you are otherwise occupied!
Helmets will also usually cost extra to rent but some rental firms will throw them in as part of the deal. Make sure you check before you leave on the bike and if you need to, just pay the few dollars extra. Laos is notorious for having terrible healthcare and hospitals so you really 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 license 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!
Long Distance Transport
9,000 – 18,000LAK ($1-$2USD) for every hour of travel time
When I remember travelling on Laotian buses, it’s with the same sense of nostalgia as having constantly grazed knees as a child. It sucked but is all part of the growing up process!
As a general rule, long-distance bus journeys will cost you $1-$2USD for every hour you travel. These rates will shift slightly depending on where you are getting the bus from and where your final destination is but it’s not a dramatic shift in either direction. The buses are cheap but do not expect them to be comfortable. Or on time.
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, if you manage to find a seat with decent cushioning but are any larger than a jockey, good luck trying to squeeze into the tiny space! 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.
No traveller gets through their time in Laos without at least one poorly timed bus breakdown. I remember stopping on an empty mountain road when the driver ordered all the passengers off the bus. It was pouring with rain and we had no idea what was going on. The driver and a couple of locals, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, got to work smashing hammers into the engine block before tying some ratchet straps under some important looking part. The bus then roared to life and we were away. It doesn’t sound too bad but during the time we were stopped, the skylight above my seat had sprung a proper leak and I spent the next 6 hours with a constant stream of water on my head. Everyone on the bus (except me obviously) was highly amused by the situation!
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 most local buses. The cost is usually about twice as much but for longer journeys, it can certainly be worth it! Don’t expect them to be the same quality as in Thailand though, they still fall far short of that!
450,000 – 1,400,000LAK ($50-$150USD)
Flying in Laos is not a cheap way to travel, especially when compared to buses! Even booked in advance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find flights for the low end of the above estimate. Most will average close to $100USD per flight and with the country being comparatively small, these sub-1-hour journeys are super costly!
200,000 – 1,200,000LAK ($21-$130USD)
From Huay Xai, near the Thai border, it is common practice for backpackers to take the slow boat down the Mekong, 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 actually make it or not. The safety records for some of the cheapest boats is not great!
If you do take the slow boat, both the cheapest or more pricey options stop at villages along the way. Sometimes this will be so the tourists on board 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.
Overall you can expect to find a decent quality slow boat for somewhere in the region of $30USD but if you want a higher-end experience where you’ll be gently pampered, you can find really nice tourist cruises for around $100USD.
Cost Of Activities In Laos
Of course, this isn’t a full list of activities available in Laos. Trust me, neither you nor I have time to go through them all right now. These are just a few of the most popular activities available in the country, which will help to give you a good idea about how much money you’ll be spending on trips and tours throughout Laos.
- Also see – Our recommended One Month Laos Itinerary!
Tubing in Vang Vieng – 60,000LAK ($6.50USD)
You’ve probably heard the horror stories of tubing in Vang Vieng. Hundreds of tourists getting messed up, floating down the fast flowing river, stopping only for more booze and to try their hand at surviving the infamous death slide. Reportedly, there was upwards of 20 backpackers dying every year tubing along a 3 kilometre stretch of the Mekong River!
These days tubing in Vang Vieng has had quite the overhaul and is 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 bars 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 and hope you survive the fast-flowing water!
You can rent a tube from the official vendor in town for 60,000LAK but you’ll also have to leave another 60,000LAK as a deposit. Included in this price is your jumbo ride upriver. It usually takes around 2.30-3 hours to float back down, assuming you don’t stop at one of the open bars. As long as you arrive back at the same 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, 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 – 70,000 – 300,000LAK ($7.50-$32USD) – Luang Prabang
Located less than 30 kilometres from Luang Prabang is the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls. Seven individual falls, each cascading into a beautiful sky blue lagoon, make up the Kuang Si Falls. 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.
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 250,000LAK ($27USD) or find a tuk tuk heading in that direction. As a general rule, a shared tuk tuk will cost around 200,000LAK ($21USD) in total but you can split this with other travellers. It’s possible to squeeze 5-6 people in making the cost less than 50,000LAK ($5.50USD) per person. If you aren’t travelling with many people, ask about in your hostel, or just go to the centre of town and get chatting to the drivers. They are usually more than willing to wait for more people looking for a way to the falls to arrive.
Once you arrive at the falls you will need to pay the 20,000LAK ($2.20USD) entry fee to enter the falls but after that, you have free roam.
Just like Game Of Thrones, the falls really live up to the hype and unlike George RR Martin’s masterpiece, there’s no disappointing final season!
COPE Visitors Centre, Vientiane – Free
As the most bombed country in the world, Laos is still struggling with the blight of unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Not to get too political here but you’d think those who dropped the bombs should be responsible for fixing their cock-up on this one…
The sheer number of UXOs is staggering, with some estimating there are as many as 80 million left scattered across the country. These UXOs are often uncovered by unwitting locals when farming, raising animals or even by children playing. Sadly, they are usually only discovered when they finally detonate and are known to 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 massive 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, a visit to COPE will leave you asking what more you can do to help. On a personal note, I plead that you don’t just leave with memories. Buy something from their shop, or leave a donation on your way out of the door. The work done by the small but dedicated team truly is remarkable.
Plain of Jars, Phonsavan – 10,000 – 500,000LAK ($1.10-$54USD)
In Northeast Laos, covering a vast area of land, are thousands of stone jar like structures dating back over 2500 years. These range in size from 1-3 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 around some of the jars 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 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 15,000LAK ($1.60USD) 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 millions of UXOs in the area.
If you want to visit the jars on an organised tour, prices start at around 150,000LAK 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 7-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 Hindi god Indra.
The Nam Hin Bun River runs right through the cave giving amazing access to those who know how to navigate it. You can hire a boat and captain for 100,000LAK ($11USD) and glide effortlessly through 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 For cave are divided as so:
- 2,000LAK Entry fee for the National Park
- 10,000LAK Entry fee to the cave
- 100,000LAK Boat and driver hire
Travelling around Southeast Asia? Don’t miss our overall budget guide to the region: Cost of Travel in Southeast Asia
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