Backpacking Laos: Budget, Travel Tips & Planning Guide

Laos waterfalls in Luang Prabang

Backpacking Laos will be nothing short of amazing. The country of Laos is gorgeous, full of laidback vibes and epic views. You’ll find no shortage of things to do in Laos. In fact, you’ll be pleasantly surprised what the country has waiting for you.

Our below Laos travel guide will cover everything you need to know before going to Laos. From travel tips like how to get around Laos to the best Laos food to eat, we have your backpacking guide to Laos taken care of.

Backpacking Laos: Budget, Travel Tips & Planning Guide

Best Time To Visit Laos

The best time to visit Laos is from October to April. The months from October to April are considered Laos’s dry season. During the dry season, hardly any rain falls making everything HOT and DRY.

The hottest months in Laos are from March to June, and we mean, hot, hot, hot!

At the opposite end, the wet season falls during the months of May to September with the heaviest part of the wet season happening generally in August & September.

Backpacking Laos: How To Get To Laos

FLY – LAOS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS

The easiest and fastest way to get to Laos is to fly. The country of Laos only has three small international airports for you to fly into.

  1. Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang, Laos (Airport Code: LPQ)
  2. Pakse International Airport in Pakse, Laos (Airport Code: PKZ)
  3. Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos (Airport Code: VTE)

The most popular and the two that are great jumping off points to see the country of Laos are Luang Prabang and Vientiane international airports. From these two cities, you can easily set off on your backpacking Laos journey!

Luang Prabang and Vientiane are great cities to explore but, also amazing options to arrange overland travel from or catch domestic flights to see some of the other highlights of Laos.

In addition, International flight options come in and out of Laos, the most popular direct international flights being to and from Thailand and Vietnam.

Lao Airlines from Luang Prabang Airport
Lao Airlines from Luang Prabang Airport

How To Get To Laos From Thailand

TRAIN – OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO VIENTIANE

If you are in Bangkok, a great overland travel option for getting to Laos is to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Vientiane.

You’ll depart from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station and arrive the next morning at Thanaleng train station, about 13 kms / 8 miles outside of the city of Vientiane.

These overnight sleeper trains from Bangkok to Vientiane opperate daily and are a great, safe and cheap way to get to Laos.

—> Check out the latest times and prices for the train from Bangkok to Vientiane at 12go.asia

BUS – BUS TO PAKSE (FOUR THOUSAND ISLANDS)

If you are in Thailand and looking to cross into Laos from Laos’s Southern Border, a great option is taking a bus from Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand.

From Bangkok, you can easily get to Ubon Ratchathani by either bus, train or airplane. You have transportation options, so book whatever way works best for you.

Once in Ubon Ratchathani, you can cross the Thailand (Chong MeK) / Laos (Vang Tao) border crossing by Bus. Pakse is in Laos’ Champasak Province, which is a perfect entry point for those looking to explore the Si Phan Don Islands (Four Thousand Islands).

BOAT – SLOW BOAT TO LUANG PRABANG

If you are in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai) one of the most popular forms of overland travel to Laos is the slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang.

Costing around $40 USD, the journey from Thailand to Luang Prabang on the Mekong River takes two days. If you have the time and are looking for a unique experience and see rural Laos, look no further than the slow boat to Luang Prabang

Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

For more information on the slow boat to Luang Prabang, read about our experience and get everything you need to know on the slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang.

How To Get To Laos From Cambodia

BUS – PHNOM PENH TO LAOS

From Phenom Penh, Cambodia you’ll need to first catch a bus to Stung Treng, Cambodia.

Stung Treng is about a 2-hour bus ride north to the southern border crossing of Laos. The border crossing you will be venturing across is the Dong Kralor (Cambodia) – Veun Kham (Laos) border.

Once in Veun Kham, Laos, you can catch a boat to Don Det, which is one of the the most popular islands of Si Phan Don.

How To Get To Laos From Vietnam

BUS – HANOI TO LUANG PRABANG

We hate to break it to you but the best way to get from Vietnam to Laos is to fly. Not the cheapest, but by far the most time and sanity saving.

The bus from Hanoi to Luang Prabang is a journey to say the least, but if you’re up for it, here are the details! The journey is advertised as taking 24 hours but in reality, always runs longer – like 30 hours.

The tickets can be bought from a Vietnamese agency in town or online. Expect ticket prices to range from $42 – $50 USD for a one-way ticket.

—> Check out times and ticket prices for busses to Hanoi to Luang Prabang at 12go.asia

Views of Luang Prabang
Views of Luang Prabang

Backpacking Laos Visa on Arrival Requirements

Visitors backpacking Laos will need to obtain a Laos visa prior to entering the country. A Laos visa on arrival is considered a tourist visa and is valid for up to 30 days.

Upon arrival, either at a Laos border crossing or at a Laos airport…

  • You’ll be given a visa application form. Fill it out and hand it to the border agent.
  • Along with your visa application, hand the border agent your passport and 2 passport sized photographs (have these photos ahead of time or you’ll pay a fee
  • Pay the $30 USD visa fee in cash (USD is accepted)
  • Wait for your visa to be processed. Your name will be called once your visa is ready

Once the border agent hands you your visa back, BOOM, welcome to Laos!

It’s important to note that not all countries are eligible for a Laos visa on arrival (VOA). Please check to see what your countries requirements are prior to your visit to Laos.

AIRPORTS

Below are the three airports, in Laos, where you can get your visa on arrival.

  • Wattay International Airport in Vientiane
  • Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang
  • Pakse International Airport in Pakse
BORDER CROSSINGS

There are a handful of Laos border crossings that tourists can get their visas on arrival at. The most popular border crossing routes are below.

  • From Thailand:
    • Chiang Khong, Thailand – Huay Xai, Laos
    • Nong Khai, Thailand – Thanaleng, Laos
    • Chong Mek, Thailand – Vang Tao, Laos
  • From Cambodia:
    • Dom Kralor, Cambodia – Veun Kham, Laos
  • From Vietnam:
    • Nam Khan, Vietnam – NamCan, Laos
The village on Nong Khiaw, Laos
The village on Nong Khiaw, Laos

Backpacking Laos: Getting Around Laos

FLYING

Laos is a pretty big country – just take a look at it! Depending on where you go in the country and how much time you have, flying, more times than not, will be your fastest travel option.

There are several airports scattered throughout Laos offering daily domestic flights to some of Laos must see places.

Lao Airlines is the country’s domestic air carrier. It is wise to book flights in advance to ensure you get the departure day you want.

Be warned, flights are notoriously delayed in Laos.

MINIVANS / BUSSES

If you want to get somewhere in Laos, a bus or minivan will get you there!

Overland travel in Laos predominantly consists of bus travel (local and VIP busses). The rides are slow, can be a bit bumpy but overall, the cheapest way to get you around Laos.

All rides can be arranged ahead of time through your accommodations, a tour agency in town, online or going to the bus station yourself.

—-> Check out the latest times and ticket prices for busses and minivans throughout Laos at 12go.asia

SONGTHAEW

The best way to get around a city, besides using your own two feet, is catching a ride in a songthaew.

A songthaew is essentially a tuk-tuk that can fit more people. It’s a pick-up truck thats truck bed has been converted to be used as a shared taxi for getting locals and tourists around the city.

Be sure to haggle on price and never, ever accept the first price the driver gives you!

Songthaew in Luang Prabang
Songthaew in Luang Prabang

—-> Check out our perfect Laos Itinerary to help you plan your best route through Laos!

Laos Food

Let us say that the food of Laos, Laotian food, has no shortage of tantalizing flavors. From fresh herbs to colorful spices that pack some heat, Laos cuisine will leave your taste buds buzzing with excitement.

Wondering what to eat in Laos? Well no worries! We have a list of authentic Laos foods that you have to try.

To miss these tasty dishes would be, well…shameful!

Laap

We’ll start off with the National dish of Laos, Laap (also referred to as laab). Laap is essentially a ground meat salad. Choose from whatever meat the restaurant has available (chicken or duck are popular) and the chef will get to work.

Packed with spices, fish sauce, lime juice and a unique blend of dry rubs, this national dish of Laos will leave you wanting another, or two.

Laap is served with veggies and sticky rice. A perfect meal for lunch or dinner.

Or Lam

Known as Lao stew, Or Lam originated in Luang Prabang. A tasty stew that comes stuffed with an assortment of veggies and a side of a magic ingredient, buffalo.

The broth is a little thick, a little spicy but a must try Laotian dish in our opinion.

Khao Poon

If you are looking for some comfort food, look no further than the delicious spicy noodle soup known as Khao Poon.

What Pho is to Vietnam, Khao Poon is to Laos. Thin spaghetti like noodles (rice vermicelli) are simmered to perfection with meat (commonly chicken) and various veggies to create a spicy noodle soup concoction that is packed with flavor.

A perfect way to start your morning is with a hot bowl of Khao Poon!

Jaew Bong

If you are looking to crank up the heat, ask the chef for some Jaew Bong. Jaew Bong

Is a hot pepper paste that usually accompanies any food in Laos.

Made out of sun dried chilis, galangal, garlic, fish sauce and a few other Laos spices, Jaew Bong is a sweet and savory chili paste that will give you the extra heat you are looking for.

Mok

Mok is a freaking crockpot of delicious-ness! The word Mok in Lao is actually a term for a banana leaf wrap. The banana leaf is packed with ingredients like meat, veggies and handfuls of spices and then roasted over coals or steamed to perfection.

What you have after it’s cooked is a crock pot of flavors that perfectly complement each other and will leave you drooling…literally. We know from experience.

An assortment of Laotian Cuisine
An assortment of Laotian Cuisine

Laos Holidays and Festivals

Pi Mai Lao

If you are backpacking Laos during mid-April, be prepared to get soaking wet! Why? Because it’s Pi Mai Lao, the Laos New Year!

Pi Mai Lao, or Songkran, is the largest holiday in the country of Laos! The festival is a three-day celebration that happens during the middle of April every year.

Locals take to the street and so begins the most epic water fight you’ve ever seen! From hoses to buckets of water to water gun fights and water balloons, not an inch of the country will be left dry.

Pai Mai Lao symbolizes cleansing of the spirit and new beginnings. Laotian people will pour water on buddhas and their neighbors. Everyone celebrates the new year and new beginnings during Pai Mai Lao.

Whether you are in Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng come prepared with water gear and to party! When backpacking through Laos in April, Pai Mai Lao is a must!

Pi Mai Lao or Songkran (Laos New Year) in Laos
Pi Mai Lao or Songkran (Laos New Year) in Laos

—-> Check out our post on “The Secret Pool of Kuang Si Waterfall

Drinking in Laos

BeerLao

Your backpacking Laos adventure cannot be complete without enjoying the national libation of Laos. Let us just say that there is truly nothing better than sipping an ice cold BeerLao while watching the sunset. BeerLao is the national beer and pretty much the cheapest beer you can find in Laos.

Enjoy responsibly and enjoy it often 🙂

Lao-Lao Whiskey

If you are looking for a cheap buzz and/or all out drunk-a-thon, look no further than Lao-Lao Whiskey.

Lao-Lao Whiskey is made from rice and could quite possibly be in the running for cheapest liquor in the world. In some places, you can find Lao-Lao Whiskey priced for $1USD for an entire bottle. Yeah…a whole bottle.

Be warned though! Lao-Lao Whiskey is no smooth, easy drinking whiskey. It taste like gasoline and rubbing alcohol, combined. Our suggestion? Mix it with a lot of Coca-Cola….and we mean a lot.

Sipping Beer Lao in Luang Prabang
Sipping Beer Lao in Luang Prabang

Laos Currency

The Lao Kip

The currency in Laos is the Lao Kip. It’s no secret that if you are traveling from, for example, the United States, Great Britain or Europe, your money can and will go far in Laos.

For example, 1 Lao Kip equals about .11 cents in the USD.

Now, this can and will fluctuate, but still, visiting Laos can be not only really enjoyable but really affordable too!

Tipping in Laos

Tipping in Laos is not expected or customary but certainly appreciated. The country of Laos is poor and its workers make extremely low wages so a few extra Kip can go along way for them.

For restaurants, spa’s and tour guides, tipping 10% of the bill is a good rule of thumb. Of course, if the service is exceptional, feel free to give more!

When tipping in Laos, please pay attention to make sure the tip isn’t already included on the bill.

Luang Prabang Temple
Luang Prabang Temple

—> Check our complete guide on the best things to do in Vang Vieng, Laos

Backpacking Laos Budget

If you are looking for a Laos travel budget, we’ve broken out a few costs based on the type of traveler. Everyone travels different but the below price ranges will give you an idea of what your daily travel budget for Laos will be.

Backpacking Laos on a Budget

For those travelers backpacking through Laos who are looking to visit Laos on the cheap, a good daily budget range for Laos is budget $35 – $45 USD a day, per person

Backpacking Laos Mid-Range Budget

To those travelers who like to live in between budget and luxury, a safe bet for you is to budget $60 – $80 USD a day, per person

Backpacking Laos Luxury Budget

For those who like to travel in the laps of luxury, you can spend $100 – $125 a day and feel like you’re living like a King.

sunset vibes in Vang Vieng, Laos
Sunset vibes in Vang Vieng, Laos

Laos Language and Essential Phrases

The official language of Laos is “Lao” or also called “Laotian”.

Lao is the most widely spoken language in Lao. However, understand that when backpacking Laos, you’ll get an ear full Laotian dialects. The country of Laos has 86 different languages all spoken and used by different ethnic groups throughout the country.

Don’t freak out though! There is no need to learn how to say a few words in each of those 86 dialects. That would be exhausting…

Our below list of essential Laos phrases will help you navigate the country and get a few smiles from the local people along the way 🙂

  • Hello: Sabaidi
  • Goodbye (stay well): La Gon
  • Thank You: Khop Jai or Khop Chai
  • Excuse me: Khaw Toot
  • Delicious: Sep
  • Cheers: Tham Keo!

Separately, English and French are widely spoken throughout the country, especially in big cities and popular tourist areas.

—> Check out Nong Khiaw, Laos: Your Epic Travel Guide

100 Waterfall Hike in Northern Laos
100 Waterfall Hike in Northern Laos

Laos Vaccinations

When visiting a new country, it’s always best to come prepared. There are a few things to do before you leave home, that will help keep you safe.

For instance, vaccinations. The CDC recommends the following vaccinations for anyone visiting Laos.

  • Measles
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis

Malaria in Laos

The potential of contracting Malaria in Laos is 100% possible. We’re not here to scare you, but it is something you need to understand.

The risk of Malaria lowers when you are in populated areas, like Luang Prabang and Vientiane. However, things happens and it’s best to be prepared.

  • Ask your doctor about antimalarial tablets
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET on any exposed skin (all natural inspect repellent did not work for us. Those pesky mosquitoes still got us!)
  • If your room requires outdoor air circulation, ensure there is a mosquito net
  • Choose accommodation with screens, fans, air-con

To be completely transparent, we arrived in Southeast Asia with Malaria medication and stopped taking them. We hated the way the antimalarial tablets made us feel.

In total, we were in Southeast Asia for 8 months backpacking around and while yes, we got mosquito bites, not one gave us Malaria.

We started our trip off with all-natural mosquito repellent but soon realized, DEET is a must.

Speaking from experience, our tip and how we went Malaria-free is to wear mosquito repellent, all the time. Oh and if you are staying in a room with no air-con, make sure your bed has a mosquito net.

Nam Khan in Luang Prabang
Nam Khan in Luang Prabang

—-> Check out one of our favorite hikes in all of Laos, the 100 waterfall hike

Backpacking Laos: Is Laos Safe?

In general, Laos is actually a very safe place to travel to. Even though the country of Laos is fairly safe, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Laos is a developing country and issues like petty theft and infrastructure are the main safety issues you will run in to when backpacking Laos.

Laos Infastructure

The drivers is Laos can be a little crazy – to be fair, all drivers in Asia are crazy but we felt we would be remised if we did not call this out.

Bus and moped accidents can happen so it’s best to be prepared for anything. Traffic can be crazy too so use caution when crossing the street. Don’t think that high-speed bus is going to stop just because you’re crossing the street 🙂

Laos Hospitals

Laos isn’t known for the best healthcare for sick or injured travelers. If you get sick…like, really scary sick, it’s in your best interest to catch a flight to Bangkok and seek medical treatment in a Bangkok hospital.

Thailand is more equipped to handle serious ailments and infections than Laos is.

Crime in Laos

Theft

The biggest crime you’ll run into in Laos is theft. Be aware of your belongings and always keep your valuables out of sight. For example, keep items zipped up in a cross body bag or backpack or buttoned up in a front pocket.

Drugs

Be wary of getting approached by locals offering you drugs for sale. Drugs are illegal in Laos and come with some steep punishments like jail time or hundreds of dollars (USD) in fines.

Where To Stay in Laos

From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng to Vientiane and all the other amazing cities and towns there are to experience in Laos, check out the latest places and prices below to secure an unforgettable Laotian accommodation.

Booking.com

WANT MORE INFORMATION ON LAOS?!

Laos Itinerary: The Best Places to Visit in Laos

Nong Khiaw, Laos: Your Epic Travel Guide

What To Do In Luang Prabang

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For more travel tips, guides and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site, follow us on Instagram @wanderingstus and on Facebook. Oh and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!

Happy Travels,

– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)

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