By Stephen Bugno
Despite inflation and inflated expenses for travelers, Laos is still an inexpensive place to travel. I started this series with: What it costs to travel in Malaysia. I wanted to give independent travelers an idea of the costs associated with traveling in individual countries because it can be extremely helpful during the planning stages.
Keep in mind $1 US = 8,000 kip (March 2012). Here is an example of the cost of an average day traveling in Laos:
A day’s expenses in Laos:
Breakfast buffet in Muang Ngoi (including coffee): 20,000 kip ($2.50 US)
One hour slow boat ride to Nong Khiaw: 25,000 kip ($ 3.13 US)
Papaya Shake at café with free WiFi: 10,000 kip ($1.25 US)
Lunch: curry and sticky rice: 20,000 kip ($2.50 UD)
Rent mountain bike for the afternoon: 30,000 ($3.75 US)
1.5 liter water: 5,000 kip ($.63 US)
Dinner: Mok Sin (steamed fish in Banana leaf) and sticky rice: 20,000 ($2.50 US)
Beer Lao (640ml): 10,000kip ($1.25 US)
Traditional Lao Herbal Sauna: 15,000 kip ($1.88 US)
Accommodation in Nong Khiaw: 40,000 kip (20,000 pp if shared) ($5.00 US)
Total: 190,000 kip ($ 23.75 US )
Meals, accommodation, and transport
$20 US per day is a good estimate if you’re a tight budget traveler. If you travel slower and smarter, you might make it on $15 or less per day. Consider that Luang Prabang and Vientiane are more expensive than the rest of the country.
Transportation costs have risen since I last visited. For an eight-hour bus ride, you’re looking at about 90,000 kip ($11.25 US). Expect most tuck-tuck and songthaew drivers to overcharge, so bargain hard.
For slow boat costs check out my Guide to Slow Boats in Laos.
Accommodation can vary. I’ve paid as little as 30,000 kip ($3.75 US) for a room. Budgeting between 50,000-80,000 ($6.25-$10.00 US), however, is more realistic. Keep in mind this will only get you a basic room with an attached bathroom. In Laos, it pays to travel in a pair, because the room is the same price for one or two people.
To rent bicycles for the day, it usually cost between 10,000 and 30,000 kip.
An hour-long Lao massage usually goes for 40,000-60,000 kip ($5-$7.50 US).
Depending on the way you view Laos, it can be a traveler’s nirvana or could be the source or frustration.
Although Laos is a friendly and tranquil place to travel, it is in many ways a little traveler’s paradise in the sense that the whole backpacker infrastructure has been set up. It is here you’re likely to spend most of your time. There are small guesthouses and bungalows that cater exclusively to foreign travelers, either because Laotians don’t wish to travel or don’t have the money.
This also means many of your bus trips will be more than half-filled with foreign travelers and your slow boat trip may not include any locals at all. So if you’re fantasizing about an all-Laotian boat ride down a remote river, think more realistically.
Laos is an easy country to travel within because those involved in tourism have enough of a grasp of English to make travelers feel comfortable and menus are usually printed in English. Laotians don’t often eat out, so if you desire something above basic noodles, you’ll have to go to a tourist-oriented eating establishment.
ATMs and Cash
ATMs are becoming more commonplace in Laos. Throughout SE Asia, it’s always a good idea to carry US dollars on your person for visas and for emergencies. Occasionally the ATMs don’t have money, they are temporarily out of order, or the power is out. Most towns in Laos have an ATM but don’t count on them everywhere, so make sure you have enough kip before traveling into the countryside.
Making the most of your travels through Laos
If you don’t make an effort to leave the comfort of the Banana Pancake Trail, your trip is liable to be relaxing and chilled-out, but it won’t involve very much interaction with locals beyond superficial contact.
Last year after traveling almost a month in Laos, I wrote Why I don’t like Laos. And while I would add that I don’t dislike Laos, these are just a few of the things I mentioned which frustrate me while traveling there. I’d never dispute the friendliness of Laotians or the placidity of their society. Add I’ll probably end up traveling there again.
Have you traveled through Laos recently? How much did you spend per day?