What it Costs: A Day of Travel in Laos

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?


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10 thoughts on “What it Costs: A Day of Travel in Laos”

  1. I like the idea of the Traditional Lao Herbal Sauna. In Philly I paid over $80 just for the massage. With $80 in Laos, I could have a field day at the sauna…

    1. Mike, I just got a massage the other day in China, and I didn’t really like it. I was just in a lt of pain. I guess I’m not a massage guy. But I remember liking the traditional Lao massage. It was a little bit different than a “normal” massage. But the herbal sauna is really great. Would do that again many times if I could.

      1. Wow, I had a massage at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, it was about $60 US dollars and it was fantastic. Perhaps as an “American based hotel” they give American style massage. Was your painful massage a deep tissue massage? Those tend to be more painful than a Swedish massage. At any rate, with those cheap rates, it’s nice to pamper yourself after all that traveling with a backpack on your shoulders.

  2. Never been there but sounds like a great place. If you have time, do visit India too sometime. Its really a wonderful place to travel.
    Wish you a lovely week ahead.

  3. I remember spending about 15 USD per day in Laos travelling on quite a tight budget last year, and it seems that prices have gone up since. So Laos is definitely not the cheapest place to travel in SEA.

  4. Pingback: What it costs: A Day of Travel in Yunnan ProvinceGoMad Nomad Travel

  5. Pingback: Travel to Cheap Countries

  6. Hey guys! My name is Michael. I’m currently in Vang Vieng, Laos at this very moment. Me and my friends are one month in on a three month “loop” of South East Asia.

    The cost of living here in Laos is very low. Our trip was designed for the very question that this thread is asking. Tight budget traveling while getting the most bang for your buck.

    Thus far we have completed a tour of Cambodia and entered Laos from the southern tip. In Cambodia we spent around 200$ total each for an entire month of living.

    Coming from America, in Laos the exchange is roughly 8000 kip per dollar.

    Our first stop was Don Det in the 4000 island area. We rented a bungalow for 25,000 kip per night. That’s 3$ American total. Each meal we got was around 15,000. But that is for basic fried rice + chicken/pork/beef. No extravagant meals for us! So three meals and housing puts you at less than 10$ per day. We had three friends splitting the bungalow. So 7-9$ a day was our cost point average.

    An idea of costs in Vang Vieng is a room for 50,000 kip/night (with 3 people that is $2/person). Our food of choice is a great baguette meal with a tasty fruit shake and French fries for 20,000 kip.

    A large Beerlao seems to run between 10,000 & 15,000 kip, depending on whether you buy it on the street or from a bar (or if you’re going for punch rather than process, you can snag a 750ml bottle of whiskey for 10,00 kip just about anywhere).

    All this being said, we utilize camping and hitchhiking through these countries to reduce overall costs. The cost of bus transport is our biggest money sink. I won’t get Into it in this response. But for camping we each have a hammock setup with bug nets and rain tarps.

    If you’re thrifty and don’t mind stealth camping and cooking your own food, it’s quite simple to reduce your spending on daily necessities (shelter, water and food) to $2-3/day in all but the biggest cities.

    For more Information and to keep up with our gnarly treks, feel free to swing by our website http://www.theemptywalletwanderers.tumblr.com you can ask us any other questions on the site. Vietnam is our next stop!

  7. Thank you for the article!

    I generally avoid ATM because of the fees and the unfavourable rate at the exchange offices.

    Just discovered a new mobile app for my next trip Fairswap. It allows to exchange cash currency in real-time by meeting with each other at a pre-agreed location.
    Widely, you can post your need in foreign currency and if there is someone nearby facing the reverse need, then he can contact you and you will meet him and make the swap.

    Could be a good way to change before travelling or get rid of some leftover after holidays

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