Whenever people ask me what my favorite country is, I always tell them it is Laos. There are many reasons to love this country. Aside from their temples and majestic waterfalls I am also fallen to the country’s food, safety, people, chill atmosphere and slow pace of life which is what Laos is known for. Laos PDR, “Please Don’t Rush” as called by visiting travellers. One thing that attracts me the most in this country are the people. From my personal experience I never experienced any rip off here. Yeah! They might charge a little bit more for the tuktuk fee but take note that tuktuk fare is always negotiable and consider that the country’s diesel is imported from Vietnam and Thailand. Most of their products are imported that is why basic commodities here are more expensive than the neighboring countries. People here are very friendly and welcoming to visitors. I never experienced being mocked and catcalled even when I’m traveling with a white guy as compared to how I battle with people’s stares and curses in other countries. Although English is not widely spoken Laotians are helpful when it comes to directions. They will direct and guide you to your destination and will even give you a free ride.
Laos is a landlocked country and can be traveled by land. You can start your journey from south to north and make your way to Thailand or Vietnam or the other way around and end up in Cambodia. I have been to Laos twice and I must say given a chance I will keep on coming back here. In this blog I will be stating my experiences and observations in different regions, their cost of living, places to go and things to do. Let’s start with my most favorite city in the north, Luang Prabang.
The former capital of Laos is home to stunning Kuang Si Waterfalls. I grew my curiosity and desire to visit this place when I saw the pictures online. I was totally in love with this place the moment I set foot on it. From the sunset of Mt. Phousi, dinner by the Mekong River to the enchanted Kuang Si Waterfalls. What more can you ask for? One famous thing to do here aside from visiting Kuang Si waterfalls is the half day elephant bathing and riding activities and village tours offered by tour agencies. Since this place is very famous a lot of tourists and travelers flock here but the number of accommodations is not sufficient to the number of visitors especially in the peak season of Lunar or Chinese New Year. It will be very touristy and your accommodation reservation can be canceled without your knowledge. Your guesthouse or hostel hosts will not feel accountable to it saying Chinese visitors already rent out the whole place and paid 10 times more than the real price. Believe me, I experienced that and ended up walking on the streets on a hot sunny afternoon along with other backpackers from one hostel to another checking if they have vacant bed. I enjoyed that experienced though because I found a $5 shared dorm room which is cheaper than my original hostel.
Disclaimer: I am not a hater of Chinese. Take note that not all travels will go as smooth as planned. This experienced didn’t turn me off as well since I found my favorite waterfalls in the world, Kuang Si Waterfalls.
From here you can ride a 22-hour sleeper’s bus to Hanoi or overnight bus to Northern parts of Vietnam or Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Average Meal Cost: ₭15,000- ₭ 35,000 (₱ 95- ₱ 220)
Tuktuk Fee: ₭30,000- ₭150,000 (₱190- ₱ 950)
Accomodation (Shared Dormitory): ₭40,000- ₭250,000 (₱250- ₱1,600)
Day Tour Activities (no free lunch): ₭50,000- ₭250,000 (₱350- ₱1,600)
I would describe this as the party place of Laos. You can never run out of activities here. From tubing, kayaking, dipping in blue lagoon, zipline, rock climbing, hot air balloon during sunrise or sunset to happy hour parties with free unlimited whiskies. This village 5 hours bus ride south from Luang Prabang is a must visit or stop for travelers backpacking Laos. I suggest you to book your accommodation in Vang Vieng Main Road because it is accessible to banks, stores, restaurants and bars. If you are looking for a night life on a budget head to Sakura Bar at 9-10 pm and Viva Pub at 11 pm for unlimited free drinks and whisky.
Average Meal Cost: ₭10,000- ₭ 25,000 (₱65- ₱160)
Tuktuk Fee: ₭10,000- ₭70,000 (₱65-₱ 450)
Accomodation (Shared Dormitory): ₭50,000- ₭70,000 (₱350- ₱450)
Day Tour Activities (with free lunch): ₭50,000- ₭200,000 (₱350- ₱1,250)
Three-hour bus ride from Vang Vieng is the capital city of Laos. Vientiane is a chill city with no rush and no traffic. However this city may seem boring since there are not much things to do and places to visit. The main attractions here are limited to Wat Si Saket, Patuxai Monument, That Luang, Lao National Museum and Buddha Park which you can visit for a day or two. During the night you can stroll at the Mekong Riverside Park. It has beautiful sunset, various restaurants, bars and night market. The best way to stroll around the city is to rent a bike since there are no day tour activities here except Buddha Park.
You have plenty of options to go from here. You can take 20-hour overnight bus to Hanoi or Danang, Vietnam, train and buses to Cambodia or Thailand.
Average Meal Cost: ₭10,000- ₭ 30,000 (₱65- ₱160)
Tuktuk Fee: ₭30,000- ₭100,000 (₱190- ₱650)
Accomodation (Shared Dormitory): ₭50,000- 80,000 (₱350- ₱500)
Day Tour Activities (temple entrance fees): ₭5,000- ₭30,000 (₱32- ₱190)
This is indeed the cheapest city in the country. I heard about this place from my roommate in Vientiane who at that time was planning to stay here for 2 weeks. From what she said, I got curious about this place so I decided to also take a leap and visit it. I was a little disappointed because there’s nothing special or any attraction within the city except for two temples, Wat Luang and Wat Phabad and Tang Feres riverside market at night. However, it is a good location if you are planning to go on a day trip in Bolaven Plateau where Tad Fane, the 120 meter twin waterfalls is located and Vat Phou, a Khmer Hindu ruin in the South of Laos. From this city you can take an overnight bus to Bangkok, Thailand or go down south to Si Phan Don also known as 4,000 Island.
Average Meal Cost: ₭8,000- ₭ 20,000 (₱63- ₱130)
Tuktuk Fee: ₭10,000- ₭20,000 (₱65- ₱130)
Accomodation (Shared Dormitory): ₭40,000- 60,000 (₱250- ₱375)
Day Tour Activities (waterfalls entrance fee): ₭5,000- ₭10,000 (₱32- ₱65)
Si Phan Don (4,000 Island)
My friend and I have a big debate about the worth of this island. For Asian travelers you might not find this place interesting since it has just farm and rivers which we can find at our own backyard at home (I was born and raised in a countryside so I can say it is the same like my place at home) but for Westerns they are amazed with the chill, slow pace atmosphere and countryside vibe of it. This island became popular when the local government of Vang Vieng closed the irresponsible bars and parties along the river that made the river polluted. So, gradually it started to open bars and transferred the party vibe of Vang Vieng here. However, I must warn you with partying because there are instances that the whole island losses its electricity and have complete blackout. It’s very creepy to walk at night from the bar to your bungalow in complete darkness. Attractions here includes Li Phi Waterfalls, tubing and Irrawaddy Dolphin watching offered by tour agencies but the main highlight of this place is lying in a hammock outside your bungalow watching the sunrise or sunset It is the most expensive place especially with food, double the cost of Luang Prabang and Vientiane. There are not many tuktuk in the islands so visitors usually go around the islands with rented bicycle or motorbikes.
From here you can take a boat and 8-hour bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia or overnight bus to Bangkok, Thailand.
Average Meal Cost: ₭20,000- ₭ 45,000 (₱130- ₱285)
Bicycle Rental: ₭10,000 (₱65)
Motorcycle Rental: ₭50,000 (₱350)
Accommodation (Private Bungalow): ₭50,000- ₭ 150,000 (₱350- ₱950)
Day Tour Activities (waterfalls entrance fee): ₭35,000 (₱220)
Tubing and Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching: ₭150,000 (₱950)
4 thoughts on “LAOS, FROM NORTH TO SOUTH: LAOS 101 BACKPACKING GUIDE”
Really enjoyed reading about your trip 🙂 Laos isn’t somewhere I had thought about travelling to before but after seeing your photos and reading about how chilled out it is I would love to go now!
Wow!! Thanks Sammy,,, i’m glad u are inspired b’coz of this…
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Hey Abby, planning to visit laos next month and reading your article inspired me a lot. Im a solo traveller too and trying to complete my south east asian contries visit 🙂
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Hi Ian,, geezz.. have to apologize I just saw your comment… Thanks and good luck on your backpacking journey,, Laos is always worth it..