- DAILY AVERAGE
We fully realize that this article is hardly entertaining, but hopefully it will provide some help to those looking to budget for their trip to Laos (or for a much larger trip through Southeast Asia like what Jamie and I are currently doing). So without further ado, here is how much you can expect to spend in Laos.
Below I’ve outlined our accommodation expenses, food expenses, as well as the cost of getting from one city/town to the next – in case you’re planning a similar route to what we did. I’ve also laid out the costs for all of the entrance fees, tours, and activities that we did while in Laos. Below the costs, I’ve outlined a few notes to help add a bit of perspective to this list and a few tips to help keep your expenses down when travelling through Laos.
NOTE: All costs are in Canadian Dollars, and are per person. As of Jan 7, 2013: $1 CAD = $0.94 USD
TOTAL DAYS IN LAOS: 17 days
We paid $42 USD (in American currency) for our tourist visa. Note that the amount charged is different for every nationality, and that Canadians are charged more than anyone else. Most nationalities can expect to pay somewhere between $35-$40 USD.
Accommodation Total = $79.64
Accommodation Average per night = $4.98
Food Total = $207.44
Food Average per meal = $4.32
Average cost of BeerLao (large bottle) = $1.50
Boat Between Chiang Khong (Thai border) and Houay Xai (Laos border) = $1.33
Slow Boat (Houay Xai to Luang Prabang) = $33.34
Tuk Tuk (Slowboat Pier to Luang Prabang) = $2.48
Tuk-Tuk (within Luang Prabang) = $1.07
Tuk-Tuk (Luang Prabang to Kuang Si Waterfall and return) = $4
Tuk-tuk (Luang Prabang to Buddha Cave and return) = $5.33
Boat (Cross-river to Buddha Cave = $1.73
Bus (Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng) = $16.67
Tuk-Tuk (Vang Vieng Bus Station to Vang Vieng) = $1.33
Tuk-Tuk (3rd “Tubing Bar” to Vang Vieng) = $1.33
Bus (Vang Vieng to Vientiane) = $5.33
Tuk-Tuk (within Vientiane, one way) = $3.33
Tuk-Tuk (Vientiane to Buddha Park and return) = $6.67
Bus (Vientiane to Kong Lor Village) = $14.67
Bus (Kong Lor Village to Vieng Kham + Vieng Kham to Pakse, respectively) = $5.33 + $13.33 = $18.66
Tuk-Tuk (Pakse Bus Station to Pakse) = $1.33
Tuk-Tuk (Pakse to Pakse Bus Station) = $2
Bus (Pakse to Si Phan Don) = $5.33
Boat (Si Phan Don to Don Khone (4000 Islands)) = $4
Bus (Don Khone (4000 Islands) to Bangkok) = $38.67
Wat Thong Temple Entrance (Luang Prabang) = $3.33
Kuang Si Waterfall Entrance (Luang Prabang) = $2.67
Buddha Cave Entrance (Luang Prabang) = $2.67
Sunset Temple Entrance (Luang Prabang) = $2.60
River Tubing (Vang Vieng) = $7.33
Buddha Park Entrance (Vientiane) = $0.67
Buddha Park Camera Entrance Fee (Vientiane) = $40/camera
Kong Lor Park Entrance = $0.27
Kong Lor Boat Hire = $7.33 (or $14.67/boat with max 3 people/boat)
Somphamit Waterfall Entrance (4000 Islands) = $3.33
Daily Bicycle Rent (4000 Islands) = $1.33
Do we have any tips on how to save money in Laos… where to start? How about this: don’t go there. Ok, ok, I’m just kidding. Sort of. More often than not, Laos really irritated me. However, if you’re traveling through Southeast Asia you can’t skip it. When I look back now, there are things that we did in Laos that we couldn’t have done elsewhere and the trip wouldn’t be the same without those experiences. So for all of you out there who will one day make the trek through Laos, here’s a few pieces of advice on how to save money on that journey.
1. PRIORITIZE YOUR ITINERARY
Transportation in Laos is awful. To travel 100 km will take about 5-6 hours due to windy roads, vehicles frequently braking down, stopping to collaborate on a solution to any other vehicle that has broken down, stopping at numerous convenience stores to help support local business, stopping to allow women selling “bird-on-a-stick” on the bus to harass you for 20 minutes before stopping again and letting them off, stopping for an hour to fill up the bus again because a couple of people have gotten off… you get the idea. I’m not saying that their system of doing things is wrong, it’s just very slow. You need to be prepared for that. If you need to be somewhere by a specific point in time (which we did, as we were heading to Koh Chang in Thailand for Christmas), then you need to pick and choose what you are going to see and do. And quite honestly, as you can tell by glancing at our expenses above, transportation is by far the most expensive part of travelling through Laos, so prioritizing will help you save a bit of cash as well. Avoid back-tracking and understand that off the beaten path locations are going to be more costly to reach. Not saying that they aren’t worth visiting, but you might not want to be hopping to all corners of the country simply for the sake of doing so, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
2. BOOK ACCOMMODATION UPON ARRIVAL
Booking your accommodation ahead of time in Laos is a sure way to find a lousy hostel that charges three times what it’s worth. Whether it’s booking accommodation in a little river town from the operator of your slowboat company or merely using hostelworld to find a good spot to hit the hay, just don’t do it. You’re MUCH better off to find accommodation upon arrival, as hostels, hotels, and guesthouses often offer check-in on arrival discounts. In addition, every guesthouse or hostel we booked in advance was an absolute dump, such as in Pahk Ben and Vientiane, and although we were concerned about availability in the various spots considering we were travelling in December (high season), everywhere we visited in Laos was extremely quiet.
3. FREE BREAKFAST
Many of the hostels we stayed at in Laos offered free breakfast. Food in Laos isn’t nearly as cheap as neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam, and as a result every meal can take a bit of a toll on your daily budget. The free breakfast that we had usually included toast, eggs of your choice in style, and a coffee or tea. It tides you over until lunchtime and saves a few bucks in the process. Be sure to ask at various hostels and guesthouses whether they offer free breakfast before checking in.
4. ATM TRANSACTION LIMITS
Most ATM machines in Laos will only allow you to withdraw a maximum of 1,000,000 kip which is only about $133. If you’re like us, you will not only be charged a fee for withdrawal at the ATM (about $5), but also from your respective bank. As outlined above, we spent an average of $33.61/day. That means that over the course of about 4 days, you will run out of money. If you plan on being in Laos for 3 weeks and spend roughly the same daily average as us, you will need to take out money about 5 times. If you get charged $5 at the ATM and $5 from your bank, that’s a total of $50 in total withdrawal fees over 3 weeks. Very, very frustrating. When were were in the 4000 islands we managed to stumble in to an Australian bar that offered an ATM service via an interac machine, so long as you had a debit card that doubled as a credit card. Tehcnically, they let you take out as much as possible at a relatively low transaction fee (lower than the $5 charged by any other ATM machine), but they were scrambling to find all of the cash necessary to fulfill our transaction (which was only 2,000,000 kip or so). May be worth asking foreign run establishments in various cities throughout Laos whether they offer a similar service. Some ATM’s will allow between 2-2.5 million kip per transaction, but those are few and far between. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to try and take out as much money as possible before settling on the 1 million kip that most machines limit you to. If you’re charged as much as we are for every transaction at a foreign ATM, then every time you take out 2,000,000 kip, you will save $10.
5. EAT LOCAL FOOD
Western food is grossly overpriced, and in almost all circumstances, absolutely terrible (with the exception of an Irish bar that we visited in Vang Vieng, which was incredible). Eating the local food is the best way to go to save yourself some cash and a possible bout of food poisoning in the process.
6. HAPPY HOUR
Like Vietnam, Happy Hour is almost every hour of the day in Laos. If it’s not Happy Hour at the bar you’re currently at, walk 5 minutes down the road and you’ll find a few places with incredible drink specials, guaranteed.
7. FIGHT THE SCAMS
Scams are prevalent in Laos, and as competition is very minimal for most businesses within the country, they can pretty much do whatever they like with you at any given moment, and they know it. However, if there’s a group of you, ban together and refuse to go along with what they say you “must” do. Sometimes they will give in, sometimes they’ll throw your bags on shore from the slowboat, in turn ensuring that you will need to pay their buddy for a tuk-tuk in to town. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but it’s always worth a try.