Country recap and budget tips: Laos


Posted by Beth | June 20, 2016

For a complete summary of where we stayed, what we did and how we got around, see our Ultimate Guide to Flashpacking Laos. 

Days in the country: 10

Cities visited: Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang

Favorite lodging: Our Airbnb in Vientiane. Best host we’ve ever had!

Favorite drink: We went to a quirky little bohemian bar in Luang Prabang called Icon Klub and enjoyed a game of Scrabble and specialty cocktails made by the Hungarian owner.

Photo credit: Afar.com

Photo credit: Afar.com

Favorite food: We ate some delicious street food in Luang Prabang, including noodle soups and a vegetarian buffet. I also loved Joma Cafe, a small chain of Western-style cafes in Southeast Asia for their mango chicken salad (and air conditioning).

Favorite activities: We filled our days in Laos with so much cool stuff it’s hard to choose, but got to give it to the hot air balloon ride.  It is the cheapest place in the world to do hot air ballooning and while we had to maneuver around power lines a couple times before landing it felt very professional and safe. Another favorite activity was swimming in the turquoise waters below waterfalls and caves and often finding random things to jump off. See video below.

What we enjoyed the most: The laid-back vibe we experienced. It was a nice break between super touristy Thailand and overly chaotic Vietnam. Laos felt safe yet unspoiled, low-key yet adventurous, and had plenty of French charm lingering from its colonial days.

Chill Laos: Watching the sunset over the Mekong

Sunset views from the top of Mount Phousi

What we enjoyed the least: Literally the only complaint we had in Laos was the bus ride from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. There’s no other good way to get there besides the windy, steep road, but taking the bigger (albeit slower) bus would have been more comfortable than being squeezed into a van.

It was a "bear" of a drive, but Luang Prabang was worth it!

It was a “bear” of a drive, but Luang Prabang was worth it!

What surprised us: We were genuinely surprised and thrilled with how much we loved this country. It had always been on my bucket list but up until a day or two before we arrived Caleb had no clue why we were even going to Laos. It ended up being one of our favorite countries!  One unique part of Laos is that most visitors are on longer trips and Laos is usually not their first stop.  It felt like the locals realized that and even in the smaller towns the western food options were everywhere, plus you meet interesting fellow travelers.

What we would have done differently: Stay longer! Ten days was plenty to see and do what we wanted to do, but in hindsight our month in Vietnam was too long and we would have preferred a few extra days hanging in Luang Prabang.

Not ready to leave Laos to fly to Hanoi

Not ready to leave Laos to fly to Hanoi

Favorite person we met: Our Airbnb host Gilbert in Vientiane was fantastic. He also introduced us to a few of his friends from France and a Canadian who owned a restaurant (Tysons-great pizza!). We also randomly ended up in a cooking class with two doctors from Kansas City and enjoyed visiting with them.

Pro tips: 

  • It’s hot in May! Make sure you get a room with air conditioning and that it’s comfortable enough to lounge around in during the heat of the day.
  • Rent bikes! They’re available everywhere for cheap and a fantastic way to get around on your own and even to get out of the city into the countryside.  Laos is a great place to test your capabilities on a motorbike before trying your hand in the craziness of Thailand or Vietnam.

    Big Dan's first time driving a motorbike

    Big Dan’s first time driving a motorbike

  • In Vientiane specifically, do not waste your time along the Mekong during the day, there is nothing there.  About 5 p.m. the whole area comes alive and it is a great place to people watch, hear live music or indulge in some street food.
  • In Vang Vieng, be sure your expectations for the tubing experience are up to date.  It is no longer the crazy rope-swinging party float that it used to be.  There are only a couple places along the river to stop as the government has shut most of them down.  In our mind that made it much more enjoyable, as just a few years ago we would have left Vang Vieng off our itinerary entirely to avoid the debauchery.
  • In Luang Prabang, check out Backstreet Academy.  They offer a knife making experience with at a locals blacksmith’s house.  The knife you actually make is a bit crude but the whole experience is well worth the $40.

Currency: Lao Kip. $1 = 8,096 Kip

Flexible points redeemed: 11,340 Barclaycard Arrival points ($72 on visas + $54 guesthouse)

Total out-of-pocket expense: $698.94

Daily Average: $34.92 per person

See our itemized expenses here: Laos Expenses

Laos

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