Posted by Beth | June 13, 2016
We adored our 10 days traveling around Laos and encourage anyone interested in traveling through Southeast Asia not to overlook this landlocked country. There are no beaches, but there’s plenty of natural beauty, adventure activities, delicious food and accommodations perfect for a “flashpacker” budget.
What is flashpacking?
We would define ourselves as flashpackers because we are backpacking, but with a slightly bigger budget. We still consider ourselves budget travelers and visit many destinations that are relatively cheap, but splurge for private rooms with AC instead of hostel beds, gladly buy $100 flights instead of taking 30 hour bus rides, and eat nice meals out occasionally instead of only street food.
Vientiane: The smallest capital city in Southeast Asia, Vientiane is a growing but still slow-paced city full of hotels, restaurants and embassies set along the Mekong River.
Vang Vieng: This beautiful town with rivers and towering karst is the backpacker hub of Laos. For years backpackers flocked here for tubing the river, which turned in to one big drug-induced party. In 2012 several backpackers were killed and the police stepped in and shut the entire thing down. Now tubing is still possible but it’s much more low-key and safer.
Luang Prabang: Located in the northern province and considered the spiritual heart of Laos, Luang Prabang is best known for it’s French Indochinese architecture, Buddhist culture and laid-back atmosphere.
Laos is the perfect location for flashpackers because of the accommodation, transportation, food options and activities.
Airbnb: Airbnb options are plentiful in Laos and we used it for two out of our three stays in Laos. Both times we were able to get spacious private rooms with a private bathroom, hot water, wifi, air conditioning and free breakfast in a great location for about $30/night. (You can get $25 off your first stay with Airbnb by signing up with our link!)
We had our best ever Airbnb host in Vientiane, a young French guy who gave up about seven hours of his time to show us around and we had a wonderful time.
Guesthouses: We rely heavily on the website Travelfish.org in Southeast Asia, and like to glance at their accommodation recommendations before booking guesthouses. In Laos they categorize the flash packer budget to be $10-$20/night. We stayed at the Malany Hotel in Vang Vieng and it was about $18/night.
Entering Laos: Coming from Thailand we took the train to Nang Khai and crossed the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane, Laos. This Travelfish post breaks it down exactly how we did it (except they didn’t allow us to walk across, we had to take the bus, so save at least 20baht/person).
Traveling within Laos: It was very easy to book travel within the country from any guesthouse or travel agency the day before you want to travel, allowing for a flexible itinerary. We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, and then again from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. The first one was admittedly way better because the bus wasn’t crowded, and the second drive was very bumpy and windy, though would have been quite scenic if it wasn’t foggy and rainy.
When traveling within each city we rented both bicycles ($1-$2/day) and a motorbike ($5-$10/day) to get around. In all three cities you could easily ride a few kilometers out of the city and be surrounded by the rice fields and local villages in the countryside.
Leaving Laos: We flew from Luang Prabang on to Hanoi, Vietnam. There is also an international airport in Vientiane. We booked our flight on Lao Air using Citi Thank You points. If you plan ahead you should easily be able to find tickets under $100/person.
Laos offered a wide range of dining options, from street meals for $1 to fancy restaurants. We were impressed with the amount of affordable international restaurants in all three cities. We enjoyed Mexican, Italian, Indian and Canadian restaurants, a Belgium beer bar, and a French cafe or two. We did eat locally quite a few times as well, including mostly street food, and took a Lao cooking class in Luang Prabang. Our favorite street food meal was the vegetarian buffet at the night market in Luang Prabang, which was $1 for as much food as you could fit in your bowl.
Laos has just as many, if not more, affordable entertainment and adventure options than it’s Southeast Asian neighbors.
- COPE Visitors Center
- Nightly aerobics on the waterfront.
- Live music at many of the bbq restaurants set up along the waterfront
- Hot air balloon ride
- Lagoons of beautiful turquoise water to jump into
- Other outdoor options we didn’t do include trekking, ziplining, kayaking, or rock climbing.
- Driving range
- Mekong River Cruise
- Knife-making blacksmith course (found on Backstreet Academy-a great source for finding activities with locals across Asia. $10 off your first booking!)
- Outdoor yoga class on the river at Utopia
- Alms Giving Ceremony with the local monks
- Shopping-great daily night market
- Cooking class with Tamarind Restaurant
- Watch the sunset from the top of Mount Phousi
In our minds one of the best things about Laos was there was plenty to do to keep us occupied, yet the pace of the country invited us to slow down a bit. To avoid the mid-day heat most of the activity in Laos started up around dusk so we enjoyed staying out later and sleeping in. We lounged around in cafes, bookstores and wine bars reading, journaling, playing board games and having endless conversations about what our life will look like two months (now only a month!) from now. We lingered over meals a little longer, got nearly daily massages and took long walks along the river. Laos was pure bliss and we can’t recommend it enough! Just don’t cram your schedule so tight that you don’t have time to slow down and take it all in. If you can only see one city we absolutely recommend Luang Prabang, but think seeing all three gives you a better picture of Laos and all are worth your time.