One of the best ways to travel on a budget is to steer clear of destinations in high tourist demand and instead go off the beaten path. Few places in my travel history have been as off the beaten path as Laos. The Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam has just enough of a tourism industry to ensure I’d be able to find places to stay, things to do, and restaurants to eat, while keeping the price of all those things under $30 per day. See the full breakdown of what I spent below.
tuk tuk to Luang Prabang $2.44
tuk tuk to/from Kuang Si Falls $6.17
minibus to Vang Vieng $14.19
bus to Vientiane $6.11
tuk tuk to hostel in Vientiane $3.67
1 night at a guest house in Pagbeng $5
9 nights in a four-bed dorm at Kounsavan Guest House in Luang Prabang $74
2 nights in a private room at Pans Place Guesthouse $22.46
1 night in an eight-bed dorm at Backpackers Garden Hostel $5.60
1 week groceries at Mini Mart $9.63
1 breakfast at Oni Bakery $1.85
1 breakfast at Pans Place $4.89
4 lunches at Joma Bakery $24.46
2 lunches at Luang Prabang day market $5.51
1 lunch at Kuang Si $1.85
1 lunch at Pivana Guest House $2.47
1 dinner in Pagbeng $4.64
1 dinner at Joma Bakery $6.59
1 dinner at Luang Prabang night market $1.83
1 dinner at La Casa Lao $14.63
1 dinner at Silk Road Cafe $4.57
1 dinner at Dao Fa $14.81
1 dinner at Bamboo Tree $7.95
1 dinner at Milan Pizza $7.34
snacks in Pagbeng $3.66
4 snacks at Joma Bakery $18.47
1 snack at Luang Prabang night market $2.47
weaving class at Ock Pop Tock Living Crafts Centre $59.22
tubing rental in Vang Vieng $6.72
beer at riverside bar in Vang Vieng $1.22
gifts/souvenirs at Ock Pop Tock Boutique $6.91
gifts/souvenirs at Luang Prabang night market $1.85
bottled water at Kounsavan Guest House $0.62
Average Spent Per Day: $27.21
How I Saved
- Taking the slow boat
Though it’s not listed here as I started and paid for the trip in Thailand, arriving in Laos on the slow boat down the Mekong was probably a third the cost of flying directly from Chiang Mai. More importantly, it was a great experience.
- Restricting my private room stays
I originally planned to stay in a private room for the week or two I was in Luang Prabang. Instead, I decided that notorious party town Vang Vieng would be a better place to have my own space. So I opted for the much cheaper four-bed dorm in Luang Prabang and significantly cut down on my accommodation costs.
- Being willing to wait
Had I hopped in the first available tuk tuk to Kuang Si Falls from Luang Prabang, I would have paid $20 to $25 for a private tour. When I balked at the price, the driver asked if I’d be willing to come back in an hour and meet him once he had secured more passengers. The wait wound up being more than an hour, as he spent a great deal more time driving around after picking me up to completely fill the back of the tuk tuk, but being patient meant spending about a quarter of the originally quoted price. This trick paid off again in Vang Vieng, where I wound up riding for free by sharing with other tubers.
- Not shying away from street food
Some travelers get nervous about street food, particularly in third world countries. Personally, I think that’s unfounded. You can see the cooking space at street stalls clear as day. You can’t see the kitchen in a restaurant and it could easily be filthy back there. So if anything, street food is safer. And of course, it’s cheap as hell. I got an excellent, hearty baguette sandwich for less than $3 at the day market in Luang Prabang.
- Getting my tube rental back on time
Tubing in Vang Vieng is a backpacking rite of passage and ever since the government crackdown on illegal drug use and overserving at bars, it’s a much safer, more enjoyable activity than its reputation of yore would suggest. Just don’t get so sunk into riverside beers that you miss the tube return cutoff. Heading back to town after 6pm means forfeiting your deposit. $7 may not sound like much, but in Laos, it’s enough for a pizza and a beer. (Also worth noting: the rental office clock is about 15 minutes fast, so it’s best not to cut it close on your return.)
How does the cost of travel in Laos compare to the price of staying in Thailand? See my Thai budget here.