If you ever had the urge to try backpacking Laos, or you wanted to find information to know if it’s something you might want to do, then today’s your lucky day.
Finally the backpacking Laos guide is ready for you. Laos, although one of the underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia, is still an important gem worth your while. Why? Because you can learn a lot about Buddhism while backpacking Laos, and of course, you’ll definitely meet some amazing people. The Laotians are very friendly and relaxed people. Plus, if you are backpacking Laos, you will realize prices are very cheap. (You know I’ll always mention that last bit).
I was backpacking Laos from the North of the country to the South. I spent 3 weeks visiting Laos and I think it’s enough time for backpacking the country. There are many plans to do: From enjoying sunset in Mekong River, to relaxing in 4,000 beautiful islands and enjoying Laotian food.
Laos is officially one of the communist countries over the world like China, Cuba and Vietnam. They were a French colony in the past, and 70% of the population are Buddhist. You will find French and Thai influences in their gastronomy.
Now that we got acquainted with backpacking Laos, let’s proceed to the travel guide 😉
Before backpacking Laos
In backpacking Laos, you will need to pay for the visa if you are from USA or most of European countries. You can get visa on arrival if you are coming overland from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Prices are around 35-40 USD and you will get your visa in 10 minutes. Make sure that you are bringing a photo with you for the visa. Otherwise you will have to pay a couple of dollars extra just to get it. There are 15 countries which can get free visa to visit Laos. Check the list if your country is included. Make sure you also check the information of the border points where you will be able to get your visa on arrival.
How to get there
You can get there by plane. Prices are cheap if you are coming from Thailand and Malaysia. Check skyscanner to make sure that you get the best fare.
You can also get by bus overland from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
You can try to get Laos on your own hitchhiking. The time of my trip, I got to Laos by hitchhiking from Thailand. Once you are in the border, you have to pay 20 Baht for the bus to cross Mekong River. At that time back in 2014, there wasn’t another way to cross the bridge from Chiang Kong. Once you get to Laos, you can choose to pay for a tuk-tuk to get to Huay Xai or you can try hitchhiking. Maybe even walk. It’s just around 5-6 kilometers to reach the town. I tried hitchhiking successfully during my last trip, backpacking Laos.
Laotian Kip is the currency that you will use in Laos.
The exchange rate is around 1 USD= 8 000 Kips. Check here to know the current rate. You will find ATMs when you’re backpacking Laos. If you are bringing cash, you can exchange in banks and touristic places. Check the best rate for your currency to make sure you make the most out of your budget. (Golden rule, right? 🙂 )
There are no special vaccinations for visiting Laos. You should be up to date on routine vaccinations like for Rubella and Tetanus. There are some vaccines and medicines recommended like Hepatitis, Typhoid and Japanese Encephalitis. Check this link to make sure that you don´t need any special vaccinations for visiting Laos.
I found backpacking Laos very safe. I was traveling by public transportation and hitchhiking while backpacking Laos and I have met a lot of people and nobody told me that they had a problem about safety.
There are 2 types of weather in the country, like most in the Southeast: wet and dry season for Laos. The wet season starts in May until October. July and August are the most rainy months. The dry season starts from November to April. The best months for backpacking Laos are from November to February. When I was backpacking Laos in December, it was very cold and temperatures were going down until 5 degrees, surprisingly. But it’s not the normal weather at that time. If you want more information about the best season to visit Laos, read here.
How to get wifi
If you need to use wifi while backpacking Laos, be patient man! You will find wifi in every guest house and bars. But signal is going to be very weak. Wifi works to check basic messages, IMs and maybe some mail. But if you need wifi for working, you will have an issue, so don’t expect the best.
In backpacking Laos, the best way for transportation is by bus. Transportation is an issue when backpacking the roads of Laos. This is highly dye to the long distances. In my opinion, the best way to move around is by night buses. You will save your accommodation and time while traveling around Laos. Prices are cheap if you get local buses. If you want to spend more, you can get VIP buses where you can travel more comfortable. I went by public transportation and everything was fine.
You can take the slow boat from the border of Thailand (Chiang Khong) if you are coming from Chiang Rai. The slow boat takes two days to get to Luang Prabang, the most touristic place in Laos. I didn’t take the slow boat during my trip, but I met people who had the experience and some of them told me that it was worthy, while a few of them said it wasn’t very interesting. Prices are around 40 USD, it depends on where you buy the ticket. You can read here to get more information about the slow boat.
Hitchhiking in Laos is hard based in my own personal experience. For short distances, it was easy and successful. I tried a few times and it took me long times of waiting and trying, to get a ride. I was waiting for hours to get a ride for leaving Pakse on the way to Vietnam. I had to take finally take the local bus. I successfully hitchhiked from Pakse to Champasak and short ride distances around Laos.
Prices are really cheap when backpacking Laos for accommodation. I was paying $4-5 for sleeping. Sometimes I paid that price for my own room. In Luang Prabang and Vientian, you can find dorms for that price. If you are two people traveling, it may be worth it and cheaper to rent your own room. It’s going to be almost the same price when you pay for a bed in a dorm.
I usually use couchsurfing during my travels to sleep for free. You can also check 28 ways to sleep for free while traveling. At the time, it was too hard for me to find any host in Laos. The Couchsurfing community wasn’t very big in Laos back then. Make sure you check out how the Couchsurfing scene is now in the country if you’re into staying and spending time with locals.
Budget for Backpacking Laos
You can manage with $20 per day backpacking Laos. You will spend $5 in accommodation and $5 in food per day, sleeping in a dorm and eating in street markets. Transportation is cheap but there are big distances. If you pay for touristics entrances, eating little bit luxury of drinking beer, you will get by surely with $20 per day. If you want to try hitchhiking, eating street food and couchsurfing, you can also backpack Laos easily in less than $20 per day.
Travel itinerary from North Laos to South
I started backpacking Laos from Huay Xai on the North. I went by night bus to Luang Prabang. From Luang Prabang to Vientian, I went by bus. Then from Vientian, took the bus to Pakse. From Pakse, I hitchhiked to Champasak. From Champasak I went to 4,000 Islands then came back to Pakse where I hitchhiked on the way to Vietnam.
Places to visit when backpacking Laos
Luang Prabang is the most touristic place in the country. It’s a very quiet place and there are many plans to do. You can visit Kuang Si waterfalls. You can go for a walk around Mekong River. In the morning, you can see the ritual of alms giving to the monks. You can enjoy street markets during the day and at night. You will meet hundreds of people in Luang Prabang.
The capital of Laos. Despite being the capital of the country, it isn’t a very busy place. You can walk around the city. You can enjoy the night market and go for the sunset in Mekong River. There are touristic things to see in Vientian like Wat Si Muang, a Buddhist temple. Or you can go outside the city to visit Buddha Park – a Laos sculpture park.
You can visit Pakse, an off beat place while backpacking Laos. It’s very quiet at night. But you can go around the market during the day. And you will see real Laotian life – how busy it can be despite the usual quiet that surrounds a lot of places in the country.
It’s the backpacker place in Laos. You can do Tubing in the Nam Song river where you can find bars selling bucket of drinks and drugs. You can find very cheap accommodation in Vang Vieng. You can visit Tham Phu Kham cave where you can find a large bronze, reclining Buddha. And Blue Lagoon, a pool with crystalline water.
The 4,000 Islands
When backpacking Laos, the 4,000 Islands is the perfect place for relaxing. It’s the perfect place for reading a book while laying down in the hammock. There are bars and restaurants to go around to during the day and night. You will get amazing sunsets in 4,000 Islands everyday.
This small town was part of the Khmer Empire. People come to Champasak to visit the ruins of Wat Phou. A temple built in the khemer style. If you are sleeping in Champasak town, you can rent a bicycle. It’s half an hour riding to the temple. It’s similar to Angkor Wat, but it’s a smaller temple. It’s totally worth it to visit this place.
Eating and Drinking
Laotian food is tasty and prices were incredibly cheap. You can taste similar food like in Thailand and there are French influence like bread and croissants.
Lao Lao sandwich
It was my favorite food in Laos since it’s really difficult to find bread in Asia. Laos was French colony and there are baguette in Laos. Prices start from 1-2 USD.
Lao noodle soup
You can find noodle soup in Laos everywhere. You can get it less spicy or spicier, depending on your personal preference. Prices start from 1-2 USD.
Lao Lao is a strong liquor. You can find locals drinking it and they will offer it to you, to taste. Be careful because Lao Lao is really strong and if you drink a lot, you will have a huge hangover next day.
If you are traveling in Laos, you can’t miss the chance to try Lao Beer. It’s my favorite beer in Southeast Asia. It tastes really good and prices are start from 1-2 USD.
It’s a traditional Laotian food. It’s served in a small basket. You can eat it, and partner it with other food or different kinds of sauces. Prices start from 0.5 USD.
It’s one of the most popular dishes in Laos. It’s served with hot chili, sour lime, tomatoes, papaya and its very, very tasty. Definitely a must-try!
There are many fruits in Laos. You will find dragon fruits, mangoes, papayas, bananas. All of them taste great and offered in very affordable prices.
There are fruit shakes of many flavours, just try the one that suits you best. Prices start from 1-2 USD.
Must see in Laos
Alms-giving to the monks
You can see this ceremony daily in Luang Prabang. It usually starts at sunrise, and you can see how people offer food to the monks. It’s one of the most touristic things to do in Laos.
Visit a Buddha temple
You can find thousands of temples in Laos. Don’t miss the opportunity to know and understand Buddhism and to even talk to the monks. Enjoy the temples in Laos and make sure you give this activity time when visiting the beautiful country.
I enjoyed amazing sunsets everywhere while backpacking Laos. Sunset in Mekong River, in the 4,000 Islands and in Pakse — all were great. For me, watching the sunset was the perfect activity before dinner.
You can visit the waterfalls, and it’s just half an hour sharing a tuk tuk ride from Luang Prabang. The place is amazing and you won´t get tired to take pictures or even take a bath there.
Visit Buddha Park
A sculpture park, 25 kilometers away from Vientiane. You can go by bus to get there or you can try to be more adventurous and go hitchhiking. It’s a perfect plan while you are staying in Vientiane. Prices are around 1 USD for the entrance and for transportation.
The best way to know more about Laos is meeting locals. Try to talk to a local every time, even when there is a language barrier. The best ways to meet locals: staying in a guest house with a Laotian family, getting lost around the cities where tourists aren’t usually going, or use local transportation like bus or try hitchhiking where you will always meet new Laotian friends.
Enjoy Mekong River
It´s a perfect place for relaxing Mekong River while visiting Laos. For the sunrise, for the sunset or just walking around.
An interesting thing in Laos
When you are backpacking Laos and you travel by bus, you will have many hours of traveling ahead of you die to the long travel distances. Sometimes, Laotian people will fall sleep supporting their head in your shoulder. This is very typical while traveling in Laos with local people.
Visit Local Markets
I enjoyed visiting markets while I was backpacking in Laos. You will find the best food and you will learn about how the real Laotian life is. They spend many hours working and they will always attend to you with a big smile. Prices in the street markets are really cheap.
There you go my dear friend. That’s a backpacking Laos guide for you, based on my trip in Laos. If you want to have more information about traveling in Laos, check this amazing post from my friend and another great traveler, Will. If you want to know how much is a 30 day budget in Laos, read Laura´s post.
If you want to read about more destinations in Southeast Asia, make sure you read about Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Philippines. Southeast Asia really has a lot of amazing countries you can visit. A big reason why a lot of people always crave to come back here, or start traveling here!
After reading and digesting this full Laos travel guide for you, I hope you are ready to visit Laos. If you’ve found the post useful, feel free to share via your favorite social media channel. If you have friends who have been thinking of this amazing country, make sure they don’t miss out on the opportunity of reading this full backpacking Laos guide.
Happy Travels my dear friend!
To traveling and staying free.
Til our next guide! x
Featured Image: Amazing shot of a monk in Laos open field Photography: Joonas Plaan