If you are planning on backpacking Laos, congratulations – you’ve picked an awesome place to visit. Laos is SERIOUSLY underrated. In fact, despite rarely hearing about people visiting Laos, it is in fact one of my personal favourite countries. I encourage everyone to visit Laos at least once.
If you are planning to visit South East Asia, try to spend at least one week backpacking in Laos. Whilst 7 days in Laos isn’t perfect – you could spend a lot longer there – one week will allow you to see most of Laos highlights and get a taste for what Laos has to offer.
In this article, we will cover the practicalities of backpacking Laos. We will cover Laos Itineraries in a separate article coming soon…
Things we will cover today;
- Backpacking Laos – Things To Know
- How to get to Laos
- How to get about in Laos
- Laos backpacking budget
- When to visit Laos
- Places to visit in Laos
- The Best Things to do In Laos
- The Best Group Tours in Laos
- What to pack for Laos
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What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Backpacking Laos – Things to Know
- 2 How to Get to Laos
- 3 How to Get Around Laos
- 4 Budget for backpacking Laos
- 5 When is the Best Time to Visit Laos?
- 6 Popular Places to visit in Laos
- 7 The best things to do in Laos
- 7.1 River Kayaking at Vang Vieng
- 7.2 Caving
- 7.3 Take a Slow Boat on the River Mekong
- 7.4 Visit Kwang Si Waterfalls from Luang Prabang
- 7.5 Visit the Luang Prabang Night Markets
- 7.6 Get up Early for Giving Alms to Monks at Luang Prabang
- 7.7 Visit the Markets of Luang Prabang
- 7.8 Visit the hill tribe communities and try a homestay
- 7.9 Take a cooking Class
- 7.10 Take a Meditation Class
- 7.11 Take a sunset cruise along the Mekong River from Luang Prabang
- 8 The Best Group Tour Companies in Laos
- 9 What to Pack for Laos
Backpacking Laos – Things to Know
Languages Lao. English is taught in schools and widely spoken especially by the young
Population of Laos 6.8 million
Vaccinations Diptheria, Hep A, Polio, Tetanus recommended. You may also consider Hep B, Rabies, Typhoid and Japanese Encephalitis.
Malaria – There is a high risk of Malaria in the South and you will usually require anti-malarials if travelling south of Muang Khmamouan. They are not required for the classic 1 week backpacking Laos route below.
Visas can be obtained on entry for $35. You will need 1 passport photo.
How to Get to Laos
The easiest way to get into Laos is to fly in. You can also get buses across the border but there is no train travel in Laos. The 3 airports you can fly into are;
- Wattay Airport Vientiane, Capitol City, Central.
- Pakse Airport Pakse, gateway to the South
- Luang Prabang International Aiport Gateway to the North.
How to Get Around Laos
Whilst getting about in Thailand is particularly easy given all the various overnight train routes, Laos with its mountainous terrain is not always so easy.
But fortunately, there is now an easy way to get around Laos and the other South East Asian countries with the website 12GoAsia. It’s made it super easy to find the quickest, cheapest and best-rated methods of transport between cities and towns in Asia.
Just type in the locations and dates and it’ll give you all the options including trains, buses, ferries, flights and taxis. Simples.
You can even book transfers from the airports, train and bus stations making getting around Laos and Thailand super easy.
Try it here…
Budget for backpacking Laos
Cost of Accommodation in Laos
Accommodation in Laos is very cheap, especially if you are happy to stay in hostels. You could get accommodation for as little as $4 for a room in a dorm. Here are the approximate costs of accommodation in Laos;
Guesthouses $20 for a double room
Hotels $30-50 for a double room
Cost of Transport in Laos
Bus transport is the most common way to get between places in Laos. A 4 hour bus journey will cost around $10 or an 8 hour journey about $20.
Cost of Food and Drink in Laos
Food and drink is very cheap in Laos. Here are some prices you might expect to pay.
A beer approx $1
Street food approx $2-3
A sit down meals $6-8
Cost of Activities in Laos
Tours and activities can cost anywhere between $10-40 depending on the activity. But in general tours are a lot cheaper in Laos than many other countries.
What is a sensible budget for backpacking in Laos?
I would aim for $25-30 a day though you could easily spend less if you are on a shoestring budget. If you want a private double room, you will need to budget at least $15 extra per day.
When is the Best Time to Visit Laos?
The best time to visit Laos would be between November and April which is the dry season in Laos.
However, if you want cheaper prices and fewer tourists, opt to visit in the low season which has more tropical weather and runs from May until October.
I visited in May and whilst the weather was variable, we enjoyed plenty of sunshine too.
Popular Places to visit in Laos
The capital city of Laos, it’s often the city most people start their backpacking Laos trips from. As South East
An outdoor lovers paradise. Go river kayaking, hiking or caving in this quaint town nestled in the mountains. There are many outdoorsy things to do in Vang Vieng.
You can’t visit Laos without spending some time learning about life along the Mekong River, the heart of Laos.
A delightful town in the North, perfect for visiting waterfalls, arranging trips to the rice paddies and for getting absorbed in Laos’ rich culture. There were so many things to do in Luang Prabang that I could have stayed for weeks! Make sure you plan at least 2 days in Luang Prabang but preferably more!
The best things to do in Laos
River Kayaking at Vang Vieng
Opt for the river kayaking rather than the typical ‘river tubing’ that Vang Vieng is known for. The scenery here is beautiful and kayaking is a brilliant way to explore. It is also a better ethical decision.
Let’s take a moment to take about Vang Vieng’s popular river tubing which involves floating between river bars on an inner tube, stopping to get wasted in bars along the way and behave recklessly. There have been many tourist deaths where inebriated backpackers have hit their head after playing on unsafe zip-wires and tree swings in water that is too shallow.
Also, the culture in Laos is very modest. These typical backpacker trips where tourists are skimpily dressed could really offend the conservative locals.
Therefore I would urge you to take the river kayaking trip instead. By all means stop at one of the quieter bars further up the river and enjoy a peaceful beer before continuing your journey but please don’t be ‘that tourist.’
Laos is full of hidden caves and there are several tours which will allow you to explore them by floating through on an inner tube. This can usually be combined with a kayaking trip from Vang Vieng.
Take a Slow Boat on the River Mekong
You could take a bus to get between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang but a much better way is by taking a 2 days slow boat along the River Mekong. Relax on a day bed and enjoy the beautiful views as you sail past fishing villages then stay overnight in a village homestay.
You can book these trips from Vang Vieng from one of the many tourist information shops.
Visit Kwang Si Waterfalls from Luang Prabang
Actually the prettiest waterfall I have ever seen. And that’s saying something as I’ve spent time in Iceland where every waterfall blew my mind!
Kwang Si is made extra special by the milky aqua cascading pools created by the high limestone content in the water.
The top waterfall is not for swimming and instead, this is where you should head to get a beautiful photo of the falls.
The lower pools are safe for swimming and are a great place to take a refreshing dip. There are a few pools some quieter than others. One has a rope swing so this is where most of the tourist will hang out meaning you can usually find a more peaceful spot in another pool!
Visit the Luang Prabang Night Markets
The night markets at Luang Prabang were a highlight for me when I visited this charming little town. Lit up with beautiful lanterns, there’s a great atmosphere here and you can spend hours browsing the many crafts stalls.
Get up Early for Giving Alms to Monks at Luang Prabang
You’ll have to set your alarm for this one! At 5.30 AM, there will be a procession of monks through the streets. The locals come out en masse to pay their respects to the monks by kneeling and feeding them sticky rice.
Visit the Markets of Luang Prabang
After the monks have finished their giving alms procession, the town comes to life at the market. Browse the many food stalls and try some tasty street food. It’s a brilliant place for street photography especially if visited early in the morning when the markets are at their busiest and the tourists are not yet out of bed!
Visit the hill tribe communities and try a homestay
Get to know the hmong tribes by taking a 2 day trip to visit remote villages, learn local handicrafts, get involved with the farm work and stay overnight at a homestay gaining a unique perspective of day-to-day life for the Hmong tribes in Laos.
Take a cooking Class
Learn how to make traditional authentic Hmong cuisine by having a cooking lesson in a Hmong home.
Take a Meditation Class
Meditation is an integral part of the Buddhism religion and culture and Luang Prabang with it’s laid back pace of life, would be the perfect place to learn how to meditate. These days meditation is becoming more popular in lots of cultures and is great for our well being. why not learn from the best..?
Take a sunset cruise along the Mekong River from Luang Prabang
Now you’re all blissed up after your meditation class, continue the relaxation with a sunset cruise on the Mekong River. The sunsets here are quite spectacular!
The Best Group Tour Companies in Laos
I travelled through Laos with G Adventures, an adventure tour company I have used often.
Whilst solo backpacking in Laos is easy enough, if you prefer to have guaranteed company as well as the convenience of someone else planning and organising your trip, then G Adventures are a brilliant company to use. I personally used them as I wanted to see a lot in a short time and group tours are great for this reason.
Another company I have used a lot and would recommend in Intrepid Travel who run similar trips through Laos and the Indochina loop.
Baffled by the different options? These two articles might help you choose.
The Best travel companies for singles – compares all types of group travel
G Adventures vs Intrepid – a comparison of my two favourite companies.
What to Pack for Laos
1. Decent insurance. This is super important when you are backpacking Laos. You need to make sure it will cover you for the adventure activities Laos has to offer like caving and kayaking. I would recommend Nomads for adventure travel insurance.
2. A good lightweight raincoat, especially if you are travelling in the rainy season. I have a Patagonia jacket which has served me well over the past 6 years! North Face
3. Decent hiking boots which can keep your feet both comfy and dry. I always use Salomon boots and would recommend them if you do a lot of hiking especially if you have flat feet as they have in-built orthotics.
4. Long sleeve light-weight clothes for the evenings to avoid mozzie bites. These lightweight travel t-shirts have long sleeve and are also impregnated with mosquito repellant
4. DEET mosquito repellant. Don’t scrimp on your mozzie repellant – use the good stuff. I trust DEET but make sure you keep it wrapped up inside a plastic bag in case it leaks as it can cause a mess!
5. Sunscreen. Avoid getting burnt in Laos. Get
6. A Waterproof Phone Cover as you will want to take photos of the stunning scenery when you are out kayaking or swimming in the waterfalls.
7. A Quick Dry Antibacterial Towel which will dry quickly so you can use it on the go when you are swimming in waterfalls. I love these colourful ones from Dock & Bay.
8. A Head torch. Towns and villages in Laos are not well lit at night so bring a head torch. if you stay in a homestay at any point, you cannot guaruntee you will have electricity either.
9. A dry bag to keep your belongings dry if you go kayaking
10. Anti-theft Bag or a padlock to keep your belongings safe on bus journeys and in hostels. You can actually get some really pretty anti-theft bags like this one…
11. A Power bank to stay connected on long journeys where you may not have access to plug sockets. This powerful power bank can also be solar charged which is especially handy for camping trips, long treks or homestays where you may not have electricity at all.
12. A Kindle – essential for long bus journeys. I wouldn’t go backpacking without mine.
13. A Water To Go Bottle – these clever bottles filter the water as your drink allowing you to drink from any river or tap. I have two but prefer the slightly larger 750ml bottle. You can get a 15% discount if you use the code GLOBETROTTERGP at checkout.
I hope you’ve gleamed some useful tips for backpacking Laos from this article. Keep your eyes peeled for my Laos 1 week Itinerary coming next…
Have you any tips you can add or any questions? Feel free to use the comments boxes below.
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