Travel tips

How Coffee And Cake Ruined Our Laos Budget

Mekong river limestone karstsMekong river limestone karsts

We were very perplexed when after a couple of days in Laos we realized we were quite a bit over our set daily budget. So far we have been really good at keeping our Southeast Asia travel budget within the defined goals. What went wrong this time?

Before we visit any country we set up our daily travel budget. If you are curious to know how we set our travel budget, read our detailed guide to learn more. Everybody was telling us that the rather underdeveloped in comparison to Thailand Laos, is very cheap. Hence, once we had defined our daily Laos budget to be 50 EUR per day we felt very comfortable with it.

Fast forward 12 days later. This is the first time we have exceeded our budget since we've started traveling. Although, to be fair, Laos still remains the cheapest country we have visited so far. For the two of us, our actual spending ended up being 58.5 EUR daily which is whole 17% more than the target.

Daily Average Costs Breakdown

In total for 12 days for 2 people we have spent 6'861'500 LAK or ca. 686 EUR. This results inΒ 571'792 LAK (= 58.5 EUR / 67 USD / 95 AUD) daily average with the following breakdown into categories in LAK. Tip - to convert to EUR, divide by 10'000 and you will get the approximate amount (at the time of writing)):

Accommodation90'250
Transport47'583
Food220'250
Activities70'000
Staying fit40'000
Shopping7'417
Alcohol65'458
Cigarettes10'000
Other20'833
Total571'792

Laos Visa Related Expenses

The costs here below are per person. The overtime visa processing fee is charged if you cross the border on weekends, any Laos public holiday, or outside of the "office hours" (before 8 AM or after 4 PM). Based on what we've heard, these fees also vary from one border crossing to another. You might be charged for some additional service you may have assumed to be part of paying for your visa πŸ˜‰ The fees are nominal, so we just shrugged this rather ridiculous charge off.

Bus between borders20 THB (0.54 EUR)
Visa35 USD (30.60 EUR)
Overtime visa processing fee1 USD (0.87 EUR)
Total 32.01 EUR (= 36.61 USD / 51.99 AUD)
Morning market in Luang Prabang
Morning market in Luang Prabang

Food

UnbelievablyΒ 39% of our entire daily budget in Laos went to food, whole 220'250 LAK (= 22.5 EUR / 25.8 USD / 36.6 AUD). Proportionally, this is by far the mostΒ we have spent on food per day in the five months of traveling through Southeast Asia. Cray-zay!Β πŸ™ˆ How did this happen?

On average our daily meal plan cost us the following in LAK:

Breakfast30'000
Lunch66'417
Dinner89'500
Snacks, coffee & cake34'333
Daily average 220'250
happily eating Lao food
happily eating Lao food

Alright, maybe coffee and cake were not the only ones to blame but those yummy treats were certainly not contributing positively to our Laos travel budget (nor the waistline). Oh those chocolate cakes...

Unexpectedly the food in Laos is not as cheap as you would imagine it to be considering the country's rather low level of development (Laos is ranked 139 out of 188 on the human development index). We have later learned that this is caused by the fact that Laos is heavily reliant on imports, driving its food prices oftentimes higher than those in the neighboring Thailand or Viet Nam.

The biggest "problem" we had, however, was not necessarily the price (you can always find super cheap options), but the great variety of food Laos had to offer. We tried everythingΒ starting from French style bakeries, yummy Lao street food stalls all the way to the various cuisines of the world. Since we have absolutely no self control when it comes to deliciously looking and smelling food, every day we ended up spending 10 EUR more than we had budgeted. We regret nothing.Β πŸ˜‹Β πŸ˜‹Β πŸ˜‹

Food Highlights in Laos

If you are planning a trip to Laos, here are some of our culinary highlights from the trip:

  • Buy bread and pastries in front Indigo Cafe at the beginning of the main Night Market street in Luang Prabang - AMMMAzing baguette and cakes. You will come back for more, so consider yourself warned!
  • Morning market in Luang Prabang - find a stall with spicy grilled meatballs, taste one and grab a bunch take-away
  • Dyen Sabai in Luang Prabang - try buffalo hotpot and you won't regret it. Also, ask for Lao Lao shots (not on the menu, but is a great local digestive)
  • Grilled duck at a small local place next to Parisian Pizza King. It is to die for! Also, one of the cheapest beers in the area πŸ˜‰
  • Try Korean BBQ at Peeping Som's BBQ in Vang Vieng. The place is full with Korean tourists, which is a good sign for the taste authenticity
  • Get a yummy hot soup at Khuanchai Restaurant. The menu is Lao only, be creative. As a bonus, you can enjoy the locals singing Karaoke
  • Yummy Beer Lao which you get on every corner. Good price is 10'000 LAK, most commonly sold at 15'000 though. Cheers!
Outside of Vang Vieng
Outside of Vang Vieng

Accommodation

Although accommodation is our second biggest expense, we have actually managed to stay below our budget, spending only ca. 90'250 LAK daily (= 9.23 EUR / 10.56 USD / 14.00 AUD). Laos is the country where you really need to personally go to hotels and hostels and negotiate your rate.Β Online platforms such as booking.com oftentimes have prices 2-3 times higher than what you can get "offline". Of course, this rule doesn't work 100% of the time. Anyway, if you are already paying 3 EUR per bed including amazing breakfast, we believe it's fair to leave fierce bargaining aside

Here below is the breakdown per city for both of us in LAK. We always try to get a bed & breakfast because it helps us save time and money, but sometimes we had to accept that you can't always get what you want.

Huay Xaidouble room, private bathroom, excl. breakfast100'000
Pak Bengdouble room, private bathroom, excl. breakfast55'000
Luang Prabang2 beds in hostel (6 bed dorm), incl. breakfast68'000
Luang Prabangdouble room, private bathroom, incl. breakfast100'000
Vang Viengdouble room, private bathroom, excl. breakfast100'000
Vientianedouble room, shared bathroom, excl. breakfast120'000
Daily average 90'250
Mekong river two day slow boat cruise
Gorgeous views on the way to Luang Prabang

Activities

Our third largest expense categoryΒ is activities - anything related to sightseeing, entry tickets and some fun things we do on our trip (e.g. bowling). In Laos we had a pretty good balance between chilling or blogging, partying and exploring the surrounding areas (alright, maybe not the partying). On average we have spent 70'000 LAK for the two of us daily (ca. 7.16 EUR / 8.19 USD / 11.63 AUD).

Here are a couple of things we did and their associated costs per person in LAK.

Mekong river slow boat cruise230'000
Bowling80'000
Kunag Xi waterfall entrance20'000
Blue lagoon entrance10'000
Tubing in Vang Vieng60'000
Entrances to temples, viewpoints, bridges etc.5 - 15'000
Daily average 70'000

Alcohol

Party animals in Laos
Party animals in Laos

Yup. Although beer is much cheaper than in Thailand, we have still managed to spend about 65'458 LAK daily on booze (= 6.70 EUR / 7.66 USD / 10.88 AUD).

On our first day in Laos we met our new co-travelers on the slow boat. For the rest of our trip in Laos we were traveling with amazing, fun, eccentric Dama from Puerto Rico. Awesome Daniel from the USA, who retired, sold everything and launched on his open-end travel adventure shortly joined our little trio. Nico, our favorite German guy we've met in the north of Thailand, joined us along the way for some trips and dinners.

We've had some of the most fantastic evenings with this new adopted family. These party animals 🀘 also kept us from working and blogging for almost the entirety of our stay in Laos. Admittedly, it was an easy taskΒ πŸ˜‚ So, in the end, Laos was aΒ mini vacation and hence the alcohol consumption was increased.

Best Lao transport
Best Lao transport

Transport

Although our cost of travel in Laos is pretty low, transportation in general is more expensive here than in some other Southeast Asian countries. Again, we've heard it's to do with the imports and the cost of fuel. Since we didn't move much around the country, here below are examples of some transport expenses we've had (in LAK).

Bus Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng100'000
Bus Vang Vieng to Vientiane100'000
Short-distance tuk-tuks20-50'000
Daily average 47'583

Note: we have categorized the two-day slow boat cruise as an activity, rather than transport since we felt it was a more appropriate definition of this expense.

Uber and Grab don't work in Laos, so we had resorted to using tuk-tuks, which felt more expensive than in Thailand or Indonesia. Only once we had left the country, did we find out that there LOCA - a Lao car-sharing app. We didn't have a chance to try it out though.

Our Laos Itinerary

Overall we have spent almost two weeks in Laos. We opted for a rather slow exploration of the country, making less yet longer stops along the way. This is our preferred way of traveling. Sadly, we didn't manage to see the south of Laos at this point due to the lack of time and motivation as the area was under high alert for malaria at the moment of us being there. In the end, this is how our Laos trip looked like:

D1: Arrival to Huay Xai
D2 - 3: Mekong River cruise Huay Xai - Pak Beng - Luang Prabang
D4 - 7: Luang Prabang
D8 - 11: Vang Vieng
D12: Vientiane

If we were to continue our Laos trip, we would have certainly gone down south to visit Pakse, Champasak and, of course, Si Phan Don (4'000 islands). Since we absolutely fell in love with Laos, maybe we are just going to do a little d-tour once we are in Cambodia πŸ˜‰ Our Southeast Asia backpacking route keeps changing all the time anyway, a little adjustment won't hurt.

Sunset in Luang Prabang
Sunset in Luang Prabang

Staying fit

We try to exercise regularly and join some yoga sessions at yoga studios. This is a lot of fun, gives us a lot of motivation to continue practicing and simply makes us happy πŸ™‚ There were not many yoga options during our journey in Laos though. We were therefore ecstatic when we found a yoga studio at the Silver Naga Hotel. Unfortunately, the outdoor yoga sessions didn't happen during our stay in Vang Vieng, but we were still very satisfied with the four sessions we attended.

We twice got 2-lesson cards which cost us 120'000 LAK per person ( = 12.27 EUR / 14.04 USD / 19.94 AUD), so half of that per yoga lesson. It is definitely not cheap, but it also grants you a whole day access to their amazing open air pool and sunbeds. Once we spent the whole day there, doing yoga, working in a hammock,Β swimming and drinking the best fresh fruit juices we've had in the whole of Laos. Although that didn't help our food budget though, we'd go back there in a heartbeat.

Shopping and Other expenses

We only shop when we really need something essential or when we buy some presents. Hence our shopping budget in Laos is pretty low - 89'000 LAK in total (= 9.10 EUR / 10.41 USD / 14.79 AUD).

We typically put items in the "Other" category for things we spend for our day to day lives. We separate those from shopping since shopping is something we could probably live without. All in all we've spent 250'000 LAK for this kind of things.

Here is an overview to give you an idea of how much things costs (in LAK):

Flip-flops20'000
Sunglasses27'000
3 dresses for our newly born niece42'000
8 kg of laundry80'000
5 GB sim card + service70'000
Changing zipper on a backpack70'000
Kuang Xi waterfalls
Kuang Xi waterfalls

Laos Budget Conclusion

So, is Laos cheap? Yes. And yes, you can travel Laos on a budget. You would just need to exercise more self-control when it comes to cakes, coffee, other yummy food and, of course, beer. Although we had spent more money than we had planned, we have really enjoyed our stay in Laos with everything it had to offer. We will just have to try harder in Viet Nam to stick to our budget πŸ˜‰

Got questions about traveling in Laos? Drop us a link or write your comment here below. We'd be happy to help in any way we canΒ πŸ˜‰!

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Laos Travel Budget - how much does it costs to travel to Laos

4 Comments

  • Awesome title! Drew me in even though I had no interest in Laos or coffee and cakes. Very informational breakdown and a well planned out budget! And if you have to blow a budget I would say local food is the way to go. Happy to read you regret NOTHING! πŸ™‚

  • Waoo your post really covers everything and now I feel like going to Laos.. I know exactly how much it would cost me πŸ‘πŸ»

  • Really interesting and detailed budget explanation! Its nice to know the prices of things abroad!! Im sure you dont regret the money spent on food!!
    Great article

    nominal-nomad

  • Laos is looking fantastic in your post. I would love to definitely visit Laos in the future. It is very helpful guide for travellers of Laos as you have break down everything systematically and nicely.
    Thank you.

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