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Laos Guided Trip Cost & Currency to Use

How much does it cost to go to Laos?

If you are the backpackers, you can find plenty of articles out there guiding you to spend $30-35 per day. 

Some of the advices includes sleeping inside a room with fan only, traveling by local public bus, and eating at the street food stalls.

With a little bit more (about $45-50/day), you can have some good meals, travel by air for some long distance, and sleep at an air-conditioned room.

Well, we believe you learned enough to save your pocket, and we do not intend to help you to … save more than that. With this article, we want to reveal the cost for a more comfortable guided trip in Laos.

We aim to offer you the inside experience and the best the country can offer within a shorter time frame.

Before breaking down your Laos vacation cost, we will first guide you through the national currency of Laos; hence, you will first have general idea of the money you can spend in the country.

Let's check it out.

Laos National Currency

The local currency in Laos is called KIP (abbreviated LAK) and is issued in denominations of 500, 1 000, 2 000, 5 000, 10 000, 20 000, 50 000 & 100 000 kip notes. There are no Lao kip coins.

At the beginning of 2019, 1 US $ was worth around 8 550 LAK and 1 £ equals 11 100 LAK. For Canadian travelers, 1 CA $ amounts to 6 400 LAK and for Australians, 1 A $ is roughly 6 100 LAK. 

These are given for information purposes and we advise you to consult the present exchange rates on the Bank of Lao P.D.R website: https://www.bol.gov.la/en/ExchangRate.php

After some quick maths, you will notice that you will quickly become a millionaire in Laos. However, do not expect to buy the latest sportscar or a brand-new condo. 

Although Laos's official currency is the kip, the US $ is widely accepted in many places, like Thai Baht. This become even more true for large transactions and tourism-related businesses.

Can you use foreign currencies in Laos?

One of the most common questions we get has to do with how to deal with money as a traveler in Laos. It was quite a hassle in the past, but nowadays things are much smoother.

While in the country, you will mostly use the local currency, but US $ is also widely accepted. For instance, if you opt for the visa on arrival, you will have to settle the processing fees in US $ currency and not in the local currency, funny isn’t it? 

Thai Baht is also commonly used in main cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Pakse. Other foreign currencies will likely not be accepted.

Always pay with whichever currency works out best in your favor. From our experience, when paying in any foreign currency, the exchange rate will almost always be to your disadvantage, so we advise to exchange your money into the local currency.

If you were to take money from your own country, we suggest you bring US $, if possible, since other foreign currencies tend to be a little more difficult to swap. 

If you plan to bring pounds, you should be able to exchange in most cities at a decent rate.

However, Australian and Canadian dollars will be harder to trade, especially outside the capital Vientiane and the touristic city of Luang Prabang.  

Where can you have your money exchanged in Laos?

No matter which foreign currency you plan to exchange in Laos, you should make sure your notes are in pristine conditions. If they are folded, stained or creased, they will certainly be rejected, or in the best-case scenario, be exchanged at a lower rate.

The best places to exchange are in the banks. They offer the security that you will get what you should be getting. Even if the banking industry is very competitive in Laos, you might see non-negligible differences among banks in terms of exchange rates.

We therefore advise you to compare different banks first and see which one offers you the most interesting rate.

Moreover, banks are now easily found throughout the country, and even provincial cities off the main tourist track have banks you can exchange at. 

Note that most banks are closed on weekends and holidays, as well as being closed for a week every April during Pi Mai water festival.

Outside bank opening hours or in remote areas and airports, you might be able to find currency exchange counter. These are usually reliable, but they will likely take a larger commission.

You can also look at local jewelry shops or money exchange shop, they can offer interesting rates as well. If you are in Vientiane, we advise you to visit the Talat Sao Shopping Mall which is home to plenty of jewelry shops, most of them being trustworthy.

Nevertheless, we do not recommend you exchange money on the streets or through tuk tuk drivers. This is a great way to get scammed, particularly in Vientiane.

As it is often the case, larger bills are exchanged at slightly higher rates than smaller bills.

When you leave the country, do not forget to exchange your remaining kip before you take off. Indeed, nowhere outside Laos you will be able to exchange your extra kip, so make sure you get rid of them before you leave.

ATMs in Laos

While some foreign banks are operating in Laos, the market is dominated by the public bank BCEL which owns most of the ATMs throughout the country. 

In any case, the number of ATMs in Laos is growing exponentially, making it much more convenient with now thousands location across the country.

These machines are often set up alongside schools, nearby touristic sites or main economic areas. ATMs usually allow a maximum limit of LAK 1,500,000 (around US $170) per withdrawal. Some ATMs (from BFL bank) can dispense up to LAK 2,000,000 (around US $230) at a time. To find an ATM near your location in Laos, check out these pages : 

  • Visa ATM locator: https://www.visa.com/atmlocator/#(page:home) 
  • MasterCard ATM search engine: https://www.mastercard.us/en-us/consumers/get-support/find-nearest-atm.html

On an indicative basis, the fees for a LAK 1,500,000 withdrawal generally amount to LAK 30,000 (US $3.5). Most of the ATMs in Laos will tell you what the current fee for a withdrawal is but note that this is in addition to any charges that come from your card provider.

Laos ATMs fees being quite expensive, we advise you to use ATMs if bringing cash is inconvenient for you or if you want to avoid carrying large amount of cash during your trip.

Please also note that, as the system is quite recent, it can happen that some ATMs will not be able to dispense cash, or you might see your card being rejected. In that case, try an ATM from another bank and anticipate your withdrawals as much as possible.

Using traveler’s checks in Laos

Travelers cheques can be cashed at most banks in Laos, but normally only in exchange for kip. Cheques in US dollars are the most readily acceptable. Very few merchants accept travellers cheques.

Using credit cards and debit cards in Laos

Laos is primarily a cash society and the use of credit card is not as common as in western countries. 

However, a growing number of businesses will accept credit cards in Laos. Even if some small shops do accept credit cards, it is often limited to hotels and mid to high-end establishments catering to tourists. Expect businesses that accept credit card to add a 3%-5% fee on top to cover their fees.

Banks in Laos have partnerships with Visa and Mastercard. That means no Discover, American Express and no other funky cards for the moment. As always, it is best to call your credit card company and bank in advance: 

  • To make sure you can withdraw abroad with your current credit card option. 
  • To let them know you will be traveling, so the chance of your card being blocked is reduced.

If you get stranded without cash in Laos, you have a couple of options: some banks will offer credit card advances at 4 to 5% of the total transaction. Otherwise, you will need to get someone back home to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram which are readily available in main cities.

Laos Money Tips

  1. Stepping on notes and coins deliberately is highly offensive.
  2. Do not deface or throw away the currency notes in anger or so.
  3. Tipping in Laos is not compulsory. However, if you liked the service and want to tip the staff, then anything between 10,000-20,000 LAK is appreciated.
  4. It is advisable to change the currency in Laos only. The exchange offers in any other country are not as good as in Laos.
  5. Avoid paying in high-denomination bills. Very few vendors will willingly change your LAK100,000, so make sure you're carrying smaller bills when going shopping.

So, after learning all about Laos national currency, it is now time to learn about the even hotter topic: how much does your Laos vacation cost?

Stay tune, it is right next below.


 

How much money do you need to visit Laos?

Located in the middle of Southeast Asia, Laos is of course much cheaper than the U.S., the U.K. or any other western country. 

However, you might have already heard travelers saying that Laos was expensive, particularly in comparison to the hugely affordable countries of Thailand to the west and Vietnam to the east. 

Laos is a relatively poor country which relies heavily on imports and therefore things can appear more expensive than you might expect for Southeast Asia. But with some tips and by adapting your travel style, you can explore Laos with a relatively low budget.

As a rule, prices tend to be higher in the capital city of Vientiane and in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang. At the time of the local New Year in April, expect prices to be inflated as well.

To help you get planning for travel in Laos we have compiled a rough guide to the daily costs you will encounter. We hope this gives you a few pointers of what to expect so you can plan your trip better and get great value from your visit.

Accommodation

As Laos is still very much in the early stages of embracing visitors, the range of accommodation can be quite limited outside of the larger towns and cities.

For a double room with air conditioning in an average guest house or hotel, you will pay between US $15 and US $32 per night depending on the location. You can find private rooms for around US $10 if you go for a fan option instead of air conditioning.

Dorm rooms will be even cheaper depending on the number of beds and location of the hostel, starting at around US $4 and up.

If you want to go for something a bit more high-end, then look for hotels in picturesque Luang Prabang or Vientiane, usually ranging from US $60 to 100 a night. If you crave a bit of luxury you will find rooms for US $200 + per night in a private resort.

If you are venturing out into the countryside, then consider investigating a homestay with locals to get the true Laotian experience. This is a great way of contributing directly to the economy of the village or ethnic tribe.

If you can book yourself in directly with the homestay then it can be as little as US $20 per night for food, drink and accommodation depending on location. 

If you organize a homestay through a travel agent, then the price will start from US $30 per night depending on the activities and locations visited.

Transportation

The more that you move around, and the more sights you choose to visit, the more you will ultimately spend. The country is not that big, but it stretches 1,700 km (1050 miles) from North to South.

There are no railways in Laos yet, so buses and minivans are used to get between villages and towns. Over longer distances you can get night buses as well as daytime journeys, which helps to save on accommodation costs.

As an example, the bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane takes around 10 hours and ranges from US $10 to 20 depending on the company you use. 

If you do not fancy a long journey on the road, Lao Airlines offers regular domestic flights deserving the main cities. From the capital Vientiane, you can for instance reach Luang Prabang or Pakse in less than an hour for US $75 to 125 a one-way ticket. 

To move around inside cities, which are usually rather small, expect to pay around US $3 for a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride, which should get you to your destination. You might want to read more about haggling in Laos, to make sure you always get the best deals.

If you wish to travel in a private air-conditioned taxi, a 30-minute ride will cost you around US $12.

The streets are fairly quiet in Laos and it is nice to hire a bicycle to go exploring, which you should be able to rent for US $3 a day in Vientiane. You can also rent a motorcycle in most places for US $5 to 10 per day. Gas is roughly US $1 per liter.

Food & drink

Great street food can be harder to come by than in neighbouring countries and comparatively costs more with full meals starting at around US $3 and up. 

A basic noodle soup, which you can find pretty much everywhere will cost you no more than US $2.

Due to the French influence you will find many bakeries offering filled baguettes and pastries from around US $2.

You can also find very tasty and affordable Indian restaurants, especially in Vientiane. For instance, a chicken curry with a naan or plain rice will cost you less than US $5. 

As always, attempts at Western food in tourist-oriented restaurants and eating at your hotel will cost more. Expect to pay around US $15 for a decent 3-course menu. If you fancy a real Italian pizza, it will cost you less than US $10.

Beer, even at restaurants in Laos, is incredibly cheap. You can enjoy a large bottle of the local Beer Lao for just US $1 ; expect to pay double at nicer restaurants. 

Soda and water are even cheaper, costing around 50 cents for a small bottle.

A good coffee, which is easy to find giving that Laos is a fine producer, will cost you around US $2. 

Adventure & activities

If you plan to cruise on the iconic Mekong river, you can take the posh slow boat option for a 2-day trip at around US $150 per person including all food, drink and accommodation.

You can take the public slow boat for up to 3 days which starts at around US $30 per person.

The much-praised Gibbon Experience in the north of Laos starts from around US $100 per day depending on the season.

Entrance to parks, waterfalls, caves and temples ranges from US $4 to 8.

You can also enjoy very relaxing massage for less than US $10 per hour, perfect after a day of hiking.

Frequently asked questions

Q. How much does it cost to live in Laos?

It is cheap to stay in Laos, but not as cheap as it was at the end of the 1990s. Laos has come a long way in terms of economic development in the last 20 years and prices have crept up, particularly in Luang Prabang which has become a major tourist destination. Things cost about the same, or just slightly less than they do in neighboring Thailand and more than in Cambodia or Vietnam. If you plan to return for a visit to Laos having previously been there 10 or more years ago you are likely to be surprised by the change in prices.

Q. Do you need to tip in Laos?

In most places in Laos, tipping is not expected though as always it is appreciated. If you want to tip, 10% percent is pretty generous.

Here is the guide for tipping custom in Laos

Q. How to haggle in Laos?

Bargaining in most places in Laos is not nearly as tough as in other parts of Southeast Asia. Lao-style bargaining is generally a friendly transaction where two people try to agree on a price that is fair to both of them. Good bargaining, which takes practice, is one way to cut costs.

Most things bought in a market can be bargained for, but in shops prices are mostly fixed. The first rule to bargaining is to have a general idea of the price. Ask around at a few vendors to get a ballpark figure. Once you're ready to buy, it's generally a good strategy to start at 50% of the asking price and work up from there. In general, keeping a friendly, flexible demeanor throughout the transaction will almost always work in your favour. Don't get angry or upset over a few thousand kip. The locals, who invariably have less money than foreign visitors, never do this.

Here is the shopping guide in Laos

Q. When is the cheapest time to fly to Laos?

The cheapest time to fly to Laos is during the off-season from May until September. As there are not many tourists visiting the country, the airlines and hotels seem to offer promotion to attract more tourist and try to fill-up the plane. If you are ok with the heat and some sudden rain, this is the time for you.

Here is the guide to get the cheapest flight ticket to Laos

Q. Is Laos safe to visit?

Yes, Laos is a safe place to visit, and many find it much safer than their hometowns in the west. There are occasional reports of petty theft, and the occasional bag snatching, but these can be avoided by being cautious with your belongings

NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below our detailed tips & guide for every places to visit in Laos, recommendation regarding the inclusion in each theme you prefer, and what you can do based on the time frame you have.

PLACES TO VISIT IN Laos
Luang Prabang
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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

Vang Vieng
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Vientiane
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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

4000 Islands
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Phonsavan
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Nong Khiaw
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Laos PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Family
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The combination of fun and educational activities

Cycling
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Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Must-see
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Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury
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Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Honeymoon
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Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Trek & Hike
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Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Cruise
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The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Unseen
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Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Laos PLANS BY TIME FRAME
white-icon About 1 week
yellow-icon About 1 week
white-icon About 2 weeks
yellow-icon About 2 weeks
white-icon About 3 weeks
yellow-icon About 3 weeks
white-icon About 4 weeks
yellow-icon About 4 weeks
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SPECIAL Laos TIPS & TOURS

Search for your nationality below to see our special Laos travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

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Laos BLOG ARTICLES

On June 7th, 2012, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased travel recommendations for more than a hundred countries and territories, including Vietnam and Laos in the list of "safest to travel".

Time to travel now? We do not think so! Let's check more detail below.

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Bucolic Wat Phou (Wat Phu, Vat Phou, Vat Phu) sits in graceful decrepitude, and while it lacks the arresting enormity of Angkor in Cambodia, given its few visitors and more dramatic natural setting, these small Khmer ruins evoke a more soulful response. While some buildings are more than 1000 years old, most date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The site is divided into six terraces on three levels joined by a frangipani-bordered stairway ascending the mountain to the main shrine at the top.

Visit in the early morning for cooler temperatures (it gets really hot during the day, and on the lower levels there isn't any shade) and to capture the ruins in the best light. Make sure to grab a map at the entrance as there is little to no signage here.

...more

Buddhist Lent Day (Thailand Wan Khao Phansa, Laos Boun Khao Phansa) is the start of the three-month period during the rainy season when monks are required to remain in a particular place such as a monastery or temple grounds. Here, they will meditate, pray, study, and teach other young monks. In the past, monks were not even allowed to leave the temple, but today, most monks just refrain from traveling during this period. You will still see them out during the day.

It is said that monks started remaining immobile in a temple during this time because they wanted to avoid killing insects and harming farmland. Apparently, traveling monks were crossing through fields, thus destroying the crops of villagers and farmers. After catching wind of this, Buddha decided that in order to avoid damaging crops, hurting insects, or harming themselves during the rainy season, monks should remain in their temples during these three months.

Tired of reading, listen to our podcast below:

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Initiated in 2006 by an NGO working for years with the elephants, this annual meeting of Laos Elephant Festival became one of the big festivals of Laos, followed by thousands of Laotians who move to attend a number of exercises, parades, and elections of the most emblematic animal of Laos. Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local (or Thai) products.

Home to the country’s largest pachyderm population, Xayabouly Province is the natural choice to host this growing event that also aims to raise awareness about the need to protect the endangered Asian elephant, which has played such a vital role in Lao people’s livelihoods, culture and heritage.

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The highlight of the year in Wat Phu Champasak is the three-day Buddhist festival, held on Magha Puja day on the full moon of the third lunar month, usually in February. The ceremonies culminate on the full-moon day with an early-morning offering of alms to monks, followed that evening by a candlelit wéean téean (circumambulation) of the lower shrines.

Throughout the three days of the festival Lao visitors climb around the hillside, stopping to pray and leave offerings of flowers and incense. The festival is more commercial than it once was, and for much of the time has an atmosphere somewhere between a kids' carnival and music festival. Events include kick-boxing matches, boat races, cockfights, comedy shows and plenty of music and dancing, as bands from as far away as Vientiane arrive. After dark the beer and lòw-lów (Lao whisky) flow freely and the atmosphere gets pretty rowdy.

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When the three months of Buddhist Lent come to an end in October, it is the perfect time to visit temples and celebrate the end of the rainy season. In Laos, this is called Boun Awk Phansa (Sometimes translated as Boun Ok Phansa or Boun Ock Phansa) and various religious and local traditions can be observed during this time. Moreover, there are plenty of festive activities are organized throughout the country with floating flower boats, candles, fireworks, lavishly decorated wats and an old-time carnival … all make for a magical Boun Awk Phansa festival in Laos. 

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