Tourism (Places) Travel Guides

Three Weeks in Northern Laos: An Itinerary and Budget Breakdown

Laos is an fascinating place. It typically will get skipped in Southeast Asia journey plans, and for a reasonably good purpose—there aren’t really any can’t-miss points of interest or actions. Still, there are some issues value seeing and it may also be a great place to slow down your travel pace a bit and get away from overly-busy days. Moreover, it is among the least developed nations in the world and that in itself makes for an fascinating travel experience.


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In April and Might 2018 I spent virtually a month traveling northern Laos. That in all probability appears lots for half of a country I simply described as lacking points of interest, nevertheless it is a pretty big country with some awful roads so transportation occasions have to be thought-about. Apart from, I needed a more leisurely expertise. Even with so much time I ended up skipping Phongsali and, because of the rain and off-season, didn’t actually manage any multi-day treks both. I in all probability might have just hit highlight cities in both the south and north in that time however I decided to save lots of the south for a future journey.

Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang

That is the core travel circuit of northern Laos and where you’re more likely to find probably the most fellow vacationers and backpackers. Vang Vieng is about 4 hours from Vientiane and Luang Prabang is about seven hours from Vang Vieng.


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Vientiane is the capital city but in the event you didn’t know that already you won’t guess it as the place still has a small metropolis, sleepy feel to it. Vientiane is a spot that seems to engender cut up opinions. Many vacationers don’t look after it in any respect whereas others find it has a certain allure. There are a couple of things to see and do around city, however not many, although there are a good variety of good eating places and if in case you have time to chill out and take pleasure in some down time, consuming a Beerlao by the banks of the Mekong isn’t the worst method to spend a night or two.

Vang Vieng

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Vang Vieng was the backpacker, social gathering hangout of Laos. The primary purpose for that was the infamous tubing and consuming scene, though that was principally shut down some years ago. Nonetheless, you can see loads of backpackers doing their greatest to attempt and sustain the get together environment.

Whether the social gathering scene is your factor or not, there’s undoubtedly some lovely surroundings to take pleasure in round Vang Vieng and various excursions and actions you possibly can take pleasure in, together with one of many least expensive scorching air balloon rides in the world (~US$80), tubing (sans celebration) or kayaking (the extra common choice lately), ziplining, the favored Tham Nam water cave (where you float on a tube inside a large cave), the overcrowded however fairly blue lagoon, some waterfalls and a number of different caves. All the inns and guest houses as well as many local businesses supply kind of the same package deal tour options to take pleasure in all the varied things to do round Vang Vieng, although I opted to go it alone in the future by renting a motorcycle and that may be a very good various.

One thing I found fascinating about Vang Vieng is that regardless of its lengthy vacationer history and strong infrastructure (visitor homes, resorts, journey businesses), the place still has a bit of a backwater feel.

Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang is the crown jewel of Laos tourism and for good purpose. It is a charming town with pleasant French colonial architecture and numerous good eating places wedged between two rivers. It’s the type of place you’ll be able to easily spend days and days exploring the temples and surrounding areas or simply enjoyable and eating good food.

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Probably the most noteworthy tourist attraction is the Kuang Si Falls about 45 minutes from town and, while each city in Laos appears to trumpet at the least one waterfall, this one is certainly well worth the fuss. All lodges and journey businesses supply a “tour,” which is nothing more than shared transportation to and from the waterfall. I don’t advocate utilizing certainly one of these tours as a result of virtually all of them restrict you to about two hours which is certainly not enough time to enjoy the expertise absolutely.

I might advocate at the very least Three-Four hours and much more if you want to explore the varied mountaineering trails, go to the Asiatic Black Bear rescue middle, spend a fair amount of time swimming in the water, and spend a while enjoyable and having fun with the great thing about the varied swimming pools and the waterfall itself.

One of the simplest ways to get more time at Kuang Si is to hitch along with some fellow travelers and negotiate transport yourselves. With six or extra individuals you’ll be able to in all probability get a per individual worth of 30,000 to 50,000 LAK (round-trip) and can negotiate how long you wish to keep before being picked up. In case you are traveling solo, attempt heading to the primary street across the vacationer info middle and search for other vacationers making an attempt to negotiate transport and be a part of them. If that proves troublesome, because it did for me because of the low season, you’ll be able to all the time lease a motorcycle and drive yourself out there, which would be far more expensive than getting shared transportation but less expensive than getting a personal taxi.

If in case you have executed your research you have got in all probability heard concerning the secret pool, maybe from Nomadic Matt. I used to be able to find the trail to the pool but nowadays they have put in additional fencing to actually assure no one visits it so don’t even hassle wanting.

I read that the Tad Sae waterfall can also be good but isn’t value visiting in the dry season. As that’s once I was there I didn’t hassle going.

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Another well-liked excursion is a go to to the Pak Ou Caves. I used to be fairly disenchanted in these two caves, especially after the positive ones I noticed in Vang Vieng. Which isn’t to say my trip was an entire waste as it required a number of hours on a boat passing via some very pretty landscapes. For that purpose alone it is in all probability value doing, however should you  have already finished the two day boat experience to or from Luang Prabang or another lengthy river cruise, then I might say give these caves a move. I’m positive you’ll be able to be a part of an organized tour, however perhaps the simplest choice is to purchase a public boat ticket from the small office and pier across the street from Saffron Cafe in the direction of the top of the peninsula. The worth is 65,000 LAK and there is only one boat per day, leaving at 08:30 and returning around 13:00. In addition to the caves, the boat makes a short cease in an area whiskey and weaving village.


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Phonsavan is about 7 hours from Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng and the primary cause to go to is to see the Plain of Jars. I had learn that Kong Keo Guesthouse gives an excellent tour but once I went to inquire I used to be informed that there weren’t enough individuals to justify the trouble. That’s usually true for other visitor homes and journey businesses in the off-season so your greatest guess can be to lease a motorcycle, which is what I did. There are three primary websites to go to, each that includes a barely totally different panorama. You may also visit a couple of other places, including an area village, some waterfalls and the jars quarry. In case you are on a motorcycle, examine together with your visitor house or the knowledge middle for a brochure itemizing issues to do in the world and then mark them in your maps app.

Sam Neua and Vieng Xai

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Vieng Xai is house to an extensive network of caves in limestone mountains. Four-hundred eighty of these caves have been used by the Pathet Lao for 9 years in the course of the Second Indochina Struggle to shelter from American bombardment. As much as 23,000 individuals lived in the caves, which contained a hospital, a faculty, Pathet Lao workplaces, bakeries, outlets, and even a theater. The world was house to the Communist military, who have been preventing the royalist forces, based mostly in Vientiane.

The large questions for the Vieng Xai caves are whether or not they are well worth the trip and how one can greatest go to them. I might say that in case you are visiting Laos on your option to or from northern Vietnam and if in case you have sufficient time (at the very least two nights), it’s undoubtedly value a visit and will make a nice break from an in any other case very lengthy and uncomfortable bus journey. However, in case you are solely visiting Laos it depends how much of a history junkie you’re and your tolerance for spending time on minivans touring poor, winding roads. For the report, I assumed it was well worth the problem of an eight hour minivan journey from Phonsavan followed by a 10.5 hour bus journey to Nong Khiaw.

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As for the logistics of visiting the caves, there are two organized excursions per day (09:00 and 13:00, 60,000 LAK) with an English talking information, which is obligatory (no unbiased visits allowed). Those occasions have to be reconciled together with your transportation choices which signifies that virtually speaking you’ll need at the very least two nights in the world, and three to be safer if relying on public transportation.

The simplest choice can be to get a personal taxi from Sam Neua to Vieng Xai, particularly in case you are traveling with others or can find someone else in town to share the fee (good luck with that in the low season). The most effective guess can be to remain in Sam Neua and lease a taxi for a at some point round-trip visit to the caves since it might value more to lease a taxi every method and I am not positive in the event you can easily discover one to lease in Vieng Xai.

You may also attempt utilizing public transportation, although doing so may be inconvenient and unreliable, particularly in the low season. There is a songthaew (shared taxi) from Sam Neua to Vieng Xai in the morning which can arrive after the 09:00 tour begins so you will want to do the later tour as an alternative. You’ll be able to then head to the primary street and try to catch the bus from Vietnam that passes around 17:00 as it stops at Sam Neua. Alternatively, you possibly can spend an evening in Vieng Xai and take the afternoon songthaew back to Sam Neua, though I’ve read that typically there isn’t one making the trip.

In case you are snug driving a motorcycle, that is perhaps probably the most handy choice, although with a serious caveat. I had read the street is sort of good and which will have been true at one time, however once I visited there was loads of ongoing development and lengthy stretches of the street nearer to Vieng Xai have been utterly coated in filth, which turned slippery mud after it rained, making for a really harmful and scary experience. Once they lastly end development or should you go to in dry season the journey will in all probability be no drawback, however maybe it is best to ask at the tourist info middle first.

There aren’t many motorcycle rental choices in town, although the Dan Nao Meuang Xam restaurant (subsequent to the Bounhome Guesthouse) does supply leases and there’s a motorcycle repair storage near the primary market (on the identical aspect of the bridge) that may lease you a motorcycle as nicely. I read there’s a rental shop near the vacationer info middle but I couldn’t find it so I feel perhaps it not exists.

As I stated, a two night time minimum stay is pretty much obligatory. That’s because nevertheless you select to get to Vieng Xai, a bus to wherever you’re heading after Sam Neua in all probability will depart someday through the morning, in order that you will have to spend a second night time in town after you come back from visiting the caves.

Nam Nern Night time Safari

I had seen a reference to an evening safari once I was wanting over the map of Laos however I by no means came across any point out of it once I was researching my trip. Perhaps that’s because it solely launched in 2009. The Nam Nern Night time Safari is a 24-hour boat-based tour into the core of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Space (NPA). The trip includes night-time wildlife spotlighting: long-tail boats drift down the Nam Nern River in search of wild and endangered animals. Further nature activities through the tour embrace chook watching, wildlife monitoring, and a short morning hike. Guests to the Night time Safari stay in a single day in traditional Lao bungalows constructed and managed by the group.

I didn’t do the night time safari and I’ve never met anyone who has, but if in case you have time it looks like it will be a superb exercise and convenient place to break up a journey between Sam Neua and Nong Khiaw (or even more distant factors that embrace that route).

Nong Khiaw

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Nong Khiaw is Three-4 hours from Luang Prabang and makes for a nice place to spend a number of days enjoyable and having fun with the pure great thing about the encompassing areas. There are a couple of viewpoints you’ll be able to trek to independently and numerous organized treks and excursions you are able to do as nicely, including the popular 100 waterfalls choice. It rained steadily once I was there so apart from visiting the primary viewpoint once I acquired a little bit of a sunny break from the rain, I principally frolicked in my hammock on my bungalow by the river.

Muang Ngoi Neua

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Many individuals who visit Nong Khiaw make a fast journey up the river to Muang Ngoi. The journey is about an hour and presently only may be reached by boat (though a street is beneath development). Everybody writes about how pretty the boat experience is, however no one appears to mention that you simply get crammed in like sardines which makes your complete trip uncomfortable as hell in the event you don’t seize one of the valuable few real seats.

Muang Ngoi typically is described as sleepy with no electrical energy, motor automobiles or creature comforts like WiFi. That is not true as all of those things now exist, although it is still a smaller, more remote place than Nong Khiaw and does make a nice place to chill out or do some trekking with or with out homestays in native villages.

Luang Namtha

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Luang Namtha is a gateway to the Luang NamTha National Protected Space (NPA) and there are several tour businesses offering guided treks. It’s additionally a soothing place to start out or end your journey in northern Laos. I didn’t do any organized treks however I did lease a bicycle someday to explore the surroundings. You possibly can decide up a map with two recommended routes on the tourist info middle in city.

As Luang Namtha was my last vacation spot in northern Laos I used to be making an attempt to find out one of the simplest ways to get to Chiang Mai. In case you are in doing the identical journey, learn my publish concerning the numerous transportation options.


I had read that Phongsali is house to a number of the most lovely areas for trekking in Laos but I was dissuaded from visiting for three reasons: it is nonetheless quite remote and I had already spent a number of time on buses to go to Phonsavan and Vieng Xai, I didn’t relish doing a multi-day trek in the rain, and considering how few vacationers I was encountering in different places I figured I might in all probability be the only one in Phongsali and thus would have had to pay a much greater worth for any tour or trek I selected.

Budget Breakdown

I spent a total of 6,625,120 LAK (US$803) over the course of 25 days in northern Laos, or a mean of 265,000 LAK (US$32) per day.

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Notes: The travel quantity includes a round-trip flight and a return trip by way of bus (I ended up altering my plan and taking a bus back somewhat than my return flight). The tourism quantity consists of my US$36 Laos visa on arrival. The miscellaneous number includes a 5GB knowledge SIM card (US$8.50).

Transportation Notes

There are a few things to concentrate on relating to transportation in Laos.

  1. The roads in Laos are fairly terrible which frequently means sluggish transit occasions even for comparatively brief distances.
  2. Many bus or minivan stations (typically separate entities) are outdoors of town past snug strolling distance. Whenever you buy a ticket by way of an company they often cost extra but embrace pickup at your lodge (often by way of tuk tuk or shared songthaew taxi to the station where you then get on your bus or minivan). The worth is often a bit greater than when you get your personal transport to the station and purchase the ticket your self however you cannot be positive of getting a ticket that approach (I traveled in off-season and nonetheless saw a couple of travelers unable to get a bus they needed as a result of it was full). And, the worth will virtually definitely be less than when you make a separate journey to the station in advance to buy a ticket. Thus, it is often higher to only buy a ticket out of your lodge or an area travel company.
  3. Whereas your ticket will often embrace pickup at your lodge you’ll probably arrive at a station outdoors of your vacation spot city and have to pay for a tuk tuk into town.
  4. In low season the variety of choices for some routes drops or even disappears.

Miscellaneous Notes and Observations

  1. Although Laos might be a era behind neighbor Thailand in improvement, prices are actually greater for a lot of things, especially meals, transportation, and organized excursions and actions. That isn’t to say issues are costly, merely costlier than one may anticipate after spending time in neighboring nations.
  2. Based mostly on a suggestion from the proprietor of my first guest house in Vientiane I bought the M Broadband (part of Lao Telecom) Internet SIM card for 20,000 LAK and then added a 30 day, 5GB knowledge package deal for 50,000 LAK. With a couple of exceptions (together with terrible velocity in Vang Vieng), I found WiFi in Laos to be surprisingly good so I didn’t find yourself using most of my knowledge plan. For extra choices, seek the advice of the Laos page.
  3. Low season is absolutely low. This has a couple of essential implications. First, transportation choices disappear both totally or develop into sporadic (some days yes, some days no). Second, it can be troublesome to share treks/tour and thus the worth is larger and some tours won’t be obtainable in any respect or have fewer options. Third, prices for guest houses have been all the time cheaper in individual than on-line and with many you might discount for a good higher worth.
  4. Off-season additionally encompasses burning season, often happening between February and April annually in SE Asia. During this time farmers burn the remnants of the prior harvest and the standard of air can get really terrible. I might usually advise towards visiting during this time of yr, particularly in case you easily endure from respiratory points.
  5. Within the main guest house sections of the core tourist destinations a lot of the eating places cater to travelers and typically supply strikingly comparable menus and costs. Even in low season I not often noticed locals eating in these places. I’m undoubtedly responsible for not making extra of an effort to get away from these areas and look for local options so this isn’t a lot a criticism as an remark.
  6. In all probability the one purpose there aren’t more street accidents is because the roads are flippantly trafficked. When that modifications someday, there’ll certainly be plenty of problems.
  7. You must pay for pretty much any outside attraction in Laos, be it a waterfall, cave, or viewpoint. Often the fee is 10,000 LAK although extra common locations are 20,000.

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