Laos backpacking route and itinerary for 2 weeks (from $14 per day)

Your Laos backpacking route will depend on your length of time available, your point of entry and where you want to exit. If Laos is the only destination and you are short on time, then you can fly straight into Luang Prabang and fly out of Vientiane (or vice versa), traveling by bus in between. For those who are traveling entirely by land, there are multiple entry points from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and China. Check directly with Laos Tourism to see what visas you require, the correct process and point of entry when planning your trip.

Originally Max and I talked about traveling by land into Laos from Vietnam. The problem was that our last stop in Vietnam was in Hanoi and the only way to travel by land from there into Laos is on a 24-hour bus.

As I get motion sickness on buses and the cost of flights between the two countries was high, these were not good options. Luckily, I came across a much easier and interesting route from Thailand to Laos. So we flew from Hanoi to Bangkok, then traveled to the north of Thailand (by train to Chiang Mai then bus to Chiang Rai) before crossing over in Huay Xai.

During our 4 month trip of South East Asia, we tried to travel by land as much as possible, enjoying the train system in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Unfortunately, Laos does not have a railway. So to deal with my motion sickness, we chose to travel on a two-day slow boat from the Thai-Laos border town of Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. There is a 12-hour overnight bus option but even if I didn’t get sick on buses, I would still recommend the slow boat.

Once you cross the border from Chiang Rai or Chiang Kong in Thailand over into Laos, you will take a tuk-tuk to Huay Xai. Also, know as Ban Houayxay and Huoeisay, it’s a small town by the river without much to do. We arrived at our hotel, Oudomsin Hotel, around 3 pm and booked our tickets for the slow boat through reception. It costs us 240,000 LAK per person for the boat plus a tuk-tuk to take us from the hotel to the pier the next day.

I read reports of people who hated their slow boat experiences but I loved it! It is two days on a boat with the slow-moving scenery of hills and the occasional village, so I definitely recommend taking a book and other activities to keep you occupied. Max and I traveled with another couple so we spent days chatting, reading, creating macrame anklets and bracelets, and just relaxing. If you want to get a better idea of the experience, you can watch our friends’ video about traveling through Laos by boat and bicycle.

After the first day on the slow boat, it stops in the small town of Pakbeng. You will need to find your own accommodation here and it is not included in the price of the boat. As soon as the boat pulls up the pier, lots of locals will run up with offers for their guesthouse. You can either stay here and try to negotiate the best deal or walk up the hill to look around first.

We chose to push past the crowd and walk along the main street (there is really only one) stopping each guesthouse to check their price for a private room and bathroom. We paid 100,000 LAK Baht for one night in a comfortable and clean room, but you might be able to find something slightly cheaper. The food in Pakbeng is generally more expensive as it solely caters to tourists. Almost every restaurant has the same menu and prices, which they will make a joke about “same, same but different chef”. We ate at the Indian-Lao restaurant in town and although it was a bit pricier than normal (37,500 LAK for vegteable curry and naan), the food was delicious.

The second day on the slow boat is much shorter than the first and they stop before reaching Luang Prabang. Rather than driving the boats straight up into the city, they finish the journey a few kilometers out so that tuk-tuk drivers can get additional business. The prices for the tuk-tuks are all the same (20,000 LAK per person) and you won’t be able to negotiate, so you can either accept it or choose to walk like a few stubborn backpackers did from our boat. It’s a pretty long way, so we just paid up.

Once you get into the Old Quarter of Luang Prabang, you will be able to walk pretty much all over town. Each night from 5 pm there is a market on Sisavangvong Road. We would always eat dinner here, either taking advantage of a vegetarian buffet (all you can fit into your bowl for 15,000 LAK) or getting a tasty bowl of Khao Soy (15,000 LAK). The market also sells clothing and handicrafts including Hmong, Tai Lao, Tai Dam, and Akha crafts.

To watch the sunset, a lot of tourists go to Phu Si Hill which is across from the Royal Palace Museum. There is an entrance fee of 20,000 LAK and it can get pretty crowded. The other downside is that there are some women selling small birds in cages for tourists to release on the top of the hill (which imaginably are recaptured later). We shockingly saw some people actually funding this cruel practice.

The most well-known attraction of Luang Prabang is Kuang Si Falls and it is truly breathtaking! There are a few ways to get to the falls from the Old Quarter, either through a tour, taxi truck, or bicycle. We thought we were super smart by renting bicycles from our guesthouse, Vanvisa, and riding there. But the joke was on us, because due to the heat, lack of shade along the road, and hills, it took Max and me two hours to arrive.

Our journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was one of those cases where we tried to find the cheapest way but ended up losing a ton of time and not saving any money. The best option is to buy a ticket for a minivan that goes directly Vieng Vang in around three hours. You should be able to negotiate for around 100,000 LAK including pick up from your hotel.

In the end, we walked to the public bus station because we thought it would be cheaper than the shuttle. The man selling us the tickets told me the cost was 110,000 LAK per person even though the sign said 95,000 LAK. After I tried, Max went to talk to him and point out the sign but he insisted. Luckily, there was a shift change and the next man sold us tickets for 95,000 LAK. The other unknown was that the public bus went on a longer route than the minivan, and it took us over five hours to arrive in Vang Vieng. Day 11-12: Vang Vieng

Despite this, there is still a wild vibe to Vang Vieng. In fact, some bars actually have a free happy hour (although it is local Whiskey drinks) and sell mushrooms and gas balloons. On a night out with another couple and a guy from Croatia, I saw one man take off his pants while on the dance floor and two women get into a fight. There is a loose feeling to it all, but it can be fun if you take it easy and stay safe.

As we had just one full day in Vang Vieng, Max and I choose to go to the Blue Lagoon. If you believe the advertising, it sounds like a gorgeous natural lake but in reality, it is more like a concrete hole full of water and packed with tourists. I actually laughed out loud when we arrived but in the end, it was a lot of fun. People were taking turns using the rope swing or jumping from the tree and everyone would cheer them on.