Laos was the 7th country of my 5-month trip and I spent two wonderful weeks there, surrounded by beautiful mountains, green jungle and shiny temples!
I love writing itinerary posts for several reasons. Most importantly, getting around is a major part of travel and I hope my Laos itinerary and travel information helps you plan your trip!
Also, and this is a completely selfish reason, it makes me relive my trip and the fun adventures I had on the road (check my 3-week itinerary for the Philippines or my biggest misadventures post if you like to read more).
Finally, I hope I can inspire you to travel more and visit places you might not have thought of visiting before reading this post. There are so many amazing places in the world, waiting to be explored!
Laos: 2 week travel itinerary
I visited Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane (so only the Northern part of Laos). If you have more time, I heard great things about the middle and South of Laos…
If you are interested in the costs of travel in Laos and want to know how to travel Laos for €57/$64 a day, check out my budget breakdown post!
Day 1: Crossing the Thai-Lao border at Huay Xai
I entered Laos via the new relatively new (opened in 2013) Chiang Khong – Huay Xai Friendship Bridge and will explain in detail which steps are involved in crossing this border. It’s not difficult, but it does involve a lot of legs.
• Step 1: before getting to the border me and my husband got up early in the morning to catch a flight from Don Mueang International Airport (Bangkok) to Chiang Rai.
• Step 2: At Chiang Rai airport we hopped into a cab, which took us to the bus station in Chiang Rai.
• Step 3: We got on the bus to Chiang Khong, this bus leaves every hour and is colored red. The bus drove around the luscious green Thai landscape, with vans attached to the roof, keeping us nice and cool.
Somewhere around 6km before Chiang Khong city center the bus stopped and the nice Thai lady selling the tickets in the bus asked us if we wanted to cross the border today.
Well, yes please!
• Step 4: We got out of the bus together with some other travelers. As per usual in Southeast Asia, the tuktuks were already waiting for us😊. The tuktuk drove us to the border, a short drive but too far to walk. At the border we discovered we didn’t have enough dollars (stupid, stupid, stupid!) so we had to exchange at a terrible rate with a rude and shady looking guy sitting behind a table… We didn’t really have a choice so we did it anyway.
A word of advice: make sure you have $35 (or a bit more/less depending on your nationality) with you to buy your visa.
In fact: make sure you always have some back-up dollars with you, it’s a currency that’s accepted pretty much everywhere and it’s good to have cash for crisis situations…
• Step 5: The next short leg was a bus driving us (and 2 other people) across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to the Lao border, where we bought a 1-month Lao visa for $35 each with our expensively acquired dollars.
• Step 6: We also got some Laotian Kip at the ATM at the border, which we immediately put to good use by paying yet another tuktuk driver to take us to the center of Huay Xai.
Once we arrived, we walked up and down the main street and quickly found a nice place to stay (read more about our accommodation in Laos here). We were quite happy we had arrived before the rain started. And when I say rain, I mean RAIN!
Luckily this downpour only lasted a couple of hours, which we spent playing cards with the fellow travelers we had crossed the border with.
Day 2: Slow boat from Huay Xai to Pak Beng
After a good night sleep we headed to the pier to buy tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. This journey takes two days so remember to buy some food before getting on the boat. It takes an entire day to get to Pak Beng and being on a boat always makes me hungry😉.
The boat quickly filled up with other tourists and we departed only an hour late (which is exactly on time in Southeast Asia;-). I really enjoyed the journey, the surroundings are beautiful! The Mekong River is impressive because of its sheer volume of water and fast-flowing rapids and we passed tiny villages with stilt houses and playing children.
On the boat we made friends with a Dutch couple, friends we ended up traveling with for a week and even meet regularly now that we are back in the Netherlands. It’s one of the things I love about traveling, meeting new people and making new friends!
Six hours later we arrived at Pak Beng, where we got of the boat and looked for an accommodation. Pak Beng is the standard stop for all slow boats going from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang and vice versa. Therefore, there are plenty of places to stay and we quickly found one for a mere 50.000LAK.
We were delighted to discover an Indian restaurant and had a lovely dinner with our Dutch friends. We spent the evening watching the sun set in the Mekong River…What a wonderful life!
Day 3: Slow boat from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang
7am sharp the alarm of my phone went off and after a nice breakfast and hunting around Pak Beng for some food for lunch we headed back to the boat. The boat was set to depart at 8am, but obviously that didn’t happen;-). We left around 9.30, another beautiful sunny day of cruising over the Mekong River.
Around 4.30pm we arrived at the pier, about 10km from Luang Prabang, where tuktuks were waiting to take us to the center.
In case you hadn’t noticed, in Laos they are pretty good at creating a lot of legs in your journey and making you pay for each of this legs separately. But I get it, the average income is $2300 a year and 75% of the population has to life from $2 a day…
Day 4 – 7: Luang Prabang
I have to say 2 days on a boat was ok, but I was a little bored at the end and I just couldn’t sit still anymore… I was very happy to spend a couple of days exploring Luang Prabang on foot.
So. Many. Tempels.
That pretty much sums up our time in Luang Prabang😊. Temples and mountain biking to the Kuang Si Falls. And me getting food poisoning… You can read more about Luang Prabang here, it really is a lovely village!
Day 8: Bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
Completely chilled out we left Luang Prabang with a minivan ride to Vang Vieng. The ride was 6 hours and I enjoyed every minute.
It was so beautiful!
Yes, you can take a night bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. Or directly to Vientiane if you want to skip Vang Vieng, which you shouldn’t because Vang Vieng is awesome! But please don’t! You’ll miss the amazing nature and the road is so bumpy and twisting and turning you won’t get much sleep anyway.
Our minivan driver was very careful and drove slowly (bless him…) and the minivan was quite new and not overloaded. The van was meant for 12 people and for the first time since arriving in Southeast Asia, there were actually 12 people in the van. I was amazed!
Anyway, I enjoyed the slow ride very much and 6 hours later we arrived in Vang Vieng. Well, actually about 2km from the center of Vang Vieng where the usual tuktuk drivers were waiting to take us to town. Which we politely declined this time, because I kind of felt like walking after sitting for 6 hours.
We quickly found a decent and cheap accommodation and ate some Western food for a change. I just need some nachos with cheese every once in a while😉.
Day 9-11: Vang Vieng
The next day we went accommodation hunting, found ourselves a lovely hotel and moved our stuff. We watched Friends (a show I love deeply, in fact, it’s how I learned English!), walked around the sleepy center of Vang Vieng and strolled along the Nan Song river running through the village.
We also did some fun tours in Vang Vieng, involving tubing in a cave, kayaking and hiking. Our only hike in Laos and with good reason, the hot season had truly arrived and this is probably the sweatiest I have ever been in my life. An amazing hike though, leading along the steep limestone cliffs and through dense green jungle.
Day 12: Bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane
Our time in Vang Vieng was well spent, but after a couple of days it was time to move on and say goodbye to our Dutch friends who would continue their trip to Vietnam while we were heading to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
A rather uneventful journey, the road wasn’t nearly as pretty as the one from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and the large bus was overbooked, meaning there were people sitting in the aisle, poor guys… The usual routine applied: we were dropped at Vientiane Northern bus terminal where we got in a tuktuk which took us to the city center of Vientiane, where we walked around until we found a decent hotel.
Day 13: Vientiane
Vientiane is the capital of Laos and home to about 800.000 people. To be honest, I found it a little quiet. It didn’t have any of the hustle and bustle of other Asian cities, like Ho Chi Minh with its thousands of scooters But with a total population of just 7 million people, compared to 90 million Vietnamese, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
To explore Vientiane we rented an bicycle, yes I know, very Dutch😉! It was a great and relaxed way to get around the city and I loved not having to constantly keep an eye out for tuktuks and scooters.
An item that’s on every Vientiane itinerary is the Patuxai, the Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe.
Funny story: the Americans thought it would be convenient to have an airport in Vientiane, so they donated some concrete to the Lao government. But the government had other plans and used the concrete to build the Patuxai instead! That’s why the building is sometimes called the vertical runway:-).
What is definitely not a fun story is how the Vietnam War impacted Laos (yes, you read correctly, the VIETNAM war). What happened to Laos during the war is described in detail in the COPE center.
Laos was neutral during the Vietnam war, still, some 260 million bombs were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Millions of those bombies didn’t detonate and are still hidden in the fields and the jungle. Each year hundreds of people, often children, are killed or severely injured when they accidentally come across one of those bombs. Visiting the center is very impressive…
If you are in Vientiane, go there. The COPE center runs amazing artificial limbs, rehabilitation and UXO’s (unexploded ordnance) education programs and the short movies about people in these programs are really inspiring and show such resilience…
Day 14: Crossing the Lao-Thai border at Nongkhai Station
Our last day in Laos, we booked tickets for the night train to Bangkok at Mixok Guesthouse, our hotel, and around 3pm in the afternoon we were picked up by a tuktuk and driven to Thanaleng train station.
There we got our actual train tickets and paid a 20.000LAK exit fee, which obviously does not officially exist. There is a separate desk however, with a sign saying ‘exit fee’, lol!
We got on a small train to Nongkhai Station in Thailand and went through Thai immigration fast and efficient. Very much unlike the time we crossed the border from Cambodia to Thailand the weekend after Khmer New Year…
With Pad Thai and some snacks we boarded the night train to Don Mueang International Airport (Bangkok) which means we have come full circle.
About the night train: it’s a fairly comfortable journey, though I prefer the night trains in Vietnam. Mainly because the bright lights stayed on the entire night and the curtains of the top bunk (which I had booked) were not keeping out that bright and shiny light.
My tip: go for the bottom bunk, it’s wider and darker so you’ll probably get more sleep.
Altogether I had a wonderful 2 weeks in Laos and I would love to go back to explore the rest of the country! If you like the itinerary, feel free to download it!
Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the Phenomenal Globe Travel Planning Library!
Have you been to Laos? Tell me about your trip!