Laos is a beautiful mountainous country in Southeast Asia. The country is completely landlocked but what it lacks in pretty beaches it more than makes up for with lush green jungle and amazing temples.
We spent two weeks in Laos and traveled around the northern half of the country. Our 2 weeks in Laos itinerary includes Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane.
If you have more time to spend in Laos, this post also provides information about two other recommended places to visit in Laos: the Gibbon Experience in Nam Kan National Park and Don Det (4000 Islands in the Mekong Delta).
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2 weeks in Laos itinerary
Itinerary for Laos: map
On the map below you can see all the important stops of our 14 day trip around Laos (highlights, accommodation, bus terminals, etc).
2 week Laos travel itinerary
- Day 1: Slow boat from Huay Xai to Pak Beng
- Day 2: Slow boat from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang
- Day 3-7: Explore Luang Prabang
- Day 8: Travel from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
- Day 9-11: Explore Vang Vieng
- Day 12: Travel from Vang Vieng to Vientiane
- Day 13-14: Explore Vientiane
Important things to know when traveling to Laos
Below you can find the answers to several frequently asked questions by travelers to Laos.
The best time to visit Laos is between January and March, as temperatures are comfortable during these months and there isn’t much rain.
There are two seasons in Laos, the wet season and the dry season. The wet season runs from May until October and the dry season from November until April.
We visited in late April/beginning of May when temperatures are the highest. Fortunately, we only had one short (but heavy) shower in Huay Xai during our 2 week trip around Laos even though the wet season was just around the corner.
Approximately 50% of the people in Laos speak the official language: Lao. However, there are also over 80 different languages and dialects in Laos.
Lao is closely related to the Thai language, people from northern Thailand can generally understand people from Laos quite well.
Don’t worry though if you don’t speak Lao (or Thai), almost all Lao people working in tourism speak English.
In Laos, the official currency is the Laotian Kip (LAK). The exchange rate is approximately 9700 LAK for €1 and 8500LAK per $1. Here you can find the current exchange rates.
When traveling around Laos, dress modestly! It’s inappropriate to wear tight or revealing clothing, which is also true for the other countries in Southeast Asia.
Men can wear shirts and shorts, but don’t go walking around bare-chested or in a tank top.
As a woman dressing modestly means no hot-pants, no crop tops, no short skirts or shorts (anything above the knee is generally considered too short) and nothing too tight. Also, remember to carry a scarf or sarong to cover up in temples.
I have written an extensive post about our Laos travel budget, but if you just need a quick number: our daily expenses were €57 / $64 as a couple.
This budget includes our accommodation fees, money for transport, food and drinks and costs for activities.
Please know that the average income in Laos is just $2300 a year and 75% of the population has to get by on $2 a day. Something to keep in mind when you are bargaining for a tuk-tuk ride or a night at an accommodation…
While you won’t miss an extra dollar or two, for many people in Laos this little extra money goes a long way in supporting their family.
How to cross the travel from Chiang Rai to Huay Xai (Thai-Lao border)
For those who plan to travel to Huay Xai from Chiang Rai (via the Chiang Khong – Huay Xai Friendship Bridge), here is a detailed step by step explanation of how to cross this border.
For those coming from different directions or who immediately want to read about Huay Xai and the slow boat to Luang Prabang, click here to go to day 1 of this Laos backpacking route.
How to cross the Thai – Laos border via the Chiang Khong – Huay Xai Friendship Bridge
|Chiang Rai Bus station||Bus stop near the Thai/Lao border||public bus||65THB per person|
|Bus stop near the Thai/Lao border||Thai border||tuktuk||50THB per person|
|Thai border||Lao border||bus||20THB per person|
|Lao border||Huay Xai city center||tuktuk||100THB per person|
1. Take a bus from Chiang Rai bus station
From Chiang Rai bus station, take the local bus to Chiang Khong. This bus leaves every hour and is colored red. If you are unsure about which bus to take, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people waiting at the bus station, pretty much all Thai are happy to help!
2. Take a tuk-tuk to the border
Around 4km before Chiang Khong city center the bus will stop and the driver will ask people who want to cross the border to disembark. Tuk-tuks will be waiting at the intersection to transport you to the Thai side of the border (for 50THB per person).
3. Get a exit stamp for Thailand
At the border, there is a booth where you will get your Thai exit stamp, continue walking and you’ll see a bus.
4. Take a bus across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge
This bus will drive you across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to the Lao border (for 20THB per person)
5. Go through the immigration process for Laos
While it can get busy at this border during weekends, it was very quiet when we were there.
At the border, we discovered we didn’t have enough dollars so we had to exchange at a terrible rate with a rude and shady looking guy sitting behind a plastic table containing huge piles of cash. 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) to buy your visa for Laos.
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…
The Lao immigration process isn’t complicated, you just have to pay for your 1-month Lao visa (in dollars) and get an entry stamp. We paid $35 per person but it depends on your nationality how much the exact fee will be.
There is also an ATM at the border, I recommend to get some Laotian Kip so you can pay for a tuk-tuk to town (though drivers also accept Thai bath but usually will charge extra to compensate for the exchange rate).
6. Take a tuk-tuk to Huay Xai
After you exit immigration you’ll see several tuk-tuks waiting. Find a nice tuk-tuk driver, negotiate a good price and you will be on your way to the village of Huay Xai.
Where to stay in Huay Xai: Sabaidee Guesthouse
Our first accommodation in Laos was Sabaidee Guesthouse in Huay Xai. The village is tiny and there aren’t that many guesthouses. After walking around Huay Xai and checking out another accommodation we choose to stay at Sabaidee.
The room was spacious, everything was clean and the staff at the reception was friendly. We paid 90.000LAK (€10/$11) for one night.
Day 1: the slow boat from Huay Xai to Pak Beng
The next morning we walked to the pier to buy tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The ticket is 240.000LAK per person and leaves around 11 am (our slow boat left an hour late, but that’s not uncommon in Southeast Asia).
Travel tip: the journey from Huai Xai to Luang Prabang takes two days. Make sure to bring enough drinks and snacks, it takes an entire day to get to Pak Beng from Huai Xai and there are no stops along the way.
The Mekong River is beautiful, along the way you’ll pass fast-flowing rapids and tiny villages with houses on stilts and children playing in the river.
While there is plenty to see, I also recommend bringing an e-reader or something else to do as it’s quite a long trip.
The slow boat is also a great place to meet other travelers and exchange stories. We made friends with a couple from the Netherlands, who we ended up traveling with for a week. And even five years later, we still meet up regularly now that we are all back home in the Netherlands.
Anyway, about six hours after departure, the boat will arrive at Pak Beng. We didn’t book any accommodation but just walked around town to find a suitable place to spend the night.
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 (cheap) places to stay, we quickly found a room for a mere 50.000LAK.
During the boat trip, a crew member repeatedly asked if we wanted to book a hotel via him. He warned us all hotels might be full in Pak Beng.
This wasn’t true (in fact, there was plenty of accommodation available) and the price we would have had to pay when booking via him was at least twice the price we eventually paid for a night at Monesavanh Guesthouse.
In Pak Beng there is a nice Indian restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river, we had a lovely dinner there and got treated to a beautiful sunset over the Mekong River.
Where to stay in Pak Beng: Monesavanh Guesthouse
We stayed at Monesavanh Guesthouse, in a very basic room with a broken light. Because we only slept there one night and spent around 10 hours in the room in total we didn’t really care. As mentioned above, we paid 50.000LAK (€5,50/$6,50) for a night.
Day 2: the slow boat from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang
The slow boat from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang should depart at 8 am, however, when we took this boat it didn’t leave until 9.30 am. Nevertheless, I still recommend boarding on time as the boat doesn’t wait!
Around 4.30 pm we arrived at the Luang Prabang slow boat pier, which is about 10km from Luang Prabang city center. Tuk-tuks will be waiting to bring all boat passengers to the city center (for 20.000LAK per person).
Day 3-7: Luang Prabang and around
Luang Prabang is a beautiful city in Laos known for its many (Buddhist) temples. Until 1975, when Vientiane became the seat of the Lao government, Luang Prabang was the capital.
With a history dating back to the 7th century, it’s easy to see why Luang Prabang is such a special place. I spent five days here and would have loved to stay longer…
Note: if you don’t have that much time or want to add another stop to your Laos travel route, you could spend 3 days in Luang Prabang instead.
Some of the highlights of Luang Prabang are:
- The beautiful temples: the Royal Temple, Wat Xieng Thong, and Wat Wisunalat are just some of the many temples waiting to be discovered in Luang Prabang.
- The view from Phu Si Mountain: climb the 100-meter-high Phu Si Mountain for a beautiful view over Luang Prabang and the Mekong River.
- The Kuang Si waterfalls: this multitiered waterfall has a stunning green-blue color due to the limestone particles floating in the water. It’s a Luang Prabang highlight which you can’t miss during your time in this beautiful city.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang: Meunna Boutique Hotel
The accommodation in Luang Prabang where we stayed during our trip has unfortunately closed down, however, a great alternative is Meunna Boutique Hotel.
This newly opened hotel has a modern design, a swimming pool, and spacious rooms. Breakfast is included, prices for a Deluxe Double Room with an extra-large double bed start at €40 a night.
Day 8: travel from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
|Luang Prabang city center||Luang Prabang bus station||tuktuk||Booked via travel agency (tuktuk and minivan) for 120.000LAK per person|
|Luang Prabang bus station||Vang Vieng North bus station||minivan||Included in travel agency package|
|Vang Vieng North bus station||Vang Vieng city center||foot||free|
With a heavy heart, we left Luang Prabang after five wonderful days to travel to our next destination: Vang Vieng. The ride by minivan took around six hours. While this may sound long, I actually enjoyed every minute of the trip, the scenery between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng is breathtaking!
While you could take a night bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng as well, I don’t recommend it. You’ll miss the amazing sights along the way, plus, the road is very bumpy and full of twists and turns, meaning you probably 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 about 6 hours later we arrived in Vang Vieng. Well, technically about 2km from the center of Vang Vieng where tuk-tuk drivers were waiting to take us to town.
Which we politely declined this time, because we preferred to walk for a bit after sitting in a van for 6 hours.
How to book your minivan: we booked our Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng minibus at a local tour operator. Alternatively, you can book online with Get Your Guide for a similar price.
Day 9-11: Vang Vieng
While many people come to Vang Vieng to party, we came for the beautiful nature and the relaxed vibe in town. Things in Vang Vieng that should be on your itinerary are:
- Watch old Friends episodes in one of the many cafes in town.
- Depending on the season you can either go kayaking or tubing on the Nan Song river. Note that during monsoon season you can’t do either of these activities because the river is too wild (and dangerous!).
- Go hiking in the dense green jungle surrounding Vang Vieng and admire the steep limestone cliffs and beautiful views along the way. Read more about our Vang Vieng hiking experience here.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng: Boutique Hotel
In Vang Vieng, we stayed at the Boutique Hotel, which was one of the nicest places of our 5-month trip! The hotel opened in 2015 and has modern rooms with ensuite bathrooms. The complimentary breakfast was very extensive.
What really made our stay was manager Joy, who is incredibly helpful and friendly. She also speaks English very well and goes out of her way to make you feel welcome and at home. The price per night is around a very reasonable 160.000LAK (€17,50/$20).
Day 12: travel from Vang Vieng to Vientiane
|Accommodation in Vang Vieng||Vang Vieng bus station||minivan||Package booked via hotel, 50.000LAK per person|
|Vang Vieng bus station||Vientiane Northern bus terminal||bus||included in package|
|Vientiane Northern bus terminal||Vientiane city center||tuktuk||20.000LAK per person|
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vang Vieng, but after a couple of days, it was time head to Vientiane.
The trip from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was rather uneventful. Unfortunately, the views weren’t nearly as beautiful as between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng.
Also, our bus was overbooked and while we were lucky to have a seat, there were several people sitting on the floor in the aisle.
Day 13-14: exploring Vientiane
Vientiane is the capital of Laos and home to about 800.000 people. To be honest, Vientiane was a little too quiet for me. 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 population of only 7 million people in the whole of Laos (compared to 90 million Vietnamese), that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The absence of crazy traffic makes renting a bicycle an excellent way to explore Vientiane. Below you can find some of my recommended things to do in Vientiane.
Admire the Patuxai
The Patuxai (pictured above) is the Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe. During the Vietnam war, the Americans thought it would be convenient to have an airport in Vientiane, so they donated some concrete to the Lao government.
But the Lao government had other plans and used the concrete to build the Patuxai instead! That’s why this building is sometimes called the vertical runway.
Visit the COPE center
Before visiting Laos, I was unaware of how much the Vietnam War impacted Laos. Yes, you read correctly, the Vietnam war! What happened in Laos during the war is described in detail in the COPE center.
Despite the fact that Laos was neutral during the Vietnam war, the US Army thought it necessary to drop 260 million bombs 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.
While visiting the COPE center isn’t a cheerful activity, it’s a must on your Vientiane itinerary.
The COPE center also runs educational programs about artificial limbs, rehabilitation, and UXO’s (unexploded ordnance). The short movies in the museum tell the inspiring stories of many local people who are participating in these programs and show the resilience of the Lao people.
Where to stay in Vientiane: Viryla Boutique Hotel
During our trip, we stayed at Mixok Guesthouse, located in the city center of Vientiane. While we had an enjoyable stay, the ratings have gone down for this place since then.
Of course, you can still check it out and see if this is the place for you, however, there are many other options in Vientiane.
One of these is the newly built Viryla Boutique Hotel. With a swimming pool, modern rooms and very comfortable beds, this is an excellent place to base yourself during your time in Vientiane.
Places to visit in Laos if you have more time
If you have more time to spend in Laos (or shorten your time in Luang Prabang to three days), consider adding one of the destinations below to your Laos trip itinerary.
Nam Kan National Park, Northern Laos – The Gibbon Experience
Sarah from A Social Nomad: deep in the Nam Kan National Park of Northern Laos, there is an amazing adventure waiting for you: the Gibbon Experience. The only way to enter this National Park in Laos is with an NGO called the Gibbon Experience.
This incredible organization employs local people and protects both the Nam Kan National Park and the critically endangered Laos black gibbon which resides here. This isn’t a cheap place to visit, you’ll pay around US$100 a day to visit, which is a LOT of money in Laos, but it’s well worth it.
You’ll enter the Nam Kan National Park from the Northern Laos town of Huay Xai (so instead of immediately hopping on the slow boat to Luang Prabang you could first do the Gibbon Experience and then head south) and take a truck deep into the park for 90 minutes.
Then, accompanied by your local guide, you’ll hike for approximately 90 minutes until you reach the zip lines.
There are a total of 23 zipline cables included in the Gibbon Experience, with almost seven kilometers of wire to zip above the tree canopies. The cables range from 50 meters to 570 meters, with the average length being 235 meters.
The ziplines are one of the best reasons to visit the Nam Kan National Park, flying through the treetops on these lines is incredible. The ziplines lead to a series of treehouses, in which guests of the Gibbon Experience spend the night.
So after you’ve zipped around the zipline network, you’ll head ‘home’ to your treehouse, now it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?!
These magical treehouses are built in the heart of the National Park and will be your home during your Gibbon Experience. The treehouses include eco-friendly showers, (yes honestly), mosquito and spider proof beds, dining areas, and stunning views of the rainforest.
Your meals are flown in by zipline and if you’re lucky you’ll be woken to the sound of the black gibbons singing at dawn. We were and it is truly glorious.
Important: only bring what you can carry, a change of clothes, your toothbrush and of course a good camera.
Don Det (also known as the 4000 Islands)
Jess from I’m Jess Traveling: the Si Phan Don Islands, also known as the 4000 Islands can be found at the foot of Laos near the Cambodian border. A labyrinth of tiny islets and sandbars strung throughout the mighty Mekong Delta make up the islands.
How to get to Don Det from Vientiane
Many travelers skip this part of Laos due to the exhausting modes of transportation and the time that it takes to get there. The trip from Vientiane to Don Det involves three steps:
- Night bus from Vientiane to Pakse
- Bus or minivan ride from Pakse to Ban Nakasang
- A short boat ride from Ban Nakasang to Don Det
There are several online bus companies as well as local travel agents in Vientiane who sell tickets for the Vientiane to Don Det journey for approximately $30 per person.
Things to do in Don Det
When you’ve finally arrived at Don Det, the main thing to do is kick back and relax. However, for the restless among us, relaxing in a hammock isn’t the only way you can spend your day in Si Phan Don. Here are a few highlights of the 4000 Islands.
See the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins
A popular activity in the 4000 Islands is to go on a kayaking tour to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins. These rare dolphins only exist in two parts of the Mekong so it isn’t an experience you can just do anywhere.
Rent a bicycle
A fun way to explore the islands is to rent a bike and cycle from Don Det to Don Khone which are connected by a single bridge. Bikes can be rented anywhere and cost about a dollar or 10.000LAK per day.
The dirt roads are full of potholes and steering the bikes will take more muscle than you thought. Prepare for lots of mud if you travel here during the monsoon season.
Visit the Khone Phapheng Falls
These falls are the largest waterfalls by volume in Southeast Asia. The incredible falls or should I say rapids, can be found on Don Khong and span the Mekong River for almost 10 kilometers.
The entrance fee to the falls is 55.000LAK and inside the grounds, there are paths, viewpoints, and shops to grab a snack. Visiting the Falls is worth the ‘splurge’ as this is expensive for Laos standards.
You can’t get more off the beaten path than the Si Phan Don Islands. The strenuous journey is a small price to pay for the beauty that awaits you!
Where to stay in Don Det: Riverside Bungalow
If you come to Don Det expecting fancy resorts, you will be disappointed because there aren’t any. There are, however, plenty of cheap waterfront bungalows with porches looking out over the water.
One of these is Riverside Bungalow and for a mere $12 a night, you will have your a private room with ensuite bathroom. You can relax in a hammock while overlooking the river. Also, the food here is excellent and the hostess is very friendly.
How to travel from Vientiane to Bangkok by night train
If you plan to continue your journey to Thailand, you can read more about our journey from Vientiane to Bangkok below.
We booked a package via our hotel including a tuk-tuk ride and a voucher for our train tickets.
Crossing the Lao-Thai border between Thanaleng and Nongkhai Station
|Vientiane city center (pick-up from accommodation)||Thanaleng Railway Station||tuktuk||package booked via hotel for 250.000LAK/900THB per person|
|Thanaleng Railway Station||Nongkhai Station (immigration at station)||train||included in package|
|Nongkhai Station||Bangkok Station||night train||included in package|
Around 3 pm in the afternoon, a tuk-tuk picked us up from our accommodation in Vientiane and drove us to Thanaleng train station. As you can see in the picture it was very busy at the station…
Until very recently, Thanaleng was the only train station in Laos, and the 3.5 kilometers of railway tracks leading here from the Thai-Lao border were the only tracks in Laos.
However, China has funded an ambitious railway project and tracks have been built between Boten (a town on the China-Laos border), Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. Services are expected to begin by the end of 2021.
In any case, once we arrived at Thanaleng station we exchanged our voucher for our actual train tickets:
- A ticket for the train from Thanaleng (Laos) to Nongkhai Station (Thailand)
- A ticket for the night train from Nongkhai Station to Bangkok
We also paid a 20.000LAK exit fee before getting our exit stamp. Officially there is no such thing as an exit fee, However, there is a separate desk at the station with a sign saying ‘exit fee’. While you could perhaps argue your way out of paying this unofficial fee, it’s not really worth the effort for a mere $2.50.
After getting stamped out of Laos, we got on a small train to Nongkhai Station in Thailand and went through Thai immigration, which was fast, efficient, and effortless.
We had a bit of time before our train to Bangkok departed and got some snacks and Pad Thai in takeaway boxes from a street cart across the station.
The night train to Bangkok: our experience
We had a fairly comfortable journey, though I preferred the night trains in Vietnam (and of course the comforts of our private cabin on the Trans Mongolian Express).
Note that the lights in the train stay on during the night and the flimsy curtains of the top bunk don’t block out much light, so forget about sleeping in the dark (or bring an eye mask).
Alternatively, you can book the bottom bunk for a bit more money. This bed is wider and a bit darker. That being said, the mattresses and bedding were comfortable and we managed to get several hours of sleep.
2 week trip to Laos: in conclusion
Altogether we had a wonderful 2 weeks in Laos and I hope this Laos 2 week itinerary will help you plan your Laos trip.
Please let me know if you have any questions about this itinerary, you can leave a comment below or send me a message.
This post was updated in May 2020.