Laos is perhaps a less popular destination than some of its other South East Asian neighbours but we were surprised to find it such a beautiful and fascinating country to visit. As we’ve continued our journey around this part of the world we’ve been happily advising everyone who hasn’t got it planned in to their itinerary to change their trip to include it.
Realistically you could take several weeks to explore the country, even though it’s pretty small, but if you only have a limited amount of time, this is our recommendation for what you should do based on spending 10 days in Laos.
We’re focused as usual on a bit of history, plenty of nature and of course, food. While we were in Laos we also managed to fit in plenty of more active explorations from hiking and caving to kayaking and cycling. It’s the perfect country to eat delicious healthy food, chill out and make sure you see as much beautiful scenery as you can.
Our 10 Day Laos Itinerary
Days 1 & 2 Thailand to Laos: The Infamous Slow Boat
We’ve written about our experience on the slow boat to Laos in this post to give slightly more detail, but in short, we found it a great way to reach Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai. It’s a day on the bus to Chiang Khong in Thailand first, before two days on the boat itself and a night in between spent in the small Laotian town of Pakbeng.
The slow boat is a brilliant introduction to the beauty of Laos which is on show in all its glory as you slowly chug your way down the Mekong. Pakbeng is a small tourist town with basic guest houses and hostels designed for those taking this journey and was our first taste of Laotian food at a simple but great local restaurant.
After the final day on the boat you’re dropped off at a pier just outside the city and have to pay around 2USD per person for a tuk tuk into the centre of Luang Prabang. It sounds like quite a big chunk of time if you only have 10 days in Laos but it’s a worthwhile way to spend 2 of those days in our opinion.
Days 3 & 4 Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a lovely, albeit touristy, city that features lots of old French colonial style architecture and some great riverside spots to soak in the scenery. We loved that there are cafes, restaurants and wine bars on every corner serving great food and more importantly, great wine. It was our first wine since New Zealand so we were surprised and pleased to see so many French bars with really decent red wine on offer and drank far too much.
Our top recommendations of things to do in Luang Prabang are:
Kuong Si Waterfalls
You can’t leave without visiting the famous waterfalls, probably the best known attraction in the area and advertised more or less everywhere. Prepare to be seriously impressed – even having seen places like Niagara and Iguazu Falls I found Kuong Si an incredible sight. Grab a tuk tuk for just a few dollars from the centre of town, they’ll also wait and bring you back later in the day.
In the same complex as the Falls you’ll receive entry to the sanctuary as part of the ticket price. There are many species of wild bears in Laos and poaching is a huge problem. This sanctuary aims to educate and protect native bear species – they’re also ridiculously cute, especially the bear cubs. It’s the cutest thing we saw on our travels from our 10 days in Laos! Try to visit later in the day when the heat isn’t so intense to see the bears at their most active.
A small mountain right in the city centre, this is around a 30 minute walk up steps to the summit. You’ll be rewarded with great views over the city as well as the Mekong river and surrounding countryside. There are also a couple of temples that you can visit at the summit and on the way back down – don’t miss the massive Buddha footprint.
A hippy bar right on the river, this place is a backpackers paradise. On its website it describes itself as ‘groovy’, which says all you need to know really. Slouchy chairs and cushions are scattered along the river bank and it’s a perfect spot for a few beers in a relaxing environment with some lush views.
Since we visited one of the restaurants in this chain in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we’ve been determined to cross some more off the list. In Luang Prabang we headed straight for the local outlet Khaiphaen for a dinner of Laotian specialties and some delish cocktails. It’s all for a good cause as well – taking disadvantaged young people and training them up in the restaurants so they have a career and stable income.
This is a cute French cafe and bookshop that does a great value breakfast and a good coffee. They have tons of second hand books and also host regular movie nights.
Overall whilst Luang Prabang was packed with tourists, including us of course, it retained its old world charm and was a really good stop off on our 10 days in Laos. It’s set in some beautiful countryside and has a laid back and relaxed atmosphere. We would definitely stay here 3/4 nights if we came back again to relax in the city and explore the local area.
Days 5,6,7 & 8 Vang Vieng
Our next stop, and hands down our favourite place in the whole country was Vang Vieng. Whilst 10 days in Laos doesn’t allow you to stay too long in any one place, I’d say this is the spot to spend the most time in.
We’ve got a much more detailed post here about our 3 days in Vang Vieng – but below are the highlights:
A small mountain (compared with the other Kaast giants flanking it on all sides) this Lookout is a challenging and at times scrabbly hike. Head over the bamboo bridge and follow the signs (plastic bags) to the start of the trail and expect to climb for around 45 minutes to reach the summit. The views are unbelievably amazing and make any difficulty from the climb more than worthwhile.
Elephant and Water Caves
There are lots of caves to explore, we included these as we visited them on a day tour and were seriously impressed. While the Elephant Cave is a lot smaller, containing a temple and small elephant shaped rock formation, the Water Cave is much more of an adventure. Tubing your way through the darkness the cave is surprisingly big and the guides make the journey pretty hilarious.
Kayaking / Tubing
You could do either or both, we chose kayaking again as it was included in our bargain tour (15USD for a full day out). We kayaked for around an hour and a half down the river into the town centre through scenery that’s just as beautiful as you’d imagine given the amazing setting of Vang Vieng. Tubing has calmed down considerably in recent years but is still a popular fixture with several bars still up and running, allowing you to choose between a relaxing float down the river or something a little more alcohol fuelled. If we’d have had more than 10 days in Laos we definitely would have spent a full day tubing.
Cycle to Waterfalls
Bike hire is super cheap and it’s a beautiful area to explore. We visited some stunning waterfalls around 6km from town.
Pretty self explanatory really, make sure to visit some of the slouchy chill out bars playing episodes of Friends on repeat.
We popped in here on our bike ride having read great reviews. Top menu picks include locally produced mulberry drinks and goats cheese platters – all made on the farm.
With perfect views over the river, this bar is made entirely of recycled materials. Hosting a camp fire outside and with live music frequently on offer this is a chilled out hippy bar that’s definitely worth a visit. The burgers are to die for!
Days 9 & 10 Vientiane
Finally we hopped across to Vientiane by bus for a short 2 night stay – our bus was delayed so we arrived late evening, took our cooking class and had a wander the following day, before taking the night bus from hell to Hanoi the day after. Sadly we didn’t get to see that much of the city as I wasn’t feeling great, but our recommendations based on what we did and would have done are below.
Cooking with Locals in Laos
We’ve written a more detailed blog post about our cooking class in Laos as well, but it can be booked through Backstreet Academy and involves spending a morning with a lovely local family who will teach you how to prepare Laotian specialities.
COPE Visitors Centre
A museum set up to explain the effects of unexploded ordinance on local communities. Few people know this but following the ‘secret war’ where Laos and Cambodia were carpet bombed for years by the US, thousands of unexploded bombs still remain in the jungle and across the countryside of Laos. Many locals have been killed and seriously harmed and attempts to clear more of the affected areas continue today. This is one of the most moving places you can visit in 10 days in Laos, and well worth visiting to get a better understanding of the country’s history.
Vientiane hosts an impressive night Market located along the riverside. Taking place every night you’ll find everything from street food and souvenirs to household goods and clothing. It’s worth taking an hour or two to explore and people watch.
Whilst we didn’t see as much of the city as we liked during our 10 days in Laos I don’t think there’s enough there to spend more than a couple of days. We’d wholeheartedly recommend spending a greater chunk of time in Luang Prabang if you want to be in civilisation or Vang Vieng if you’re looking for something more nature / activity orientated.
How Much Does it Cost to Spend 10 Days in Laos?
We found Laos relatively cheap to travel with decent options for basic budget accommodation and generally inexpensive tours, activities and entry fees. Food and drink is pricier than neighbouring countries but it’s still very budget friendly, especially if you stick to local choices.
Laos Accommodation Costs
Luang Prabang: 25USD per night for a basic double room with private bathroom, no breakfast
Vang Vieng: 16USD for a basic double room and private bathroom. We loved our guesthouse here which is owned by a French guy and his wife. It has a French restaurant on the ground floor – they do great wine and cheese platters.
Vientiane: very basic double room but again very friendly French man and his wife own it and are great when it comes to helping out with buses and tours. We paid 17USD per night here.
Laos Food & Drink Costs
Laos beer is the most popular choice when it comes to drinking and is a decent beer with dark and light varieties on offer. Generally in a bar or restaurant you’re looking at about 1.50USD to 2USD for a big beer.
As I might have said a few times already, they do wine in Laos! This was the best news for me when we arrived and starting scouting out food and drink, and I enjoyed plenty of red wine in our 10 days in Laos. It’s around 2.50USD to 3USD max for a glass of wine and pouring tends to be generous, especially in local bars rather than those run by ex pats.
Dinner for two in in a standard budget / mid range restaurant is around 12-15USD including a drink each, based on eating mainly local or other Asian dishes. The most we spent on a meal out was 25USD on our much anticipated dinner at Khaiphaen. Spending 10 days in Laos will be an affordable part of your South East Asia trip but definitely not the cheapest country you’ll spend time in.