Did you know that the town of Luang Prabang is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centres? If you didn’t, the prices there will remind you, because damn do they jack it up for the foreign tourists. And it was mostly foreign tourists – I didn’t see many local tourists.
I’m not bitter or anything – it’s great that the tourism industry provides such good income for the locals – but yep you definitely need some play money to make the best of your time there. It’s just that I’ve heard how ‘Laos is practically under-developed Thailand’, and expected lower prices, but many places in Luang Prabang charge higher than downtown KL, and even Singapore!
I’ve also heard how Luang Prabang is a ‘sleepy town’. Thought 4 days is enough to explore all of it (heck, I had enough of Hong Kong after 3 days), but in hindsight I should’ve stayed longer. There were more things to do than you’d think!
Luang Prabang Trip Overview
I went to Luang Prabang in February 2019, during the Chinese New Year holidays. The exchange rate then was around 100,000 kip = RM48~. In this article, let’s just round it up to RM50 to make the calculations easier.
Here are the major costs:
- Accommodation. I bought a flight+accommodation package from Expedia for RM1120.78 per person, among the lowest-priced packages offered. It was AirAsia flights without check-in bags plus 2-star but highly-rated hotel, nothing fancy. After I made the booking, I was informed that the breakdown was RM912 for return flights and RM208.78 for 3 nights’ accommodation (so effectively RM417.56 for 3 nights for 2 people, or RM139.19 per room per night).
- Transportation. The town itself is super walkable so you don’t need to spend extra money there, but you’ll want to allocate some money for trips to local attractions. Airport transfers were reasonable in price. More on both of these below.
- Food. I budgeted a generous (or so I thought ) RM25 per meal. It was not enough, unless if you eat mostly street food or if you’re easily satisfied with small portions, which is quite the norm there. Technically you *can* get by with eating 10,000 kip / RM5 baguettes for all three daily meals, but do you wanna? I’d allocate RM30-40 per meal per person the next time around. But if you are on a budget, the baguette stalls look like this.
Savings tip 1: I bought the flights and accommodation package via Expedia from Shopback (note: referral link) and got some cashback from it, yay
Day 1 – Arrival to Luang Prabang
As of writing time, there were no direct flights to Luang Prabang from KL. I had layovers at Don Mueang Airport in Thailand both ways. If you’re lucky, the layover is as short as a couple of hours. Mine was five and three hours respectively.
Unfortunately, I neglected to pack snacks so I had to get food. Food prices at Don Mueang airport are expensive AF. I’m talking about RM10 instant noodles and RM15 breads! Two small bento packs, an onigiri and two bottles of water cost me RM100!
Upon arrival at Luang Prabang Airport, I skipped all the money changers and withdrew Laotian kip from one of the ATMs outside. The first thing I paid for was the airport transfer to Luang Prabang town – it costs 50,000 kip (RM25) per trip. That’s right, per trip, not per person.
We finally reached Luang Prabang town by 4pm or so, checked in the hotel, and walked to the Night Market nearby. I enjoyed it so much that we went to the Night Market for all three nights. I got most of my street food and French pastries fix there, too: coconut pancakes, coconut waffles, baguettes, fruits, grilled banana and more.
Note: the ‘coconut pancake’ is not like the usual pancake. They serve or so bite-sized morsels of deliciousness in a banana leaf bowl. Super delicious and at 5,000 kip / RM2.50, a freaking bargain.
Savings tip 2: Pack snacks for your layover in Don Mueang Airport to avoid the ridiculous prices. Bring a water bottle and refill for free. This unexpected cost added over RM100 to my total wtf
Savings tip 3: I didn’t want to hold on to Thai Baht, so I just used my BigPay card to pay for everything at Don Mueang Airport. Get extra RM10 credit if you use my BigPay referral code INLALP7ZLE. To download the app, find BigPay in PlayStore (Android) or Appstore (iOS)
Savings tip 4: It’s almost impossible to exchange your RM to Laotian kip before you go. It’s one of those ‘non-tradeable currency’ that’s practically worthless outside of the country, so no money exchanger carry it. You can get Laotian kips at the money exchangers at Luang Prabang airport, or use your BigPay card to withdraw money from the ATMs. I did the latter; the exchange rates are better. Get extra RM10 credit if you use my BigPay referral code INLALP7ZLE. To download the app, find BigPay in PlayStore (Android) or Appstore (iOS)
Savings tip 5: There are about 4 or so ATMs outside of Luang Prabang airport. They have different fees that you have to pay ON TOP of BigPay’s RM10 per foreign ATM withdrawal fee. One ATM charges 3% of my transaction total. One ATM charges 40,000 kip / RM20 per transaction. Another gave an error message. I absorbed the 40,000 kip fee because at least that was lower than 3% fee or 60,000 kip on my 2 million kip withdrawal.
Savings tip 6: If you’re travelling alone, it’s worth joining other travellers to save up on the airport transfer fee. Each trip costs 50,000 kip / RM25, so even one other person can slash your cost in half. It’s better if your accommodation is near each other, but the town is fairly small and everything is about 10-15 minutes away by foot, max.
Savings tip 7: I tried out a 15,000 kip / RM7.50 ‘vegetarian buffet’ at one of the streets at the Night Market. Basically you can fill your bowl with as much food as you want – one of the cheapest meals you can have in Luang Prabang. Sorry for blurry pic, the area was super packed with budget-conscious backpackers.
Day 2 – Exploring Luang Prabang
If you like exploring small towns, you’ll like Luang Prabang. It’s extremely walkable and there are lots of things to see. Right of the bat, you’ll notice the lack of chain stores. There were no convenience marts or fast food joints or anything like that. In fact, the ONLY franchise we saw was (oddly) Minisou. I enjoyed seeing French influences everywhere amid the many temples dotted around town.
On this day alone, we:
- Had ‘the best croissant in Luang Prabang’ at Le Banneton Cafe, according to my hotel owner, who is French
- Walked across the bamboo bridge (5000 kip / RM2.50 per person)
- Checked out the many textile shops and boutiques
- Had local meals and snacks (oh man I enjoyed pigging out there, diet be damned)
- Bought some snacks at a small supermarket (it was mostly stuff imported from Thailand, but we did buy Laotian drip coffee and Laotian rice)
- Walked along the riverbank and appreciated the view
- Went to the Night Market again
- Checked out a few Buddhist temples and pretended to not be fascinated by the monks (WHO ARE YOU? HOW DID YOU GET THERE? DO YOU GET TO MEET YOUR FAMILY???)
The temples are beautiful. I expected that. But I didn’t expect this:
Do I go to hell if I laughed?
Savings tip 8: Unless you really like guided tours, skip that and just explore town on your own. I would totally say go for it but RM175 for a half-day walking tour to free/cheap attractions is just too much (I’m not kidding, you can find this on Klook). This is one of those instances where they try to squeeze money out of tourists.
Day 3 – Alms-Giving, Mount Phousi, Kuang Si Waterfall and River Cruise
This was an AMAZING day. We woke up early at 5am and had back-to-back activities all day long.
Alms-giving is basically watching Buddhist monks receiving food donations from the public. It’s free to view, but you can pay to participate. Lots of tourists do – they bought food from vendors (something the temples discourage) or joined some overpriced package. I didn’t because the commercialisation aspect of what’s supposed to be a spiritual activity made me sad 🙁
Then we went up the Mount Phousi to catch the sunrise. They charge 10,000 kip / RM5 per person to get to the temple at the top. There are two routes – take one up and the other one down. Beautiful place. Burned some calories.
Then we had breakfast (I had rice noodle soup, the typical Laotian breakfast) and bought some in-season sweet oranges and snacks at the Morning Market. I managed to witness this cute interaction between this toddler and the vendors there. Super cute.
Our van picked us up to go to the Kuang Si Waterfall. You have to pay for the 1-hour trip there (around RM20 per person for round trip) AND the entrance fee, which is 20,000 kip / RM10 per person. DO NOT SKIP THIS ATTRACTION. Kuang Si Waterfall is gorgeous, and also surprisingly cold.
After we got back to Luang Prabang town, we booked ourselves on a sunset river cruise for 85,000 kip / RM42.50 each. I can recommend Sa Sa Cruise – it was way cheaper than other dinner cruises offered (I saw a pamphlet offering USD30 dinner cruises) and I didn’t feel like haggling with the locals, who were too pushy for my taste.
I have to say, it’s nice to see unpolluted rivers for once.
After that we went to an awesome restaurant (Khaiphaen), dropped 150,000 kip / RM75 for dinner for two and called it a night.
Savings tip 9: You can book a return trip to the Kuang Si Waterfall pretty much anywhere at Luang Prabang town, they’re not hard to find. Most places charge 40,000 kip/RM20. The lowest I’ve seen advertised was 35,000 kip / RM17.50, but that was not the norm. I booked mine for RM25 per person from Klook since I can get cashback and I had some credits there anyway. You can find Klook at Shopback (note: referral link).
Day 4 – Going back home
Our flight was at 4pm, so we had the whole morning and afternoon to kill. I found more delicious things to eat (local coffee, local chakoi, mangoes and lots of pastries) and bought last-minute souvenirs: a cheap dress, riverweed/khaiphean and Laotian coffee. Pictured below is kaiphaen, a local delicacy. They sell it for 30,000 kip / RM15 for 10 big sheets. The lady was nice enough to sell me just 5 sheets to try out.
For coffee, I recommend this one by Saffron Coffee. They sell coffee beans but you can also ask them to grind them on the spot. I freaking love Laotian coffee. They smell like cocoa, highly recommend.
At 1pm, a tuktuk we arranged via the hotel arrived and took us to the airport (same price – 50,000 kip per trip). Boy was I glad to get the souvenirs in town because they jacked up the prices at the airport. The same things cost up to four times as much!
Btw, shoutout to the hotel, View Khem Khong Guesthouse.
Amazing spectacular level of service.
Savings tip 10: Use up all your Laotian kip in Luang Prabang, or turn it back to RM/other currencies. I didn’t know this and brought back 200,000 kip / RM100 back and couldn’t exchange it back anywhere. I wish I bought more coffee with that money 🙁
Total cost for my budget Luang Prabang trip
In total, I spent RM1893.95 all-in. The biggest chunk was definitely flights – that alone was RM912 or almost half of my total Luang Prabang trip expenditure.I stressed a little bit over spending more than expected for food, but it didn’t ruin my budget or anything.
I had an awesome trip, but like I said, I didn’t have enough time to check out everything Luang Prabang had to offer. If I had an extra day, I would totally check out the National Museum, Botanical Garden, Pak Ou Cave, and perhaps splurge on an ethical, no-riding elephant tour like the one offered by Mandalao (estimate +RM500).
Any of you been to Luang Prabang before? Let me know your savings tips in the comments section below.
|Flight+Accommodation (Expedia)||RM1120.78||RM1120.78 (RM912 for flights, RM208.78 for accommodation)|
|Insurance||RM30||RM0 (whoops I didn’t in the end don’t be like me kids)|
|Return trip to Kuang Si Waterfall via Klook||RM25||RM21.80 (used up existing credit from previous purchase)|
|Food & Drinks||RM300 (RM25 per meal x 12 meals)||RM374.55 (should have allocated more!)|
|Airport transfers||RM200||RM180 (Grab in MY+Luang Prabang)|
|Entertainment/shopping/souvenirs/etc||RM200 (RM50 per day x 4 days)||RM197.60|
Laos is the ninth ASEAN country I’ve visited. Almost there, just one more to complete the set. Wait for me Philippines.