Laos is often forgotten by travelers or only visited for a ‘visa run’ from Thailand or Vietnam but it is definitely worth a visit: there is so much beautiful nature; and from what we experienced, Lao people are extremely friendly and humble. If you have 3 weeks to spare, looking for an experience full of exploring and are comfortable with riding a scooter in Asia this itinerary is for you! You’ll find a day-by-day suggestion on where and how to spend your days to see the main parts of Laos in 3 weeks.
This ‘Laos in 3 weeks’ itinerary covers 17 Days in Laos (with arrival and departure day included) and leaves some space for you to spend the remaining 4 days however you desire. You might want to add a couple of days to some of the mentioned destinations or, if you’re not in Asia yet, will need to add a day or two at the beginning and end of your time in Laos.
So let’s get started!
Luang Prabang (3 nights)
Luang Prabang is the cultural and spiritual center of Laos. This vibrant city made us immediately fall in love with the country! In our Guide to Luang Prabang you will find more detailed information on the city, the sights and activities.
🛏 Chitlatda Guesthouse (90.000kip*/night for a private double room including breakfast)
Day 1 – Arrival in Laos
We entered Asia through Bangkok, spent a couple of nights there and then continued to Luang Prabang by plane. Outside the airport you will find shuttle buses which bring you to your accommodation. The cost is 50.000kip* for 3 people and there is no need to pre-book this transfer.
On your first day here simply take your time to walk through the streets and take in the atmosphere. The night market is a great place to finish your day and get some amazing, very affordable local food. Our favorite place to eat at the night market (or probably in the entire ‘Laos in 3 weeks’ journey) is at a vegetarian buffet which is located about halfway in the little alleyway past the Indigo house. There are big signs promoting the buffet, so you should find it easily 🙂
Day 2 – Spiritual and cultural Luang Prabang
Get up early and hike Mount Phou Si for sunrise. Start hiking up the mountain from Kingkitsarath Rd (map) and watch the city wake up from the top of the hill. Usually, there is a small entry fee of 20.000kip* to walk up the hill but nobody was waiting to collect money when we hiked up this early in the morning.
Walk down on the other side of the mountain. At the foot of the hill you will find the famous Haw Pha Bang temple. Continue through the morning market for some fruit, grilled bananas or other snacks you come across; and make your way to Lao Coffee Bean. Here you get great coffee which is made from locally sourced Arabica beans. The cafe owner Chanh is very lovely and truly passionate about coffee!
Day 3 – Waterfall, Caves and local Whiskey
Hire a motorbike** and explore the surroundings of Luang Prabang. Start your explorations early with the Kuang Si Falls as they get very busy the later you go. The gates to the falls open at 8am and there is an entry fee of 20.000kip* with an additional fee of 2.000Kip* for parking. On your way back we recommend stopping at the Na Khoun Cafe for some great food.
Continue your explorations past Luang Prabang City to the Pak Ou Caves. As the caves are located across the Mekong you will have to park your bike (3.000Kip* per bike) in Pak Ou village and take a motor longboat to the caves (20.000Kip* return). To enter Pak Ou Caves there is an entry fee of 20.000Kip*.
Driving back to Luang Prabang you can stop at the Whiskey Village Ban Yang Hai. Here you can taste a bit of locally made whiskey and rice wine made out of white or black rice for free.
Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoy (total of 2 nights)
What to expect from these two villages north of Luang Prabang? Beautiful nature, a relaxed atmosphere and a taste of genuine Laos village life. Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoy are located on the Nam Ou River and surrounded by dramatic mountains. The setting is one of the best we came across during our ‘Laos in 3 weeks’ adventure!
🛏Vongmany Guesthouse (90.000kip*/night for private double room with shared balcony)
Day 4 – Relaxation surrounded by natural beauty in Nong Khiaw
Head north to Nong Khiaw. The most comfortable way to get there is by bus (40.000kip*). The journey takes 3-4 hours.
Walk around the village, take in the beautiful landscape and relax in one of the restaurants/your balcony by the river.
Day 5 – Viewpoint hike and fishing village
Get up for sunrise and hike to the Pha Daeng Peak Viewpoint (also known as Nong Khiaw Viewpoint 1) for a stunning 360° view over the area (20.000kip*). Be prepared for a steep and strenuous ~3 hour return hike. Even though we started in the early morning hours to beat the heat, we still arrived at the top soaked in sweat.
You can either spend the 2nd day also in Nong Kiaw or take a boat at about 10.30am from the Nong Khiaw Pier to the fishing village Muang Ngoy (it’s best to inquire about the departure time the day before as the schedule can change).
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to this remote village: we tried to get to Muang Ngoy by motorbike but about one third into the trip the road was covered in water and we couldn’t continue. We had to return and change our plan which ended up being a tiresome day full of mixed emotions (watch our Laos story highlights on instagram to see what happened).
Luang Prabang (1 night)
Day 6 – Day of Travel
Take the first boat back to Nong Khiaw and from there a shuttle back to Luang Prabang.
A good way to end this day spent in a boat and bus is at the Utopia Bar back in Luang Prabang. Here you can relax on bean bags, have nice dinner and enjoy a drink in great atmosphere.
Vang Vieng (2 nights)
Vang Vieng is a popular tourist destination with a stunning mountain backdrop! We loved the nature surrounding Vang Vieng but couldn’t connect with the city – it seemed too touristy for us – which is why we only included one afternoon and one full day in the itinerary for Laos in 3 weeks. However, the city does have heaps of adventure activities like kayaking, rock climbing and hot air ballooning. Because of these activities you might want to stay a little longer in Vang Vieng.
🛏 Domon Guesthouse (100.000kip*/night for ensuite double room without aircon)
Day 7 – Get a feel for Laos’ adventure capital
In the morning (or noon the latest) take a shuttle to Vang Vieng. We booked the shuttle through our Guesthouse (Chitlatda Guesthouse) and paid 75.000kip* per person. This is the best rate we could find. Be prepared for a bumpy and windy 4 hour journey!
Once checked-in you have time to relax by the river, go tubing on the Nam Song river, or hire a bicycle to explore the nearby caves Tham Chang and Tham Jang for a small entry fee. To get to the caves you will have to cross Nam Song river over the southern, orange colored bridge of Vang Vieng.
Food-wise, Vang Vieng is known for sandwich baguettes. This might seem untypical for an Asian country, however, Laos was colonized by France until the mid 20’s and has some french influences. For as low as 10.000/15.000kip* you can get a delicious and filling sandwich from one of the many ‘sandwich stalls’ along the road. Dan loved them so much he had 2-3 vegetable sandwiches each day!
Day 8 – Outdoor adventures
Pack your swimmers, rent a scooter as soon as the rental place opens and drive to Blue Lagoon 1. (Another option would be hiring a buggy. It is more expensive but way more comfortable). This Lagoon gets very crowded which is why it’s good to be there early (opens at 8am).
The main reason we recommend Blue Lagoon 1 is not the lagoon itself but the amazing cave which can be found there. Tham Phu Kham is a very tall cave with amazing rock formations. To explore the inside of the cave you will need a torch. While your phone usually does the job, it is best to bring a headlamp (or rent one at the bottom of the steps leading to the cave) as there is some climbing involved. You will be happy to have both of your hands available to hold on. To get to the cave just cross the lagoon and walk up a flight of steps.
Continue to the Nam Xay Viewpoint for a breathtaking view of the farms and forest underneath and the mountains around. To hike up to the viewpoint a fee of 10.000kip* is charged. The hike doesn’t take very long but you will need to be in good condition to get up.
Drive to Lagoon 3 or 5. The road to get to both lagoons are dirt roads and, therefore, uneven and dusty. If you are, however, up for this bumpy ride you will find two lagoons which are less crowded than the first one. Out of these two Lagoon 5 seems more chill and quiet but it is nearly 5 kilometers further away.
Vientiane (1 night)
When we planned our Laos trip, we often read that you shouldn’t spend much time in the capital of Laos or even skip this city but we thought it was great! Heaps of temples, stupas and nice cafes. You will have time to spend nearly two days in Vientiane when traveling through Laos in 3 weeks. This is a good amount to see Vientiane.
🛏 Look for accommodation on Chao Anou Road. There are good hostel and guesthouse options. Moreover, you will find nice cafes and restaurants in the area.
Day 9 – Sightseeing in the Capital City of Laos
Continue your travels to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, by bus. The ride takes 3.5-4 hours and costs about 45.000kip*.
Walk around the city and have a look at the following sights:
- That Dam (bell shaped Buddhist stupa)
- Patuxay Monument (war memorial and landmark arch)
- Wat Si Saket (the capital city’s oldest temple)
- Pha That Luang (Buddhist temple). As it is too far to walk to this temple we recommend taking the local bus number 10. Click here for the bus route you will have to take and for the timetable.
In the late afternoon, walk through the Chao Anouvong Park and make your way towards the Mekong river side stairs (map) to watch the sunset. You can finish your day at EARTH, a sustainable bar with local food, craft beer, board games like jenga and live music.
Day 10 – Enjoying a buddha-ful park
After breakfast head out to the Buddha Park. This park contains many Hindu and Buddha inspired sculptures. For only 8.000kip* you can catch the city bus number 14 to the park (bus route). This is the cheapest option. The bus departs every 15 minutes from Mahosot Road and takes about an hour.
Make sure to be back in time for the departure of your overnight bus to Pakse.
Night bus (1 night) to Pakse
The night buses in Laos are quite comfortable! You get to lay on a mattress which you share with your travel mate or if you’re solo traveling with a fellow traveler. A one way ticket costs about 170.000kip*. As the bus doesn’t stop at a proper rest stop, bring enough water to drink and something to snack on.
Pakse (1 night)
The southern city Pakse is mostly known as gateway to the Bolaven Plateau (in the east) or 4.000 islands (in the south). While the city itself is not very spectacular, it is worth spending a day there to visit an ancient site which resembles the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Not sure which site we’re talking about? Then you’re in for a nice surprise!
🛏 Mr Tho’s Hostel (US$6 per person per night in a dorm with breakfast included)
Day 11 – Exploring an ancient site
You will arrive in Pakse early in the morning. If you had enough sleep on the sleeper bus, you can rent a scooter (for 3 days in total) and visit Wat Phou/ Vat Phou. We rented one from Lao Go and were very happy with the bike and their service. Wat Phou is a UNESCO world heritage site which dates back to the 5th century. It is a temple complex which was originally built to honor Shiva, one of the Hindu Gods, but has been a Buddhist monastery most of the time. We never thought to see something like this in Laos and were truly amazed by this site!
A great way to finish your day in Pakse is watching the sunset from the rooftop of Pakse Hotel & Restaurant. At happy hour (5-6pm) you get two of the same cocktail for 40.000kip* and an amazing view of Pakse.
Bolaven Plateau (1 night)
The Bolaven Plateau is known for coffee plantations and waterfalls. It is a popular region for a 2 or 3 day scooter adventure. Riding through the plateau you will pass local villages, enjoy scenic views and learn heaps about coffee. You can either do the small or the big loop- detailed maps are available at your scooter rental place. In this Laos in 3 weeks itinerary we write about the small 2 day loop.
🛏 Bungalow Fandee Island (60.000kip*/night for a private bungalow with terrace & restaurant on site)
Day 12- Coffee plantation and waterfall exploration
Leave Pakse in the morning and make your way to Mr Vieng Coffee in the Bolaven Plateau. On the way you will pass the Tad Pha Suam falls but we don’t recommend stopping there as the area is not well maintained (even though an entrance fee is charged) and the falls are not impressive. You will see better ones when continuing the loop 🙂
Mr Vieng Coffee is a beautiful cafe, small guesthouse and coffee plantation. Enjoy one of their coffees and join Mr Vieng’s Tour for a very small cost. You will walk through the plantation and learn about coffee, local plants and fruits. Tours are given daily at no specific time. Whenever a few travelers are in the cafe, Mr Vieng is happy to start. The day we arrived there was a sign saying “NO TOURS TODAY Mr Vieng is at Pakse Market, Sorry :)” so we had to change our plans and came past the next day- it’s good to be spontaneous! Mr Vieng is very knowledgeable, happy to answer any questions and super friendly. We loved learning about what is involved to get coffee from the plant and even tried yellow ants straight from the tree which were surprisingly tasty!
Continue to Tad Lo Village. Here you can find two waterfalls – Tad Hang Waterfall and Tad Low. Unlike many other falls in Laos, these are free to visit. Out of both waterfalls we enjoyed Tad Low more as its surroundings are more natural and you can walk closer up to it. We read about elephant bathing taking place every evening in the river but fellow travelers were telling us that it was very sad and disappointing to watch as the elephant was chained. Once we heard this we stayed away.
Day 13- Encountering an unfamiliar way of life
Head to Captain Hook Village (map) to join Captain Hook’s tour for 9.30am. Even though you will also get information about coffee; this tour is very different to Mr Vieng’s coffee tour. Captain Hook likes to talk about the beliefs and traditions of his ethnic village. We were shown plants used for healing: knowledge going back many generations. We learned shocking things like children starting to smoke before starting school, and the ‘strange’ marriage dowry for a new wife- a new bride in exchange for gifting her parents a TV satellite dish. After the tour you can order lunch which is cooked by Captain Hook’s wife.
Continue the loop and explore more waterfalls: Tad Yuang, Tad Fan, Tad Champi (also Tad Champee) and Tad Itou. For each of these there is a small fee to park (3.000-5.000kip*) and visit (5.000-10.000kip*). You might have to skip one or two depending on how much time you want to spend at the falls. We only explored Tad Fan and Tad Champi (you can walk behind this one) as we spontaneously decided to go zip lining above Tad Fan. Such fun! On top of the adrenaline rush from flying across the canyon, we got to get closer to the waterfall and saw it right from above.
If you haven’t had enough of coffee yet, we recommend stopping at Jhai Coffee House just past the city of Paksong- before heading to the falls. It is a small roastery which makes delicious coffee. Even Manu who always needs some milk or sugar with her coffee enjoyed it black!
To get back to Pakse before it gets dark, leave the waterfall region by 4pm the latest.
Night back in Pakse (1 night)
Don Det (3 nights)
Laos is not a country you visit if you want a beach holiday. However, spending time on the so-called 4.000 islands (or Si Phan Don) in the south of Laos comes very close to it. The islands, most of which are too tiny to be inhabited, are scattered in the Mekong Delta on the border to Cambodia and invite you to relax. We chose to stay on Don Det – one of the three main tourist islands – as it is the most lively one with many young travelers, cheap bungalows and cosy restaurants to hang out.
🛏 Mr. Noi Bungalows (50.000kip* for simple private room with shared terrace)
Day 14- Relaxed island life
In the morning, take the bus to Don Det. A ticket costs about 65.000kip*and includes the boat ride to the island. It takes about 3.5-4 hours to get to the destination.
Spend the rest of the day relaxing in a hammock with a good book in your hands or at one of the restaurants with fresh fruit juice and river views. We enjoyed spending time on our terrace of Mr. Noi Bungalows or at the Crazy Gecko Restaurant.
Make your way to the west side of the island for sunset. You can watch the sun go down and have dinner at one of the many restaurants. We loved Oi’s place as the owners were very lovely and the food we ate tasted delicious.
Day 15- Bike ride and dolphin watching
Hire a bicycle for only 10.000kip*/ day and explore Don Det. You will come across farms, different animals, local houses and beautiful spots along the river. Make your way to the Historic Bridge and cross over to neighboring Don Khon (not Don Khong).
From the south of the island – Ban Hahn Khon – you can look across the Mekong towards Cambodia. If you like to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, you can take a boat out on the river (70.000kip* for a maximum of 4 people).
Day 16- Relax & reflect
Start your day with a healthy smoothie bowl at Mama Tanon Homestay and Restaurant. This day is for you. Do whatever makes your heart happy- you have the whole day ahead of you and nowhere to be. Relax, unwind and reflect on the amazing things you have experienced during your ‘Laos in 3 weeks’ journey 🙂
Day 17 – Departure Day
Time to leave Laos. From Don Det you can either cross the border to Cambodia or take a bus back to Pakse (4 hour travel time) and continue from there to Thailand or Vietnam by bus or plane.
We booked the sleeping train to Bangkok which we don’t recommend! It is more expensive than the bus and not even as comfortable as advertised. Yes, for most of the ride you have a bed to lay in but we hardly got any sleep due to the loud train noise and the bright light which stays on all night. Moreover, the journey takes the same amount of time by bus because of waiting times and having to switch transportation a few times, just to get to the train station.
We hope this itinerary gives you a good idea of how to see Laos in 3 weeks and helps you with planning your travels. If you have any more questions please reach out to us in the comments section below!
Dan & Manu
🛏 this is the accommodation we stayed at and were happy with. It is budget accommodation for two. We recommend reserving the first night in advance and booking the others once you arrive at the different locations. Booking on the spot is generally cheaper as you pay in the local currency and the owners of the accommodation don’t have to pay commission to the booking portals. When we were traveling (which was in November) there was heaps of availability and we didn’t have any troubles securing our room on the spot
*prices according to what we experienced in November 2019
**riding a scooter in Laos can be dangerous. We saw two accidents during our time here. Please only hire one if you have experience riding a scooter and feel comfortable with it