World's Cheapest Places: Laos
Laos, a landlocked country in budget-friendly Southeast Asia, boasts one of the best—and cheapest—trails in the region. Basic room and board (low-end guesthouses and three restaurant meals) costs $5 to $10 a day, traveling with friends will cut the price of a hotel room in half, and eating from street stalls and local places can mean food for as little as $2 a day.
Of course, few of us want to live on fried rice and noodle soup. On $15 to $20 per day, options improve dramatically—plus, you can factor in some fun. Just within the area of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, two of the best backpacker towns on the Laos circuit, you could rent a motorbike ($4, no license required) to get outta town and bathe in the turquoise pools of a nearby waterfall ($3), explore local caves ($2), or just enjoy the stunning scenery of rice paddies and limestone cliffs (free). Later, you might rent inner tubes ($4) and spend a few lazy hours floating down the Mekong, stopping at rickety shore-side bars for local whiskey and Coke ($3 per bucket) and performing acrobatics on zip lines and rope swings (free). If you haven’t passed out or dislocated any limbs, beers in the evening ($1 per pint) over a game of snooker (free) will help you wind down.
In Vang Vieng, backpacker grotto extraordinaire, most hotels in town charge $3 for a double room with bathroom. Nana Guesthouse and Dok Koun are a cut above, being blissfully bedbug-free. Something a little nicer is Le Jardin ($3-$10 per person), which offers bungalows and rooms on lovely riverside grounds, plus a butterfly garden.
Excluding airfare, five days in Laos can run as little as $75 -$100. Of course, you could go the luxury route and spend a lot more. Airfare is the only intimidating aspect of a Laos trip budget: a flight from LAX to Vientiane on China Airlines or Thai Air will run $1,249. You can also fly into Bangkok for just $879 (less if you can score a promotional deal) and catch an overnight bus (about $20) to Vientiane.
If Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s newest tourism hidden gem, Laos is its little sister who, because of a combination of culture, activities, and cheap prices, is slowly becoming a popular destination. For more details, check out Lonely Planet’s Laos guide.