5 days in Laos: Vientiane and Luang Prabang itinerary

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Are you planning a trip to South-East Asia and considering visiting Laos (probably combined with a trip to Thailand or Vietnam)? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, I’ll share our itinerary for 5 days in Laos, visiting Vientiane and Luang Prabang!

Of course, you need at least a couple of weeks to see all Laos has to offer. But realistically, unless you’re backpacking in South-East Asia or are working remotely with a very relaxed schedule, you won’t be able to spend weeks in each country. If you only have 25 days of annual leave, just as we do, you have to be savvy, combine multiple countries in one trip, and try to see some of the main highlights within a very limited timeframe.

Here’s a very brief overview of our itinerary for 5 days in Laos:

Day 1: Getting to Vientiane and exploring the city, a night at S2 Modern Boutique Hotel

Day 2: Flying or taking a train to Luang Prabang, 2 nights at The Belle Rive Resort

Days 3-4: Enjoying Luang Prabang, a day trip to the waterfalls & rice farm

Day 5: Exploring the rest of Luang Prabang, flying back 

Before we start with the detailed itinerary, here are some frequently asked questions about Laos.

Things to know before travelling to Laos

Is Laos safe? How safe is it to travel around Laos?

If you’re wondering whether Laos is safe, I’d say that the most touristy cities and towns are safe! At no point during our trip did we feel unsafe or feel that there was a need to lie about where we live or leave branded purses at the hotel (that happens in many places, including Jose’s hometown, Mexico City).

People were also very friendly, and at no point, anyone tried to scam us or even inflate prices! Everybody was helpful as well. Travelling around Laos was a lovely experience and we hope to return someday. 

How to get to Laos?

Laos doesn’t have the best transport connections in the world, and it isn’t easy to fly there directly from Europe or the Americas. That’s why most people combine visiting Laos with Vietnam or Thailand, as both Vietnam and Thailand have good flight connections with Laos. Flight prices aren’t cheap, though. You can check the prices and availability here >

There is also a speed train from China, however, it might be tricky to travel to China right now (I wonder if they have resumed issuing travel visas). 

Some people travel to Laos by ferry – there are tours from Thailand, however, we don’t know much about this way of travelling to Laos. 

Can you pay by card in Laos? Are US dollars accepted?

Another frequently asked question about Laos is whether you can pay by card in Laos or pay by US dollars. Cards aren’t widely accepted in Laos – only a few hotels and very few restaurants accept cards, both in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. However, there are ATMs you can find in major airports and also all around Luang Prabang town centre (there are only a few, but the town centre is not too big, either). 

As for the US dollars, some vendors may choose to accept them, but some won’t take them. It’s always good to leave a sum in dollars and the rest trade to the local currency; in the case of Laos, it’s kip.

How to travel within Laos? Travelling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang

Finally, many people are wondering how to travel between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The distance by land is quite large – unless you are on a very strict budget, I don’t recommend travelling by bus. There is a speed train that China built recently and regular flights between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The train station is quite far from Vientiane; getting there takes 45-60 minutes. As of the beginning of 2023, buying train tickets online was impossible. A ticket office in the centre of Vientiane didn’t accept cash or card, just a local payment app you can’t install as a foreigner. Some people ask locals to buy them tickets and give them money in cash instead. We also read that some hotels can purchase train tickets for you as well.

The problem is that the sales of train tickets start only 3 days in advance and get sold out pretty quickly! 

That’s why we opted for an internal flight. It’s the most expensive option (2 times more expensive than the train), but at least you can buy tickets in advance and it’s also faster if you only have a few days in Laos. The train takes around 4 hours, while the flight is around 45 minutes. The airport in Vientiane is tiny, so you don’t need to come hours in advance, 1 hour 10 minutes before the flight is more than enough.

We didn’t buy return tickets as Luang Prabang also has international flights. We flew from Hanoi to Vientiane and had a return flight from Luang Prabang back to Hanoi. 

Read our 7-day itinerary for Vietnam in this post >>>

Okay, without further ado, let’s start with the 5-day itinerary for Laos: Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Our itinerary for Laos: Vientiane and Luang Prabang in 5 days

Day 1: Exploring Vientiane

Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, is known for its quiet and relaxed atmosphere with little traffic, unlike the bustling and vibrant city of Hanoi in Vietnam (the city we had flown to Laos from). 

Where to stay in Vientiane

For our overnight stay, we opted for the S2 Modern Boutique Hotel, which was reasonably priced but located quite far from most attractions. Nevertheless, due to the city’s considerable distances between places, it is necessary to rely on taxis regardless of where you are staying. 

Alternatively, these two hotels are still far from the main attractions, but are closer to the city centre with lots of restaurants and the night market nearby: Lao Orchid Hotel or Le Charme Vientiane Hotel.

Things to do in Vientiane in one day: 

Vientiane, unlike Luang Prabang, doesn’t have that many attractions. It’s not a very touristy city and lots of visitors overlook Vientiane in favour of Luang Prabang. However, I think Vientiane is interesting, and we wanted to see more than one place in Laos.

Here are some of the best things you can do in Vientiane in just one day (well, one day is probably enough to see most of Vientiane anyway).

  1. Pha That Luang: the most important national monument in Laos and a symbol of the country’s Buddhist faith. It’s a stunning golden stupa and it’s believed to contain a relic of the Buddha.
  2. Patuxai – a monument built in honour of those who fought for independence from France and ironically, it looks a bit like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It’s possible to climb to the top for stunning city views.
  3. Wat Si Saket: a beautiful temple, which is one of the oldest in Vientiane and features a stunning courtyard filled with thousands of Buddha statues.
  4. Buddha Park – a part that is home to more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues, including a giant reclining Buddha. 

Also, the night market in the heart of the old town, right next to Mekong is an exciting market to visit, however, there isn’t much to buy there unless you’re looking for very affordable fake branded clothes with misspelled logos. There are plenty of places to eat nearby, so that might be a bit more interesting!

Days 2-5: Luang Prabang

On the morning of the next day, we took a short internal flight to Luang Prabang. I explained our reasons for taking a plane rather than the train earlier in this article, but long story short, flight tickets were the only tickets we could buy in advance and therefore guaranteed our travel for this day. 

Where to stay in Luang Prabang?

We stayed at the Bel Air Resort with lovely river views, however, the location wasn’t ideal because every time we needed to go to the town centre, we had to cross a bridge that was in shambles and on the verge of collapsing (The Old French Bridge). 

Instead, I recommend staying at the following places:

Luxury option: 3 Nagas

Mid-range hotel: The Belle Rive

Affordable accommodation: Villa Ouis

The best things to do in Luang Prabang in 4 days: (well, 3.5 days)

While 4 days in Luang Prabang (which is just a little bigger than a village) sounds like a lot of time, it is actually not! There are so many things you can do in Luang Prabang. If you want to see the complete list, I wrote this article about the 18+ amazing things to do in Luang Prabang >>

Here, in this article, I’ll focus on the activities and things we have enjoyed the most in Luang Prabang:

Visit the Unesco-protected Old Town of Luang Prabang & night market on Sisavangvong Road

Luang Prabang became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. One of the best things you can do in Luang Prabang is to wear comfortable shoes and head for a walk or a bike ride around the Old Town – there are plenty of beautiful picturesque streets with lovely shops, stalls and restaurants. 

Sisavangvong Road is the most famous, busy and popular street in Luang Prabang. It gets especially crowded in the evening, around 6pm, when the night market opens. The night market in Luang Prabang has plenty of stalls selling clothes, souvenirs and art. It’s mainly aimed at tourists, but it’s a must-visit attraction anyway.

You can also try local street food there (right at the start of the Night Market, there is a permanent street food market. The most popular dish in Laos is Laap – a meat or fish salad, which is delicious but very spicy. Most dishes in Laos are very, very spicy!).

Sunset cruise along the Mekong River 

A Mekong sunset cruise is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang. Head to Khem Khong Street and you’ll find many boat owners offering their services. We just found a flyer for a $5.5 per person sunset cruise from Svan Mekong Cruises and booked it! 

We were so lucky that there were no other tourists besides us that day, and we ended up having a private cruise!

If you want a fancier experience, you can book a dinner cruise with a 3-course dinner here >>

Visit the Kuang Si waterfall

Kuang Si waterfall is one of the main attractions of Luang Prabang, 45 minutes away from the town. You can either get there by motorbike, buy a tour or hire a taxi that will wait for you there for 3-4 hours for $20 for a day. Alternatively, you can get there by boat if you buy a tour.

It’s perfect for your 3rd day in Laos, when you have a full day in Luang Prabang! You can also combine it with visiting the buffalo farm or the rice farm – both of them are on the way back to Luang Prabang!

Walk the bamboo bridge across Nam Khan River 

The bamboo bridge is only open 6 months a year and gets rebuilt every year as it gets destroyed once the water levels rise. You need to pay 10,000 kip ($0.6) per person to cross the bridge, but it’s totally worth it.

Climb the Mount Phou Si 

Climb Mount Phou Si – there are plenty of stairs to climb, however, the views from there are well worth it. The ticket to enter the upper part of Mount Phou Si costs circa $1 per person. 

Visit the beautiful temples in Luang Prabang

See the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang – Luang Prabang has so many stunning temples, monasteries and stupas. The most beautiful is undoubtedly Haw Pha Bang, located right at the bottom of Mount Phou Si. 

Observe the Alm Giving ceremony with the Buddhist monks 

If you’re an early bird and want to observe a unique, beautiful ceremony important to locals, head to the Old Town around 5:30am. It’s a ceremony where local Buddhists offer the monks alms (homemade sticky rice). However, unless you’re a Buddhist, you should refrain from participating; instead, you can quietly observe the ceremony. You can also take photos (without a flash), but make sure you’re not in the way and not obstructing anyone.

Relax and enjoy Luang Prabang

Even though there are so many things to do in Luang Prabang, it is a perfect destination for relaxing. It’s quiet, the distances are small, and no one is rushing anywhere.

Many hotels and resorts have swimming pools, where you can spend a few hours on a lounger suntanning and reading a book. 

After almost 4 days in Luang Prabang, I hope you will feel well rested and ready for a long journey home. 

Summary: 5 days in Vientiane: the itinerary for Luang Prabang and Vientiane 

I hope you enjoyed this itinerary for five days in Laos, visiting the best of Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Both Vientiane and Luang Prabang have things to see and do and I recommend visiting both of these places as they are very different. Luang Prabang, however, is undoubtedly more impressive than Vientiane!

I hope you enjoyed this post and should you have any questions, send me a message on Instagram @lizatripsget!

Here are some other articles that you might like:

15+ amazing things to do in Luang Prabang

7-day itinerary for Vietnam: from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi

The best itinerary for 2 weeks in Vietnam and Laos 

4 days in Bhutan on an organised tour

5 days in Uzbekistan – the best things to see and do

7-day itinerary for Japan 

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