Should you visit Vietnam or Laos?Laos and Vietnam are neighbors and share similar landscapes and culture. But Laos is somewhat cheaper, although it does not have the diversity of attractions that Vietnam offers.
In the last decade, tourism has surged in Vietnam. The reasons are obvious, as this diverse and beautiful country offers much to do and see to the visitors. While the beaches are nice, the real gems are the authentic local experiences to be had in every region, from floating markets in the Mekong Delta to trekking through the Hmong villages and rice terraces in the north. And don't miss the stunning landscapes of Halong Bay, either.
Vietnam offers a terrific value to tourists as prices are cheap, accommodation options are of good quality, transportation is efficient, the food is amazing, and the locals are friendly.
Laos is one of the cheapest places in the world to visit, and is known for adventure travel, ecotourism, and its laid back atmosphere. For all of these reasons, and the low cost, it is very popular with the backpacking crowd. However, in recent years it has seen more of an influx of higher-end tourists looking for ecological wonders in the mostly untouched jungles of this tropical nation.
When is the best time to visit Vietnam and Laos?
In the north (Hanoi), summer months are hotter and have more rain, while winter months are dryer and cooler. In the central area (Danang & Hue), it's dry but very hot from January to late summer, and rainy from the summer through December. In the south (Mekong Delta), it's hot and dry in winter months, and hot and wet in summer months.
Other than the weather, local festivals in various cities might make you want to visit, or leave, a particular area for a short period of time, but this varies by location.
Laos is warm year-round. The dry season is from October to April, and the wet season is in the summer months. However, don't expect the wet season to dump continuous rain on you, meaning that even in the rainier months travelers don't need to worry about the weather so much. Even still, the "high season" tends to be the dryer times of the year.
Why is Vietnam more expensive than Laos?Vietnam's economy has been growing in the last couple of decades. With a population of 90 million and a growing middle class, as well as a large growth in foreign visitors, prices in Vietnam are on the rise. However, it's still generally cheap and on par with Southeast Asia as a whole.
While accommodation and food can be cheap, western standards for hotels and restaurants can be much more expensive than their local counterparts. In other words, if you want more luxury, expect to pay a premium.
Many tour companies have also started providing efficient, friendly, and convenient ways to see various destinations such as Halong Bay, the Mekong Delta, and other rural areas which might not be serviced by public transportation. While these tours are not overly expensive, they can be more expensive than planning the trip on your own with public transport and self-booking of accommodation.
Laos, being one of the poorest countries in the world, has lower prices for generally everything in the tourism industry compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Its reliance on backpackers for so long has also left the country with a large number of hostels and budget hotels, adding even more competition to already low prices. And as much of the country's economy is based on agriculture, this means that food is also fairly cheap. In some places, transportation can get a little pricey, but overall, Laos is just plain cheap.
What are the most expensive and cheapest cities and regions in Vietnam and Laos?
In the big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, and Hue, a variety of options are available for food and hotels. Prices can be higher if you want more luxury, but cheap options abound everywhere, too. Generally, the more touristy a destination, the higher one can expect prices to be for tourist-related activities. But food and other goods tends to stay consistent.
Laos is fairly consistent in prices all over the country, as everything is cheap. However, if you plan to do a lot of activities or tours, this can add to your budget. Tours into the countryside to visit the jungle or nearby wilderness areas tend to add more to the budget of travelers.
The cities and towns of Laos tend to be cheap due to the readily available food and accommodation options, as well as more variety and competition.
If you're looking for more luxury, such as a nicer hotel or high-end restaurant, then expect to pay significantly more than the budget or mid-range options.
How you can save money when visiting Vietnam and Laos?Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! When you're done, negotiate again. Vietnam is one of the most difficult countries in the world for bartering. It's even worse than Thailand. Hold your line, stand firm, and be prepared to walk away if you don't like the price. After that, you'll be surprised at how prices will come down just a few seconds later. Read up on negotiating strategies such as "cut their offer by a third when you counter offer, and don't pay more than half."
Shop around. Don't go for the first thing you see, whether it be a small souvenir, a hotel, or an all-inclusive tour. Whatever it is that you're looking at, chances are there's another right next door. This might sound comical, but once you're there, you'll understand.
Overall, if you want to save money in Vietnam, the rule is "go local". Likewise while Laos is not necessarily known for chains and large companies, they do exist in some places but are more expensive. Eat local food, as it's not only yummy and healthy, but also very cheap. Locally owned hotels and hostels are also very cheap. Think small and your wallet will thank you - and you'll have a more authentic experience, too..
Take local transportation and avoid the multi-day tours that prey on tourists and backpackers. Buses go everywhere in Vietnam for a very cheap price. Taxis are not too bad, either. With the conveniences of the tours comes the higher prices and less authenticity.
Overnight buses are a good way to get around and avoid paying for a hotel room at the same time. (Just don't expect a great sleeping experience.)
Travel slow. Transportation is one of the highest expenses, so picking a destination and maximizing all activities while there will keep prices down.