Finding a place to vacation can be a hassle. Especially if backpacking is on the agenda, you have to consider your choices carefully. Let us take you away from the usual ‘backpacking through Europe’ scene. Somewhere in Southeastern Asia, you can find the perfect place to backpack. The thing is, there’s more than one nation that can give you all you need; that’s where the Laos vs Cambodia backpacking debate comes in.
These two regions offer a wholesome trip, for a fraction of the price you’d have to cough up somewhere else. You’ll also greatly benefit from the rich culture and fantastic scenery these countries have to offer. Whether it’s a solo adventure or you’re traveling with friends and family, these two countries are both incredible travel destinations.
Though choosing between Laos and Cambodia is often difficult, the one thing you’re probably sure of is that you want to save a mean buck. After all, you are making it a backpacking trip to keep it simple, economical, and super fun-filled. With that in mind, let’s look at both regions under a couple of headings, so you can determine which is best for budget travel.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Location
Laos is officially known as the Lao people’s Democratic Republic. The landlocked country is bordered by Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand.
It takes advantage of the presence of neighbouring countries by depending heavily on investment and trade with China and Thailand. If you visit Laos, you almost can’t miss eating rice because the socialist nation invests heavily in rice, research production, and exportation.
The country is also rich in minerals and gas. Still, tourism is another industry that significantly contributes to the economy. They even have an official slogan for tourism that goes “simply beautiful.” The main attractions include impressive colonial architecture, Buddhist culture, ancient temple visits, backpacking in Vang Vieng, and so on.
The Kingdom of Cambodia (as it is officially called) lies in the south of the Indochina peninsula, and also in Southeast Asia like Laos. Cambodia has Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand surrounding it.
In Cambodia, Buddhism is the official religion, with nearly 97% of the citizens practicing the religion. The country is a member of the United Nations and depends hugely on agriculture and textile production. Like Laos, Cambodia is a major rice producer as well. However, tourism is the country’s fastest-growing industry. In 2018, international visitors to Cambodia reached about six million.
The major tourist destinations in Laos include Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville (home to several beaches), and Battambang which lies in the northwestern part of Cambodia. You’ll like this because it is a popular rendezvous for backpackers. Despite records of political unrest, Cambodia has always been a safe destination for tourists.
The main attractions include the historical park at Angkor Wat, beaches in Sihanoukville, and the numerous casinos in the nation’s capital city, Phnom Penh.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Best Time to Visit
Laos will offer you it’s most pleasant weather between October and April (with December and March being the best of this period). During this time, the weather is dry and pleasantly warm.
The hottest period of the dry season is April just before the rain begins in May. However, it’s not a bad idea to visit during the rainy season (May to October) if you don’t mind unexpected showers interrupting your outings.
You’ll not regret coming to Laos during this period because both wildlife and the waterfalls come alive during the wet seasons.
It’s also worth noting that the road network in Laos isn’t what you can describe as fantastic, so the rainy season and the arrival of the monsoon winds might present a little struggle when you are navigating from place to place.
Another added bonus visiting Laos during these periods is that everything is heavily discounted.
Similarly to Laos, the best period to visit Cambodia is during the high season – November through to March. By April, it gets pretty hot in Cambodia with temperatures rising to about 34 degrees. Because of its location, the monsoon winds significantly impact the weather in Cambodia like its neighbouring countries, and it shows up around June to October.
A filter water bottle is an effective way of purifying water to remove any impurities or contaminants.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Visas
Tourist visas are required to enter Laos and are available on arrival at specific ports of entry. The visas on arrival are restricted to certain countries, so it is important to check if your country is on the list.
The visa cost is around £25, and you’ll need two passport-size photos. If you’re having a fab time and you want to extend your stay, the administrative charge is only £2.90 and an extra £2.40 for every day you wish to stay.
Tourists have the opportunity to obtain a visa-on-arrival depending on your country. The cost of a visa is £30, and you are given a permit of 30 days to remain in Cambodia. It’s not uncommon to run into scenarios where you may have to drop a tip while crossing the border.
We know it sounds inappropriate, but the wise thing to do is have some change in your pocket as you may not be in the position to contest. You can obtain e-visa (£28) in advance to avoid some of the hassles of visa-on-arrival.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Transport
Transporting yourself from one place to another can be a bit slow, thanks to the poor road network. If you are traveling at night, the double-decker sleeper buses will undoubtedly make your journey more comfortable as they are equipped with a blanket, pillow, toilet and air conditioning.
People tend to travel at night instead of the morning because it saves the cost of overnight accommodation and the buses are comfortable and relatively affordable. The downer is, you often have to book ahead.
If you aren’t going far, your best bet is the mini-vans, and you don’t have to book early. Movement from one location to another usually costs between £2 to £3 for every kilometer.
One of the cheapest ways to navigate Cambodia is by tourist bus. There are several buses like this so you can take advantage of them as they can be found all around the city. However, local movement may require renting a scooter as the tourist buses may not always go through local destinations.
If you know how to ride one, a scooter is an efficient and affordable option. Alternatively, taxis (Tuk Tuks) are available but are more expensive. You can haggle the price of taxis if you sense the driver’s fee is on the high side. You’ll experience different pricing in the cities, which is usually determined by a mobile app.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Budget Backpacking
First, you need to know how to get by every day in Laos. The most vital thing to know is that the currency of exchange is Kip. You’ll need to have some on you to make small purchases. It’s best to have smaller denominations as you’ll make purchases faster and avoid no-change scenarios.
You can still keep a couple of bills in dollars if you want to purchase large items. In Laos, once an item costs more than a £100, you’ll likely be charged in your foreign currency, e.g. Dollars or GBP.
While ATMs are not scarce in Laos, ensure you have the local currency if you are heading to the rural areas. A little heads up, the ATMs in Laos do not dispense over $250 or £190. Furthermore, there’s a withdrawal charge of 3% for every transaction you initiate with a Master or VISA card.
Purchasing items isn’t like it is in the West; you can haggle for almost anything in Laos. Sometimes, the locals like to throw the price of commodities a bit high for tourists. Do not worry; they expect you to haggle. The wise thing is to be friendly and polite while you negotiate the prices.
It’ll also help if you can communicate in their language. For example, “paeng lai” means too expensive in Laos’ local dialect.
You can expect to budget around £15-£25 per day if you are on a solo trip. This will cover your accommodation, excursions, and food costs.
In Cambodia, a budget of £15 to £20 per day should be enough for food/accommodation, and you may even have some change left to spare. However, expect to spend more than this if you visit some of the main attractions that require entry fees. Examples include the forgotten temple of Angkor in Siem Reap which costs £37 for single-day entry, £62, and £72 for three and seven days access respectively.
If some “call of duty” style of fun interests you, a military shooting range is available in Siem Reap. Under the supervision of ex-veterans. You’ll have access to AK47(£40), M16(£40), machine guns(£60) and rocket-propelled grenades(£410). There’s also play war scenarios for added fun and adventure.
In a small rural town known as Battambang, you’ll meet other backpackers, and solo travellers who mostly visit sites with a free or very cheap access fee, examples include the Killing Caves.
If you fancy watching nature’s phenomenon, bat caves at Phnom Sampeou Mountain will catch your attention. You’ll see millions of bats emerging from their dens in preparation for hunting. There’s more; Tuol Sleng genocide camp, a historical site of Cambodia’s dark past, is also another side attraction.
Despite Cambodia’s dark history of wars and genocide which reflect in some of the tourists’ attractions site, Cambodia is a peaceful region and a fantastic destination for different kinds of tourists, whether you are travelling with your gang or solo.
Laos vs. Cambodia: Food
Food in Laos is not expensive. With £1 to £4, you’ll get a decent meal whether on the street or a traditional restaurant. A 500ml drink can go for as little as £1. You may even get a “have you eaten” before a hello. They know tourists are around, so they tend to make a balance of spicy, sweet, salty, etc.
Look out for, a popular Laos street food containing mince-meat, and salad made with chicken or pork. Also, Mok Pa is a freshwater fish prepared by steaming with other ingredients. If you are a vegetarian, not to worry, Laos has got you covered. However, if you are in doubt, rice and vegetables are abundant on any Laos restaurant’s menu.
Now that you’ve seen how you’ll fare in Laos let’s take a look at how Cambodia will treat you.
Food in Cambodia is very affordable, just like what you’ll find in Laos. You can get food for as little as £3 and beer for 50 pence. If you are on a solo trip lookout for street food that is not only delicious but easy on the pockets too.
Street food in Cambodia comprises mostly noodle and rice dishes, meat skewers, etc. The food at tourist hot spots may differ in price as locals would like-to cash in on the presence of tourists, especially during high season. If you are backpacking or on a solo trip, make sure you avoid the hot spots to save some cash.
Which is the Best for Budget Travel?
Let’s be honest here, this Laos vs Cambodia backpacking review has only successfully revealed how unique both places are, especially for budget travels. Both destinations offer affordable accommodation, amazingly cheap, yet great food, and lots of fun activities.
The only thing you need to have is more time so that you can visit both regions in one trip. So, ditch the Laos vs Cambodia backpacking debate and visit both destinations. After all, Cambodia is right beside Laos.
Laos or Cambodia Backpacking: Conclusion
You can’t go wrong with either Laos or Cambodia as your budget travel destination. The scenery and culture of both regions are equally impressive. The fact is that backpacking in Laos and Cambodia is affordable and safe whether you are with friends or not.
Altogether, it makes both destinations worth experiencing. We hope you found this comparison guide helpful. If you enjoyed it, kindly share with your friends and family.