As a traveler on a budget, you typically stick with essentials and only spend money on necessities. Unless you feel like indulging yourself, your daily expenses revolve around paying for accommodation, transportation, food, drinking water and sometimes… motorcycle or bicycle rental. As it turns out, when visiting Laos, the cost associated with these essentials spirals up to a level that’s vastly disproportionate to the country’s GDP and is higher than in neighboring countries, even though Laos is considered to be one of the lesser developed nations in the regions.
Renting a motorcycle or a bicycle for a day often ends up being the most economical solution even though rentals are not particularly cheap. However since the sites you want to visit could be at some distance from the nearest town offering accommodation, or they could be spread out over a larger area so covering it on foot is impossible, then a motorcycle or bicycle rental not only ends up being cheaper than taking a taxi, it also gives you more freedom. You can stop when you feel like stopping without having additional charges imposed upon yourself, you can take a detour when you feel like taking a detour and you don’t have to listen to anyone who whines that they want more money because you took such a long time while you were at the site. Plus there is the good feeling with slight adrenaline rush you experience while riding.
Renting a motorcycle or a bicycle is definitely a good way to go sometimes, but as with everything else in Laos, rentals are much more expensive here than in neighboring countries. Let’s take a look at the costs:
Cost of Bicycle Rentals in Laos
The only place where a bicycle could be rented for a reasonable price was Don Det of 4,000 Islands. Old beater without shocks and gears could be rented for 10,000 Kip (roughly $1,20 US), a decent (well, I mean decent by SE Asian standards) mountain bike with gears would cost you 25,000 – 30,000 Kip ($3 – $3,65 US).
Outside of Don Det, back on the mainland of Laos, it was either difficult (nigh impossible) to find a place that would have bicycles for rent, of the cost would be so high I had to drop the idea of considering it. Gone were the days when I could have a decent bike for $2 or a Chinese beater for $1 like it was in Cambodia. Here in Laos, there were places that asked for as much as 50,000 Kip (about $6 US) for a rental starting in the morning and ending in the evening of the same day.
Cost of Motorcycle Rentals in Laos
It got even more ridiculous with motorcycle rentals. 100,000 Kip (more than $12 US) was a normal asking price. Some places, such as Pakse in the south had 100cc scooters for as low as 80,000 Kip (almost $10 US) per day and even though it was possible to negotiate a discount and get it for 70,000 Kip (three of us came to rent a motorcycle each, so we were able to beat the price down a bit), it was still expensive by SE Asian standards.
You can rent a motorcycle for $4 or $5 per day in Cambodia. It ends up being roughly the same in Thailand (160 Baht for a 100cc and 200 Baht for a 125cc bike, which is $5 or $6.25 US respectively) but the same thing in Laos ends up costing twice as much. However I must retract my “the same thing” statement as rental motorcycles available in Cambodia and Thailand are made by recognizable brands (such as Suzuki, Yamaha or Honda) whereas most motorcycle rentals in Laos are brands you have never heard of, such as Kolao which is what I got in Phonsavan.
An important thing to take into an account when renting a motorcycle in Laos is that you will pay a per day price (which is high to begin with) but you will not get a motorcycle for a day. You will get it for half a day. That means that you pick it up during the day, but you must return it in the evening (usually at 7pm). That’s about 12 hours of rental, if you can get up early!
Furthermore, if you take into account that you can rent a car for $10 for 24 hours in Canada, than paying the same amount for a no name motorcycle for 12 hours in Laos is outrageous. Nevermind the fact that your car rental in Canada would come with guarantees, insurance and customer support of an international corporation and a car would be no more than one year old. In Laos – you get no guarantees, you only get insurance only if you’re lucky and pay extra for it and there will be no customer support should anything go afish. The motorcycle will be quite worn out, quite a few years old and quite possibly a challenge to keep safely on the road.
As everything else a tourist needs, motorcycle and bicycle rentals are also very expensive in Laos. I expected exact opposite when visiting this country, but by South East Asian standards, Laos truly is an expensive country to visit. Thank God you could get BeerLao for cheap. That’s the only thing that makes up for otherwise overpriced everything else.