Despite being a low‐income, agriculture‐based country with a subsistence‐orientation, Laos is in the early stages of a major economic transformation whereby rural households have been experiencing rapid change in their farming and livelihood systems. Some households have engaged in what the World Bank classifies as market‐oriented farming while other households have adopted labour‐oriented or migration‐oriented livelihood strategies. This paper explores how rural households in six villages in the lowlands of Champasak Province in southern Laos make a living. These villages vary in their access to irrigation and to markets. Nevertheless, in all villages, long‐term migration of younger household members to neighbouring Thailand has come to play a large role in household livelihood strategies. In some cases this is necessary to meet the household’s consumption requirements; in others, it is part of a diversified strategy in which rice farming still plays a significant role, whether for subsistence or the market. The paper examines some of the issues involved in pursuing intensive, market‐oriented rice farming in a context of an emerging on‐farm labour shortage combined with an increasing flow of remittances from migrant family members.