The ultimate guide to transportation in Laos

Imagine waking up to views of endless paddy fields or tea plantation covered mountains, only to be distracted by a group of monks clad in orange hurriedly getting to the temple at the crack of dawn. Laos offers the best of Asia on a platter, to be experienced at a relaxed pace, leaving visitors with a sense of calm rarely found in the chaotic cities in the rest of the continent. Although a fairly small nation with a couple of tourist hubs, Laos makes up in heart and soul, what it lacks in scale. 

Travelling in Laos certainly demands that you bring along a sense of adventure. Since the infrastructure in the country is still fairly basic, expect to run into issues like delayed buses, confusing departure and arrival stations and modest transportation options. Having said that, there is plenty on offer for those who enjoy immersing themselves in local food, culture and history. This transportation guide to Laos is an attempt to help you understand and plan your travel within the country as seamlessly as possible.

By air

Lao Airlines is the only domestic carrier operating in Laos, which unfortunately means that your options will be very limited if you are planning to fly between the major cities. Air Asia may also fly between cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse, but direct flights may not be available.

The lack of options also translates to higher ticket fare for relatively short distances, but if you are pressed for time and don’t mind shelling out extra cash, hop on a flight by all means! This will surely be the fastest way to get around the country.

By road

Intercity buses are, hands down, the most popular as well as a convenient mode of transportation in Laos among tourists. Connecting the major cities in the country, namely, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Pakse, long distances in Laos are best covered by taking a bus ride. 

Although the cities are fairly well-connected, keep in mind that you may not get many bus operators to choose from, unlike what you may have experienced in other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand or Vietnam. Having said that, bus services in Laos are good enough to get you around the country comfortably, without breaking your bank. These are some of the most popular routes in Laos that you will most likely be exploring in your itinerary:

Vientiane to PakseOnce a dayStarts at USD 26
Luang Prabang to VientianeOnce a dayStarts at USD 24
Vang Vieng to VientianeTwice a dayStarts at USD 9
Luang Prabang to Nong KhiawOnce a dayStarts at USD 10

When considering long-distance road travel in Laos, minivans can be a great alternative to buses, especially if the travel time is not more than 5-7 hours. When exploring the above-mentioned routes, you may also find minivans running on the same route. Keeping in mind your personal travel preferences, a quick comparison of price and travel time is a good way to determine whether to opt for the bus or the minivan.

By ferry

Laos is the land of the Mekong and no trip to the country is complete without taking a leisurely boat ride along the river, as it charts its path through towns and villages few travel itineraries mention. One of the best ways to do this is by taking a ferry ride on a typical Laotian slow boat from Luang Prabang to Bokeo. A journey of more than 30 hours in total, this trip also involves an overnight stay in a town called Pak Beng. 

Another thing to note here is how different Laotian slow boats are from modern cruise-style ferries. Not only are they much slower, thanks to being manually operated, but these wooden boats also are not air-conditioned, allowing for natural ventilation. A unique way of experiencing life in Laos, a boat ride on the Mekong truly gives one a chance to take things slow. 

By tuk-tuk or songthaew 

Most tourists these days are familiar with the concept of a tuk-tuk, which is essentially a three-wheeled motorized vehicle commonly used for local commute within cities in Laos. They are cheap, widely available and perfect for covering short distances within a city. Depending on where you’re hiring them from, tuk-tuks can either be shared with other passengers or even be hired for private transportation. Best way to make use of a tuk-tuk in Laos? Hire one for the day to take you around for sightseeing!

Unlike tuk-tuks which are prevalent in most Southeast Asian countries, songthaew is typical to Laos. Think of it as a bigger version of the tuk-tuk with a capacity to carry more passengers. Albeit a little uncomfortable to travel in, songthaews are great for exploring local hidden gems, places where no other mode of transportation can possibly take you. As a bonus, they are incredibly cheap too!

The transportation infrastructure in Laos may come across as rudimentary to many people, but this rustic charm is also what makes the country so appealing as a travel destination. Mingle with the friendly locals, eat the delicious street food, hop on a bus and get ready to explore the unknown!

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