Tuk Tuk Driver in Laos

Laos Travel Tips: How to Get Around Laos

Despite being so close to Thailand, Laos is a whole different animal when it comes to getting around. For a start, there are no trains in Laos, the roads are very often just dirt paths and most buses are rickety, old and crammed with locals, luggage and livestock. We had some of our worst journeys while travelling in Laos, here’s how we got around the country.

General Laos Travel Tips

We spent six weeks in Laos and from our experience, following these tips can make travelling around the country a little bit easier:

  • Get to the station early to bag tickets for local buses which go on sale about an hour before the bus leaves.
  • If you book your tickets through a tour agency or your guesthouse they’ll provide you with a tuk-tuk to the bus station.
  • If you don’t book through an agent, you’ll have to make your own way to the bus station. Expect to pay about 10,000 LAK (£0.80) per person if you share a tuk tuk.
  • There’s no seat reservation on local buses so as soon as you arrive at the station and have bought your ticket, grab yourself a decent seat.
  • On the local buses there are aisle seats which fold down from the sides and are incredibly uncomfortable, try to avoid ending up in one by getting to the station early.
  • There aren’t many ‘proper’ toilet stops on Laos bus journeys, often you’ll be expected to just go by the side of the road in the bushes, men and women alike.
  • Expect your bus to break down. Luckily, we only experienced one break down while we were in Laos but we did see plenty of broken buses by the side of the road as we journeyed through the country.
  • Even if your bus doesn’t break down, you can expect delays. We often arrived at least an hour or two later than expected, so make sure you bring something with you to pass the time.
  • Finally, Laos people do tend to suffer from motion sickness so get used to hearing them throw up. In fact, if you get car sick yourself bring  some travel sickness pills as the roads  in Laos are extremely windy.
  • Enjoy your trip!

Here’s what we paid, per person, for the following journeys around Laos in November 2013 and February 2014. Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of journey options.

Our typical Laos bus

Thailand to Laos

How to get from Chiang Khong (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos)

  • Method of transport: tuk-tuk and boat
  • How long? About twenty minutes
  • How much? About £0.60 (Tuk-tuk) and £0.80 (Boat)
  • When? Anytime between 08.00 and 18.00 (When the border is open)
  • Where from/to? From Chiang Khong, Thailand via tuk-tuk and boat to Huay Xai, Laos; the boat will drop you off a few metres from the border control office in Huay Xai.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we arrived in Chiang Khong from Chiang Rai and immediately took a tuk-tuk to the Thai border control. We were stamped out, walked down to the pier, took a boat over the Mekong and walked up to the Laos border control to get our Visa on arrival.

Northern Laos

How to get from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha

  • Method of transport: local bus
  • How long? About four hours
  • How much? About £5
  • When? Usually at 09.00, 14.00 and/or 17.00
  • Where from/to?  From Huay Xai bus station, located a couple of kilometres out of town, to the main street in Luang Namtha.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 09.00, arrived four hours later and paid £4.75 each. We had to get a tuk tuk to Huay Xai bus station which cost about £0.80 each and were dropped off in the centre of Luang Namtha. Our local bus broke down en route.

How to get from Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang

  • Method of transport: local bus
  • How long? About nine hours
  • How much? About £9
  • When? 08.30 VIP bus or 09.00 local bus
  • Where from/to? From Luang Namtha, including a pick up from our guesthouse, to the northern bus station in Luang Prabang.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 09.00, arrived nine hours later and paid £9.30 each, which included a pick up from our guesthouse. We then had to get a tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang bus station to the central area for £0.80 each.

Tuk-tuk in Luang Prabang

How to get from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

  • Method of transport: VIP bus
  • How long? About seven to eight hours
  • How much? About £8.50
  • When? 09.30 VIP bus
  • Where from/to? From the southern bus station in Luang Prabang to the northern bus station in Vang Vieng.
    • We’ve taken this trip once; we left at 09.30 on a VIP bus, arrived seven hours and paid £8.30 each. We then had to get a tuk-tuk into Vang Vieng centre for £0.80 each.

How to get from Vang Vieng to Vientiane

  • Method of transport: Minibus
  • How long? About three to four hours
  • How much? About £5
  • When? 09.00
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse in Vang Vieng to central Vientiane.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 09.00, arrived three and a half hours later and paid £4.75 each. You can also get the local bus from Vang Vieng Bus Station at 05.30, 06.00, 06.30, 07.00, 12.00 and 14.00, it takes four to five hours and costs just over £3.

Plain of Jars, Xieng Khouang

How to get from Vientiane to Phonsavan

  • Method of transport: local bus
  • How long? About 11 hours
  • How much? About £12.50
  • When? 06.30, 07.30, 09.30 16.00, 18.30  for  air con buses and 20.00 for a VIP bus.
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse in Vientiane to Phonsavan (Xieng Khouang) bus station.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we booked a VIP bus but we ended up spending 11 hours on a public bus which left at 09.00 and cost £12.65 each. We had to get a tuk-tuk from Phonsavan bus station to town for £0.80 each.

How to get from Phonsavan to Sam Neua

  • Method of transport: Minibus or local bus
  • How long? About seven hours
  • How much? About £6.50
  • When? 08.00
  • Where from/to? From Phonsavan bus station to Sam Neua bus station.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 08.00 on a minibus but depending on demand you may end up on a bigger local bus. The journey took us seven hours and cost £6.30 each.

Dirt road, 4000 Islands

How to get from Sam Neua to Luang Prabang

  • Method of transport: Local bus or minibus
  • How long? About 13 hours
  • How much? About £10.25
  • When? 08.00 local bus or 07.30 minibus
  • Where from/to? From Sam Neua bus station to Luang Prabang bus station.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we arrived at the bus station at 6.45am and left at 8am on a cramped local bus with people being sick left right and centre. It took us 13 hours to get to Luang Prabang and cost £10.25 each. We had to get a tuk-tuk into Luang Prabang centre for £1.60 each – twice the normal price – because it was late at night and the drivers took advantage of that.

Southern Laos

How to get from Don Det (Four Thousand Islands) to Pakse

  • Method of transport: Boat and minibus
  • How long? About three hours
  • How much? About £3.75
  • When? 11.00
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse or travel agent in Don Det to your guesthouse in Pakse.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 11.30 from our bungalow on a boat, then waited on the mainland for a minibus to take us to Pakse. The journey took three hours and cost us £3.75 each.

How to get from Pakse to Don Khong (Four Thousand Islands)

  • Method of transport: Bus and boat
  • How long? About three hours
  • How much? About £4.50
  • When? 08.00
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse in Pakse to the Mueng Khong, which is the main pier on Don Khong.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we weren’t picked up from our guesthouse until about 08.40 and then we were driven 100 metres to change onto another bus before getting onto a boat. The entire journey took about three hours and cost us £4.50 each.

Don Det Sunset, 4000 Islands

How to get from Don Khong (Four Thousand Islands) to Pakse

  • Method of transport: Boat and minibus
  • How long? About three to four hours
  • How much? About £5.25
  • When? 11.30
  • Where from/to? From Mueng Khong, which is the main pier on Don Khong to the main street in Pakse.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we took the boat to the mainland at 11.30 but then waited about an hour for our minibus. The entire journey took about three and a half hours and cost £5.25 each.

Cambodia to Laos

How to get from Kratie (Cambodia) to Don Det (Laos)

  • Method of transport: Minibus, bus and boat
  • How long? About seven hours, including three hours waiting time
  • How much? About £9.65
  • When? 07.00
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse in Kratie to the main pier on Don Det.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we were picked up in a minivan at about 07.00, drove for three hours and were dropped off by the side of the road to wait about 30 minutes for a large bus. We then continued for about an hour to the border. Although the organiser on the bus asked us all for $45 to sort out our visas, we decided to go through the border control ourselves and paid just $35 each for our visas. However, we still had to pay standard bribes of $2 each to be stamped out of Cambodia and another $2 each to be stamped into Laos. It took us about 30 minutes to get through the border ourselves yet we had to wait around for another minibus for about one and a half hours. Once we got onto the minibus we headed to Nakasang pier to get the boat to Don Det, where we waited about another hour for the ten-minute boat ride to Don Det.

Do you have any other Laos travel tips? Any updates? Let us know!

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4 Comments
  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 12:54h, 06 March Reply

    Really helpful guide, guys! I don’t think we’ll make it to tall of the places you made it to, but this will certainly come in handy for the central part of the country.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Gorging on George Town: Does Malaysia’s Culinary Capital Live Up to the Hype?My Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:07h, 07 March Reply

      Hope you do find it useful Steph, just be prepared for the long uncomfy bus journeys!

  • Catherine
    Posted at 15:12h, 08 March Reply

    Lots of really useful tips here, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Catherine recently posted..UKIERI Study India ReviewMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:21h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks Catherine, Laos is pretty horrid to get around so hopefully this will help make the journey smoother for a few people.

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