Transportation in Laos
- Tuk Tuk: “Tuk tuk, tuk tuk,” you’ll hear the soft spoken Lao tuk tuk drivers call after you if you’re walking in any major city. Tuk tuks are good for groups, typically cheaper than taxis and prevalent in cities like Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse. If you’re going somewhere out of the way, ask your driver to wait for you and pay him upon returning to the city. It’s typically around 50,000 kip ($6.25 USD) to or from an airport or bus station and 30,000 to 50,000 kip around town.
- Songthaew or Jumbo: Songthaews or Jumbos are typically pick-up trucks that have been converted into extra large tuk-tuk-esque public buses. They follow a set route at irregular intervals. If you brave this form of transportation you’ll be rewarded with a cheap fare (10,000-20,000 kip, $1.25-$2.50 USD) but be prepared for anything. You might be riding with a giggly bunch of school children, 25 other passengers who are practically sitting on each other’s laps, or someone bringing baskets of produce, buckets of fish or bags of rice along.
- VIP night bus: Getting anywhere in Laos via ground transportation takes a long time. Kill two birds with one stone by taking a double decker VIP night bus. For around 150,000 kip ($18 USD) you won’t have to figure out accommodations and you’ll wake up in a new city! Most guest houses can arrange tickets for you with a transfer to the bus station but you’ll pay a bit more than if you purchase tickets directly at the station. You often have to wait until the day before or day of your trip to book, which can be anxiety-inducing during the high season (Nov-Feb) when buses can sell out. Take off your shoes and put them in a plastic bag upon boarding. Two people share a twin bunk. VIP buses are air-conditioned, have a toilet on board and come with blankets and pillows\
- Mini van: Going from Vientiane to Vang Vieng or from Thakhek to Savannakhet? How about from Pakse to Champasak? Opt for a mini van for a faster, smoother ride for around 50,000 kip ($6.25 USD.) Show up at the bus station and find the van headed to where you want to go. Bags and cargo go on top of the vans. Don’t worry, you’re stuff will be safe, but you might consider carrying your cash and passport in a money belt on your person. The vans leave when they’re full… very full, so if you’re uncomfortable sitting four across without a seatbelt or having someone’s leg or child or baby goat touching you, this might not be the best form of transportation to try.
- Motorbike: One of the most popular and also most dangerous forms of transportation in Laos is the motorbike. Most bikes are automatic or semi-automatic and can be rented from guest houses and tourism companies in major tourist destinations such as Pakse to drive the Bolevan Plateau or Thakehek to drive the Kong Lor Loop. Check the bike thoroughly including breaks, tire pressure and shifting before departing. Always wear your helmet. Keep a full tank. Gas stations are very prevalent along major roads and in the villages you’ll have no problem finding someone selling plastic bottles full of red petrol in front of their home.
- Lao airlines: While Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse have some international flights on AirAsia, Vietnam Air, Hainan and the like, the only domestic carrier in Laos is Lao Airlines. Flights must be searched on their website and won’t show up on flight comparison sites. Lao airlines has excellent customer service and runs more professionally and more on time than any other transportation option. That being said, the lack of competition means prices can be steep and the limited flights means you can’t get to every destination in Laos on every day of the week.
- 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.