Laos is probably one of the most looked over destinations in Southeast Asia. Its serene atmosphere and vast forestry, where you can find an oasis in the middle of a touristy region, are what Laos offers to its visitors. Surprisingly, transportation in Laos is quite reliable and pretty convenient regardless of its hilly landscape. Getting from one city to another isn’t a complicated job once you get to know how it works. Here’s our guide to getting around Laos, how to book Laos transport, and all the methods of transport to use in Laos.
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Getting around Laos uses a variety of transport modes – buses, minivans, trains, planes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and jumbos, or yes, more likely a mixture of multiple vehicles. The bus, train, and plane are most recommended for long-distance travel. But when it comes to shorter distances, then the tuk-tuk, minivan, jumbo aka skylab, and motorbike are good choices for those journeys.
Transportation in Laos
The entire landlocked country of Laos sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. The country is quite hilly, and many roads are built around mountainsides. That means there are windy roads and a vehicle’s speed is limited, it takes longer to get from one place to another than you might expect.
Laos does have a shiny new train system, which became operational in 2021. The train connects major cities in Laos, mostly in the northern area. The Laos train system also travels beyond the border, heading into China, but it is usually for cargo purposes once it crosses the border. The easiest way to book a train in Laos is to use 12goAsia.
The most common way to travel around Laos is by bus and minivan. The country also has a good relationship with Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, which means if you’re traveling around by motorbike, then you can bring your motorbikes across the border. Boat travel is also common here, especially in the area where Mekong Delta flows through.
Entering Laos and Joining the Laos Transport System
Most people enter Laos via a land border or via a flight that comes from connecting neighboring countries’ capital cities such as Bangkok and Hanoi. There are limited inter-continental flights that go directly to Laos and most flights that enter Laos come from its neighboring countries.
If you’re coming from Thailand, the most popular border entry point is from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand. This route leads you to Huay Xai in Laos, where you can
Or Head to the Gibbon Project from Huay Xai
However, you can also travel into Laos further south, from Udon Thani in Thailand to Vientiane via the Thanaleng – Nongkai Border over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. It’s actually a popular route to go from Bangkok to Pakse. (We did this route).
You’ll enter from northern Vietnam via Nam Khan, which goes to Phonsavan or the Tay Trang Border near Muang Mai. Phonsavan is the main town you’ll want to head to for the Plain of Jars.
There are also border points from central Vietnam, such as La Lay, Lao Bao, and Cha Lo. However, these borders often are closed at short notice. So check if it’s open before making your trip by asking travel agencies or your hotel reception. From southern Vietnam, you have the Bo Y border gate.
For those coming from Cambodia, the Trapaingkriel (Cambodian side) and Nong Nok Khiene (Laos side) is the only operating border point between these two countries.
Types of Transport in Laos
There are many ways to get around Laos. These include buses, trains, planes, motorbikes, taxis, boats, tuk-tuks, jumbos, and skylabs.
Getting Around Laos by Plane – Flights in Laos
There are only three international airports in Laos. Namely, Wattay International Airport (Vientiane/VTE), Luang Prabang International Airport (LPZ), and Pakse International Airport (PKZ). Not many people use these airports since most of the flights leaving Laos simply head to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hanoi and not to major hubs such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Japan, or Paris. You can book flights in Laos here.
Laos’ flagship airline is Laos Airlines, but some other Asian airlines operate here as well This includes Thai Smile, Vietnam Airways, China Southern, Air Asia, and Bangkok Airways. The limited direct flights that are offered here are to Bangkok, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh.
However, taking internal flights can be a convenient option. I’ll preface this by saying that they’re not the most affordable for Southeast Asia, but are good choices if you have limited time or if you’re looking for comfort.
Getting Around Laos by Train
Laos launched a railway system in 2021. The Laos train system is also called the Boten-Vientiane Railway, Lao-China Railway, or Laos High-speed Rail (Laos HSR), it gives locals and foreign visitors a comfortable and much speedier way to get to certain parts of the country.
While the original plan was announced in 2010, to connect Vientiane, Laos, and Xishuangbanna, China, due to political and financial incidents, the project didn’t get going until 2016. Construction of the Laos train system began in Luang Prabang and the project was financed mostly by EXEM Bank of China and a joint venture between Laos and China. China holds 70% of the stake in the project.
While this boosts transportation in Laos, its main purpose was to help the import-export trade between the two countries. There are 21 stations on the railway route for the Laos side, 10 are passenger stations and all 21 are cargo stations.
The end-to-end stations in Laos are from Boten to Vientiane South, but Vientiane is the last passenger stop. If you’re planning to travel around Laos via train, the stations that will be relevant to you are Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. Currently, the Laos railway only covers the northern part of the country, however, the future expansion plans are to connect to Bangkok, Thailand.
At the moment, there is no official booking site for Laos HRS. Tickets are sold at train stations, or travel agents in Laos. However, this is 2023 and the easiest way to book Laos train tickets is via a third-party site such as 12go. Asia or BaoLau.
Getting Around Laos by Bus
The most budget-friendly way to travel around Laos is by bus. Whether you’re traveling a short distance or on an overnight trip, the buses in Laos are relatively comfortable. You can expect a regular bus with upright seats and overhead storage for short-distance trips. Journeys that are longer than 8 hours journey will tend to be on a sleeper bus.
A Laos sleeper bus has berths like the ones in trains. On one side of the bus, there are two berths which are perfect for couples or friends traveling together. On the other side is a single berth row. Some buses have three rows with single berths in each row. Some sleeper buses have a toilet on board, but not all of them. If a bus doesn’t have a toilet on board, they’ll usually stop around halfway or multiple times for a toilet, snack, and stretch break.
The long-distance buses connect major cities. From Vientiane, there are buses to almost anywhere in the country. But from Luang Prabang to Pakse, you might have to switch buses somewhere in the middle. The prices are higher on tourist buses or sleeper buses than on the regular buses that locals usually take.
Overnight buses in Laos are the same, same different from the ones we took in Vietnam (find out more about the buses we took in Vietnam here). The “seats” are completely different, in that you get a flat “double bed” to share. So if you’re traveling alone you might be sleeping with a stranger. Our bus was pretty empty, so a lot of folks spread out.
There’s a comfy pillow and a blanket or duvet each. It all looks pretty clean, but it might just have been dark when I looked.
The roads are of course the same. Bumpy and windy. Unlike India, there’s no excessive horn blaring and some drivers seem to understand that if they ease off the accelerator the bus will slow naturally, rather than slamming between throttle and brake and so we make good time.
Chit Prasong, Kriangkai Transport, and Soutchai Travel are bus companies operating inside Laos. The companies that cross the borders to Vietnam are HTX Van Tai 277, Naluang, and Green Paradise. Kriangkai, Green Paradise, and Soutchai Travel also operate between Thailand and Laos.
Bus Stations in Laos
Each town and city here in Laos has multiple bus stations – depending on where you’re coming from, none of it is very clear, but what is patently obvious is that these bus stations are not located for the benefit of anyone traveling to them. I do believe that the town planners were in league with the tuk-tuk drivers. Everywhere we’ve visited in Laos has a bus station (or multiple bus stations) up to 10 kilometers out of town for no apparent reason other than revenue maximization.
And so our overnight bus, which drove us nearly 700 kilometers (from Pakse to Vientiane) cost us 170,000 kip. The shared tuk-tuk that we take into the center costs 30,000 kip each. I’m sure we can all do the maths here.
If you want to make money in Laos. Buy a tuk-tuk, not a bus.
Getting Around Laos by Minivan
Another popular mode of transportation in Laos is the infamous South East Asian minivans. They’re more widely used than regular buses in Laos, due in part to the nature of the roads. Minivans are equipped with AC and they’re faster than buses since they don’t make too many stops to drop off cargo along the route.
The downside with minivans is how limited the sitting spaces are. For foreign visitors, you’ll find yourself pressing your knees against the seat in front of you. If you’re taller than about 160 centimeters (about 5 foot 6), then expect to be mildly squashed in.
But if you’re going from Vientiane to Vang Vieng or the other way around, the minivan is a great choice. The drive is around 2 hours, and the minivans go at least 5 times a day or more during the peak season.
Even the route between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is around 6 hours in a minivan, and it’s half the price of taking the train. So, it’s a great choice if you’re on a budget. The famous Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan, is an 8-hour journey, but from Vientiane, the route is by minivan. This is primarily because there aren’t that many people who take this route!
Taxis and Private Transfers in Laos
Taxis are also readily available in Laos, although they mostly operate in bigger cities and towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Vang Vieng. Since the train station and bus terminals are usually located a bit outside the city, taxis are the main way to get there from the hotels or downtown. You can also book a private transfer, which is often roomier and newer than taxis.
A private transfer is common for short-distance trips, such as from the station or airport to the hotel or vice versa. It can also be an option for destinations that are not too far, such as Vientiane to Vang Vieng or even from Pakse to Ubon Rachathani, crossing to Thailand border. If you’re traveling in a group, then it makes sense to see what the cost is, as it may be a way better option than all of you paying for bus tickets.
Using a taxi is also a good way of traveling if you want to go sightseeing more comfortably. There are no meters in taxis in Laos, so you’ll need to negotiate the rate that you pay.
Rental Cars in Laos
Unlike its neighbors, an international driving license and a valid driver’s license from your home country are actually accepted and recognized in Laos. This means that as long as you have both, you can legally drive a motorbike and car in Laos. Popular car rental companies like Budget, Avis, and Sixt are available in Laos.
You can rent one from Vientiane and return it to another city, such as Luang Prabang. However, prices for car rental in Laos are not cheap, around $40 to $80 a day, depending on the size and type.
Tuk-Tuks in Laos
Laos also has its own tuk-tuk culture as well, similar to Cambodia and Thailand. However, you’ll notice that tuk-tuks in Laos are much bigger than the ones in Thailand. A Lao tuk-tuk is often painted green, but some have additional colors and others are even painted in Laotian flag colors and have rain tarpaulins printed with the Lao flag.
It’s a really good idea to use a tuk-tuk with a driver to do some sightseeing, it’s a lot more affordable than a taxi and much more fun (unless it’s raining). However, remember to agree on the price before starting your journey. Most tuk-tuk drivers can speak English and will be happy to chat with you, but don’t expect them to act as your tour guide who knows everything about the attractions you want to see.
Songthaews in Laos
Songthaews look very different in Laos to Thailand. Instead of a converted jeep, the Lao version is a converted mini-truck. The back of the truck is installed with metal as walls, a roof, and benches as seats. These are normally used for long-distance transportation for locals such as in Pakse, but you can get off anytime as long as you’re riding a Songthaew covering the route you need.
Jumbo and Skylab are similar but kind of different from a tuk-tuk. These are 3-wheeled vehicles in the same way that tuk-tuks are, but you can clearly see that it’s a motorbike with customized seating mounted behind the motorbike. These are actually more commonly used than a tuk-tuk around the cities and rural areas. They tend to have more power.
The 3-wheel rickshaw is present in big cities and usually parked near a tourist attraction. There are two different kinds in Laos, one is called Skylab, and the other is called Jumbo. These are both fuel-operated vehicles. Jumbo is smaller and can seat up to 4-6 people, while a Skylab is bigger that allows up to 10 passengers.
Motorbikes in Laos
Motorbikes are one of the best ways to get around Laos. Most backpackers prefer it because it allows them to explore, and it’s a much more local way of traveling. Many foreign visitors even bring motorbikes from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
You don’t need to get a motorbike for your entire trip around Laos, but it could be the most reliable choice whenever you arrive in the city. For example, you can rent a motorbike in Luang Prabang to visit attractions since another mode of transportation can be expensive or not dependable or both.
In Luang Prabang, you’ll want a motorbike to reach Kwang Si Waterfalls (unless you plan on taking a tour). In Pakse, rent a motorbike to reach and explore the Bolaven Plateau. These routes are great for a day trip (or multi-day trip) rental of a motorbike since getting a tuk-tuk, taxi, or bus to these locations is either costly, impossible, or inconvenient.
Bicycles in Laos
Because of its geographical features, many parts of Laos are covered in lush green forestry. This makes exploring by bicycle a great option, especially in Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Pakse. At the same time, Laos doesn’t have particularly heavy traffic making cycling a reasonable choice, especially if you want to do sightseeing on your own with a bicycle.
There are even bicycle tours to make exploring easier and more enjoyable. There are bicycle shops for rentals, but mostly in Vientiane. Alternatively, if you’re looking for bike rental in Luang Prabang, then check out BikesBooking. You can also ask at your accommodation or ask a local where to rent one. The price (usually) ranges between 2,000 to 4,000 KIP per day.
Tourists and Local Boats
Even though Laos is landlocked, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy boat adventures. Boats in Laos can be found around the famous Mekong Delta, it is a fabulous way to explore Laos.
The slow boat on the Mekong is one of the best things to do in Laos. (I wrote about the Laos Mekong Slow Boat here).
A slow boat goes up and down the river, catering to both locals using the river to get around or transport goods and tourists. There are also speedboats to take if you’re short on time. There’s a fancy pants option called the Shompoo Cruise if you want more comfort. It’s a lot more money though.
Transport within Cities in Laos
Cities in Laos don’t have the most extensive city bus transport system. Expect to get around Vientiane with local buses and taxis, but don’t rely on this in other cities. Tuk-tuks, Songthaews, Jumbos, Skylabs, and motorbikes are the most dependable choice as your main way to get around.
Local buses within Laos Cities
Local buses that travel within the city are limited to Vientiane. The buses are in green-white paint; some are gas-powered, while others are electric vehicles with limited seating and there are also ones that look like big golf carts or open-air tourist buses.
The Vientiane buses start at Central Bus Station near the Morning Market or Talat Sao. There are city buses that will take you from Vientiane to Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge. This means if you’re entering Laos from Thailand, you can get on a local bus to reach downtown Vientiane.
The buses run from 5 am until 7 pm daily. You can board the buses from the main station or the bus stops, but you can also simply flag them down anytime, like a taxi. Look up the schedule ahead of time to make sure that you’re getting on the right bus. Be assertive when flagging it down, but Laos bus drivers are generally good and stop when waved.
Once you get on the bus, sit down and enjoy the ride. Before you get off, press the stop button or let the driver know your stop. Pay the bus driver in cash before you leave the bus. You can view the bus map and schedule here.
Taxis in Laos
There are taxis all over Laos, but mainly in major cities. Laos Taxis are a comfortable way to get around but can be costly. If you find yourself needing to hail a taxi, make sure to agree on the price before starting the journey because taxis in Laos don’t have meters. If you want to hire a taxi service for an entire day for sightseeing, discussing the cost in advance is a must.
Grab in Laos – Loca in Laos
Unfortunately, Grab, the famous ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, is unavailable in Laos. But there’s a local version called Loca where you can book private taxis and private cars. It operates in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Vang Vieng, and Savannakhet. Once you install the app, you can set up the payment method with your bank card or opt for cash payments.
Tuktuks, Jumbos, Skylabs in Laos
The biggest difference in each type of tuk-tuk is the size. The price you’ll pay for using them varies depending on which one you’re getting on and the distance. These are a very affordable way to get around since the fare is usually between 17,000 LAK to 70,000 LAK, depending on the distance and how many people. You’ll generally find this type of transport parked near tourist attractions, bus stations, or train stations. Remember to agree on the price before starting your journey,
Songthaews in Laos
If a tuk-tuk, jumbo, and skylab work like a taxi, then the Songthaew is different – it works like a bus. This means that the Songthaew will pick up and drop off passengers along the route and are usually more available in rural areas than in cities. They are often parked in bus stations and local markets, ready to take people to various routes with heavy luggage and cargo. We used them as part of our Bangkok to Pakse trip, taking a specific route from the train station.
Motorbike taxis are operational in Laos, just like its neighboring countries. It’s mostly useful in Vientiane since buses and 4-wheeled cars clog up the traffic. In that situation, the fastest way to get around is by motorbike. You will find motorbike taxis around popular tourist attractions and even at bus stations. There’s no app for this service, but you’ll hear the drivers offering their services all around the cities. If you get on one, agree on the price and use it only during the day.
Walking in Laos
Walking is a decent mode of transportation in Laos, but that depends on where you are. For example, you can go to see the main things in Vientiane on foot. But that won’t work in Luang Prabang, where the must-see locations are a wee bit further apart from one another. I’ll remind you that it also tends to be pretty hot and often humid in Southeast Asia, and walking can be an exhausting and uncomfortable choice.
However, one of our favorite things to do anywhere is to take a free walking tour. You’ll have to explore on foot, but a guided tour usually lasts only 1.5 to 2 hours, and they’re often early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the sun. Just remember to bring plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. You can book freetour or guruwalk for free walking tours in Laos.
Booking Transport in Laos
99% of the time you can book your tickets via a travel agency in Laos (you’ll spot their offices easily) or at your hostel or hotel. But usually, they add an extra fee for convenience and often only work with 1-2 transportation companies, so you have limited choices. You will 99% of the time have to pay cash for these tickets. (read our guide to Laos ATMS and find out that getting hold of cash isn’t cheap in Laos).
Using an online platform to book transport tickets in Laos is majorly convenient, besides getting your ticket within minutes through your phone, you can also pay with your bank card. However, if you only have cash, you can either use an agent, or your hotel or go to the bus station yourself. A reminder that bus stations tend to be a reasonable distance outside main towns in Laos. And for transport tickets in Laos, it’s best to purchase your seat as soon as you know the dates, especially if you’re traveling during the peak season when tickets can be sold out months in advance.
When it comes to booking your bus, train, flight, and minivan tickets, you can use 12go.Asia. It’s a reputable website that covers most countries in Southeast Asia. You can see the schedules, the cost, and instructions on how to board your transportation before you book or pay for anything. You can pay using your bank card. Check timetables and book Laos Transport with 12goAsia here.
BaoLau is another perfectly good option for booking your tickets. It can be a bit more challenging to use than 12go.asia because depending on your point of departure, it will only show specific choices. For example, if you set the departure from Vientiane bus station to Luang Prabang bus station, the result will only show you bus options instead of bus, plane, minivan, and train choices like 12go.asia. Check timetables and book Laos Transport with Baolau here.
Bookaway is a third platform that offers online booking of transport in Laos. They don’t tend to have as many options as 12goAsia, but you’ll often find additional times too. Check timetables and book Laos Transport with Bookaway here.
Popular transport routes in Laos
Our guide on how to get around Laos and Laos Transportation is here
FAQS for Transportation in Laos
Here are the questions that we get asked about getting around Laos – don’t forget if you have a question about how to travel around Laos you can send us an email, or ask in the comments below and we’ll answer for everyone else to see.
What’s the cheapest form of transport in Laos
Local buses and minivans are the most affordable way to get around Laos. However, if you have two to three weeks here and plan to see many places, you might be better off getting a motorbike. In that way, you have the freedom to handle your time, such as when and where to go.
Is Grab available in Laos?
No, Grab doesn’t operate in Laos. But you can use the local taxi booking app called Loca.
Is Uber available in Laos?
Uber is not in Laos or Southeast Asia, for that matter, as they gave up their operator license to Grab in 2018.
Is there a train in Laos?
Yes. Laos’ high-speed railway system was launched in 2021, and it’s fantastic. It only covers northern to central Laos and towards China, but plans to expand in the future towards Thailand.
What’s the best way to get around Laos?
There are many ways to get around Laos, and the best option comes down to what works for you. If you only have a week in Laos, taking a slow bus might not be suitable for you and a domestic flight or train are better choices.
Travel Tips for Exploring Laos
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
- Book the best Laos tours and guides on Klook
- Save money in Laos with a Wise debit card
- Book Buses in Laos with 12goAsia
- Book accommodation in Laos with Agoda
Final Words on Transportation in Laos
Getting around Laos can be confusing in the beginning. Still, with enough basic understanding of how things work and where to start, you’ll be able to navigate the transportation in Laos much easier. Once you know where to book and your options, you’ll know what suits you best depending on your budget, time, and level of comfortability.
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