Travelling around Laos can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time there. But fear not, we’ve got all the info you need to know. The country is not exactly known for its modernised roads and transport, but isn’t that half of the fun of travelling? Laos is a real adventure, so just dive right in, but to explore further afield you’ll need to suss out buses, boats, automobiles and more.
From bicycles to river boats and everything in between, here’s the Laos transport tips you need to know.
Top Tips For Getting Around LaosHow do these rankings work?
1. Forget the ‘Slow Boat’s – Travel by Speedboat For an Adventure
The country’s waterways connect all the major cities and towns, but the so-called Slow Boats are exactly that – slow. If you need to save time, speedboats can cover what would be a few days journey in just six hours. They’re more expensive (about $12 from Luang Prabang to Pakbeng) and can be a little scary. Insist on a lifejacket, and ask your guesthouse for recommendation on which is the best boat to book.
2. Download Offline Maps
Download an app such as Maps.me to your phone to have access to maps when there’s no WiFi. It’s essential when arriving in new countries with no connection. Finding hotels. Using taxis. Basically, not getting lost.
3. Cover More Ground with Local Airlines
Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Pakse Phonsavan, Savannakhet and Udomxai are all connected via domestic airlines. There’s just two airlines here; Lao Airlines and Lao Skyway. Flights fill up fast during holiday season, so book ahead as early as you can, but take note that you often have to book directly via the airline’s website or through their ticket office.
Flight comparison sites such as Skyscanner generally won’t show these flights.
4. Book Tickets Online via Bookaway
You can buy tickets for minivans and buses etc on the spot at windows, but who wants to spend their vacation waiting in line? Plus, the bus services are always busy all year round, especially at peak travel time during weekends and national public holidays.
So, to make travelling around Laos easier, you can book tickets for tourist minivans, private buses and taxis in advance via Bookaway.
5. Rent a Bicycle to Go Sightseeing
The beautiful scenery and mountain roads make Laos one of the best countries for cycling in Southeast Asia. For a mere 10,000 to 50,000 kip ($1.25-$6.25 USD) you can rent a cruiser or mountain bike for 24 hours. It’s also a handy way to navigate cities such as Luang Prabang or Vientiane.
6. Expect Long Journeys on Public Transport…
Buses here don’t usually leave on time and are super cheap, and travel time can be pretty long – especially during rainy season. Major cities like Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng can also be accessed by bus, with prices ranging from economy on public buses (think: plastic stools in the aisle for extra seating!) to VIP class.
City shuttle busses are known as Songthaews or Jumbos, operating a standard route that picks up and drops off on the way. Just be aware you might be waiting a while: drivers don’t get moving until the bus is rammed to capacity.
7. Don’t Leave Your Passport as a Motorbike Deposit
Motorbiking is one of the most popular options for travelling around Laos. While motorbike and scooter rentals are cheap, it’s worth spending a little more on a bike that’s a newer model and be sure to test the breaks.
We suggest you leave a cash deposit instead of your passport, as if worst comes to worst and you have an accident, there’s no trauma center in the country. You’ll need to be flown to Thailand and it’s not possible if you’ve no passport!