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Vientiane

Getting there and away

Air

Vientiane's Wattay International Airport (airport code VTE) is 3.5km west of the city. Transport from the airport to the city is by a pre-paid coupon and fixed at $6/54,000 kip. Travelling from the city to the airport you have more power to bargain with the tuk tuk drivers and, though they'll initially quote a similar price, you can bargain it down a bit.

Five mainline carriers currently serve Wattay International Airport, including the national carrier Lao Airlines plus AirAsia, THAI, China Eastern and Vietnam Airlines. Departure tax is now included in ticket prices and is $10 for international flights or 5,000 kip for domestic flights.

International destinations include:
Bangkok (THAI, Lao Airlines)
Chiang Mai (Lao Airlines)
Hanoi (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Ho Chi Minh City (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia)
Phnom Penh (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Siem Reap (Lao Airlines)
Nanning (China Eastern)
Kunming (Lao Airlines, China Eastern)

Domestic destinations include Luang Prabang, Pakse, Huay Xai, Udomxai, Luang Nam Tha, and Sayabouri. There are daily flights to Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Xieng Khouang, and flights to other towns three or four times per week. These flights are occasionally cancelled if there are not enough passengers.
You can view the domestic departure schedule at: http://www.laoairlines.com/flights/domestic-flight-schedule.html

Lao Airlines Head Office
02 Pangkham Rd, Vientiane
T:(021) 212 057
F:(021) 212 065
http://www.laoairlines.com

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Train

In 2009 tracks were laid over the Mekong River making it now possible to enter Laos by train from Thailand. You can get a visa-on-arrival at the new Thanaleng Train Station but, oddly, it is located in the middle of nowhere so you'll need to take a tuk tuk the final 20 km to Vientiane. The price is not fixed but, sharing a tuk tuk with a group, the fare to the city should cost around 100 baht each.

Train service #70 departs Thanaleng at 17:00 and arrives in Bangkok at 6:25 the next morning. A hard seat costs 300 baht, or a soft seat is costs 450 baht. Considering the journey takes over 13 hours, a sleeper is a better choice and costs 600 baht for fan, 800 baht for air-con, or 1,300 baht for a VIP sleeper.
Though it costs about 200 baht more, it's not a bad idea to book your ticket from a tour agency as it will include transport from your guesthouse to the train station.

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Bus

To further complicate the already arduous task of overland travel in Laos, Vientiane has three bus stations: the Central Bus Station, the Northern Bus Terminal, and the Southern Bus Terminal.

Central Bus Station
The Central Bus Station (Khou Din) is located beside Talaat Sao Market and has bus services to nearby municipalities, a few further destinations in Laos, and northern Thailand.

Of the local bus routes, Bus #14 is the cheapest way to get to Buddha Park or the Friendship Bridge (5,000 kip) and departs roughly every 20 minutes, 06:00–17:30. Bus #29 goes to the Southern Bus Terminal (Dong Dok) every 10 to 20 minutes and costs 4,000 kip. A few buses (#3, #30, #49) pass the turn-off to the airport, though none actually go to it. Note that local buses are often marked only with Lao letters and numbers, but the station staff will happily direct you to the right bus.

Tourists are often told to go to the bus stations out of town for long distance services, though it’s possible to catch a bus to Vang Vieng, Savannakhet or Pakse here. However, the other terminals have better buses and more frequent departures for these routes. Service to Vang Vieng departs at 07:00, 09:30, and 13:00; to Savannakhet at 05:00, 06:00, and 70:00; and Pakse at 13:00, 14:00, and 15:00. Check the large white signs with destinations and departure times printed in English for the most recent schedule.

The Central Bus Station also offers convenient service to Nong Khai, Udon Thani, Korat and Khon Kaen in northern Thailand. From any of these cities it is easy to catch buses to other destinations within Thailand.

Khon Kaen 08:15, 14:45. Price: 50,000 kip, 4-5 hours
Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima) 07:30. Price: 80,000 kip, 7 hours
Nong Khai 07:30, 09:30, 12:40, 14:30, 15:30, 18:00. Price: 15,000 kip, 1 hour
Udon Thani 08:00, 10:30, 11:30. 14:00, 16:00, 18:00. Price: 22,000 kip, 2-3 hours

Northern Bus Station
The Northern Bus Station, 2 km northwest of the city centre (sometimes called the Luang Prabang bus station), is the main departure point for Luang Prabang and other northern destinations as well as buses to southern China.

Buses bound for Luang Prabang depart regularly throughout the day, with about one every 2 hours, though most tourists prefer the overnight sleeper bus. The air-con buses are perfectly comfortable for the long journey, or the VIP buses provide a bit extra space and usually a snack and bottled water. Any bus bound for Luang Prabang can drop you off in Vang Vieng, though you pay the same ticket price as if you were going all the way. A better option is to book a mini-bus ticket from a travel agency (10:00, 14:00; 60,000 kip).

Travel agencies in Vientiane charge about 150,000 kip for a ticket on the air-con bus to Luang Prabang, though this will include pick-up from your guesthouse and transport to the bus station.

Sample destinations include:

Luang Prabang (air-con) Departs 06:30, 07:30, 09:00, 11:00, 13:30, 16:00, 18:00, 19:30, 100,000 kip, 10 hours
Luang Prabang (VIP) Departs 08:00,0 9:00, 20:00, 120,000 kip, 10 hours
Luang Nam Tha (air-con) Departs 08:30, 140,000 kip
Udomxai (air-con) 06:45, 13:45, 16:00, 17:00, 110,000 kip
Phongsali (air-con) Departs 07:15, 160,000
Sam Neua (air-con) Departs 07:00, 9:45, 150,000

Service to China:
Kunming 14:00, 600,000 kip
Mengla 11:00, 290,000 kip

Southern Bus Terminal
The Southern Bus Terminal (Dong Dok) is the main departure point for all destinations south of Vientiane and international services to Vietnam and Cambodia. It's located about 8 km north of the city centre on Route 13 leading up from the Patuxai monument and tuk tuks will ask for 50,000 kip to take you there, though you can bargain them down a little. An alternative is to take bus #29 from the Central Bus Station for 4,000 kip. Again, buying your ticket from a travel agency will cost more but it includes transport to the bus station.

Sample destinations include:
Attapeu Departs at 09:30, 17:00, 20:30 , costs 130,000 (local), 150,000 (air-con)
Pakse (local bus) Departs at 07:15, 10:00,12:30,13:00, 13:30, 14:00, 14:30, 15:30, 16:00, 120,000 kip.
Pakse (Express) Departs at 18:00, 19:00, 20:00, costs 150,000 kip.
Pakse (VIP) Departs at 20:30, costs 180,000 kip.
Salavan (local bus) Departs at 06:30, costs 120,000 kip.
Salavan (Express, via Pakse) Departs at 19:30, costs 150,000 kip.
Savannakhet (local bus) Departs at 05:30, 6:00, 06:30, 07:30, 08:00, 08:30, 09:00, costs 100,000 kip, takes 10 hours.
Savannakhet (VIP) Departs at 05:30, 07:30, 20:30, costs 130,000 kip, takes 8 hours.
Sekong (local bus) Departs at 04:30, costs 120,000 kip.
Thakhek Departs at 05:00, 06:00, 12:00, 13:00, costs 75,000 kip.

Services to Vietnam
Vinh, Thanh Hoa, Hanoi Departs at 19:00, costs 160,000 kip, 180,000 kip, 230,000 kip.
Hue, Da Nang Departs at 19:00, costs 180,000 kip, 230,000 kip.
Ho Chi Minh City Departs at 19:30, costs 500,000 kip.

Services to Cambodia
Phnom Penh: Departs at 20:30, costs 450,000 kip

Bangkok VIP Bus
Any guesthouse or travel agency can sell you a ticket on the overnight VIP bus to Bangkok. The bus is quite comfortable with air-con, reclining seats, movies and WiFi, and the price includes a stop for supper. You'll be picked up at your guesthouse around 17:00, change buses at the border, then arrive in Bangkok around 06:00 the next morning. The price is 750 to 800 baht, depending on where you want to be dropped off (Khao San Road, Morchit bus station, or the airport).

Minibuses to Vang Vieng
The easiest way to get to Vang Vieng is to book a seat in a minivan through your guesthouse or a travel agency. The ticket includes pick-up from your guesthouse at around 10:00 or 14:00 and costs 60,000 kip.

Friendship Bridge and the crossing into Thailand
If you are arriving overland from Thailand, visas-on-arrival are issued at the Lao border crossing and are valid for 30 days. The visa fee ranges from $30 to $42, depending on your nationality, and it's best to pay in US dollars.

There is direct bus service from the Nong Khai bus station to Vientiane for 55 baht, or you can do it yourself. The shuttle bus between the immigration posts is 20 baht and, on arrival on the Lao side, you'll have to bargain with a tuk tuk for a ride to the city. If there's a group of six or more, a fair rate would be 50 baht per person. Otherwise, hiring a taxi to take you the whole way will cost around 300 baht.

From Vientiane going to Thailand, the easiest way is to take the Nong Khai bus from the bus station near the market. Alternatively, you can arrange a taxi from the central market to drive you to the Friendship Bridge for 100,000 kip.

The Lao–Thai Friendship Bridge is just a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Nong Khai train station, or a quick tuk tuk ride if you don't fancy carrying your bags.

Updates from Travelfish readers

  • If you are travelling during Pi Mai Lao, prices for buses going to Luang Prabang jump significantly. I'm currently in Vientiane and I checked two places for prices in the backpacker area yesterday and was quoted 220,000 and 250,000 kip to travel the following day (16th April). The cheaper price was from a well-established guesthouse that had the typical standard fares for their rooms and bus ticket prices to other destinations.

    My recommendation is to book in advance if you arrive in Laos prior to Pi Mai, otherwise you'll need to suck up the extra travel expenses depending on your travel schedule.

    Update by harakiri (2)
    Written on 15th April, 2012

  • Hi Travelfish,

    I'm currently in Vientiane during Pi Mai, and I've found the long distance bus prices to be significantly higher going to Luang Prabang. I was informed this was due to booking during Pi Mai.

    I checked out two places for a night bus going from Vientiane to Luang Prabang for the next day (non-sleeper, seat only) and was only able to get cheapest ticket of 220,000 kip including pickup (got this price from a popular guesthouse in backpacker area). Another place quoted 250,000 kip.

    My recommendation is that if you arrive prior to Pi Mai (Lao New Year) to book well in advance if going to Luang Prabang. On the other hand, I met two girls who booked a private minibus for the following day to Van Vieng for 60,000 kip (at same guesthouse).

    Not sure if I've gotten ripped off, but both places I got quotes from had standard prices for things like bike rental, and budget accommodation. Hope this info helps some travellers!

    Update by harakiri (2)
    Written on 15th April, 2012

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Boat

Regular passenger boats no longer run from Vientiane — in either direction.

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Getting Around

Vientiane is a small city with manageable traffic and the only deterrent to going everywhere by foot is the midday heat. Since hosting the SEA Games in 2009, Vientiane's biggest danger to pedestrians—massive holes in the sidewalks—have mostly been fixed and new signs sponsored by Beerlao point the way to the tourist attractions.

Vientiane does not have any system of public transit around the city, instead relying on a fleet of persistent tuk tuk drivers. Prices are very affordable for locals but, as a tourist, it's tough to get a lift even a couple blocks down the road for 10,000 kip. Starting prices are significantly inflated, especially near Nam Phu fountain, and you'll have to bargain to get a fair price. Many tuk tuk drivers carry laminated papers listing destinations and prices to make the inflated fares seem more legit, but prices will drop if you seem disinterested. A fair price for a trip within the city is 20,000 kip or 60,000 kip per hour of sightseeing within the city.

If you prefer having your own wheels, motorbikes and bicycles can be rented at many guesthouses or tour agencies. You'll need to leave your passport or some money as a deposit. A 100cc motorbike starts at $8 or, for something with more style or power, go to Jules Classic Rentals where bigger bikes are $25 per day.

Jules Classic Rentals: Beside JoMa Cafe. T: (020) 760 0813. http://www.bike-rental-laos.com

Updates from Travelfish readers

  • Another bike shop in Vientiane

    Remote Asia Travel: KM 5 Thadeua +856 20 2238 5562 http://www.remoteasia.com/Laos_Motorbike.html

    Update by jb1966 (1)
    Written on 3rd March, 2011

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