Vientiane’s Wattay Airport
Vientiane’s Wattay airport is a very easily managed hub, often with short queues and swift check-in. Here’s some things that may nevertheless be useful to know if you plan on flying into Laos via the capital.
But first up — how do you get here by plane? Laos has not embraced budget airlines quite to the extent of many of its Southeast Asian neighbours. As of mid-2013, AirAsia runs flights between Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur, starting at $55 one-way and reaching well over $100 during the high season. Bangkok Airways opened a Bangkok-Vientiane route in 2012, which starts at $74 one-way. Most other flights are run by either Lao Airlines or other international carriers, whose prices often don’t fall within the budget of the average backpacker — usually running over $100. Most travellers find it more economical to fly into Udon Thani, Thailand and cross the border into Laos by bus or train.
Wattay airport has visa on arrival. The visa requires two passport-sized photos (specific measurements do not seem to be an issue) as well as a visa fee, which can be paid in either US dollars, Thai baht or Lao kip. Prices vary depending on nationality. While some nationalities are not required to pay a visa fee, most fees range from US$30 to $38, except for Canadians, who pay US$44. It is recommended to check ahead of time what the current fee is for your respective nationality, as these are subject to change.
This little airport is located three kilometres from the city centre. The domestic terminal is smaller than most bus stations, with flights connecting to several locations in Laos. It has minimal but sufficient facilities, including a taxi/van service to the city centre. Just to the left of it is the larger international terminal, with flights going mostly to other parts of Asia.
ATMs and currency exchange
The international terminal has three floors and more amenities than its neighbour. Phongsavanh Bank and ST Bank both have 24-hour ATMs distributing up to 1 million kip. Phongsavanh Bank and ST Bank also have currency exchange services and reasonable prices, open 08:30-20:00 and 09:00-20:30 respectively, seven days a week.
Food and drink
Both terminals have a few cafes, all with the same inflated airport prices, so buy snacks and beverages ahead of time if you’re on a tight budget. The cafe on the second floor to the far left of the staircase has allegedly high-speed internet at 1,000 kip/minute. There is no WiFi access in the airport.
The airport restaurant on the third floor offers lunch and dinner buffets at 11:00-14:00 and 18:00-21:30. It’s an expansive spread of standard Asian food — think Lao dishes and sushi — including unlimited beer and box wine for 79,000 kip per head. If you find yourself with some spare time and kip, and a desire to indulge, it’s not a bad deal.
Getting there and away
Wattay airport is one of the few places in Vientiane you’ll find a taxi service. While tuk tuks wait outside, a shared taxi or van is actually more economical. The service starts around 04:00 or 05:00, when the first flights arrive, and runs until 22:00. A taxi to the city centre costs $7 total and can seat up to four people, while a van costs $8 total and can seat up to seven people. If you haven’t booked a place to stay, they may try and arrange a hotel, but it probably won’t be a cheap option. You can simply ask them to drop you off at the central fountain, Nam Phu, from which you can find any number of cheap hostels and guesthouses in the central area.
There is also a direct service to Vang Vieng. The four-hour drive costs $90 for a taxi and $100 for a van. The number of people will not alter the price, but for a large group it’s a comparable rate to the coach services to Vang Vieng, and far more convenient. It may be an issue finding a willing driver around closing time, but earlier in the evening it should be fine.
If you want to arrange transportation to the airport, best do it through your hostel/ guesthouse or any travel agent in the city centre.
Wattay has no information helpline and the information on their website is limited. You can however see flight statusesat www.vientianeairport.com.
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