Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

Travling north Laos to the south

Posted by Oligodfrey on 25/9/2013 at 11:50

Hi ya! Was just wondering how possible it is to get to the south of Laos from the north,once you've been around Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang an all that by bus/coach? What's the best rout for Laos basically. Me and my girlfriend done Laos last year, but only went to the northern places and didn't get down the south. We Will be there from around January nx year and Want to go bk to the places we've been but also want to travel down to the self as well, then on to Cambodia. Any ideas much appresheated?? X

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 25/9/2013 at 12:23

The south of Lao is great and has a lot to see and do. Are you going to Luang Prabang / Vang Vieng again this time? The best way to do it IMO is try to avoid very long bus journeys, as I'm sure you're aware that they are not a particularly enjoyable experience in this part of the world (not that they are anywhere else either!).

So after you've been to the north I would recommend a night or two in Vientiane to break up the journey, then there are a few places you could consider visiting as you make your way south. First off, if you can ride a motorbike, and are up for a bit of an adventure, the one thing you can't miss is the Tha Khek Loop, info on that here: https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation/laos/southern_laos/khammuan/tha_khaek_loop/all The scenery outside Thakhek itself is spectacular, just hop on a bike and start exploring! Then Konglor Cave is amazing of course, and there are some very cool sights and experiences to be had along the way, and some smaller and very empty caves which you can swim into around the Konglor area, just ask at the guesthouse you stay at!

Heading south from there you have Savannakhet, Pakse, Si Phan Don etc., so plenty of places to see depending on how long you have there. Be warned, getting to Cambodia from Si Phan Don is a massive pain, and you are way better off breaking the trip up by stopping in Kratie. Ended up on a 20 hour trip from Don Det to Siem Reap (against my better judgement), which I would not recommend.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 25/9/2013 at 12:35

Forgot to mention, Pakse is also great as a hub for motorbike trips, there are some really amazing waterfalls in the Bolaven Plateau, and Wat Phu is an easy bike ride away. You can even do a loop around the Bolaven Plateau, which I didn't have time for but I hope to do some day. http://www.bolaven.com/the_loop.php
https://www.travelfish.org/feature/83

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Posted by Oligodfrey on 25/9/2013 at 13:37

Yer well my two brothers are coming along this time, an thought they had to see the north part that we did last year. Loved it loads so would like to see it all again. We've got a month in Laos before a month in Cambodia again. Yer the bus drives are mental and very long. We did from Sam neua over to Hanoi in Vietnam, took over 13 hours , was told 10 but that never happens what your told!!! So if we got the time ill stop off at every and any place I can, espeshlly If it means breaking up a really long bus journey. With the Tha Khek loop do you have to do my motor bike because none of us do this??? All good on push bikes, exploring!
So you can just mk your way down the country stopping at places like you mentioned?? X

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Posted by Geer1 on 25/9/2013 at 17:57

My itinerary if I wanted to see Laos against would be enter from Thailand and go Huay Xai - Luang Namtha - Oudomxay - Nong Khiaw - Muang Ngoi - Luang Prabang(by boat) - Phonsavan - Vang Vieng - Vientiane - Konglor - Thakek - Pakse - Champasak - Si Phan Don. 1 month for all this should be decent amount of time.

Highlight of the Thakek loop is Konglor Cave which is also serviced by a direct bus from Vientiane. Then you can take local bus to Thakek or take same bus back to highway junction and wait for another to pick you up to take you south.

Definitely stop overnight in Kratie when heading into Cambodia, everyone that tries to do the trip in one go ends up kicking themselves like JaiYen88 did. I even stopped in Kampong Cham the next day to further break it up which was a nice enough of a place to stop for a day as well. With 1 month in Cambodia you might even want to consider checking out Ratanakiri or Mondulkiri since you are already over that way(I didn't set aside enough time, heard it is nice there though and after meeting people in Cambodia I wish I would have spent more time there).

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 26/9/2013 at 06:15

Well doing the loop by motorbike is a lot more fun than taking a bus, and Lao is a good place to learn to ride because the roads are in reasonable condition and much less busy than the surrounding countries. If 6 year old kids can do it then I'm sure you can manage! It also gives you the freedom to do random and spontaneous things that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise! See a river? Why not stop for a swim to cool down and wash off the dust! Feel hungry? Stop at a roadside stall for some fruit or noodle soup! Also, the hospitality and generosity of the locals you meet along the way is truly amazing to experience!

Geer1, I think that 14 places is far too many - this will allow less than 2 days per location once you factor in travel times. Oli, my advice would be to stick with 5 or 6 locations - it allows for a much richer experience than zooming through everywhere in a rush, spending massive amounts of time on buses, bored and uncomfortable! I would suggest this route, assuming you are coming from Bangkok:

Bangkok to Vientiane by night train
Vientiane to Vang Vieng by bus
Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang by bus
LP to Phonsavan by bus (if you really want to see the Plain of Jars you could do this, but it is a long journey and quite out of the way)
Phonsavan to Vientiane by bus
Vientiane to Thakhek (or to Konglor if you decide not to take bikes) by bus
Thakek to Pakse by bus

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Posted by Geer1 on 26/9/2013 at 10:21

My itinerary is pushing it a little bit for his time frame but not by much. Take out Phonsavan and it is definitely doable in a month. Lots of those places are only 1-2 day stops imo.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 26/9/2013 at 11:52

Yes but again, it's only my opinion but I feel it's a lot more rewarding to spend, say 5 days or a week in one place, rather than seeing 3 places for 2 days each. You don't even begin to get a feeling for the place until the 3rd or 4th day, and you also spend a lot of time packing, looking for a place to stay, waiting for buses, sitting on buses, organising tuktuks, etc., which is all valuable time that could be spent exploring or relaxing somewhere interesting and new. But of course, everyone likes to travel differently!

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Posted by Geer1 on 26/9/2013 at 12:31

It all depends on location for me. I am willing to spend 4,5,6 days but only in places that I feel comfortable and want to spend that extra time. Honestly it didn't happen a whole lot in Laos for me. Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw/Muang Ngoi were nice, the rest just average imo.

To me Laos was more just taking in the natural sights. I wasn't a big fan of the food, culture or people. Cambodia and Thailand are far superior in that regard imo. The OP has been there before though so will have an idea where he wants to see and how much time to spend where and obviously he enjoyed his time there. My idea was just a way to easily tie together a lot of the common places/sights that people go to see in Laos.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 26/9/2013 at 13:06

Each to their own I suppose! Personally, I love the Lao people and their slow, relaxed way of life, and even some of their food is pretty delicious - ever try larb gai with khao niaow, or a hefty noodle soup with chicken (geng furh gai)? If you get out of the tourist areas you will encounter great friendliness and hospitality, and you can even find that in some of the hot spots (hint: Vang Vieng is not where I'm talking about!).

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Posted by Rufus on 26/9/2013 at 19:28

"Lao is a good place to learn to ride because the roads are in reasonable condition and much less busy than the surrounding countries."
This is extremely poor advice. I have lived in Lao for over 7 years and would argue that it is crazy to learn to ride here. the standard of driving is very poor and adherence to road rules in almost non existent. There is a reason why Lao has one of the highest accident rates per capita in the region.
By the way, as far as culture and people are concerned, the Lao are far friendlier than the Thai, who I find to bemoney grasping. Culture? Well I guess if you like Thai soap operas, then yes, Thailand has more "culture".

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Posted by Oligodfrey on 27/9/2013 at 04:30

I am open to riding a motor bike, ( mo-ped ) but haven't done before, but most places I've been were they do motor bikes there are push bikes which I don't mind just takes a little longer.... I don't think I have to stay in places 5 days or more other wise I'd have to be there for 2 months, which isn't a bad thing but don't have the time. If I find a place i like I will stay extra days but these means it'll take time away from somewhere else, compromises!! This has all been very helpful JaiYen 88 with the different place to stop off on our travel down the south of Laos, and everyone else with there advise. X

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Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 27/9/2013 at 12:13

"say 5 days or a week in one place, rather than seeing 3 places for 2 days each."

Agree. It's good to relax and settle into a destination. Packing and moving all the time is a drag.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 27/9/2013 at 13:36

Rufus, I should probably clarify that I meant it is a good place to learn to ride in comparison to the surrounding countries. There is far less traffic on the roads than those of its neighbours. Yes vehicles and roads are often not in an ideal condition and adherence to road rules is non-existent but realistically, would you recommend learning in another SE Asian country over Lao? My own experience with bikes has been entirely in SE Asia, and I would guess that that is true for a majority of tourists who ride bikes there. I found the riding in Lao to be the safest of the countries in which I have ridden so I was simply passing on what I had learned from my own experience.

Oli, you're welcome and good luck with your trip!

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Posted by Rufus on 27/9/2013 at 21:19

I stand by my post. Telling someone to learn to ride in Lao, (or Thai or Cambo), is very foolish. A proper driving school in Singapore would be my choice if I had to learn to ride here.

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Posted by Geer1 on 27/9/2013 at 22:04

I wouldn't recommend to learn in any SEA country but if you have any experience at all you should be ok. Best to only try after you have watched a fair bit and realize all the things drivers do differently in the area, very different then north american driving for example.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 29/9/2013 at 13:07

It would be nice if every traveller learned to ride a motorbike in their home country (or in 'a proper driving school in Singapore?!') before coming to Asia but realistically that's just not going to happen. So rather than 'telling someone to learn to ride in Lao', I would say that I was pointing out that there are some worthwhile experiences to be had riding bikes there, and that if you are going to do it, as many do, it's not that bad a place to learn.

People are going to be idiots and drive irresponsibly, as they do anywhere in the world, but that doesn't mean that you can't be responsible and (relatively) safe while learning to ride in a country such as Lao. Rather than saying 'don't do it', why not give constructive advice on how to do it safely?

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Posted by Geer1 on 29/9/2013 at 14:23

"Rather than saying 'don't do it', why not give constructive advice on how to do it safely?"

That is what we are doing... If you have no experience whatsoever then learning to ride in a country that has little to no traffic rules is not the place to do it. First time riders spend way too much time trying just to stay balanced etc and don't know how to properly maneuver a bike if you need to swerve around an obstacle or stop quickly etc. In Laos you will have people pass you dangerously and you might encounter people driving on the wrong side of the road etc. Travel insurance won't cover you if you get in an accident and it can be a quick way to ruin your trip. Many places that rent scooters won't rent them to you if you say you have no experience(or if they can tell when you try to get going) for these reasons.

If the person has at least minimal experience on a motorcycle then they should be ok but go slow and be careful and stick to the side of the road. Also make sure you study the differences in driving habits. For example learn when to honk your horn and what it means when a person honks at you(doesn't mean the same thing as in western driving). Research how to group into a pack to make a turn into oncoming traffic etc. If you feel at all uncomfortable about riding a bike there then don't do it. You can get a similar experience hiring a motorcyle taxi or tuk tuk and you are much safer.

Plain and simple a motorcycle can be a lot of fun but it can also be dangerous and ruin a trip if you aren't careful.

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Posted by Rufus on 29/9/2013 at 18:45

"it's not that bad a place to learn"
JaiYen, do you actually read posts? Lao has one of the highest motorcycle accident rates in the world. And this is the country you recommend learing in!

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 30/9/2013 at 07:00

Yeah Rufus, I can read, thanks. We seem to be arguing different points. You are saying that nobody should ever learn to ride in Lao, because it's too dangerous. I'm saying that you can, as friends of mine have, and it can be fun - not that it's perfectly free from danger. I think we can leave it at that.

Geer1, thank you for your constructive advice. My question was directed towards Rufus since all he has said about learning to ride in Lao is 'just say no'.

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Posted by Rufus on 30/9/2013 at 19:20

"as friends of mine have"
Are they still alive?

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