Photo: Old shopfront in Phongsali.

How to get to and from Phongsali

Use the quicklinks below to jump to the desired section regarding transport in and around Phongsali.


Air

Phongsali’s airport is actually in Boun Neua, some 42 km west of Phonsali town, and is officially known as Bounneau Airport (Airport code: PCQ). As of 2018, there is flight service with Lao Skyway on select days to/from Vientiane, departing at 11:00. The price is around 900,000 kip one-way. Tickets can be booked at Viphaphone Hotel or (in theory) online visa the Lao Skyway website.

Viphaphone Hotel can arrange for a transfer with the Lao Skyway van (50,000 kip per person) or a private van (550,000 kip for one person; 300,000 kip per person for two or more person). Otherwise, buses from Phongsali pass through Boun Neua enroute to other destinations and any early departure from town is ample time to reach Boun Neua and the airport. Is you need to overnight in Boun Neua, simple accommodation is available.

The situation with Lao Skyway and the flight does change—flights are cancelled when there’s fog, which is common—so do check on the current situation before making plans.

Lao Skyway: https://www.laoskyway.com/en

Map of Bounneau Airport

Map of Bounneau Airport
Legend
(1) Bounneau Airport

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Bus

There are two bus stations in Phongsali—the “main bus station” and the “Hat Sa bus station”.

The main bus station is located three kilometres to the west of Phongsali town by the main road. When arriving to that station, a shared tuk-tuk/minivan transfer into town costs 10,000 kip per person.

Departing Phongsali, the bus schedule sometimes changes with the season and demand, so it is best to verify the details the day before—please take the following as a guideline only. Arrive at the bus station and buy a ticket an hour before the scheduled departure time.

Boun Neua: departs at 06:00. Costs 15,000 kip.
Boun Tai: departs at 07:15. Costs 35,000 kip.
Luang Nam Tha: take bus to Udomxai. You will not make it in time to connect, a one night layover in Udomxai is required.
Luang Prabang: departs at 08:00, 14:00. Costs 130,000 kip and takes 15 hours.
Muang Khua / Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam: departs at 07:00. Costs 60,000 kip.
Ou Neua: departs at 08:00. Costs 60,000 kip.
Udomxai: departs at 08:00, 14:00. Costs 80,000 kip and takes 8-9 hours.
Vientiane: departs at 08:30, 14:00. Costs 250,000 kip.

The Hat Sa bus station, is to the east of town, about a kilometre from the centre. There is one departure a day at 08:00 (costs 15,000 kip and takes 1 hour) to Hat Sa village, arriving in time to catch the boat down the Nam Ou river to Muang Khua.

The road to Phongsali from Udomxai was notoriously one of the worst road journeys in Laos. It used to be a rough, nauseating ride in a Frankenstein bus, a big lumbering monster that looked welded together from scrap metal. However, the road conditions have greatly improved in recent years and as of 2018, most of the route was decently paved by Lao standards.

When roads are paved, they also tend to use better buses. While there’s no guarantee, the route is now done with a coach bus with air-con and loud speakers to blast Lao pop music. At least the repetitive beat drowns out the sound of retching—all the fresh asphalt in the world won’t change the fact that locals can’t handle the sinuous mountain roads and switchbacks at all. Plastic bags are handed out at the start.

Map of the bus stations in Phongsali

Map of the bus stations in Phongsali
Legend
(1) Hat Sa Bus station (2) Main bus station

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Boat

Due to damming on the Nam Ou river, the journey from Hat Sat to Muang Khua, Muang Ngoi or Nong Kiaow is a two-day affair involving both public boat and land transport around the dams with an overnight pit stop in Muang Khua. Take the bus to Hat Sa or Muang Khua to get on the Nam Ou.

For full details on the journey, see our Hat Sa and Muang Khua transport sections.

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Getting around

In terms of distances, Phongsali is easy to manage on foot though the town is situated on the slopes of Mount Phou Fa, so there’s a fair amount of climbing up or down hills to see sights like the market, old Chinese quarter and viewpoint.

Further afield, without organising a tour, transport can be arranged for visits to the 400-year old tea village in Ban Komaen and other villages. Viphaphone Hotel can organise private minivan and they also rent bicycles (25,000 kip with no gears, 40,000 kip with gears). Motorbikes can be rented at Amazing Lao Travel for around 100,000 kip/day.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Phongsali? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.


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