Vientiane's Wattay International Airport (airport code VTE) is 3.5km west of the city.
Transport from the airport to the city is by pre-paid taxi at a fixed price. Car is US$7 or 56,000 kip, minivan is US$8 or 64,000 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.
Several international carriers serve Wattay International Airport, including national airline Lao Airlines, AirAsia, THAI, China Eastern and Vietnam Airlines. Lao Airlines’ fleet is comprised of Airbus A320 and ATR 72.
International destinations include:
Bangkok (THAI, Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines)
Chiang Mai via Luang Prabang (Lao Airlines)
Hanoi (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Ho Chi Minh City (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Vinh (Vietnam Airlines)
Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia)
Phnom Penh (Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines)
Siem Reap via Pakse (Lao Airlines)
Seoul (Jin Air, Lao Airlines)
Singapore (Lao Airlines)
Changzhou (Lao Airlines)
Guangzhou (Lao Airlines)
Nanning (China Eastern)
Kunming (Lao Airlines, China Eastern)
Domestic destinations include Luang Prabang, Luang Nam Tha, Huay Xai, Xieng Khuang, Udomxai, Pakse and Savannakhet. There are several flights a day to Luang Prabang. If you have any plans to explore remote corners of the country, a domestic flight can save you a lot of aches and pains from road travel.
Though each domestic destination usually has at least one daily departure scheduled, flights are occasionally cancelled if there are not enough passengers. Online booking is available on Lao Airlines’ website but booking with a local travel agent can sometimes get you a cheaper rate as there are often specials not advertised on the website. For Vietnam Airlines, it may be worth it to book in person at their sales office, especially if you require connecting flights. Book in person at their office inside Lao Plaza Hotel (cash only).
Lao Airlines Ticketing and Reservations: T: (021) 513 250, 513 243-46?; F: (021) 513 247; http://www.laoairlines.com
Vietnam Airlines Laos Branch: Lao Plaza Hotel, Samsenthai Rd, Vientiane; T: (021) 217 562; F: (021) 222 379; http://www.vietnamairlines.com
Other domestic carriers Lao Skyway and Lao Central Airlines disappear and reappear. Stick with Lao Airlines.
Flights to Laos are not cheap and a popular way to save money is to fly into Udon Thani and cross the border overland. Flights from Bangkok to Udon Thani are numerous and cheap, serviced by Nok Air, Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways and Thai AirAsia. If time is not an issue and you don’t mind the hassle, you can save a lot of money. To give you an idea our one-way flight from Bangkok to Udon Thai on Thai Smile, was US$35 including all taxes, luggage and fees. The regular rate from Bangkok to Vientiane on Lao Airlines is $175!
Nok Air does “Fly n Ride” where the price of the ticket includes ground transfer service to Vientiane. A representative meets you at the luggage carousel and guides you from there.
The most streamlined way to get from Udon Thani Airport to the border is to buy a ticket at the taxi “limo” desk (cost 200 baht) that takes you in a comfortable air-conditioned van right to the Friendship Bridge, approximately one hour drive on smooth sealed road.
In 2009 tracks were laid over the Mekong River making it now possible to go from Thailand into Laos by train – for three kilometres!
From Nong Khai, Thailand, you have the option of taking the shuttle train across the Mekong that deposits you Thanaleng station where you can get a visa-on-arrival. But Thanaleng is located in the middle of nowhere, which means you are stuck with taking a tuk tuk the final 20 kilometres to Vientiane.
We suggest you skip the shuttle train and from Nong Khai station, make your own way to the Thai immigration/passport checkpoint to cross the border.
The shuttle train from Thanaleng, Laos chugs across to Nong Khai station at 09:50, and 17:00. Otherwise, you can make your own way to Nong Khai station.
The #70 Express train to Bangkok departs at 19:10, scheduled to arrive at 06:00 the next morning (though it usually gets in much later). A hard seat costs 300 baht, a soft seat costs 450 baht. Considering the journey takes over 13 hours, a sleeper is definitely worth it and costs 600 baht for fan, 700 baht for air-con upper berth, 800 baht for air-con lower berth or 1,317 baht for air-conditioned first class.
Booking your train ticket through an agency in Vientiane will cost about 200 baht more but it will include transport from your guesthouse to the border, sometimes even all the way to Nong Khai train station.
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 (also referred to as Khou Din station or Talat Sao) is located beside the morning market and is a bustling hub with bus services for the city, municipalities and a few further destinations in Laos and northern Thailand.
A fleet of green and white air-conditioned public transit style buses has routes throughout the city, including:
Bus #14: Is the cheapest way to get to the Friendship Bridge and Buddha Park (6,000 kip). It departs frequently, roughly every 10 to 20 minutes, 05:35–17:30.
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 in the front windscreen, but station staff can direct you to the right bus. Be wary of tuk tuk drivers who say you’ve already missed your bus.
It's also possible to get a local bus to Vang Vieng, Savannakhet or Pakse. However, the other terminals have far better buses and more frequent departures for these routes.
Kasi departs at 08:30, Vang Vieng departs at 07:00, 09:30, and 13:00;
Savannakhet departs at 05:00, 06:00, and 07:00
Pakse departs at 13:00, 14:00, and 15:00
Attapeu departs at 09:30 and 17:00
Tha Khaek departs at 06:00, 11:30 and 12:00
The Central Bus Station also offers convenient service to Nong Khai, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen in northern Thailand, with the bus waiting for passengers to clear passport control. From these cities it is easy to catch buses to other destinations within Thailand.
Nong Khai 07:30, 09:30, 12:40, 14:30, 15:30, 18:00, takes 1 hour, costs 15,000 kip
Udon Thani 08:00, 09:00, 10:30, 11:30, 14:00, 15:00, 16:30, 18:00, costs 22,000 kip, takes 2-3 hours
Khon Kaen 08:15, 14:45, costs 50,000 kip, takes 4-5 hours
Bangkok 18:00, takes 12 hours, costs 248,000 kip
Northern Bus Station
The Northern Bus Station, 8 km northwest of the city centre, is the main departure point for Luang Prabang and all northern destinations, as well as buses to southern China. It’s sometimes referred to as the Luang Prabang bus station.
Buying your ticket through a travel agency or guesthouse in Vientiane will cost more but it will include pickup from your accommodation and shuttle to the bus station or departure point – some VIP bus companies serving popular tourist destinations Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang load up passengers and depart from the city centre, bypassing the bus station completely.
Buses and large minivans bound for Luang Prabang depart regularly throughout the day, at least one every couple of hours. Air-con buses are comfortable, and the VIP buses provide a bit extra space, a snack and bottled water. Most tourists prefer the overnight air-conditioned sleeper bus as a way of saving time and money on accommodation. Note: sleeper buses usually consist of a single bed shared between two people. If you’re travelling solo, that means getting cosy with a stranger. They do make a concerted effort to pair you up with someone of the same sex. Tall people will all too quickly discover that the beds are quite short.
As with all travel in Laos, travel times listed are optimistic estimates.
Luang Prabang (air-con) departs 06:30, 07:30, 08:30, 11:00, 13:30, 16:00, 18:00, takes 10 hours, costs 110,000 kip
Luang Prabang (VIP) departs 08:00, 09:00, 19:30, takes 10 hours, costs 130,000 kip
Luang Prabang (VIP sleeper) departs 20:00, 20:30, takes 11 hours, costs 150,000 kip
Luang Prabang (air-con minivan) departs at 07:00, 09:00, 19:00, takes 8 hours, costs 150,000 kip
Luang Nam Tha (air-con) departs 08:30, 17:00, costs 200,000 kip
Udomxai (air-con) departs 06:45, 13:45,17:00, 170,000 kip
Udomxai (VIP sleeper) departs 16:00, costs 190,000 kip
Bokeo (Huay Xai) (air-con) departs 17:30, costs 230,000 kip
Bokeo (Huay Xai) (VIP sleeper) departs 10:00, costs 250,000 kip
Sayaboury departs at 09:00, 16:00, 18:30, costs 110,000 to 130,000 kip
Parklai departs at 07:00, 08:00, 09:00, 11:00, costs 100,000 kip
Xiengkhuang (Phonsavan) departs 06:30, 07:30, 09:30, 16:00, 18:40, takes 10 hours, costs 110,000 kip,
Xiengkhuang (Phonsavan) (VIP sleeper) departs 20:00, takes 10 hours, costs 150,000 kip
Phongsali (air-con) departs 07:15, 210,000 kip
Phongsali (sleeper) departs 18:00, costs 230,000 kip
Sam Neua (air-con) departs 07:00, 9:30, 12:00, 17:00, costs 170,000 to 190,000 kip, takes
Sam Neua (sleeper) departs 14:00, costs 210,000 kip
Service to China:
Kunming departs 14:00, 18:30, takes 32 hours, costs 729,000 kip
Meungla departs 11:00, costs 284,000 kip
Service to Thailand:
Bangkok (VIP Bus) departs 17:00, takes 12 hours, costs 248,000 kip
Nakhon Ratchasima (VIP Bus) departs 17:00, takes 4 hours, costs 149,000 kip
Khon Kaen (VIP Bus) departs 08:15, takes 4 hours, costs 50,000 kip
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. The better option is to book a ticket for Vang Vieng from a travel agency.
Southern Bus Terminal
The Southern Bus Terminal (Dong Dok) is the main departure point for all destinations in southern Laos and international services to Vietnam and Cambodia. It's located 11 km north of the downtown core, straight up Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue from Patuxai monument. Tuk tuks will ask for 50,000 kip to take you there. An alternative is to take the green and white city bus #29 from the Central Bus Station for 4,000 kip. Buying your bus ticket from a travel agency will cost more but again, it includes a transfer to the station.
Sample destinations include:
Attapeu (local bus) departs 09:30, 17:00, costs 140,000 kip
Attapeu (VIP) departs 20:30, costs 200,000 kip
Pakse (local bus) departs 10:00,12:30,13:00, 13:30, 14:00, 14:30, 15:00, 15:30, 16:00, takes 12 hours, 110,000 kip
Pakse (Express) departs at 18:00, 19:00, 20:00, takes 10 hours, costs 140,000 kip
Pakse (VIP) departs at 20:30, 21:00, takes 12 hours, costs 170,000 kip
Salavan (local bus) departs at 16:30, costs 120,000 kip
Salavan (express, via Pakse) departs at 19:00, 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, takes 10 hours, costs 100,000 kip
Savannakhet (VIP) departs at 20:30, takes 8 hours, costs 120,000 kip
Sekong (local bus) departs at 04:30, costs 120,000 kip
Thakhek departs at 04:00, 05:00, 06:00, 12:00, 13:00, takes 5 hours, costs 60,000 kip
Services to Vietnam:
Vinh departs 19:00, takes 16 hours, costs US$20
Hanoi departs 19:00, 19:30, 20:00, takes 22 hours, costs US$25
Hue departs 19:30, takes 12 hours, costs US$20
Danang departs 18:30, 19:00, 20:00, takes 16 hours, costs US$25
Ho Chi Minh City departs 19:30, costs US$60
Quang Nam departs at 19:30, costs US$26
Quang Binh departs at 19:30, costs US$20
Services to Cambodia
Phnom Penh (sleeper) departs at 20:30, takes 24 hours, costs US$45
Siem Reap (sleeper) departs at 20:30, takes 25 hours, costs US$50
Bangkok VIP Bus
Any guesthouse or travel agency can sell you a ticket on the overnight VIP bus or sleeper 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, departure is at 18:00, a change buses at the border and you arrive in Bangkok around 06:00 the next morning. Agency price:
To Airport (VIP) takes 12 hours, costs 200,000 kip
To Morchit Bus Station, takes 12 hours, (VIP) costs 200,000 kip (VIP sleeper) costs 250,000 kip (VIP sleeper direct) costs 270,000 kip
Minibuses to Vang Vieng
Book a seat for the minivan to Vang Vieng through your guesthouse or a travel agency. The ticket includes pick-up from your guesthouse. Departs at 10:00, 14:00, takes 3 hours and costs 60,000 kip. Travelling to Vang Vieng by minivan is an hour faster than the bus but it can be quite cramped.
Further reading regarding bus travel to/from Vientiane.
No passenger boats run from Vientiane, in either direction.
Getting around Vientiane by foot or bicycle is a lot less pleasant than it was just a few years ago. The small capital city is experiencing growing pains stemming from new development and wealth with old infrastructure. The number of vehicles have increased exponentially since 2010, and as of 2015, there are 661,612 motorbikes, cars and trucks registered in Vientiane. Contrast that to a population of 850,000 people. New big cars + new drivers = a new reality of traffic headaches and a parking nightmare.
That said, cycling and walking remain the best option and it’s manageable if navigate sensibly and be aware at all times. Luckily people still drive at a lazy Lao pace. Locals don’t understand formal bicycling signals but it’s nevertheless a good idea to give basic communication. Pedestrians are considered to lowest life form and have to contend with a gauntlet of parked cars and dangerous gaping holes in the sidewalk.
With so many people now owning their own vehicles and a growing network of public transit, tuk tuks are a dying breed and drivers are falling on tough times, which is probably why they grossly inflate prices for tourists and have formed groups, sticking together and refusing to even give a lift for a couple of blocks for 10,000 kip. This is especially true in the tourist centre along Setthathirat and close to the Nam Phou fountain. It’s best to try and find a tuk tuk driver on his own outside the downtown core. A fair price for a trip within the city is 20,000 kip or 50,000 kip for 10 km.
Thanks to the government of Japan, Vientiane has green and white air-conditioned buses that service routes throughout the city. They depart from the central bus station and you can flag them down anywhere along the route and hop on. Pay the driver or the attendant, cost ranges from 2,000 to 6,000 kip. The most important routes for travellers is bus #14, travelling on Thadeua Rd to the Friendship Bridge and Buddha Park, bus #29 to the southern bus terminal. There’s even a website with schedules.
Vientiane now has Western-style car rentals companies. Rental rates are fairly reasonable and a SUV or Ford Ranger 4WD truck can open doors to some independent off-the-beaten dirt track adventures. At AVIS, a compact car for short-term rental with insurance is US$60 per day plus tax. A 4WD costs US$85. Driver service is also available, as is one-way drop off at their other branches in Luang Prabang, Pakse or Savannakhet. The AVIS sales office is located on Setthathirath Rd, across from Wat Ong Teu.
Two-wheel travel can be rented at many guesthouses and agencies. A regular cruising bicycle with a basket costs 10,000 kip, a mountain bike costs 20,000 kip. Motorbikes costs 70,000 kip, an automatic Yamaha or Honda 80,000 kip, an off-road bike 250,000 kip. Motorbikes require a passport as deposit.
The rental shop on Francois Ngin, at the corner with Fa Ngum road beside Cafe Sinouk, has a wide selection.
Jules Classic Adventure specialises in off-road motorcycles: 08/83 Rue Phayasi, opposite Wat Xieng Veh; T: (020) 5951 1295; http://www.bike-rental-laos.com