Getting Around in Laos
Small and mountainous, carved with strong flowing rivers and berated by annual monsoons, travelling in Laos is slow but sure. Google Maps can be misleading as getting around in Laos takes time; usually more than you may have planned. However, while the transportation network (aside from flying) is slow, it is comprehensive. So unless you are planning on visiting the Hmong in the jungle around Long Tien, you should be able to get just about anywhere you want easily and affordably.
There are two Lao airlines operating in Laos – the larger national carrier, Lao Airlines and a smaller and newer airline, Lao Air. The former flies both international and domestic routes, the latter, domestic only.
If you plan to fly domestically, chances are you’ll be on a Lao Airlines flight.
Buses in Laos are slow; very slow. They are slow for a number of reasons:
1) They’re old
2) The roads are narrow
3) They stop very frequently to pick up passengers, and
4) They stop all the time to let people pee.
They are cheap though, so the adage that you get what you pay for certainly holds true here.
Minibuses also offer routes between the more popular destinations, such as Vientiane to Vang Vieng and onwards to Luang Prabang, but the majority of routes are served by the larger, slower buses.
Larger enduro-style dirt bikes can be hired long-term from some travel agents. Prices are reasonable, but be sure to carefully check the bike, and do not use the chain and padlock provided by the shop to lock up the bike at night – use your own.
Although Laos is quite hilly, it is nonetheless quite popular with cyclists. Most Laotian towns have accommodations, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a room for the night. Make sure to pack a good supply of inner tubes and patch kits and if possible, bring your own bike.
With the improvements of the road networks, boat services have dropped off drastically as it is now far cheaper to transport cargo and passengers, by land vehicles. As it stands, the only boat routes still operating are those popular with tourists:
• Huay Xai – Pak Beng – Luang Prabang
• Pak Tha – Luang Nam Tha
• Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw – Muang Khua – Hat Sa
• Xieng Kok – Huay Xai
• Sekong – Attapeu
Despite the disappearing routes by boat, travel by boat in Laos is still highly recommended, even if your only option is the admittedly very crowded Huay Xai to Luang Prabang route.