Vientiane is a fairly compact city so it is easy enough to walk just about anywhere but you can grab a tuk tuk to anything you think is too far. These motorcycle cum taxis are quite economical with a fare anywhere in the city only 10,000 KIP ($1).
We arrived in Vientiane on a local bus from Veng Viang that cost 10,000 KIP each for the hour plus trip.
Getting to the airport was another story. We opted for a tuk tuk and it was cheap enough at only 20,000 KIP but it was quite cool riding out there early in the morning. It was three kilometers and the wind was just ripping through us on the open vehicle!
We flew from Vientiane to Hanoi to avoid an excruciating bus trip but paid the price for it ($108 one way).
The airport departure tax is $10 per passenger and the airport is a pleasant enough place. I even found the best beer I had in Laos. It was made by a French expatriate in Champassack and tasted a bit like a dry Belgian ale. It was an extortionate $1 per bottle but hey, it was better than Beer Lao.
A convenient way to reach Vientiane is to cross the border from Thailand via the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River. We took a flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani in northeast Thailand on Air Asia, which is an incredibly cheap discount airline. From the arrival terminal in Udon Thani airport you can catch a van to Nong Khai for only 100 Baht (US$2.50) per person, which takes around 30 minutes. The van will drop you at a bus station where you can catch a bus for 10 Baht that will take you across the Friendship Bridge. The bus first stops at Thai exit immigration, and then you reboard and continue across to the Laos entry immigration. We purchased our Visas on arrival at immigration (US$30 per person). After clearing immigration, we caught a taxi to Vientiane for US$5, but there are buses that are obviously much cheaper. The ride from the bridge to the city center takes another 30 minutes.
The easiest way to go around Vientiane is by tuk-tuk, but You can make it by foot, Vientiane is not that big and everything is accesible by foot.
Try to find a map.
Tuk-tuk is a bit more expensive than Thailand because of the gasoline price (It´s dirt cheap anyway)
The tuk-tuks are in poor condition and quite slow (thank God!)
Unlike Bangkok where you must avoid these people at all costs, tuk tuks are a good way to get around in Vientiane. It will cost two or three dollars to get from one place to another or you can negotiate an hourly price for a tour of the city - I paid 6 USD/hour (the asking price) the one time I did this which I am sure is too expensive but I just couldn't bring myself to bargain for such a small amount of money.
My favorite thing was to walk until it was just too hot and I was too exhausted to go any farther and then just get a tuk tuk back to the guesthouse. They are everywhere and no they will not take you to the gem factory (there isn't one) nor will they take you to some dodgy tailor shop. Vive Vientiane.
There are a few ways to do it, but this is how I got across the firendship bridge into Laos:
1. Take a bus to Nong Khai. Tell the driver that you are going to go to Laos so that he will drop you off at the right place. The bus fare from Udon Thani is about 80 baht and it takes just over an hour.
NB - There are buses directly to Vientiane, but the schedule is limited and you can only travel straight through to Laos if you have obtained a visa in advance.
2. There are tuk tuk drivers at the drop off point. You can either go from there to the border yourself or go to a visa agent. I went to a visa agent.
3. There are numerous visa agents along the highway near the border. They will fill in all of your immigration forms for you and then escort you in the tuk tuk to the border.
4. At the border, the visa agent will submit your documents for you, pay the visa fee and get you through immigration faster (i.e. you don't have to line up). After you pass through Thai departures, you board a bus with the visa agent across the friendship bridge to Lao arrivals. Again the visa agent will line up for you and sort everything out. After this, you're in Laos and the visa agent returns to Nong Khai. The whole process, from getting off the bus in Nong Khai to entering Laos takes less than an hour. The tuk tuk, buses, visa fee and services cost USD44 total. The do-it-yourself cost is $30 plus tuk tuk plus bus. Money well spent I think.
5. Once you're over the border, there are the typical negotiations to get to Vientiane. Walk past the taxi stand at immigration (as always). About 200 baht / 30 minutes. There is also a bus, which takes longer and is cheaper.
Good luck :-)
This luxury bus is the best overland connection with Bangkok. It costs 650 Baths (about 15 USD), leaves at 19:30 and arrives at Khao San Road (Bangkok) at 6 am the next day (well, in fact, the time I took it, it arrived at 4:30!), but it can also stop at BKK airport under request.
You have to change buses at lao-Thai border and pass customs, but there is also a friendly crew accompanying you, so you won't get lost.
The ticket includes a dinner in the Thai side (noodles and some rice, drinks not included).
They show movies and the seats are comfortable.
Here the tuk tuks are slightly different from those in Bangkok. They are more colourful and the motorbike is more "independent" from the rear part.
They are really cheap, but in the center of Vientiane everything is at walking distance.
Anyway, they can be useful to go to the Buddha Park (25 minutes away) or to the That Luang stupa, a bit far from the centre (3 kms).
Bargain the price before going in.
You can take boats up the Mekong towards Luang Prabang.
There are mainly 2 options:
- Slow Boats: traditional boats that take 3-4 days to get there. Normally they transport goods too. Take your own food just in case.
- Speed Boats: Thing long small boats that run like hell, and are very dangerous (several accidents each year). You have to use a helmet if you go here. It is a kind of extreme sport. They take you to Luang Prabang in 8-9 hours!!!!
Vientiane has got a medium size airport with 2 terminals: national and International.
The only transport from there are taxis, and they are really expensive (5 USD), as the centre is about 10 minutes from the airport. If you wanna avoid this, you can:
- Tell your hotel to pick you up at your arrival.
- Walk to the National Terminal (100 metres to the left as you exit the International Terminal) and try to find a taxi there. I think they charge 5 USD only to inexpert foreign tourists!
- Try to find a moto-taxi that has (by chance) come to deliver someone to the airport.
Anyway, a normal fare should be 1-2 USD, try not to pay more...
There are flights to Luang Phabang for 46 USD, Hanoi for 100 USD.
If you are in tight budget or prefer overland, the bus from Hanoi to Vientiane cost US12-14 and takes 23 hours.
You can get the ticket in most of the travel agency in Hanoi. I picked the travel agency heading 'Sihn Cafe agent' but turned out to be with Kim cafe. Better choose the comppany which having own bus than through agent, it cost more.
The bus will depart at 7pm and arrive at north bus terminal in Vientiane at 6pm the next day. In the middle of the night, the bus will stop somewhere in Vihn and the driver sneaked in a local guesthouse to have his nap without informing the passangers what is happening. Inside the bus is stuffy so most of us come down from the bus.
As a whole, the road condition is okay except for the part after the border into Laos. You will reach the border(Cao Treo) in early morning around 8:50am.
For the custom stamp to exit Vietnam, US1 is charged; for the entry stamp to Laos, 2500 Kips is charged.
Just to bear in mind that the situation inside the bus can be a chaos! If the bus is full, your backpack will be laid on the pavement and everyone just stepped on it to get to their seat.
There are three ways to get to Pak Lay:
1. slow boat
2. speed boat
3. local bus
Going by slow boat you'll need to get to Kaoliew boat/ferry station, which is about 10 km outside the VTE centre. Take tuk-tuk. Slow boat to Pak lay leaves few days a week (Fridays for sure), around 9 am (it is never really punctual) and it's recommended to be there before 9 in order to sort out ticket and something what they call immigration (which is strange, because you don't leave Lao teritorry really and you'll land in Pak Lay... on the other hand, you'll be flowing on the borderline, so it somehow make sense). In the immigration "office", you'll be required to show your passport or identification paper if you're Thai, Lao, or working in Lao, then pay some small fee before departure - we were charged 2000 KIP. The officer will only make a note in their notebook including your name, destination and nationality plus they'll take money.
You can pay the ticket on the boat (in this case they can sometimes charge more) or the ticket office and as a foreigner you'll pay 130 000 KIP. If you live there or work or Lao national, you'll pay less. It's a long journey, about 9 hrs to Pak Lay and about 5-6 hrs to Sanakham so take snacks or lunch with you and drinking water. There is toilet on the boat, which can be sometimes very small place (depends on the boat) and you need to have your toilet paper.
It's probably the nicest mode of transport to Pak Lay and the most comfortable too. You'll learn a lot about Mekong on that journey.
IMPORTANT UPDATE 2011: Boats no longer run to Pak Lay! Buses, do.
Another water mode of transport to Pak Lay is by speed boat. They leave more frequently (daily, and a few times a day if enough costumers) from the same boat station as slow boats in Kaoieuw. This is also the most expensive, most dangerous and uncomfortable way to get there, but it's the fastest. It normally takes 4 hours, but we had some problems with the engine and it took us 5. There can be about 8 passengers in one boat and you'll be squeezed between the wooden bench and next passenger's back. It's certainly not for big people! No roof or front window which means you'll be exposed to direct sunlight, winds and rain. The sides are quite low and you can get wet very easy when you run over the rapids, so some waterproof jacket will is good if you have. Apply sun block cream, wear sun glasses (winds and reflection) and protect your ears with ear plugs as there's deafening noise if you're sitting just in front of the engine in the last two rows. You may want to protect your head with a scarf too, direct sunlight can be quite severe threat.
Helmet and safety jackets are provided, but I can honestly say they're not really in good shape.
Don't worry about your stuff (bags and backpacks), it's tight hard with ropes in the end and front of the boat. But do have good bag for your camera and protect it with waterproof cover (and keep it by yourself to minimise shaking which can harm it).
Boat stops once half way at the Mekong petrol station to fill the petrol. It's a short stop, but use the chance to straighten your back and legs or go to toilet. It is important to be practical for your maximum 'comfort'.
The procedure before taking boat is the same as by slow boat: buy ticket at the desk or directly by driver plus go to immigration desk. You can expect to pay something like 1000 baht as a foreigner (still, double prices).
Don't take speed boat if you're in any way afraid of speed or don't trust the boat or driver - truth is that few boats already drowned.
IMPORTANT UPDATE 2011: Speed boats no longery ply the route between Kaoliew- Pak Lay. Now, your only way to get there is by bus. Pity, that slow boat is off, too.
If you want to take a local bus to VV, HH and so forth (short distance) you'll take one at the bus station near Morning Market, by Khua Din Market precisely. These buses won't have air-con, comfy seats, they'll get crowded and journey will take 4 hrs untill they reach Vang Vieng. But... you'll experience how Lao people travel and maybe made have some nice conversations with s local. Quite a growing numbers of backpackers and adventurers take these buses nowsadays. Ticket price is 40 000 KIP to VV and you pay on the bus.
From the very same bus station you can take Lao Thai bus to Thailand (Nong Khai, Udon Thani). Buy ticket at the counter, but since tickets are real cheap, they can sell out pretty fast, so it's worth to come earlier to secure a seat at one of the buses. They run several times daily.
You must reconfirm your airline tickets in Laos, to avoid your flight booking being cancelled.
However, a big advantage of this is that the check-in time is reduced from two hours to 1 1/2 hours. At smaller airports, you can get away with one hour.
Note that Lao Airlines flights often leave early to provide a buffer against possible flight delays later in the day.
International Lao Airlines flights cannot be reconfirmed at the sales office in the domestic terminal at Wattay Airport. You need to go next door to the international terminal (or to the office in town near Nam Phu Place). The airport sales office closes at 4.30pm!
If you travel to Southern provinces, you will have to go to Southern bus station, which is about 8 km from the centre. Take tuk-tuk. It's new station, opened since 2006 only.
There are many buses leaving almost every hour to Pakse, Savannakhet and once or twice a day to Paksong, Attapeu and less popular destiantions; for the local bus VTE-Paxse you'll pay 100 000 KIP one way, VIP is more. But... we took once VIP, got flat tire twice, seats were old... and arrived there in 12 hours (we took it in Thabok!) Suppose you arrive to the station with your backpack and just want to leave with the fist one, you better ask what kind of 'VIP' bus you get at that time and for what price, because perhaps you will feel disappointed over the VIP title - it won't look much better than a local bus, but you'll pay more than it was worth.