You need to have plenty of time to travel in Laos. When they say the next boat leaves at 3pm you must check which day! But what's the hurry? It's a great way to travel and taking a boat is often the only way of reaching some villages. I can't wait to do it again.
The mekong river still plays a very important role in Laos for transportation.
There is still lot's of cargo and person transport on the river and eventhough rpad building is coming rapidly to Laos, the river is still a crucial part of the infrastructure in the country.
i cycled around laos and found it an almost ideal country for that.
the roads are ok, it's safe and you can almost always find small guesthouses.
the roads are not always paved, but as long as you have a mountainbike then the place is fantastic biking terretory as you have little traffic once you are out of the main towns.
Your best and cheapest way to get to Vientiane (the capital) from BKK is via Udon Thani. It is cheaper as it is an internal thai flight - with many aircraft flying there. It's then a simple matter to hire a mini bus or taxi car - for about 10USD to the border at NongKai - and cross teh friendship bridge by foot - over the border and then about 4USD into town.
If you fly direct to Vientiane - or even to the culrually significant Luang Prabang - it is more expensive - due to being an international desitantion with associated taxes and charges.
The Udon Thani way is what a lot of expats use to get up there fast and easy.
The speed boat is the fastest way to get to Luang Prabang even if its not the most comfortable but i would recommend this transportation to get there, it takes approx. 6 hours ! Try to catch the front seats where you can lay your feets over the baggage since the space is quite cramped on the boat.
I've also had to overnight in Oudomxai and didn't find that town all that interesting except for visiting the temple/vat on the hill. There are quite a number of Chinese hotels but most weren't very clean and wreeked of cigarette smoke.
I'd recommend travelling from Luang Prabang to L. Namtha in one long trip BUT it's faster to do this in two steps. First, take the early morning shared minivans from LP's North Bus Station to Oudomxai/Muang Xai (arrive early to rreserve your seat by putting something down to indicate the seat is 'taken'. YOu arrive at Oudom's bus station and transfer to a bus to Namtha and you'll arrive in Oudom early enough to catch the last bus for Namtha which departs at 3pm (but there are earlier departures). This two-step transport method is faster than the dedicated LP bus for Namtha which is a local bus and takes much longer.
We moved around Laos using bus transport. It turned out to be adventurous, tiring and providing a whole scope of impressions.
There are bus connections between all major tourist destinations in Laos. In some cases it is possible to choose between a VIP bus and ordinary one. A VIP bus is newer, more comfortable and has air-conditioning. It usually costs 1.5 of a normal bus fare. You can either buy your ticket at one of travel agencies (the other option is buying it through you hotel) or directly at the bus station. The latter one will save you a couple of dollars but remember that you will have to get to the station, which is usually in the outskirts, on your own. The first solution means you will be transported to the station by tuk-tuk from your hotel without any extra charge. You must know that whatever you choose you are likely to end up in the same bus available both for locals and tourists and departing from the bus station.
BE PATIENT! The time of journey stated in the tourist-office hardly ever proves to be right. Be prepared for delays, stops for minor repairs, stops for a cigarette and so on. Add a couple of hours to the expected time. Don't be misled by what is a short distance by western standards. Here a distance of 200 km may be covered in more than 10 hours. Most of the country (70%) is mountainous, which means a bus must wind its way up and down all the time. The views are breathtaking, but a journey is scary.
VIP buses have 'entertainment' included in the price. Throughout your jorney you will have to watch karaoke with sweet sentimental Lao tunes. Perhaps they are supposed to have a soothing effect on your nerves. But believe me, after a few hours you have enough.
The best and fastest in from Vientiane to Lak Xao (in Savannaket Province). Road in good condition.
There are my buses to Vinh, Danang, Hue, Hanoi, HCMC... departure from Vientiane going by this way.
If you like futher information about time, price etc... you can contact my friend "Mee" at firstname.lastname@example.org.... she is a ticketing agent from Vientiane, she will help you.
Leaving LP. Buy you ticket from an agent. We paid $100000 kip each (10 usd) and went on our way in a taxi to the mini bus station and the on to VV via 6 people sorted in the van and a driver intent on both following the rules and pushing the time limits. There were 2 stops along the way for food, smoke, walk or washroom (note:always costs twenty cents or so.). All in all 3 hrs or so and youre in V V pretty much in the heart of guest houses, lodges, restaurants, and the river. Walking for a place to stay is quite easy but they can book up a bit. Cross your fingers during the high season. I figured there were even better places out of town, although I cant imagine a much better place to stay that the 3rd floor of the V V Orchid. 3 Nights turned into 4 and then 5 .....it was a way to widdle away the afternoons with amazing views, interesting coming and going and staying of people, and of course tubing.
The slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang is an interesting one. We had heard different reviews on the 2 day journey in our previous weeks and while in Chaing Rai we booked the journey - via tour operator - for about 1100Baht ea.
The journey involved a mini van from Rai to the border....customs, small boat across the river to Laos, taxi down river about 5 miuntes and then the upsell.
Upon arrival, with prebooked tickets in hand, we were greeted by a gentleman who was in charge of departing on the river. Was a bit of a formality where they take your passport and run it, try and sell you pop and drinks (cheaper than on the boat) and the upgrade on a speed boat or private slowboat up river to save time. We were told the boat was packed and it was going to be uncomfortable. Long story short, we went with our prepaid ticket. Well the boat was packed and difficult to adjust to. There were cold drinks, beer, and munchies on board....of course you can bring whatever you want as well. Semi frequent stops were made(for differnet reasons), but you did have more opportunities to buy, of all things, pringles and oreos.
The trip involves and over night in Pak Beng - which is not incl in the price of the trip - but was cheap enough and plentiful enough to make it easy. You do get in late the first evening and you really have to move to make it out for dinner and relax. Curfew at 11pm of course.
Moral of the story, its a long ride....7 hrs the first day and 8 the second.....with that said, it was a highlight for me to meet a ton of people and enjoy the views. Drinking a couple cold beer Laos, and taking one of the last remaining rides available on the Mekong in Laos. A highlight for me!
Note: we think it is possible to do cheap by not booking in advance with an operator. Local transit to the boat/border and buy slow boat ticket there....much more choices in boats. Youd have to be flexible but it is do-able and cheaper.....possibly faster and more comfortable to.
[Note: overly restrictive menu options means this tip is woefully miscategorized!]
Since there is no train between the two points [Vientiane & Siem Reap) (except if crossing temporarily into Thailand), I'd have to guess the bus is a better option :-). Assuming time is not an issue for you? If busing all the way down to the Lao-Cambo border at Si Phan Don, I think there's now bus connections running from the Cambodia border all the way (as opposed to the former jetboat-only option from the border to Stung Treng, + other optional boats to Kampong Chnaang for the cutoff to Siem Reap). Get your Cambo visa while in Vientiane, and let us know how much they ask for it (supposed to be US$20, but many border stations and their Bangkok embassy itself ask for 1000 baht).
Try reading the travel connections pages on travelfish.org and talesofasia.com for up-to-date details on these connections. The Aranyapathet crossing from Thailand is indeed rife with ripoff pitfalls as the previous replier noted; good info on how to avoid those on the Tales of Asia website. My Google Earth presentation has the Vientiane-S.R. land/river route via the Laos-Cambodia plotted out, and some photos in my web albums (see my home and travel pages here for links).
If cutting into Thailand, you could work in an easy side trip to Preah Vihear, a reportedly stunning temple setting just inside Cambodia on the north Cambodia-Thai border, visitable from Thailand on a day-trip only (there's a very rough Cambodian road from below the temple going south to Siem Reap, but afaik no official entry in to Cambodia is allowed there. You leave your passport at the Thai border if visiting the temple from there; you'd then have to continue on to Aranyapathet or another open Thai-Cambo border crossing and connect to Siem Reap.
When deciding whether to travel in between Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane by van (which are more expensive) or vip bus, choose the last one which is way more confortable than the van´s sardine cans.
June 26th '06 we transfered to Chiang Khong on the Thai/Laos border where we crossed over to Laos on a small shuttle boat. We met our guide Sham-poo who expedited our passport control then took us down to our own slow boat. We had no idea what to expect but were very surprised to see our boat. The lady owner with her daughter, her mother, the captain, boat boy and the three of us. Looking at the other slow boats that were moored along side, they were packed with local traffic, back packers galore and more. Our covered slow boat had comfy chairs;airline style; tables and chairs for meals, beer and water coolers, and a bathroom. Our hotel had provided us with a great picnic for the 1st day of smoked salmon, garlic breads, tempura, breads, juices, water and fresh chocolate brownies.
To Pakbeng we glided down the Mekong through mountain scenery with several stops at local villages with markets. Our first stop was at Pakbeng Lodge - Pakbeng.
I like to share some conclusions about the borderland to Cambodia in Laos. The possibility to get a Visa on arrival is much spoken in forums. All guide books have very old or not accurate information about this.
I have collected a lot of information to do a diagram about the adventurous crossing to Cambodia. For me it was important to understand how and where things are in this place. Sorry some notes are in spanish.
Please let me know any mistake I have.
I can confirm is possible to cross the border and is the best way to visit Cambodia from the 4.000 islands, Siphandon.
We have recently come back from Laos and took the 2 day ferry trip from Luang Prabang to the Thai border, stopping overnight in Pak Beng. The first day we got to the boat on time but alas found ourselves stuck for a whole day on really hard, uncomfortable, small chairs. Some smarter folk and a tour group had prebooked the much more comfortable airline type seats which were limited in number. Needless to say, that evening in Pak Beng we asked at the booking office near the landing if we could book the comfortable seats for the next day and no problem at all. The next day we arrived with our names on 2 really comfortable seats and it made all the difference to our comfort and enjoyment. The boat trip is long but really worth the experience, especially if you get those comfy seats...so pre book them if possible or arrive super early!
TOUGH MANAGEMENT While this facility may be nice, I know the management is tough and does not have...more
Although my stay in Vientiane was brief, I really enjoyed the hotel. It had everything I needed and...more
Ban Sawang, Vang Vieng, 2145532, Laos
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
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