Getting There & Around

Getting to, from, and around Laos

It is now very easy to get to and around Laos with the development of the transportation in the world in general, and in Laos in particular. Let see how it is below

Getting to Laos

It was never easier to come to Laos since air links and roads improve around Laos and the region. If you are coming from Bangkok or Hanoi, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, you are just a short and often even cheap flight away from Laos or Luang Prabang.

Most travelers who travel to Laos arrive at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. From there, they have option to fly to 3 biggest airports in Laos including Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse.

There are also the option to take the flight to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai (northern Thailand) and get into Laos through the border in Huayxay, the border town near the golden triangle; or in the south through the areas Ubon Ratchathani and get into Laos via Chong Mek border to Pakse.

Even though air links into Laos and especially to Luang Prabang are expanding, the great big hubs around Laos are:  Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore.

Laos Visa Information

All Lao border crossings allow travelers to enter Laos with a Lao visa on arrival.

Of course you can always request a visa in advance from the local Lao embassy in the country you are in for various prices. 

You will be charged a fee depending on nationality for a Lao visa on arrival. 

Prices generally range from New Zealand US$30, Americans US$35, Canadians US$42, Australians US$30, Chileans US$30, Belgians US$30, British, Dutch, Italians US$35, Swedes US$31, Germans $30-$35.

When you are applying for a Lao visa on arrival (and possibly at Lao embassies abroad),you must bring two small passport-sized photos of yourself.

If you do not have any, you will be required to pay an additional fee of about US$1 for them to scan your passport for the visa.

The Lao visa then can be received by filling out the relevant forms at the moment you arrive at the Lao border or Airport here in Laos.

And here is some great news too, you can stay in Laos up to 3 months without leaving the country with a visa extension.

Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as “visa extensions”) are available from the Immigration Department in Vientiane, the Immigration Department in Luang Prabang, the Police Station in Pakse, the Police Station opposite the Lao-Mongolian Hospital in Phonsavan and in other cities.

Extensions are not possible in Savannakhet, although it is located near the border so you can do a border run. The cost is 20,000 kip per day plus a small “form fee” ranging between 5,000 kip (Pakse) to 25,000 kip (Luang Prabang).

Read more about Laos tourist visa policy

Lao Visa Policy Map - Laos Tourist Visa On Arrival
Lao Visa Policy Map

Flying into Laos

If you fly through international connections, you most likely will find that it is easier to arrive in Bangkok first. Bangkok connects well with Laos to the airports of Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse.

The international airports in Vientiane and Luang Prabang are served by the Lao national carrier Lao Airlines and a few others, including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways (Luang Prabang only), and Vietnam Airlines.

Pakse is the third international airport with flights to/from Siem Reap as well as to/from Ho Chi Minh City.

Luang Prabang also has a daily connection from Chiang Mai, Hanoi, and other upcoming hubs in the booming region. You can take a direct flight from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and many cities in China aside from Bangkok.

Lao Airlines Aircraft - Getting There and Around

 

Laos Travel Money Saving Tip:
Check on Air Asia flights which now connect to Laos from Bangkok Don Muang Airport to Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Air Asia also is flying into Laos from Kuala Lumpur since the end of 2016.If you want to use a quick and easy way to fly indirectly into Laos, you can choose a cheap air carrier to Ubon Ratchathani or Udon Thani!Book with a discount or low-cost carrier airlines Nok Air or Air Asia to fly to Udon Thani or Ubon Ratchathani. Then connect to Nong Khai and the Friendship Bridge via 40-minute shuttle service from the airport. Once you cross the Friendship Bridge, Vientiane is only 17km away.

Travelling overland to Laos

Laos has more than 17 international border crossing, that you can enter easily with the Visa on arrival. We have marked on Google Maps as below:

Entering Laos from Thailand

Entering Laos via Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and get into Lao in Huay Xay

From Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai you can take a bus to the Thai and Laos border towns of Chiang Khong and Houay Xay on the Lao border.

This border crossing links over the new Mekong Bridge and further by road to Houay Xay on the Laos Mekong side.

This route gives you access to great tours and cruises on the Mekong to Luang Prabang, or overland to Luang Namtha and Muang Sing into northern Laos.

Check out the 7 best Mekong River Cruise in Laos

An alternative Route by bus from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is available with overnight buses which travel the route to Nan province in east Thailand and then cross the border to Laos near Hong Sa.

This connection is receiving well supported roads, new bridges and a quite fast access to Luang Prabang. The improvements of this route are ongoing in 2017 and will be better and better.

Entering Laos via Nongkhai, Udon Thani and to Vientiane

You can also take a train or bus to and from Udon Thani. From here you can easily make your way to Nong Khai, the Thai border town to Laos. You will have to cross the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

Train crossing Lao Thai Friendship Bridge 1 Nongkhai to Vientiane - Getting there and around Laos
Train crossing Friendship Bridge I connecting Vientiane and Nong Khai

 

Traveling into Central Laos from Thailand via Nakhon Phanom

This is the best way to access the cave system of central Laos before continue further south or up north to Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

From Bangkok, there are plenty of low-cost flight to Nakhon Phanom, where you can continue with a taxi to the border.

Once there, the town of Thakhek is just 20-km away

Traveling into Southern Laos from Thailand

If you want to travel into southern Laos, you will have to access Laos via Ubon Ratchanthani in Thailand and travel on to the border town of Chong Mek.

This border town will bring you to the southern Lao town of Pakse. There are regular buses that travel to here.

Udon Ratchathani also has an airport which easily connects to Bangkok and some other international destinations.

Through this link you can find easy connections via trains, buses into eastern Thailand. From Ubon Ratchanthani it is just about one hour to the Thai/Lao border in Southern Laos.

Read more about Laos tourist visa on arrival

Entering Laos from Vietnam

It is easy to arrange from major cities in Vietnam. Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon and other cities provide good bus connections into Laos aside from providing direct flights.

You can buy bus tickets in all major agencies and also get your visas there. Visa on arrival for Laos is possible on most ports/border points, please check before you come with the official websites and the immigration.

Entering Laos via Tay Trang 

This is the good connection for the one exploring northern Vietnam then wanting to continue the exploration of northern Laos.

The recommended route is to drive to Muang Khua, then continue the boat along the gentle Nam Ou river down to Muang Ngoi, Nong Khiaw, and Luang Prabang.

The recommended time is 4-5 days to cover this part. If you do not have that time, 2 days are also enough (with 1 night stop in Muang Ngoi or Nong Khiaw)

Tay Trang border crossing - Getting There and Around Laos

 

Warning: There has been some conflicting information about crossing the border in Tay Trang with a Vietnamese motorbike.

It was at one point possible to cross the border with a motorbike and pay a small fee, but there are now some reports that travelers are denied access into Laos with a motorbike from Vietnam due to vehicle registration issues.

It may be easier to avoid this way of crossing the border, and wait to rent a bike when you arrive inside Laos.,

 

Entering Laos via Laksao or Dansavanh (Central Laos)

If you have time, don’t miss the magical cave system of central Laos including Konglor cave, and Tham Khounxe cave / Xe Bang Fai cave. 

Hence, entering Laos via Laksao (Ha Tinh – Vietnam) or Dansavanh (Lao Bao – Quang Tri) is your best option.

In Vietnam part, it is also the chance for you to explore the ancient town of Hoi An, Hue, and the amazing beach of Da Nang.

Entering Laos via Lalay or Bo Y

For the one who loves the nature of southern Laos, entering via Lalay and Bo Y is the best option.

From Lalay, it will take about 3 hours to reach Bolaven Plateau, home to plenty of waterfalls, tea & coffee plantation, or colorful tribe villages.

Traveling to Laos via Bo Y border, you access the least visited part of the country in Attapeu. Be careful if you do not want its beauty takes your breath away.

Read more about Laos tourist visa on arrival

Entering Laos from Cambodia

The only way to cross overland into Laos from Cambodia is at the Dom Kralor–Veun Kham crossing, where it’s possible to get a visa on arrival.

It’s also possible to cross here by boat. You will probably have to pay a small “fee”, usually around $1–2, to the immigration officials at the checkpoint, in addition to your visa fee.

However, this route may be a little more difficult during the rainy season (June to October).

There are buses that will connect from Phnom Penh up to the border. However, this route may be a little more difficult during the rainy season (June to October).

Stung Treng Cambodia Border - Getting there and around Laos
Stung Treng Cambodia Border

 

Warning: There may periodically be a change of buses when crossing the border here. In that case, be sure to always get on the bus that has your luggage so you do have the possibility of losing it. The ‘King of Bus’ company has been known to lose luggage by switching buses a few times during your ride.

Traveling to Laos from China

The land crossing between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) is open to foreigners and they will issue a visa on arrival (about US$37 depending on nationality). You can also get an advance visa in the Lao consulate located in Kunming. There is a daily bus service that operates from Mengla to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. Buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha leave from the North bus station in Mengla, and will cost you about 40 RMB (US$6.50).  

Read more about Laos tourist visa on arrival

Boten Border Crossing
Boten Border Crossing

Getting around Laos

Small and mountainous, carved with strong flowing rivers and berated by annual monsoons, travelling in Laos is sure but slow.

Don’t be misled by short distances on Google Maps — getting around in Laos takes time and usually more than you may have planned.

That said, while the transport network (aside from flying) is slow, it is comprehensive.

So unless you’re planning on visiting Hmong in the jungle around Long Tien, you should be able to get just about anywhere you want easily and affordably.

Air

Domestic flights to smaller airports suffer fairly frequent cancellations due to fog and, in March, heavy smoke during the slash-and-burn season.

During the holiday season it’s best to book ahead as flights can fill fast.

At other times, when flights are more likely to be cancelled, confirm the flight is still departing a day or two before.

Laos Airlines Routes Map

Airlines in Laos

Lao Airlines (www.laoairlines.com) The main airline in Laos handling domestic flights, including between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Luang Nam Tha, Pakse, Phonsavan, Savannakhet and Udomxai.

If you plan to fly domestically, chances are you’ll be on a Lao Airlines flight. Their domestic routes include:
Vientiane – Luang Prabang – Vientiane
Vientiane – Pakse – Vientiane
Vientiane – Phonsavan – Vientiane
Vientiane – Udomxai – Vientiane
Vientiane – Huay Xai – Vientiane
Vientiane – Luang Nam Tha – Vientiane
Vientiane – Savannakhet – Vientiane
Luang Prabang – Pakse – Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang – Phonsavan – Luang Prabang
The full domestic timetable can be found here.

Lao Skyway (www.laoskyway.com) A newer domestic airline with flights from Vientiane to Udomxai, Luang Prabang, Huay Xai, Phonsavan and Luang Namtha.

Lao Skyway’s route set is far more limited:
Vientiane – Luang Prabang – Vientiane
Vientiane – Udomxai – Vientiane
Vientiane – Huay Xai – Vientiane
Vientiane – Luang Nam Tha – Vientiane
Vientiane – Hua Phan – Vientiane
Vientiane – Phongsali – Vientiane
The full domestic timetable can be found here.

With the exception of the Lao Airlines’ offices in major cities, where credit cards are accepted for both international and domestic tickets, it is necessary to pay cash in US dollars.

Bicycle

The stunningly beautiful roads and light, relatively slow traffic in most towns and on most highways make Laos arguably the best country for cycling in Southeast Asia.

Simple single-speed bicycles can be hired in most places that see a decent number of tourists, usually costing about 20,000K per day. Better mountain bikes will cost from 30,000K to 80,000K per day.

Cycling in Laos - Getting there and around Laos
Cycling in Laos

Boat

More than 4600km of navigable rivers are the highways and byways of traditional Laos, the main thoroughfares being the Mekong, Nam Ou, Nam Khan, Nam Tha, Nam Ngum and Se Kong.

The Mekong is the longest and most important route and is navigable year-round between Luang Prabang in the north and Savannakhet in the south, though new dams make this increasingly difficult.

Smaller rivers accommodate a range of smaller boats, from dugout canoes to ‘bomb boats’ made from war detritus.

Whether it’s on a tourist boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang or on a local boat you’ve rustled up in some remote corner of the country, it’s still worth doing at least one river excursion while in Laos.

Check out 7 Best Mekong River Cruises in Laos

Mekong Sun Cruise - 5 Best Mekong River Cruises Laos

Types of boat

Following are some of the héua (boats) that you may encounter in your adventures along Laos’ many waterways:

Héua sáh (double-deck slowboats) Big, old boats; almost extinct.

Héua dooan (express boat) Roofed cargo boats, common on the Huay Xai–Luang Prabang route. Still slow, but faster than double-deck boats.

Héua wái (speedboat) These resemble a surfboard with a car engine strapped to the back: very fast, exhilarating, deafeningly loud, uncomfortable and rather dangerous. Not recommended.

Héua hăhng nyáo (longtail boat) Boats with the engine gimbal-mounted on the stern; found all over Laos.

Héua pái (row boat) Essentially a dugout; common in Si Phan Don.

River Ferries (Slow Boats) & River Taxis

The slowboat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang is the most popular river trip in Laos.

It is still a daily event and relatively cheap at about 250,000K or US$30 per person for the two-day journey.

From Huay Xai, these basic boats are often packed, while travelling in the other direction from Luang Prabang there seems to be more room.

Passengers sit, eat and sleep on the wooden decks. The toilet (if there is one) is an enclosed hole in the deck at the back of the boat.

For shorter river trips, such as Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou Caves, it’s usually best to hire a river taxi.

The héua hăhng nyáo (longtail boats) are the most common and cost around US$10 an hour.

Along the upper Mekong River between Huay Xai and Vientiane, Thai-built héua wái (speedboats) are common.

They can cover a distance in six hours that might take a ferry two days or more.

Charters cost at least US$30 per hour, but some ply regular routes so the cost can be shared among passengers.

They are, however, rather dangerous and we recommend taking one only if absolutely necessary.

Local buses and minibuses

Buses in Laos are slow — very slow. They’re slow for a number of reasons.

They’re slow because they’re old, because the roads are narrow, because they stop very frequently to pick up passengers and because 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 ply the more popular tourist legs, such as Vientiane to Vang Vieng and onwards to Luang Prabang, but the majority of routes are served by the larger, slower buses.

Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Udomxai, Savannakhet and Pakse are all transport hubs and in many cases the city will have more then one bus station, with different stations serving different destinations.

Tuk tuk in Vientiane - Getting there and around Laos

Car & Motorcycle

Driving in Laos is easier than it looks. Sure, the road infrastructure is pretty basic, but outside of the large centers there are so few vehicles that it’s a doddle compared to Vietnam, China or Thailand.

Motorcyclists planning to ride through Laos should check out the wealth of information from local travel agency. Doing some sort of motorbike loop out of Vientiane, Vang Vieng or Thakhek is becoming increasingly popular among travelers.

Motorcycle Laos - Getting there and around Laos
Motorcycle Laos

Bring your own vehicle

Bringing a vehicle into Laos is easy enough if you have proof of ownership and a carnet.

Simply get the carnet stamped at any international border and there is no extra charge or permit required.

Coming from Thailand, which doesn’t recognise the carnet system, an International Transport Permit, known in Thailand as the lêm sĕe môoang (purple book), is required.

This is available at Nong Khai’s Land Transport Office.

You’ll need your vehicle’s official registration book and tax receipts, your passport and an international driving permit or Thai driver’s licence.

On the Lao side you’ll need all the documents mentioned above and will also need to arrange Lao vehicle insurance (about 300B for a week).

Exiting into Thailand or Cambodia is fairly hassle-free if your papers are in order.

Vietnam is a different story and it is probably best not to even consider a crossing.

Heading to China it’s virtually impossible to drive a vehicle larger than a bicycle across the border.

Driving Licence

Officially at least, to drive in Laos a valid international driving permit is required. If you’re only renting motorbikes you’ll never be asked for any sort of licence.

Tractor Cart Laos - Getting there and around Laos

Fuel & Spare Parts

At the time of research fuel cost more than US$1 a liter for petrol, slightly less for diesel.

Fuel for motorcycles is available from drums or Beerlao bottles in villages across the country, although prices are almost always higher than at service stations.

Diesel is available in most towns. It’s best to fuel up in bigger towns at big-brand service stations because the quality of fuel can be poor in remote areas.

Spare parts for four-wheeled vehicles are expensive and difficult to find, even in Vientiane.

Hire

Chinese- and Japanese-made 100cc and 110cc step-through motorbikes can be hired for approximately 40,000K to 120,000K per day in most large centres and some smaller towns, although the state of the bikes can vary greatly.

No licence is required, though you will have to leave your passport as collateral.

Try to get a Japanese bike if travelling any distance out of town.

In Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Tha Khaek and Pakse, 250cc dirt bikes are available from around US$25 to US$50 per day.

It’s possible to hire a self-drive vehicle, but when you consider that a driver usually costs little more, takes responsibility for damage and knows where he’s going, it looks risky. Costs run from US$40 to US$100 per day, depending on the route.

Vientiane-based Avis-Budget is a reliable option for car hire. When it comes to motorbikes, try Fuark Motorcycle Hire in Vientiane.

Thakhek Loop - Getting there and around Laos
Thakhek Loop

Insurance

Car-hire companies will provide insurance, but be sure to check exactly what is covered. Note that most travel-insurance policies don’t cover use of motorcycles.

Get to know about Travel insurance

Road Conditions

While the overall condition of roads is poor, work over the last decade has left most of the main roads in reasonable shape.

Elsewhere, unsurfaced roads are the rule. Laos has about 23,000km of classified roads and less than a quarter are sealed.

Unsurfaced roads are particularly tricky in the wet season when many routes are impassable to all but 4WD vehicles and motorbikes, while in the dry season the clouds of dust kicked up by passing traffic makes travel highly uncomfortable, especially in a Soongthaew or by motorbike.

Bring a face mask. Wet or dry, Laos is so mountainous that relatively short road trips can take forever.

Laos Road - Getting there and around Laos

Road Hazards

Try to avoid driving at dusk and after dark: cows, buffaloes, chickens and dogs, not to mention thousands of people, head for home on the unlit roads, turning them into a dangerous obstacle course.

Road Rules

The single most important rule to driving in Laos is to expect the unexpected.

Driving is on the right side, but it’s not unusual to see Lao drivers go the wrong way down the left lane before crossing over to the right, a potentially dangerous situation if you’re not ready for it.

At intersections it’s normal to turn right without looking left.

Motorcycle Tips

There are few more liberating travel experiences than renting a motorbike and setting off; stopping where you want, when you want.

The lack of traffic and stunningly beautiful roads make Laos one of the best places in the region to do it.

There are, however, a few things worth knowing before you hand over your passport as collateral to rent a bike.

The bike Price and availability mean that the vast majority of travelers rent Chinese 110cc bikes. No 110cc bike was designed to be used like a dirt bike, but Japanese bikes deal with it better and are worth the extra few dollars a day.

The odometer Given that many roads have no kilometer stones and turn-offs are often unmarked, it’s worth getting a bike with a working odometer.

Most bike shops can fix an odometer in about 10 minutes for a few dollars. Money well spent, as long as you remember to note the distance when you start.

Motorcycle tour Laos - Getting there and around Laos
Motorcycle tour Laos

 

The gear Don’t leave home without sunscreen, a hat, a plastic raincoat or poncho, a bandanna and sunglasses.

Even the sealed roads in Laos get annoyingly dusty, so these last two are vital.

A helmet is essential (ask for one if they don’t offer), as is wearing trousers and shoes, lest you wind up with the ubiquitous leg burn.

The problems Unless you’re very lucky, something will go wrong. Budget some time for it.

The responsibility In general, you can ride a motorbike in Laos without a licence, a helmet or any safety gear whatsoever, but for all this freedom you must take all the responsibility.

If you have a crash, there won’t be an ambulance to pick you up, and when you get to the hospital, facilities will be basic.

Carrying a basic medical kit and phone numbers for hospitals in Thailand and your travel insurance provider is a good idea.

The same goes for the bike. If it really dies you can’t just call the company and get a replacement.

You’ll need to load it onto the next pick-up or soong thaew and take it somewhere they can fix it. Don’t abandon it by the road, or you’ll have to pay for another one.

Local Transport

Although most town centres are small enough to walk around, even relatively small settlements often place their bus stations several kilometres out of town.

Bus

Vientiane is the only city with a network of local buses, though, with the exception of a few key recommended routes, they’re not much use to travelers.

Soongthaew, Jumbo, Sam-Lo, and Tuk-tuk

The various pick-ups and three-wheeled taxis found in Vientiane and provincial capitals have different names depending on where you are.

Largest are the Soong Thaew, which double as buses in some areas and as local buses around bigger towns.

Larger three-wheeler are called jumbo and can hold four to six passengers on two facing seats.

In Vientiane they are sometimes called tuk-tuks as in Thailand (though traditionally in Laos this refers to a slightly larger vehicle than the jumbo).

These three-wheeled conveyances are also labelled simply taak-see (taxi) or, usually for motorcycle sidecar-style vehicles, sam lo (three-wheels).

The old-style bicycle Sam Lo (pedicab), known as a cyclo elsewhere in Indochina, is an endangered species in Laos.

Tuk Tuk Laos - getting there and around Laos
Tuk Tuk Laos

Taxi

Vientiane has a handful of taxis that are used by foreign business people and the occasional tourist, while in other cities a taxi of sorts can be arranged.

They can be hired by the trip, by the hour or by the day.

Typical all-day hire within a town or city costs between US$35 and US$50, subject to negotiations.

Train

Currently Laos has just 3km of railway line connecting Nong Khai to Vientiane Prefecture via the Friendship Bridge.

Plans are underway to extend this line to central Vientiane, and eventually connect with a Chinese-funded railway line from Kunming to Vientiane via Luang Prabang, which is currently under construction.

Some popular tourist routes

Laos is more suitable for the ones who are looking for a peaceful place to stay away from the busy daily life. A place for you to step back and enjoy your life.

Laos is for the ones who are looking for the nature and its untouched beauty.

Laos is for the ones who are looking for the place to experience the never-fading culture.

Laos is for you.

A week in Laos - Most popular destinations

Start out your classic Laos adventure in Vientiane, the atmospheric Lao capital.

There are few must-see sights beyond a handful of temples, but the Mekong riverside setting is dramatic and there are some excellent cafes, restaurants and bars to enjoy, plus some of the best shopping in the country.

Head north to Vang Vieng. Once a sort of backpacker Xanadu where anything goes, it has reinvented itself as the adventure centre of Laos with caving, rock climbing, ziplining, kayaking, mountain biking and trekking, not forgetting the infamous river tubing that put this place on the map.

Continue north on Rte 13, making a side trip to Phonsavan, gateway to the Plain of Jars and its mysterious vessels, one of the more popular destinations in Laos.

The highlight of this trip is Luang Prabang, the historic capital of Lan Xang and a worthy Unesco World Heritage Site.

Plan a few days here to soak up the timeless atmosphere of the old town, including the tak bat (dawn call to alms) for the city’s many monks. Save some time for outdoor adventures, with waterfalls, mountain-bike trails, kayaking trips and jungle treks all on offer.

Read more about Top 10 places to visit in Laos

Pha That Luang Stupa - Getting there and around Laos - Most popular routes

 

Hit the north - 3 weeks or more

Northern Laos is one of the most popular regions of the country for adventure activities, coupled with an authentic dose of ethnic-minority lifestyles.

Right at the heart of the region lies Luang Prabang, the perfect place to start or finish a road trip through the remote north.

Lovely Luang Prabang is a destination in itself. Spend your time exploring the old town and its myriad temples, traditional buildings and galleries, cafes and shops.

Head southeast from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, the base from which to see the impressive Plain of Jars.

It is then time to leave the tourist trail and head to the Vieng Xai Caves. The setting is spectacular amid the karst caves and the historic audio tour is one of the most compelling experiences in Laos.

Swinging west, head to the remote protected area of Nam Et/Phou Louey NPA for a night-time wildlife-watching safari.

Continue to Nong Khiaw, a beautiful village on the banks of the Nam Ou (Ou River) with striking limestone crags looming all around.

This is the embarkation point for an adventurous boat trip to Phongsali Province via the small villages of Muang Ngoi Neua and Muang Khua.

Phongsali is considered the most authentic trekking destination in Laos and it is possible to experience homestays with Akha villagers.

Luang Namtha - Getting there and around Laos, Popular routes
Luang Namtha, Northern Laos

 

Head on to Luang Namtha, a friendly base for some northwesterly adventures. Trek into the Nam Ha NPA or try a cycling or kayaking trip in the countryside beyond.

From Luang Namtha head down to Huay Xai, a Mekong River border town and gateway to the Gibbon Experience. If time is tight, bail out here, but it is better to continue the loop back to Luang Prabang by river.

The two-day boat trip from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang via Pak Beng is one of the most conveniently accessed river trips in the country.

Or take just a one-day boat trip to Pak Beng and then leave the river behind to head to Xayabouly and the superb Elephant Conservation Center on the Nam Tien lake. This can also be visited out of Luang Prabang.

Read more about Top 10 places to visit in Laos

Central & Southern Laos - more than 2 weeks

This classic southern route takes you through the heartland of lowland Lao culture, a world of broad river plains planted with rice and homemade looms shaded by wooden houses on stilts.

Start in Vientiane, the country’s capital, and soak up the sights, shopping, cuisine and nightlife, as things get quieter from here.

Make a side trip to the backpacker mecca of Vang Vieng, surrounded by craggy, cave-studded limestone peaks.

Head south to Thakhek, the archetypal sleepy town on the Mekong, and then east on Rte 12 to explore the caves of the Khammuan limestone area, where some of the best rock climbing in the country is on offer.

Alternatively, go full tilt and explore the Loop by motorcycle all the way around, stopping at the incredible river cave of Tham Kong Lor.

Continue south to Savannakhet for a taste of how Vientiane looked before it received a makeover from the Lao government and international aid money.

Explore the somnolent streets of old French architecture and surf the street stalls at the Savannakhet Plaza Food Market.

Done Daeng - Getting there and around Laos - Most popular routes

 

Roll on southward to Pakse, gateway to the southernmost province of Champasak. Champasak town is a more relaxed alternative to Pakse and is the base for seeing Laos’ most important archaeological site, Wat Phu Champasak, an Angkor-style temple ruin spread across the slopes of sacred Phu Pasak.

A rewarding side trip takes you up onto the Bolaven Plateau and to some impressive waterfalls, including Tat Fan. This is also the place to try the adrenaline-fuelled Treetop Explorer experience, a jungle zipline adventure.

Pass through the coffee capital of Paksong to buy some java before heading to beautiful Tat Lo. This is a great place to hang out and swim in the falls, undertaking gentle treks through local villages.

Continuing south, consider stopping at the village of Kiet Ngong to visit the elevated archaeological site of Phu Asa or try bird-spotting in the nearby forest and wetlands.

This is a logical stop on the route south to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), an archipelago of idyllic river islands where the farming and fishing life have not changed much for a century or more.

Swing in a hammock and relax, before moving on to Cambodia or heading to Thailand via Chong Mek.

Read more about Top 10 places to visit in Laos

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