Travel to Laos
To travel to Laos, you have many options depending on where you depart from, which parts of Laos you plan to arrive in, plus your personal budget and how you want to travel, by plane, train, road or water.
A passport with six months' validity is the only real prerequisite for entering Laos. For most nationalities it is possible to obtain a visa on arrival (for one month) at most ports of entry. You will need to have two passport sized photographs to obtain this visa.
In Laos, there are 4 international airports, one in the north of the county, two in central, and one in the south.
Here is the list of the international airports from north to south.
- Luang Prabang International Airport (airport code LPQ)
- Wattay International Airport, Vientiane (airport code VTE)
- Savannakhet International Airport (airport code ZVK)
- Pakse International Airport (airpost code PKZ)
Airlines Serving Laos
- Lao Airlines (QV) (national carrier)
- Thai Airways International (TG)
- Bangkok Airways (PG)
- Vietnam Airlines (VN)
- Air Asia
- China Eastern Airlines
International Flights direct to/from:
- Bangkok (Thailand): Lao Airlines has the most flights connecting Bangkok and the four international airports in Laos. Thai Airways International has several flights daily to/from Vientiane. BangkokAir flies twice daily between Bangkok and Luang Prabang. It also offers a daily direct flight between Bangkok and Vientiane starting from 30 November 2012.
- Chiang Mai (Thailand): Lao Airlines has a daily flight between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.
- Phnom Penh (Cambodia): Lao Airlines and Vietnam Airlines operate a daily flight.
- Siem Reap (Cambodia): Lao Airlines operates daily flights to/fromVientiane Luang Prabang and Pakse, and Vietnam Airlines offers a daily flight to/from Luang Prabang.
- Hanoi (Viet Nam): Lao Airlines offers two direct flights daily for Hanoi -Vientiane, and Hanoi - Luang Prabang. Vietnam Airlines also offers two direct flights daily to/from Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam): Lao Airlines flies serveral times weekly to/from Vientiane via Pakse and Vietnam Airlines flies daily to/fromVientiane
- Kunming (China): Lao Airlines and China Eastern Airlines operate a direct flight daily (each) to/from Vientiane. Visit flights from China page for more info.
- Nanning (China): China Eastern Airlines operateds two flights weekly, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
- Jinghong (China): Lao Airlines operates two flights weekly to/from Luang Prabang, on Thursdays and Sundays.
- Guagzhou (China): Lao Airlines operates three flight weekly to/fromVientiane, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
- Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): Air Asia offers cheap flights, three times weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
- Singapore: Lao Airlines offers several direct flights weekly between Singapore and Vientiane, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
- Korea: Lao Airlines offers a daily direct flight between Seoul and Vientiane. A daily flight to/from Luang Prabang is aslo available (via Vientiane).
Lao departure tax (US$10) for international flights is no longer payable at the airport, it is incorporated in the ticket cost.
Flying into Laos from the rest of the world is not direct and involves at least one stop-over or a change of plane.
If you plan to travel to Laos from the US, Europe, Australia or other corners of the world you should book your ticket to cover the whole trip, most travel agencies can help you with this. This way not only can you have your luggage sent direct to Lao airport, you can also receive connecting fare discounts. And if you miss your connecting flight the airlines will take care of the matter, so you don't have to run around trying to solve the problems yourself.
If you search Lao flights online, put VTE, LPQ, ZVK or PKZ (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet or Pakse respectively) as your destination. There will be several options (routes) for you to choose from, some flights are via Bangkok and some via Hanoi. The Bangkok route is the most popular one.
Many people save money by flying to Bangkok and then fly domestically from Bangkok into Udon Thani in Thailand (a Thai province, 55km from Thai/Lao border). Then travel to Laos by land crossing the border at Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. Others chose to book tickets online to save.
Although flying domestically (Bangkok-Udon Thani) then cross the border by land to Laos is cheaper, it takes at least 2 hours longer than a direct Bangkok-Vientiane flight, that's a trade off. Not to mention you having to check out your luggage and navigate to domestic terminal.
Laos shares land and/or river borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar. It is possible to travel to Laos crossing borders from these countries except from Myanmar (foreigners cannot legally cross the Laos/Myanmar border). Visa on arrival is available at most border check points.
Most crossings involve changing transport at the border, some involves a boat trip across the Mekong.
Driving your vehicle
It's possible to drive your own vehicle into Laos from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China (up till now driving from Myanmar into Laos not yet possible).
To drive crossing the border into Laos, proper documents including Carnet de Passage and driving license are required. If the vehicle is registered in someone else's name, who is not travelling with you, a written permission is necessary.
It's also important to have insurance although the authority at the border sometimes don't bother asking, it's your responsibility to make sure you'll not run into trouble if you happen to be involve in an accident.
Riding motobike or bicycle
Motorcycling or bicycling into the country is also possible with the right paperwork of course.
It's finally possible to travel to Laos by train though this can be the shortest cross country train trip you ever have (the railway is only about 3km long).
The first rail link across the Mekong from the Thai town of Nong Khai to Tha Naleng, some 13km away from Vientiane, opened in 2009. There are two shuttle services daily. Lao Visa on arrival is available at the train station.
The shuttle trains are timed to connect with overnight trains to and from Bangkok, with around 90 minutes buffer time at the Thai side of the border for buying tickets and immigration.
Apart from this Thai-Lao train, there isn't a train to/from other neighbouring countries at the moment. However, a high-speed train to/from China is planned. The construction of the railway is initially scheduled to begin early 2011, but it has been put on hold since.
There are bus services crossing the border to/from neighbouring countries, Thailand, Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and few other places) Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City) and China (Kunming).
Boat trips into Laos are from Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar on the Mekong River.
Crossing to/from northern Thailand at Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the Mekong and Huay Xai on the Laos side is popular with travellers coming from northern Thailand. This is the starting point for two-day boat trips to Luang Prabang.
Boat trips to/from Cambodia: Stung Treng - Veun Kham border checkpoint was the international border checkpoint (crossing Mekong River). This check point has been closed since the new Dong Kralor-Veun Kham check point was opened.
There is no immigration office at the Stung Treng - Veun Kham crossing, that means foreigners can no longer cross the river to Laos from Cambodia or vice versa, unless they do it illegally. Locals can still cross the border at this border crossing point
There is a crossing to/from Myanmar, Xieng Kok on the Mekong to north of Huay Xai in Laos, but at present foreigners cannot legally cross between Laos and Myanmar. To travel to Laos from Myanmar, foreigners need to go via Thailand or other Laos' neighbour countries.