Is travelling by bus in Laos a good or bad choice?
Well... it really depends on individual's specific situation, budget, and/or personal preferences. Some travellers may prefer to save money, some may seek adventurous ways of travel, others may have time constraints.
If you want to see more of Laos close up, or look for a cheap, fun and adventurous way to travel, buses are a good choice.
However, if you don't have plenty of time at your disposal, it is worth planning your journey carefully, and having a back-up plan in case things go wrong, such as buses breaking down. Make sure you choose your bus wisely, if possible, avoid local public buses. A trip on these ancient buses can take forever, they are slow, stop everywhere, are not comfortable, have no air-con (you can open window, but in the countryside the roads are dusty), and worst of all they often break down.
However, as Laos is a developing country where public transport is neither comprehensive nor convenient and sometimes nonexistent, there are not always many choices. You just have to settle for whatever type of bus is available.
Although some refer to bus system in Laos as a substandard, this is not always true as there are more comfortable, air-con buses in service (known as VIP), operated by private companies. They are more expensive, but you will have a smoother journey and peace of mind.
Getting into Laos by bus from its neighbour countries Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China (not Myanmar at present) is fairly easy and cheap.
The buses used for long journeys such as Laos - Thailand buses are better, cleaner, and a lot more comfortable than those used for local commuting.
However, for some routes such as Hanoi-Vientiane and Kunming-Vientiane the journey takes a very long time. A seem-to-be comfortable seat at the beginning might become a tough and uncomfortable one after hours of sitting. Sometimes you might have to share the bus with chickens and/or pigs.
Basic requirements for getting into Laos by bus or other means
To travel by bus into Laos is like any other means of travel. You must carry a valid passport for the border crossing and in some cases you need a valid visa as not all crossings can issue visas on arrival. Your passport must have at least six month of remaining validity and at least one whole blank page for your visa.
If you plan to get a Lao visa at the border (known as visa on arrival), make sure you have 2 photos (passport-type), and cash in US dollars for the visa fee, which varies according to your nationality. It's wise to have the exact amount to avoid hassles because the visa officers often do not have enough or no change. Alternatively they might give you change in Lao Kip at an unfavourable rate.
If you plan to travel by bus using International Bus Services from Thailand crossing the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane, please note that the International Buses from Nong Khai, Udon Thani, Kohn Khaen, and Nakhon Ratchasima usually don't wait long at the border. So... if you plan to get the visa at the border, ask the bus staff to make sure they will wait before buying your ticket, otherwise get your visa before hand.
Important! Check if you are eligible to get the Lao visa on arrival. Countries listed here are the countries where citizens are not entitled to visas on arrival unless they have a guarantee from someone here in Laos. If your country is not in the list, it means that you can get the visa at the border or you might even have visa exemption, check Laos visa exemption page for details.
Laos has no train system, apart from the cross-border train from Nong Khai, Thailand to Tha Naleng station in Vientiane, so buses are the main form of public transportation.
Vientiane has three bus stations: Central Bus Terminal, Northern Bus Terminal, and Southern Bus Terminal.
Central Bus Terminal: Locally known as Khua Din or Talat Sao (Morning Market) bus station, is located in between the Morning Market and Khua Din Market. It has bus services to nearby places in and around the capital city (City Bus), a few further destinations in Laos, and northeast Thailand. For details on Thailand - Laos buses, View Thailand Bus page.
It is also possible to catch a bus to Vang Vieng, Thakaek, Savannakhet or Pakse here, but the other stations have better buses and more frequent departures for these routes.
Northern Bus Terminal: Located on Sithong Road (relocated from T2 road), around 7km from city centre. This is the main departure point for buses to northern destinations, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang Xiengkhuang and other provinces as well as buses to China.
Southern Bus Terminal: Located on 450 road (relocated from Kaysone Phomvihane Avenue or road 13 south in Dong Dok), around 9km from city centre. This new location is just aroud 900 meters away from the old one, Here is the map. This is the main departure point for buses to the south as well as buses to Cambodia and Vietnam.
For more specific information on travel by bus into Laos from neighbouring countries follow the links below.
Have a safe and pleasand trip.
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