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.
Find out what you need to know about traveling to Laos by:
Laos has 4 international airports:
Flying into Laos from the US, Europe, Australia or the rest of the world is not direct and involves at least one stop-over or a change of plane. Please take this into account when booking your ticket. If possible, book your ticket to cover the whole trip. This way not only can you have your luggage sent direct to Lao airport, you can also receive connecting fare discounts and lower the risk of having to pay for another ticket and running around to solve the problem yourself if you happen to miss your connecting flight due to flight delays.
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 to border towns such as Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Rai in Thailand, then travel by land to cross the border to Vientiane, Pakse or Huay Xai (Bokeo) respectively.
Although it is cheaper this way, it takes a few hours longer than a direct Bangkok-Vientiane, Bangkok-Pakse or Bangkok-Luang Prabang flights, that's a trade off. Not to mention you having to check out your luggage and navigate to domestic terminal.
Note: At present most Thai domestic flights are from Don Muang, that means if you arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport, you need to get to Don Muang to take domestic flights.
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 and only 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 neighboring countries at the moment. However, a high-speed train to/from China is expected to be in service in the near future. The construction begun early 2017.
Check fares (flights, train, or bus)
There are bus services crossing the border to/from neighboring countries, Thailand, Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and few other places) Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City) and China (Kunming). Visit International Buses page for more information.
It’s possible to drive your own vehicle into Laos all the way from your country though it may not be supper easy as rules and regulations here may be different from what you expect or have experienced.
Whether you plan to cross the border to Laos from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or China (driving from Myanmar into Laos not yet possible), there are a number of requirements and restrictions that you need to be aware of.
Here are the requirements according to Lao regulation:
If you plan to continue to other countries surround Laos, you may want to get an idea of their requirements. Check out what the fellow overlander has summed it up.
To drive your car/van into Laos, proper vehicle documents including Carnet de Passage and driving license are required, and of course your valid passport too. If the vehicle is registered in someone else's name, who is not travelling with you, a written permission is necessary.
It's mandatory to have insurance although the authority at the border sometimes do not check this, it's your responsibility to make sure you will be covered if you happen to be involve in an accident.
Your visa: Although you can arrange your visa beforehand or get a eVisa that’s recently made available, I would recommend visa on arrival, it is fast, easy, and cheap (30-day visa costs $20-$42 depending on nationality).
At the border you will have to fill out a few forms such as Visa application form (one photos needed for this), immigration, and the vehicle Temporary Import Permit forms. There are some fees in addition to your visa fee, but all are just small (a few dollar) for taking your car into the country, and over time fee if you arrive outside official working hours.
When driving in Laos, please be special careful as it can be hazardous due to traffic culture, local driving practices, road conditions, lack of road lighting and livestock on rural roads. More on road safety in Laos is to come.
Motorcycling or bicycling into the country is also possible with the right paperwork of course. Carnet de Passage, driving license, and insurance required.
If you want to take bicycle trip into Laos visit this site www.bicycle-adventures.com. The site has information you need to know plus lots of tips.
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 travelers 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 (crossing Mekong River) has been closed for foreigners. There is no longer immigration office at this 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 crossing point.
Crossing to/from Myanmar, Xieng Kok on the Mekong to north of Huay Xai in Laos, 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' neighbor countries.
Whichever way you chose to travel to Laos have a pleasant journey!