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  LIVING IN ASIA 

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  LAO PDR - Laos

Introduction

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Vientiane by Night

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Last updated:
Sept  2017

   © 2005-17 Retire-Asia.com    


 

Ancient Lao 'railway system'.
This old relic was used on Lao's first 'railway system', back in the French colonial era. A 7km track over a viaduct linked some small islands on the Mekong Delta in the far south of Laos.

 
  Fly Roundtrip for $199 or Less on CheapOair








Great deals to, from and within Asia as well!

Fly direct to Laos from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Singapore

Lao Central Airlines flies to Bangkok and Luang Prabang

Lao Central Airlines logo imageIn 2013, Lao Central Airlines, a subsidiary of the privately owned Phongsavanh banking and commercial group,  took delivery of a new 93 seat Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100, adding to Lao Central's fleet of two Boeing 737-400 aircraft, but unfortunately the aircraft crashed during its promotional tour (no fault of the airline).

Currently, the former Phongsavanh Airlines jets operate from Wattay Airport, Vientiane, to Bangkok and Luang Prabang, at competitive prices, with online booking available or call 1169. Flights to Vietnam (Hanoi), China (Kunming) and Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap) will begin later this year, with further destinations including Myanmar planned. International services using a Boeing 777 will commence once purchase and delivery are complete.

[The first Superjet 100 for service in Southeast Asia flew into mountains in Indonesia during a May 2012 sales demonstration flight. The pilot, who had manually disabled the terrain warning system, was blamed for the fatal crash in which all 45 crew and airline representatives aboard died. See BBC Asia report.]

Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)– Laos (Vientiane) direct flights with AirAsia – the only way to fly this route!

Air Asia is a Malaysian discount airline – read reviews also with international routes, which has operated  direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Vientiane KUL-VTE-KUL since 2007. Book online for the 2˝ hour A320 flight at AirAsia.com. Promotional fares are sometimes available e.g. VTE-KUL one way from $40. Tickets can be hundreds of dollars cheaper than other airlines and it's also the only non stop service between the two capitals.

Vientiane, Laos (VTE) – Singapore (SIN) direct flights

Lao Airlines operates a direct Singapore–Vientiane service, using an A320 Airbus. The three-hour flights are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Return trip $406 inclusive. Lao Airlines online booking.
 

China (Kunming KMG) – Laos (Vientiane VTE) direct flights with Lao Airlines & China Eastern

There are daily flights between Vientiane and Kunming with a China Eastern jet or Lao Airlines turboprop. Check flights, cheapest prices and book through CheapOair.

Udon Thani (UTH) – Luang Prabang (LPG) by Lao Airlines

The UTH-LPG service began in August 2010 with a QV twice-weekly on Fridays and Sundays. One-way fare $80, return $150. However, probably due to lack of traffic, it has been discontinued as was the Tiger Airways service between Udonthani and Singapore.

Lao Central Airlines (formerly Phongsavanh Airlines) is a "premium low-cost" carrier, part of the locally-owned Phongsavanh Group including PSV Bank. They fly between Bangkok and Vientiane using Boeing 737-400s. Hanoi and Siem Reap and beyond are future routes.

Travel to Northeast Thailand and Laos

Bangkok – Vientiane via Udon Thani and Nongkhai

Tourism to NE Thailand and Laos is on the increase, but due to higher fuel prices and lack of passenger traffic, airline operators are finding it difficult to service these routes economically.

Although there are direct flight connections to Laos from China (Kunming), Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, the most popular and convenient Lao entry points are from Thailand. Apart from flights from Bangkok and Chiangmai to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, there are several road and river crossing points. The best known is the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nongkhai and Mittaphab, a short distance from the Lao capital Vientiane.

From Bangkok there are air, rail (the sleeper train to Nongkhai is popular) and bus connections to the Northeast Thailand (Isaan) cities of Udon Thani and some 50km further north, Nongkhai which is on the Mekong River. From there it's a short ride across the bridge to the Lao PDR and Vientiane. Several airlines now fly to Udon including Nok Air with 3 flights per day from Bangkok (Don Muang) and a daily afternoon flight from Chiangmai. Alternatively Air Asia flies to Udon from the new Bangkok airport. There is an Airport Limousine (bus service) between Udonthani Airport and Nongkhai. See below for more detail.

Bangkok–Vientiane direct vs. Udon/Nongkhai and the Bridge?
Choosing which is better depends on your priorities: cost saving, time saving and/or convenience. The discount flight operators to Udon are cheaper by around 1500 baht ($40) one way BUT there is the extra time factor to consider, even without airport or flight delays. There is the 50km road trip to Nongkhai, followed by the shuttle bus and Friendship Bridge border control, then the 25 km drive into Vientiane. Plenty of time needs to be allowed for contingencies. You also have the added cost of travel between Udon and Nongkhai (about 45 minutes), and a half hour taxi or tuk-tuk ride into Vientiane.

The alternative is to pay $99 or 3000 baht one way (5800 baht or $170 return with a 3 month ticket) for just over a one hour direct flight from Bangkok to Vientiane's Wattay Airport which is only 10 minutes from the city.

Anyone who has done both knows which method to recommend. Thai and Lao Immigration can go smoothly, but with sometimes long queues (on either side) and full shuttle buses it take can half an hour or more on either side of the bridge. Add that and the extra time travelling by road between Udon and Vientiane via Nongkhai, this can turn into a whole day trip and sometimes a bit of a nightmare. But having said that, if money is tight and you've time to kill, and patience, then go for it! It's what most tourists do.

Bangkok – Vientiane Direct by Bus (or via Udon, Nongkhai)
The Sabaidee bus is a Thai-operated 'VIP' bus service running between Vientiane and Bangkok with air-con, toilet, reclining seats and videos. Tickets are 700 baht including dinner, and available at the bus station  as well as guesthouses and travel agents in Vientiane. Daily service departing Vientiane or Bangkok (Khao San Road) at 5.30 pm, arriving about 12 hours later.

The Thai Lao International Bus Service operates two direct services between Udon Thani, Nongkhai and Vientiane direct. The timetable is further down the page.

Bangkok – Luang Prabang direct flights (2 hours ATR turbo-prop) are operated by Bangkok Airways.

Chiangmai – Udon Thani – Nongkhai – Vientiane
Travel to Laos by road or air is possible via Udonthani or Luang Prabang but apart from making a detour via Bangkok, there is no direct railway link between Chiangmai and Northeast Thailand or the Lao PDR. So there are no trains from Chiangmai to Udonthani, Nongkhai, Luang Prabang or Vientiane – yet.

Thailand to Laos Railway Line Open

"The first train from Thailand
has arrived!
 

March 5, 2009

Apart from the shuttle link across the Mekong River between Thailand (Nongkhai) and Laos (Vientiane), there is still no railway system in the Lao PDR.

The train service across the Bridge beginning in 2009 was officially opened by a VIP passenger, the daughter of the King of Thailand.

Thanaleng Station is located on a signposted paved spur road from the main Vientiane-Thadeua Road, a little way beyond the bridge and at least 2 km from any facilities. A few tuk-tuks and taxis wait for the arrival of the train from Nongkhai, but as far as is known it is a twice-daily service only. A Lao Visa on arrival is available at Thanaleng Station. See our page for details. So far the service is more of novelty value than anything else.

Laos first train station at Thanaleng

The reconstruction of an old unpaved back road into Vientiane is slowly being accomplished. Further plans exist to extend the railway line to another larger station on the outskirts of Vientiane allowing direct rail travel between Vientiane and Bangkok, but that is several more years off.

Thai Lao Rail Link Map

This link will eventually become part of a rail network linking most SE Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar) with China whose trade economy will benefit the most. In Lao, wheels still turn slowly and it seems even more so for locomotive ones!

The alternative rail route across the bridge may ease some of the congestion at Immigration (more on the Thai side), and allow the carriage of freight between Laos and Thailand, but the enthusiastic traveller seeking a smooth rail journey from Nongkhai into Vientiane is in for a long wait yet.

Travel in NE Thailand and Laos

With the necessary paperwork and insurance arranged, it's possible to drive a private car, minibus or pickup registered in either Laos or Thailand across the bridge linking the two countries. Residents of Vientiane and Nongkhai do this regularly and border control is not unduly arduous. There are also river crossings by ferry available at other places.

Buses run between Chiangmai and Udonthani. Road distance is 850 km (520 miles) via Pitsanulok. Daytime and overnight VIP buses (aircon, toilet) run from the Chiangmai Arcade Bus Station, (about 600 baht or $18) to Udon Thani main bus station; continue to Nongkhai and the Mekong bridge by regular bus or minibus. There are also flights between Chiang Mai and Udon Thani (see below).

ChiangmaiNongkhai  If you're driving by car or minibus, a more scenic route takes you through Loei (Thailand's "Little Switzerland"). The distance to Nongkhai is slightly less but a little slower as it winds through the mountains. There are also vineyards and resorts in the Loei area, and a nightstop is recommended if you have the time.

Flights between Chiangmai and Vientiane with Lao Airlines route via Luang Prabang, with the possibility of a stopover in either direction. A few days in Luang Prabang is highly recommended. The road (bus or mini-bus) or river (fast or slow boat) trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane passes by Vang Vieng (another popular tourist spot) through very scenic mountainous country. The journey by road or river is long and somewhat arduous, except for the more adventurous traveller. See our other Lao pages.

Chiangmai – Udonthani flights are operated by NokAir a subsidiary of Thai Airways. From 15 July to 29 October, daily flights. Chiang Mai to Udon Thani depart 17.35 arrive 18.55. Udon Thani to Chiang Mai depart UTH 19.25 arriving CNX 20.45. At other times of the year there are afternoon flights.  Check the Nok Air schedule. One way costs around 2000 baht or $60 including taxes. The Airport Limousine bus service runs to Nongkhai for 120 baht.

Singapore – Vientiane direct, via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur
Lao Airlines began flying between Vientiane and Singapore in 2011 with an Airbus A320. Flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Three-hour flight time, one way ticket cost including taxes $214, round trip $406. Online booking available.

Other flight options include Singapore to Bangkok with Thai Airways then Bangkok to Vientiane by Thai or Lao Airlines.

There is a VIP bus service and sleeper train service between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur – Vientiane (KUL - VTE)
Malaysia to Laos direct flights. As detailed above, Air Asia is now operating three times a week between Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur (KLIA). Promotional fares still available in 2017. Book at www.AirAsia.com.

Note that if you're leaving Laos to visit Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, you most likely do not need an entry visa.

Visa procedure crossing the Friendship Bridge at Nongkhai
(the border is open from 6 am till 10 pm)

If you already have a Lao visa, you only need the arrival/departure form (similar to the Thai one) available from immigration. Fill in both sections, using any guesthouse or hotel name (Lao Plaza, Mercure, Novotel, Mekong) as your address – no one cares. Present the completed form with your passport at the Foreign Passports booth where you will be 'stamped in'.

Avoid 'Visa for Laos' services near the bridge or in Nongkhai town which offer visas for Lao PDR. These are mostly tourist traps. You pay more money and achieve very little and may even need an unplanned night in Nong Khai. It's easy to get a visa-on-arrival on the Lao side of the bridge, with usually just a few minutes wait anyway – a straightforward procedure when you know how:

If you don't have a visa, get two forms from the Visa-on-arrival window. First, fill in the simple Visa Application and hand it back together with your passport, one photo and $30-$45 cash in US dollars (preferable to baht – very bad exchange rate!). On weekends there is a $1 surcharge. Second, take a seat and fill in both sections of the Arrivals/Departure form. Wait 10 minutes or so until your name is called, collect your passport with its 30 day visa, and proceed to one of the Foreign Passports booths where you will be stamped in. Walk past Customs; they rarely stop foreign tourists. At the Entry Fee booth pay 10 baht. The final stop is a guard who briefly checks your passport stamp and the entry fee receipt. Welcome to Lao!

For more detailed Laos visa information visit our Lao Visa Page.

Vientiane (the city) is about 25 km or 15 miles from the Bridge. A newly-reconstructed smooth road leads from the bridge now, but the road-works continue from the clock tower roundabout on Thadeua Road to the city centre. If possible, this road should be avoided for the next few months.

Taxis, tuk-tuks and jumbos are likely to take the alternative new road into the city by turning right at the traffic lights at KM 10. A taxi costs 200 baht, tuk-tuks and jumbos from 100 baht.

Other transport options include the commuter bus which is crowded and slow but cheap, sharing a taxi (best choice for time and comfort) or hiring a mini bus with transport and tour prices displayed on a board in the arrivals area.

Thailand – Lao PDR International Bus Service

NOTE: You need to have an ASEAN or Japanese passport, or a Lao Visa already to use this bus service into Vientiane. No problem southbound as Thailand gives a free entry stamp on arrival.

Daily services: Udon Thani – Vientiane, and Nong Khai – Vientiane, via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River, using luxury 45 seat air-conditioned buses. Road distance from Udon Thani to Vientiane is 90 km (56 miles), and from Nongkhai to Vientiane about 25 km (15 miles).

The routes operate in terms of joint government agreements, between the Lao capital Vientiane and the two Thai cities in Nong Khai province. The Mekong River is crossed via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge which was opened in 1994, financed jointly by Thailand and Australia.

From Nong Khai to Vientiane is about 35 km (21 miles); it takes 30 minutes and costs 30 baht ($0.75). Udon Thani to Vientiane is about 85 km (53 miles), costs 80 baht ($2.00), and travelling time is around 45 minutes, excluding the two stops at the border. There are simple forms, but see notes below.

Lao Visas and Crossing the Border
Foreign visitors holding valid visas and passports are able to use these buses (and other vehicles) to cross the border, but check with the booking office about a visa for entry into Lao. It may be better to have a visa from the Lao Embassy in
Bangkok (or other country). There is also a Consular Office in Khon Kaen, the main city of Isaan, where an overnight stay may be needed.

A 30 day visa-on-arrival is issued at the bridge ($30-$45 in cash plus one photo), but this takes 15 to 30 minutes to process, so it may be a problem using this bus service to enter Lao. Southbound is a simpler procedure as Thailand allows 30 day visits for many nationalities without a visa, but it is advisable to check if you are entering for the first time. See below for other ways of entering Lao by road or air.

Thai citizens can travel to Lao without a Passport, using a 3-day/2-night Temporary Border Pass valid for visits to Vientiane, while Thai residents of Nong Khai province (many of whom have Lao national relatives) can apply for an Annual Border Pass.

Lao citizens can spend up to three days (can be extended) in Nongkhai using a Border Pass Book. However, Lao people travelling beyond Nongkhai province require a Lao Passport, and also an Exit Visa from the authorities in Vientiane.

Buses in and around Lao PDR
There are three main Vientiane bus stations. The one behind the Morning Market (Talat Sao) serves most provincial towns and signs are in Lao and English; another on Luang Prabang Road serves other main centres around the country. There is also the VIP bus station catering mainly to tourists, with services to Pakse and Savannakhet and also to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

A minibus service also runs between Vientiane and Luang Prabang stopping at Vang Vieng. Buses depart from Lao Youth Travel on Fa Ngum Road, leaving at 10 am and 2 pm daily, cost is B160 to Vang Vieng and B500 to Luang Prabang. Stopovers in Vang Vieng are possible by getting a two-leg ticket. Pick up is from several guesthouses in Vang Vieng for the onward leg to Luang Prabang, departing on Thursdays and Sundays at 9.30 am. Tickets are available at Lao Youth Travel and around town.

Other road transport
The Udon Thani Airport Limousine (bus) to Nongkhai (which uses medium-sized air-conditioned buses) serves most commercial flight arrival and departures. It runs between the airport and the Bus Station near the Bridge, with several pickup points in Nongkhai, and Udon Thani Airport. Tickets cost 110 baht ($2.75). Travel time is about 45 minutes. Local buses, mini-buses and taxis (can be shared to save cost) are also available.

The simplest way to get to Lao across the Friendship Bridge, open from 6 am till 9 or 10 pm, is to use the 10 baht shuttle buses operating between the Bus Station near the bridge in Nongkhai and the Lao side. From there you can take a tuk-tuk, bus or taxi into town at either end. The bus station is always busy with daily traffic between Vientiane and the Tesco Lotus supermarket in Nongkhai, where many Lao go to shop, as there is no equivalent in Vientiane. There is also a Bangkok Bank sub-branch, ATMs and other shops in the Tesco complex, including a Starbucks. Udon Thani being a bigger city has a larger Tesco, other supermarkets and a Central Shopping Plaza.

By the way, Vientiane and other Lao cities and towns have ATMs. See Lao Banking or our main Banking for foreigners in Asia page.

Local and regional airlines operating in the Lao PDR
Lao Airlines (formerly Lao Aviation) is the National Carrier and provides local and inter-regional services. International flights operate between Vientiane or Luang Prabang and Thailand (Bangkok and Chiangmai), Cambodia, Vietnam and China.

Phongsavanh Airlines is a subsidiary of the Lao Phongsavanh Group conglomerate, operating in the telecommunications, trading, timber, hospitality, telecommunications, banking, airlines and security products sectors. They currently operate a 19-seat aircraft to Xayaboury, Huaphan and Phongsaly, but will take delivery in 2012 of three Russian Sukhoi 98-seat jets to be used for regional services.

Airlines operating between Bangkok and Udon Thani include Thai Airways and discount carriers like Air Asia and Nok Air, who also operate five days a week between Chiangmai and Udon Thani. There are also Thai Airways direct flights (one hour) between Bangkok and Vientiane. Quickest, but more expensive. See above.

Discounted Airfares to Vientiane

Tip: For online air bookings, set BKK (Bangkok) or KUL (Kuala Lumpur) as your destination rather than VTE (Vientiane). Continue to Laos with a discount airline like AirAsia to Vientiane or Udon Thani, then by bus to Vientiane. The fares will be a lot cheaper.

Banking and ATMs in Laos

 

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