As Laos is so undeveloped so are the roads and infrastructure. If you are visiting Laos on a limited budget then you will most likely be travelling by land as air travel in the country between places is fairly expensive.
We flew into Vientiane the capital of Laos from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. We used the budget airline Air Asia and secured cheap return flights. We knew there were many big overland trips within the country so we decided to fly return to Kuala Lumpur instead of going overland from Thailand or Cambodia.
This was a great choice for our family as the kids got sick travelling throughout Laos as the roads are bumpy and go through big mountain ranges. If you can fly in and out of Laos that will also save you 2 days of travelling so you can spend more time enjoying all Laos has to offer.
Vientiane – Vang Vieng:
Our first overland trip was by VIP bus. We booked our tickets at a local travel agent near the riverfront in Vientiane. The trip duration was meant to be 4 hours but ended up taking 6. Tickets were cheap and we paid around $7 each for a ticket.
On the morning of our journey we were picked up by songathew at the local travel agents near the riverfront and taken to the bus station to board the bus, which was also included in the ticket price.
When we arrived there were a lot more tourists than seats in the bus but we managed to get on the first bus. (Another bus ended up coming as we were leaving) We were however some of the last people on the first bus and unfortunately for the girls the only seats available were two on the back seat.
Upon boarding the bus we put our bags into a compartment inside the bus on the first deck as it was a double decker but only the top deck had seating. The bus was in fair condition and had cold air-conditioning. Leg room was fine and it was a mostly comfortable ride. The roads between Vientiane and Vang Vieng are very bumpy and there is some mountainous terrain. Two of the kids were sick, luckily we had plastic bags handy.
Overall it wasn’t a horrible experience and we got to where we needed to be. As first time tourists in Laos we did what most tourists do and that is catch a bus. However as we found out when we got to Vang Vieng there is a way better way to travel and the cost for our family was only slightly more expensive than going on the bus!
Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang:
While in Vang Vieng we stayed at the awesome Jammee Guesthouse and the owner was very knowledgeable about all things Laos. He informed us that we could get a private van to transport us to Luang Prabang for almost the same cost as taking a bus and it would be much faster.
There are 2 roads to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng, one goes straight up a big mountain and the other goes around. The bus and big trucks cannot make it up the mountain so they take the road around and the trip will take about 6 hours.
If you take the mountain road then it will only take between 3-4 hours to get there. Needless to say we decided to pay a little extra and take the private van to Luang Prabang. (All in the name of research of course.)
The private van was awesome. We got a 12 seater van all to ourselves and because it was private the driver was not allowed to stop and pick up other passengers. If you take any type of other transport in Laos do not be surprised when the bus/mini-van/mini-bus stop to pick up local passengers, or to transport food or other things to family members in the destinations you are going to.
Another benefit of a private van was that when the kids felt sick or needed to go to the toilet we could pull over. Not so when you are travelling by public transport. We had heard that it would take between 3-4 hours to get to Luang Prabang but talking to other tourists in Vang Vieng who had recently done the trip they assured us it would take closer to 6 hours.
We left Vang Vieng at 8:30am and we arrived in Luang Prabang at 11:45am in time for lunch.
If you are visiting Laos with a family this is the best way to travel throughout the country.
After being spoilt and enjoying our trip in a private van we decided to go private again. The trip between Luang Prabang and Vientiane on a bus takes around 10 hours compared to 6 hours in a private van.
We got several quotes from private drivers and found a driver would take us from our guesthouse to our accommodation in Vientiane for only $20 AUD more than it would cost us on the bus.
We were stoked and happy we would be able to spread out and stop where and when we needed to.
Buckling in for a long trip, we slept most of the way and the trip seemed a lot shorter than 6 hours. We left at 8:45am and arrived at our accommodation around 3:30pm as we stopped for lunch in Vang Vieng for around 1 1/2 hours.
When researching Laos I never came across anyone taking private vans instead of public transport so I guess we were just lucky our guesthouse owner recommended it. If you are travelling through Laos as a family it is definitely worth a few extra dollars to hire a private van and driver. I was dreading long bus rides in the country where the roads are sub par and ended up enjoying the journeys in comfort.