As Laos is often part of a wider trip to the region, many people choose to travel there overland, with the crossings from Thailand near Vientiane and at Houayxai the most popular options. There are currently no direct flights to Laos from outside Asia – most visitors fly via Bangkok, from where it takes just over an hour to reach Vientiane, and just under two hours to Luang Prabang. Direct flights to Laos are also possible from Chiang Mai (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (Vietnam), Siem Reap and Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Guangzhou and Kunming (China), Seoul (Korea), Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Because of the lack of direct flights from outside Asia, it can be quite expensive to fly to Laos, though this is more than compensated for by the low cost of living and travelling once in the country.
The high season for flights to Southeast Asia is from the beginning of July through to the end of August and also includes most of December and early January, during which period fares can be significantly higher than at other times of the year. If Laos is only one stop on a longer journey, you might want to consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket, which can be tailored to the destinations you want to visit. Also worth considering if you live in Australia, New Zealand or the west coast of North America are Circle Pacific tickets, which feature Bangkok as a standard option.
Package tours to Laos, some of which take in the country as part of a wider Indochina trawl, are inevitably more expensive and less spontaneous than if you travel independently, but are worth investigating if you have limited time or a specialist interest. Booking through a tour company in Laos will undoubtedly save you money compared to booking in your home country.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
Most flights from the UK and Ireland to Laos will involve a change of plane at Bangkok; an alternative route is via Vietnam, though this requires a change of plane in France or Germany first. In total, flying to Laos from the UK will take at least fifteen hours, though this varies greatly according to connection times – flying on Thai Airways (thaiair.com) to Vientiane is usually the quickest option.
Flying from Ireland will involve changing planes at least twice – once in London or another European hub, and again at Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City – with a journey time of at least eighteen and a half hours.
Because of the lack of direct flights, prices are generally high throughout the year. Expect to pay at least £650 from London and €800 from Dublin, though prices often rise over £1000/€1500 respectively. With flights to Bangkok alone significantly cheaper (from £550/€600), it’s worth considering travelling overland by train between the Thai capital and Vientiane.
Flights from the US and Canada
Flying to Laos from North America usually involves one stop, in Bangkok, if you’re travelling from the west coast, and two stops, often Hong Kong and Bangkok, from the east coast. Expect journey lengths of at least nineteen and twenty-three hours, respectively.
Fares from the west coast start at around $1200, while you should expect to pay upwards of $1500 from the east coast. From Canada, prices start at around Can$1500 for Vancouver departures, Can$1700 from Toronto.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Flights from Perth to Vientiane are via Bangkok or Singapore, while those from elsewhere in Australia may go via Vietnam or Kuala Lumpur (the latter requiring an additional change at Bangkok); average journey time is around thirteen hours from Perth and sixteen hours from Sydney, depending on connections. Flights from Perth start at around Aus$800, Aus$900 from Sydney; a cheaper alternative could be to fly with the budget airline Air Asia (airasia.com) to Kuala Lumpur, from where you can connect to Vientiane. From New Zealand, flying to Laos involves at least two stops, usually in Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Bangkok; the journey takes around nineteen hours and fares start at around NZ$2200.
Expect a journey upwards of eighteen hours if you’re flying from South Africa, with at least two stops en route. Prices start at around R9500.
Getting there from neighbouring countries
Landlocked Laos is easily accessed from most of its neighbouring countries, either overland or by flying. Note that visa on arrival is not available at all overland entry points, and check locally for the most up-to-date information.
Lao Airlines (laoairlines.com) operates flights from Bangkok to Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet and from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. In addition, Bangkok Airways (bangkokair.com) offers flights to Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Both Thai Airways and newcomer Lao Central Airlines (flylaocentral.com) run direct flights from Bangkok to Vientiane (the latter also connects Bangkok with Luang Prabang). All of these flights take between one hour and one hour forty minutes.
At the time of writing, there are six main routes across the Thai border into Laos: Chiang Khong–Houayxai; Nong Khai–Vientiane; Nakhon Phanom–Thakhek; Mukdahan–Savannakhet; Chong Mek–Pakse; and Beung Kan. Visas on arrival are available to foreign tourists at all but the last crossing, but check locally before travelling as the situation can change. It’s possible to get visas in advance from the Laos Embassy in Bangkok. A quick and convenient way of crossing into Laos is to use direct international buses, such as those running from Chiang Rai to Houayxai and Loei to Luang Prabang.
Vietnam Airlines (vietnamairlines.com) flies from Hanoi to Vientiane and Luang Prabang (both 1hr), and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Vientiane (3hr); Lao Airlines also connects Hanoi with Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and has additional routes from Da Nang to Savannakhet and Ho Chi Minh City to Pakse. It’s also possible to travel overland into Laos at six main border points: Tay Trang–Sop Houn (see Arrival and departure); Nam Xoi–Na Meo (see Arrival and departure); Cau Treo–Nam Phao (see Arrival and departure); Lao Bao–Dansavanh (see Arrival and departure); and Ngoc Hoi–Bo Y. Lao visas on arrival are available at all of these crossings.
Lao Airlines operates direct flights from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang (1hr 30min) and Pakse (1hr). Vietnam Airlines has a direct route from Phnom Penh to Vientiane (1hr 20min). The only way to cross overland into Laos is at the Dom Kralor–Veun Kham crossing (see Arrival and departure), where it’s possible to get a visa on arrival.
It’s possible to travel by road or air into Laos from China’s southwestern Yunnan province. Lao Airlines operates flights from Kunming to Vientiane (1hr 20min). There are also Lao Airlines flights from Guangzhou to Vientiane (2hr) and from Jinghong to Luang Prabang (1hr). The quickest and most straightforward border crossing is at Mo Han–Boten, with direct services running from Jinghong to Luang Namtha and Oudomxai, though a second international border point (Meng Kang–Lan Tui) opened in late 2013 at the northern tip of remote Phongsali province, currently a two-day bus journey from Phongsali town.
Agents and operators
Abercrombie & Kent Australia 1300 851800, New Zealand 0800 441638, UK 0845 485 1537, US 888 611 4711; abercrombiekent.com. Luxury tour operator with a couple of Indochina offerings.
Adventure World Australia 1300 295049, adventureworld.com.au; New Zealand 0800 238368, adventureworld.co.nz. A good range of tours, ranging from three to fifteen days.
Adventures Abroad US 1800 665 3998, adventures-abroad.com. Small-group tour specialists with several regional tours that include Laos on their itinerary, plus one trip out of Bangkok that concentrates exclusively on Laos.
Bamboo Travel UK 020 7720 9285, bambootravel.co.uk. Highly recommended company piecing together private, tailor-made trips around Laos and its Southeast Asian neighbours.
Buffalo Tours Vietnam 020 8545 2830, buffalotours.com. Vietnam-based tour operator with a range of options for Laos, including luxury hotels and culinary tours, plus offices in the UK and Australia.
Exodus UK 0845 287 7655, exodus.co.uk. Various Indochina packages from this specialist in cultural and adventure tourism, including a cycling trip in Laos and northern Vietnam.
Exotissimo Vientiane 021 454 6403, Luang Prabang 071 252879; exotissimo.com. A well-established tour operator with branches throughout Indochina, offering anything from honeymoons and family trips to hotel bookings and treks.
Explore Worldwide UK 0845 291 4541, exploreworldwide.com. A number of Laos options, combining the country with Vietnam and Cambodia.
Inside Vietnam UK 01172 443370, insidevietnamtours.com. As the name suggests, this UK tour operator specializes in Vietnam, but also has tours covering Laos and Cambodia.
Journeys International US 1800 255 8735, journeys-intl.com. Specialists in small-group nature and culture explorations, offering a couple of week-long trips in Laos or an extended trip in the region.
North South Travel UK 01245 608291, northsouthtravel.co.uk. A friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
Selective Asia UK 01273 670001, selectiveasia.com. Helpful and knowledgeable staff and an excellent range of Laos trips, all of which can be tailor-made to suit a range of budgets.
Australia 134 782, New Zealand 0800 474400, South Africa 0861 781781, UK 0333 321 0099, US 1800 781 4040; statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes, and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.
Stray 071 260584, straytravel.asia. Cool, Kiwi-run company running flexible (and quite costly) bus tours through Southeast Asia.
Symbiosis UK 0845 123 2844, symbiosis-travel.com. An environmentally aware operator that aims to reduce the negative impact of tourism. Tours include “Laos Ancient and Wild”, which encompasses trekking, hill-tribe visits, kayaking and a stay in Luang Prabang.
Trailfinders Ireland 01 677 7888, UK 020 7368 1200; trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.
Travel CUTS Canada 1800 592 2887, travelcuts.com. Canadian youth and student travel firm.
Travel Indochina UK 01865 268940, travelindochina.co.uk. An excellent range of tours that take in Laos – either on its own or in conjunction with Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia.
USIT Ireland 016 021906, usit.ie. Ireland’s main student and youth travel specialists.
Wendy Wu Tours South Africa 011 394 1660, wendywutours.co.za. Short tours just focusing on Laos or a 28-day “Grand tour of Indochina”.
World Expeditions Australia 073216 0823, Canada 613 241 2700, New Zealand 09 368 4161, UK 020 8545 9030, US 1613 241 2700; worldexpeditions.com. An interesting array of group trips, including a cycling expedition along the banks of the Mekong.
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