Travel Tips: In and Out of Vientiane (Laos Edition)

I have received quite a bit of feedback from folks on my recent South East Asian travel posts; a sign to me that other people find much of the information on the web and in guidebooks as misleading and out of date as I do. I’m going to do my best to stay current on this from here on out, but if you’ve got any questions or want me to skip ahead, please ask. I’ve been keeping decent notes on my travels through Asia since 2008. Whenever I post one of these quick guides, I do what I can to make sure the information is timely, up to date, and relevant to the independent traveler.

Asian Travel Itinerary:

Thailand – Laos – Vietnam – Singapore – Hong Kong

Macau – Philippines – Myanmar – Sri Lanka – India –Nepal

Laos Series.

For Part 1, Crossing from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai, click here.

For Part 2, The Slow Boat on the Mekong, click here.

For Part 3, Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, click here.

Part 4: In and Out of Vientiane (Laos Edition)

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This one is going to be brief.

It is incredibly easy to get in and out of Vientiane – just keep in mind that it really isn’t very comfortable, unless you fly. And I recommend that you fly – save the pounding on your backside for another bus or taxi ride.

 

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Phase One: Getting in to Vientiane

We decided to skip Vang Vieng, mostly because we’re not 17, and if we wanted to hang out in a spring break atmosphere we’d drive out to Daytona Beach. Anyway, since we didn’t use Vang Vieng to break up our trip from Nong Khiaw, we drove from the northern stretches of Luang Prabang Province all the way south to Vientiane in a single day. I don’t recommend that you do this. We couldn’t get into a flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, so we took the bus. And what a ride it was.

If you visit Laos during the wet season, be prepared for mudslides that threaten to toss you off mountain roads (we had to get off our bus and walk behind it a couple times while the driver nearly put himself over the edge of the cliff). Be prepared for a trip that will take at least 12 hours – but probably more. The folks at the bus station will tell you that the trip will take only 6 hours. They are not telling the truth. And make sure you inspect your bus before you get on; if the seats look like they’re uncomfortable, they probably are. How is your ass going to fee after 20 hours in one of them? Our ride from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was a grizzly 16 hour affair; at one point I actually prayed that bandits would hold us up, rob us, and give us a break from the journey. No joke. It’s that terrible.

I should say here that there have been no confirmed reports of bandits attacking tourist or local buses on the road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane since 2009; insurgent violence is at an all-time low in Laos, but it wouldn’t hurt to carry a can of pepper spray with you. Just in case. I used mine on a dog, but I’m sure it’ll give you piece of mind to have it handy.

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Phase Two: Getting Around Vientiane

Just walk. Plain and simple. If you want to go visit the Lao Beer factory, hire a car and driver. Negotiate hard – the factory is ten minutes out of town, but some folks quoted us $35 for the trip. Call ahead if you plan on visiting the factory – it was closed to the public for renovations when we tried to visit.

Otherwise, grab a good map, and pound the pavement. Vientiane has plenty of neat little spots to explore, and they are best seen on foot. The capital is also packed with excellent restaurants – after visiting rural Laos, this is a huge bonus.

 

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Phase Three: Getting Out of Vientiane

Fly. For the love of God, fly. Don’t take the bus to Bangkok, like our Austrian friend did (28 hours on a bus!). Don’t try and go overland into Cambodia, unless you love crooked border guards poking and prodding you on both sides. Fly. Fly, fly, fly. You can get an incredible deal on flights from Vientiane to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and even Hanoi. It makes no sense to take a bus or a taxi when you can fly for less than $100 USD. So just fly. That is all.

I told you this one was going to be brief! In all honesty, there’s nothing you can’t sort out relating to travel in and out of Vientiane with a little research online. Just make sure that no matter how you get in, no matter how you choose to go out… you do it in an airplane.

Things to Consider:

If you are an American citizen and you are running low on passport pages, stop in at the embassy in Vientiane. If you have fewer than 4 pages remaining, the embassy will affix a whopping 80 new pages to your passport for less than $100. Book an appointment online (they do not accept walk ins). www.laos.usembassy.gov has all the information you need.

If you are a Canadian… you had better plan ahead. I was running out of pages, but since there is no Canadian embassy in Laos (if you are Canadian and you get in trouble, visit the Australian embassy), you will need to go to Thailand or Vietnam to sort out your life, just like I did. I have a long-winded post on this process coming up shortly.

In the next edition: How to handle yourself in Hanoi. This is where things start getting fun.