You can go pretty much anywhere in Laos using the buses, however, the ride is not always the best and the infrastructure isn’t there yet. Other than the fancy, new train (which is the best option for travel), buses are the best, cheapest way to get around Laos. In this article, we’ll share how you can save money on bus tickets, which are the most comfortable rides, what to expect when traveling around Laos, and everything you need to know about bus travel before going.
The easiest way to order bus tickets in Laos is using 12GoAsia, however, this is far more expensive than just going to the bus station and paying in cash, so we don’t recommend it over going in person. If you do want tickets before arriving though, it’s the only option so far.
Types of Buses (DON’T Get A Sleeper)
There are 3 types of buses you will get when traveling in Laos:
- Sleeper – very uncomfortable, flat-lying bed you have to share with someone (can barely sit up)
- Sitting – most comfortable, best option to take. The seats are a bit uncomfortable, but nowhere near sleeper bus level
- Minivan – goes to more remote, less popular locations, sits 8
The best is the upright seated bus. We’ll go into more detail below, but if you don’t want to read that, just make sure you get the upright seated buses wherever you go. And, if you can, wait for them (even if they are later than the other options).
Important note: none of the Laos buses have proper AC, so be prepared to get hot during your journey. The roads are also crazy, so if you get sick, you must take travel sickness tablets. I don’t get travel sick, but I did on these. Also, none of the buses have WiFi contrary to information online.
Don’t get a sleeper, it is possibly the worst experience you will have traveling. The roads are awful all around Laos, the drivers drive recklessly around very tight corners, you don’t get a clean blanket or cushion and there isn’t proper AC. You will additionally have to share a bed (if you’re not traveling with a friend) with someone you don’t know. Most times I traveled in these buses, no one cared about personal space and people would touch you/bump into you.
Additionally, you cannot sit up on the bottom row (unless you are very short), so you have to lie down the entire way. The top row is ok, but you might have to slouch and bend your back quite a bit. The buses also shake and rock around ferociously, and on top of that the seats are not built for taller people. The average height in Laos is 159cm.
On both sleeper and sitting buses, you can put your luggage underneath the bus. Additionally, if you pay more, you can transport bigger items (you can even transport a motorbike! As pictured below)
These are the best type of bus. They will have upright seats and the same capacity/look as a sleeper bus. The seats are pretty close together and, if you’re sat next to someone, you or the other person might feel a bit squashed. The AC is pretty awful on these and just a weak blower fan that doesn’t really work. You won’t get WiFi or anything either. They are by far the best bus to travel in, in Laos.
Minivans sit 8 people and the ticket is generally more expensive. Most Minivans do not have AC that works properly and you will get extremely hot in these. One bonus of these over the other two is that you actually get a decent sized, comfortable seat to sit in for the entire journey. Usually you will take Minibuses to less popular locations.
Important note: when booking a Minibus in Laos, you arrive at the bus station, purchase a ticket, and have to wait until there are enough people to fill the van or make the trip profitable for the company. This can take a long time for less popular routes. The one we got took 2hrs to fill completely.
How To Buy Bus Tickets for Laos
To buy bus tickets in Laos you can either:
- Use 12GoAsia
- Use Baolau
- Go to your nearest bus station (best, cheapest option)
Unfortunately, there are no official online booking websites for Laos’ buses.
The most cost-efficient way to book a bus ticket is to head directly to the station. You can also use tourist booking agents in the bigger cities who will organize it for you, but you will have to pay a booking fee on top of this. Not many of the bus station assistants speak English well, but you can get around it.
I personally speak Thai so I can understand a little Lao and communicate what I need. However, I witnessed many travelers use broken English just fine to get a ticket to where they needed to go.
Bus Route Availability in Laos
You can go travel to all major cities, towns, and most villages by bus in Laos. If you tell your driver or the ticket attendant where you are going beforehand, they will be able to tell you if the bus goes there, and they will drop you off at that exact location if it is on the way. You can even provide a hotel booking address, and as long as it’s on the route, they will drop you.
Less-known villages are difficult to get to, due to the lack of proper roads in Laos. You will either need to hire your own motorbike/driver if you want to travel to these. A lot of the tribal villages in Laos require many days spent hiking to arrive.
Most people in Laos use the buses to travel from place to place. This means that buses are readily available, and there are frequent trips to the main tourist spots, as well as lesser-known towns and villages. With Minibus travel, these are less frequent and reliable, because the company will want to fill the bus before they go. Whereas, with more popular routes that have designated buses, they have designated times and are always full enough to go.
Reliability of Bus Times in Laos
Most of the frequently visited locations will adhere strictly to a timetable, and you will never be waiting too long for a bus to one of the major cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane etc. However, travel times can vary massively depending on the ride you have.
Many buses will stop at service stations for lunch, toilet breaks, snacks etc. Additionally, due to the heavy breaking in mountainous regions, they often have to stop and pour water on the extremely hot wheels to ensure the breaks stay working and in-tact.
Most buses also don’t usually have a toilet on board, so if you need to go, you can ask the driver to stop and you will have to go on the side of the road (don’t worry ladies, the local women go on the side of the road too).
Stops for the toilet, for food, and break-checking all add time to the journey. Roads are constantly being built in Laos at the moment, and many have to ride on the road while it is being built. This can slow down parts of the journey, so don’t look at the journey time and think it will always be that time, because sometimes it can be much, much longer.
Safety & Road Conditions in Laos
Roads in Laos are in pretty bad condition. To add to that, buses, lorries, and 4x4s drive recklessly on roads, which makes travel extremely dangerous here (and even more dangerous on mountain roads). Many bigger vehicles will drive in the middle of the road around corners to see what’s coming, and during our travels, there were a few very close misses because of that very reason.
They drive like this to see what’s coming, but you can’t see round bends very easily and there are other buses, lorries & 4x4s that do this, so a split-second swerve/breaking can cause some serious issues.
I would love to say that travel by bus, car or motorbike here is safe, but that simply isn’t the case. Nothing happened to us, but accidents occur regularly, and there are rarely any barriers on sheer mountain roads (not that they’d probably prevent you from falling anyway).
We recommend getting some good travel insurance because of this reason. Or you could just wing it, like most travelers do.
They give you a “personal accident insurance card” in the private Minibuses, which covers you for 30,000,000 KIP in the event of your death or lifetime disablement. That’s $1450 USD haha!
How Much Do Bus Journeys Cost in Laos?
Bus costs vary depending on the journey length. We paid 280,000 KIP ($13.54 USD) for a 4-hour journey to the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, in a private Minibus. Buses in Laos are very affordable for travelers and will not set you back much money, with sleeper and seated buses at even cheaper prices than that.
Here are a couple of trips we took in Laos by bus and their costs:
- Huay Xai -> Golden Triangle Economic Zone ($13.5 USD) – Minibus to a Chinese city in Laos with a and Casino (very cool I’ll explain in another post).
- Oudmxay -> Phongsali ($9.92 USD) – Upright seated to a 400-year-old tea plantation, & the only place not destroyed by Vietnam war bombings.
- Luang Prabang -> Huay Xai ($6.29) – Sleeper bus to border crossing with Chiang Khong, Thailand
Tips For Long-Distance Travel in Laos (I Wish I Knew Before)
None of the sleeper buses provide clean blankets or pillows, so take your own travel pillow and a large microfiber towel. You can use this as a blanket if you get cold, even though I doubt you will considering the heat!
The AC is pretty much non-existent on all buses, so expect to get really hot during the day.
Roads are extremely rocky, and the buses will shake around. It’s best you sit on a lower bunk if you’re on a sleeper. HOWEVER, if you do, and you are above 160cm, you will not be able to sit up straight the whole ride. So it’s either extreme jolting around or no sitting up, choose wisely!
Most drivers will play music all night during night drives and the staff will have loud conversations. Take earplugs if you want to get any sleep. It’s next to impossible to sleep on the sleeper buses anyway.
Ask the driver if you want to go to the toilet and he will stop at the side of the road for you. The same goes if you are going to be sick.
The roads are very windy and bus drivers drive like they are competing in the Formula One. Even if you’re not prone to travel sickness, take some pills with you, or purchase some at the shops available nearby. I rarely get travel sick, but I did in Laos.
Take medication for diarrhea. You never know when it’s going to strike in Laos and it can be pretty bad as the food hygiene is very low and you can even end up eating wild animal meat instead of what you thought it was!
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