Laos - Transportation
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR or Laos) is surrounded by five countries and does not have access to the sea. It has one of the lowest population densities (23 people /sq km) and one of the largest shares of rural population (65 percent) in the region. Therefore, the development of an efficient transport system is of paramount importance for regional integration and socio-economic development of the country.
In the absence of a railway system, Lao PDR depends primarily on road transport and, to less extent, on river and air transport. Although transport demand is growing, the transport of passengers and goods is constrained by an inadequate transport network that is further limited in coverage by its irregular physical condition.
The road network carries approximately 98 percent of passenger traffic (passenger-km) and 86 percent of freight traffic (ton-km). The Mekong River and its tributaries carry the substantial remaining share of freight and passenger traffic. Although the volume of airfreight is negligible (0.22 percent), domestic-passenger air transport has reached 2 percent of the demand and plays a crucial role in linking urban areas and otherwise inaccessible parts of the country.
The Lao Airport Authority (LAA) manages the Vientiane Wattay International Airport. Presently, LAA is responsible for the airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabhang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Luang Namtha. The remaining minor airports are the responsibility of the provincial governments, although the central government provides annual grants to meet their capital expenditures.
The revenues and expenses of LAA are part of the national budget, and its employees are governed by the terms and conditions applicable to government personnel. The Lao government obtains substantial revenue from international over flight charges due to the high traffic volume in the following air routes that pass over Lao PDR airspace: Bangkok – Hong Kong, Bangkok – Manila, Bangkok – Hanoi, and Hanoi – New Delhi.
The airports in Vientiane and Luang Prabhang handle international traffic and provide basic customs, immigration and quarantine services. It is expected that Pakse will become a regional airport in the near future providing similar services. The fourth significant airport is Savannakhet. All four main airports were recently upgraded. There are ten recognized minor airports located in the provincial capitals and thirty-nine other airports with unpaved runways.
Scheduled flights are made in wet season to Xieng Khouang, Oudomxai, Luang Namtha, Houeisai, Xam Nua, Sayaburi, as well as Savannakhet and Pakse. Tahakek and Phongsaly are not serviced by scheduled flights in the wet season due to the constraints of poor conditions of airfields, bad weather, and limited aircraft availability.
International services to Lao are operated by Lao Aviation, Thai Airways International, Viet Nam Airlines, and China (Yunnan) Airlines. Domestic services are operated exclusively by Lao Aviation. There is also a privately owned and operated charter helicopter service, used mainly for aerial work and passenger transport to remote-areas.
Lao is landlocked; therefore there is no direct access to the ocean. Currently, Lao PDR uses all existing ports in Vietnam and in Thailand. International trade and transport services depend on neighboring countries for access to seaports.
There are a total of 35 water transport companies. Even though there is no seaport, two ocean-going vessels amount to, for both goods and passengers, to about 2,759 units. These vessels are of 1,500 and 3,000 dead weight tonnages.
An agreement on commercial navigation in Lanxang-Mekong River between Lao PDR, China, Myanmar and Thailand has been signed.
There are many different forms of transport in Laos, and hopefully you'll get to experience most of them during your time in Laos. Arrangements for longer transfers between cities, linking the modules together with transport options best suited to individual needs are available.
Tourists are encouraged to travel by local transport in Laos, as this makes one’s trip a more authentic experience. It also has the added benefit of being a very cost effective way of travelling.
For all forms of local transport in Laos it's true to say that an adventurous and flexible attitude is necessary. When it comes to punctuality and creature comforts, the transport in Laos can't be compared to that of European countries. When creating your Laos Travel Plan travel agencies will use a mix of the options below for your transport in Laos, giving you an adventurous, and varied trip.
- Taxis, Tukituki and Sawngthaews
For the shorter transfers, for example from your hotel to the airport/railway station or vice versa, it's best to take a taxi. These are very easy to arrange locally and it's more economical (and fun) for you to book them locally. When you're staying in the towns and cities, using Tukituki or Sawngthaews is a better choice. From your seat you'll get to experience the city up close and personal, and its fun too. These short journeys will cost on average 1-2 dollars, depending on your haggling skills! For a taxi from the airport in Vientiane to your hotel will probably cost around US $10-15 dollars.
- Public Bus
For a number of journeys, the public bus is the only option, as there are no trains in Laos and internal flights are either not possible or very costly. For example the trips between Luang Namtha - Luang Prabang and the trip between Phonsovan - Sam Neua. Bus tickets can be booked from your hotel. A short stop is usually made halfway through long journeys, ususally at a place where you can buy your own lunch, stretch your legs and freshen up. Travelling by public bus is the most inexpensive way to travel in Laos, so you'll find yourself travelling with lots of locals - a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture!
- VIP Bus
The VIP bus is normally used for the journeys to and from Vang Vieng (although sometimes, due to operational reasons, you may be in a minibus). As with the public bus tickets for VIP buses can be arranged through your travel agent from your hotel itself and transfer to the bus station could be arranged. Short stops are made at restaurants along the way to allow you to stretch your legs, buy something to eat or drink and freshen up.