Exploring Laos: A Comprehensive Guide to Diverse Transportation Options – by Antonia Eiser & Patricia Fromkorth (Team XII)

All Posts, Culture, First impressions, Intercultural Activities, Laos, Traveling in Laos, VEDI

The various transportation opportunities in Laos

Growing up and residing in Germany, we are accustomed to employing a range of transportation choices at home and, in keeping with the German cliché, walking a lot or cycling. Despite not owning a car, we have the privilege of using one when necessary. Additionally, we make use of public transportation options such as buses or trains, though their reliability may vary. In urban settings, accessible E-Scooters offer another convenient mode of transportation. Alongside options like taking a taxi, ensuring various means of changing locations are always available.

As we lack access to a car in Laos and are uneasy about driving independently due to the less structured traffic environment compared to Germany and the absence of sidewalks,  driving and walking is not always a viable option. Consequently, we experimented with various transportation alternatives. 

We were eager to explore the transportation system in Laos, especially given the country’s reputation for a somewhat “slow” pace—a characteristic that can be challenging for the German need for punctuality. So far, we have experimented with several options in and around Vientiane. This article serves as a valuable guide to discover all that Laos has to offer in terms of transportation. Up to this point, we have utilized ridesharing, Tuk-Tuks, the public bus, minivan bus, and the train, with the night bus still remaining on our agenda. 


Commencing with our most frequently employed mode of transportation: Ridesharing. Ridesharing is a service that facilitates immediate one-way transport through an app. To make use of these services, a smartphone, internet connectivity, and payment options such as credit card, PayPal, or cash are required. 

Initially, we made use of the Loca app. Loca stands as the largest ridesharing service in Laos and promotes eco-friendly transportation choices. They offer electric vehicles, the service operates around the clock, and the application is user-friendly. We chose to link our credit card for deposits, which appeared to be a convenient choice. Nonetheless, it is important to consider that for each credit card transaction, there are associated currency conversion fees. Additionally, the final cost is not determined until you reach your destination, and charges are based on time rather than distance. This structure can result in higher expenses, particularly during rush hours. Apart from that, Loca definitely is a good choice providing consistently friendly drivers who arrive promptly.

After some time, we transitioned to another app called inDrive. This is also a ridesharing app where you receive information about the recommended price based on the distance traveled. Subsequently, you can submit your own offer, and if it is deemed too low, the app prompts you to at least offer the minimum. Once you have entered your offer, available drivers respond with their own offers, giving you the option to accept or decline. When using inDrive, the payment is exclusively in cash, eliminating credit card fees but potentially requiring more frequent visits to ATMs. However, inDrive consistently proves to be cheaper than Loca, making it a highly recommended choice. The only disadvantage is that there are fewer drivers available on inDrive compared to Loca, so calling a car might require more patience.



Ridesharing proves to be an effective mode of transportation, especially in Vientiane. However, in other cities like Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng, we recommend choosing Tuk-Tuks since there are almost no drivers available on these apps. Continuing with the previously mentioned and unquestionably popular transportation choice in Southeast Asia: Tuk-Tuks.

Tuk-Tuks are three-wheeled bicycles equipped with backseats and a small roof, providing passengers with shade from the sun and some protection from rain. They are a common sight in every tourist-centric city in Laos and serve as a convenient transportation option, particularly if you are comfortable negotiating prices in person. As you stroll around, you are likely to encounter a Tuk-Tuk driver offering you a ride, and they may even be parked along streets for you to approach them at your convenience.

As previously stated, it is necessary to personally negotiate the ride prices with the driver, and this negotiation is typically based on the distance traveled. Many drivers initially quote higher prices, as it is part of their business practice. If the offered price appears unreasonable, which is most frequently the case, walking away can often prompt the driver to follow you and agree to a more reasonable rate. It is advisable to share a Tuk-Tuk with multiple people to reduce the costs as well. Embarking on a Tuk-Tuk ride is certainly a must-experience in Laos and can be quite enjoyable, despite the occasional bumps caused by damaged roads. However, we advise against using Tuk-Tuks in Vientiane, as they often charge significantly more than ridesharing options.


For individuals interested in exploring an eco-friendly Tuk-Tuk alternative, we recommend considering those provided by Kokkok . Kokkok is a versatile enterprise that extends its services across various sectors, including the establishment of supermarkets throughout Vientiane. In addition to its retail presence, Kokkok provides an environmentally friendly transportation alternative through the operation of electrically powered Tuk-Tuks within the Vientiane region. These distinctive Tuk-Tuks are easily recognizable due to their modern design and vibrant orange coloration. Booking a Kokkok Tuk-Tuks is facilitated through a dedicated mobile application, which is currently exclusive to Android devices and not accessible via the Apple App Store. As both of us possess iPhones, we regrettably could not personally experience the utilization of Kokkok Tuk-Tuks. Nonetheless, testimonies from Android users suggest a seamless and efficient service provided by Kokkok in the realm of urban transportation.


The Public Bus

Embarking on our less frequently utilized mode of transportation:  the public bus. The clarity of the public bus system in Vientiane is often hindered by inconspicuous bus stops. During our journey to the Buddhapark in Vientiane, we found the system to be seemingly straightforward and efficient, at least for the specific route we undertook. Navigating to the Vientiane Center, which stands next to the Vientiane Bus-Station – the primary departure point for most buses – we opted for Line 14. This particular route allowed us to board the bus and travel directly to the last station, conveniently located at the entrance of the Buddhapark. Regardless of the duration of one’s journey on the bus, the fare remains fixed at 18.000 LK, which is equivalent to less than 1 EUR, presenting a favorable offer for an approximately one-hour ride.

The published bus schedule indicates a frequency of buses every 15 minutes; however, in line with the Laotian lifestyle, one must be prepared to endure waiting times of up to 30–45 minutes if a preceding bus is not caught. Such was the case during our return journey, when we, at least, experienced a wait of approximately 45 minutes until the next bus arrived at the Buddhapark. Moreover, the route includes a stop at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge, a point of transit for many individuals crossing the Lao-Thai border. Our pause at this location extended for about 45 minutes, underscoring the importance of not being in a hurry when relying on the bus system in Laos.



For those who prefer a more comfortable yet pricier mode of transportation, opting for the train is a viable choice. The construction of the rail connection between the Chinese province of Yunnan and the Laotian capital, Vientiane, started in 2016. The railway officially opened in December 2021, marking Laos’s first-ever true rail line (cf. Spiegel International, 2022). One has the option to either pre-book tickets online or purchase them at the train station. We opted to secure our tickets in advance through Bookaway to avoid lengthy queues at the station. However, even if you book weeks in advance, the tickets are typically issued a few days before the departure date, so it is advisable to be mentally prepared for this.

Purchasing your ticket via Bookaway comes with the benefit of a complimentary transfer from your selected location to the train station. However, it is important to be ready for potential delays from the driver, requiring you to move quickly upon reaching the train station. Despite having an online ticket, your driver will provide you with an additional ticket. Upon arrival, the unmistakable influence of China becomes apparent, as they provided a substantial loan to Laos for the implementation of this significant infrastructure project.1 The visual manifestation of China’s presence is evident in the appearance of the train station. Given the focus of this article on transportation options, the conversation about China potentially forcing Laos into dependency cannot be explored in greater detail.

Upon reaching the Lao-China Railway station, we proceeded to the ticket station, where our passports and the tickets provided by our driver were examined. Following this process, we received an additional ticket for access to the station. Immediately after having our tickets verified by the staff, we underwent security checks reminiscent of airport procedures. Regrettably, Patricia had to open her luggage due to the detection of prohibited items. Both her deodorant spray and mosquito repellent spray had to be left behind as they were classified as flammable. Interestingly, Antonia happened to have the exact same mosquito repellent spray with her and did not have to surrender it, likely just a fortunate coincidence. Following the security check, you find yourself in a spacious waiting hall with numerous available seats, some small snack shops, and complimentary restrooms.

As we were running slightly behind schedule, we proceeded directly to our platform. However, before entering, your ticket undergoes another inspection. A noteworthy observation was the assignment of designated waiting areas to ensure orderly queues and prevent overcrowding. This system also guides passengers directly to their designated seats. Once we had stowed our luggage, we took a seat, anticipating a leisurely train journey. However, our tickets were subjected to another inspection. Subsequently, we thoroughly relished observing the Laotian landscape through the train windows.

While the trains do offer restroom facilities, be cautious as they do not have pottery toilets, and the ride can still be a bit shaky. They also provide the option to purchase snacks and beverages during the train journey, ensuring that even if you have not brought anything along, you can still make a purchase. During our trip to Luang Prabang, the train made a stop in Vang Vieng. The entire journey took around two hours before reaching our final destination. Just before disembarking at the train station, your ticket is checked one final time. Outside, several drivers are available to transport you to the city center in a Minivan for a cost of 40.000 LK, which is equivalent to less than 2 EUR.



Commencing a journey via train in Laos presents a compelling opportunity, particularly when traveling towards the destinations of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, both of which enjoy considerable popularity. However, it is noteworthy that opting for train travel may entail relatively higher costs compared to the prevailing Lao standards. Consequently, our consideration shifted towards exploring more economically viable alternatives for the journey to Vang Vieng. Various online booking platforms, such as 12go Asia and Bookaway, offer convenient options for securing transportation. Our preference leaned towards the second platform, primarily due to its inclusive provision of a transfer to the train station, albeit regrettably excluding transportation to the Northern Bus Terminal. Consequently,  we had to combine different transportations options as ridesharing became a requisite to reach the Bus Station.

Observing the transportation landscape, it is evident that buses are predominantly favored by the local populace, in high contrast to train travel. However, recognizing that the road infrastructure in Laos is suboptimal, only the route to Vang Vieng is noted for having satisfactory conditions. Anticipating a journey marked by occasional bumps, a tempered expectation is advised for a smoother travel experience. The utilization of a Minivan, as denoted by its name, implies a limited spatial capacity, potentially rendering it less accommodating for taller individuals. The estimated duration of the journey to Vang Vieng, stipulated by “Bookaway”, approximates three hours.

Nevertheless, this temporal estimate is contingent upon factors such as traffic conditions and the frequency of stops for passenger embarkation or disembarkation. In more fortuitous circumstances, the journey may be expedited to a mere one and a half hours. Thus, variability is inherent, and one’s travel experience may be contingent upon factors beyond anticipatory control. Considering our specific situation, it is important to take into account the possibility of being seated next to substantial bags of rice, packages containing small chickens, and an assortment of diverse items.



Utilizing a motorbike as a mode of transportation in Laos may represent a viable option for individuals seeking an economical and flexible means to access various destinations within or outside the city. The prevalence of motorbike ownership among the Laotian populace is notably high, with citizens commonly employing this mode of transport for commuting to work and navigating throughout the urban landscape. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that the adherence to road traffic regulations in Laos appears more as a guiding principle rather than a strict observance, rendering driving on the streets potentially perilous for those lacking experience.

Additionally, given our observations of tourists sustaining severe injuries, likely resulting from accidents on the road, we opted against renting or operating a motorbike during our stay. Should one decide to pursue this mode of transportation in Laos, it is crucial to exercise an abundance of caution, adopting a defensive driving approach and anticipating unforeseen events on the road. In essence, the prevailing ethos on Laotian streets subscribes to the informal doctrine of “first come, first served,” underscoring the need for heightened awareness and adaptability when navigating the local roadways. However, if one is interested in renting a motorbike to explore Laos, it is recommended to review the following blog post “Bolaven Plateau Loop” by two former volunteers.



In summary, there exists a range of transportation choices, each with its own set of pros and cons. Exploring different modes of transportation became a mini-adventure in itself. During our time in Laos, we could not help but observe the unique transportation landscape from my German perspective. The contrast to the (mostly) organized German transportation system was striking. While the infrastructure may not match the precision of German autobahns, the authenticity of the Laotian transport experience was undeniable. The slow-paced journeys through picturesque landscapes and the shared spaces with locals and their goods provided a glimpse into a different way of life. It was an enriching experience, showcasing the diversity and charm inherent in Laos’ transportation options.

We strongly encourage trying those that make you feel comfortable. This not only enhances your immersion in Lao culture but may also reveal sights and experiences you might have missed otherwise. 


Text by A. Eiser & P. Fromkorth

Photos by A. Eiser & P. Fromkorth


1 The substantial Chinese loan has severely impacted Laos’ economy, contributing to a heavy recession and crippling prices for citizens, many of whom now require second and third jobs to make ends meet. Critics argue that this situation exemplifies calculated colonialism, questioning why such consequences were not foreseen during the initial negotiations for the project.


Spiegel International (2022). “The Train to Dependence on China.” Retrieved from https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/laos-and-the-new-silk-road-the-train-to-dependence-on-china-a-2fc4ce72-a230-4cf9-b53c-6db649bdece8 (last accessed 15 Dec 2023). 


Share this: