With the major improvement of air links and roads around Laos and the region, whether traveling by air or coming in overland, it has never been easier to get into the country for a trip, and if you are coming from another Asian country, it is just a short hop from most international airports in Asia.
Whether you are traveling overland or coming in by air, there are certain things to remember when traveling to Laos, and certain documents that are required for a visit to this beautiful country.
Unlike many countries in Asia, Laos allows the visa-on-arrival application at all ports of entry. As long as you have at least six months left on your passport, you can use the visa-on-arrival service, and you just need two passport-sized photos. If you arrive without the photos, the officials will charge you one dollar for the scan of your passport for the visa. The application for the visa-on-arrival costs around US$ 30 for most nationalities, although there are different fees for certain nations.
The visa application form must be filled out in full, and the standard visa is good for thirty days, which can be extended for up to three months. Extensions can be obtained at the Immigration Department in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, or at the police station in Pakse and other cities. The cost of extensions if 20,000 kip per day, which roughly equates to around US$ 2.40 per day.
Visas are also available from the embassy or consulate office of Laos in your country of origin, or in the country in which you are currently residing while in Asia. Fees are the same, and the service usually takes around three working days. Collection of the visa is normally on the third day after application.
Flights to Cambodia
Many travelers who take a trip to Laos tend to fly into Bangkok, and then travel overland to Laos through Thailand. Despite the air links to Laos improving, the main hubs for travelers in the region are still Bangkok and Hanoi for Laos visitors. That does not mean it is not possible to fly into Laos, and there are major international airports at Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse.
There are no international flights direct to Laos from outside Asia, so Bangkok is the easiest option for international flights, and from there you can get a short flight into Laos to any of the three airports. From Thailand, Lao Airlines operates flights from Bangkok to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, from Chiang Mai to Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and from Udon Thani to Luang Prabang. In addition, Bangkok Air has twice-daily flights to Luang Prabang. All flights take between one hour and one hour and forty minutes.
From Vietnam, Vietnam Airlines flies from Hanoi to Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and from Ho Chi Minh City to Vientiane. Lao Airlines also operates flights on this route. From Cambodia, Lao Airlines operates direct flights from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang (1hr 30min) and Pakse (1hr 45min), and to Vientiane via Pakse (3 hours). It is also possible to travel overland or by air from China’s Yunnan Province, and Lao Airlines operates flights from Kunming to Vientiane.
The lack of direct flights can make the trip to Laos more expensive, although this is more than compensated for by the extremely low cost of staying and traveling in the country. Fares can also be more expensive from July to the end of August, and throughout December. Expect to pay at least US$ 750 from London and US$ 900 from Europe for connecting flight tickets to Laos. Fares from the North American continent can be much more expensive as well. With flights to Bangkok alone being significantly cheaper, it is worth considering traveling overland between the Thai capital and Vientiane by train.
Overland Border Crossing
None of the airlines between Laos and its neighbors offer budget travel, so the cost of the flight to Laos from Bangkok, Hanoi, or Siem Reap can be more expensive than traveling overland. The only major advantage to flying to Laos is time, and if you are not in a hurry, or working on a budget, the overland routes would be much better in terms of cost. AS with most Asian countries, the cost of travel around the countries that border Laos is not high, making travel cheap, and often relatively easy.
Landlocked Laos is easily accessed from most of its neighbouring countries, with the exception of Myanmar. It is still not possible to cross the border between Myanmar and Laos, and there is no detail as to whether this will change in the future. If you are traveling from Myanmar to go to Laos, your best option is to travel through Thailand, at the Chiang Khong border crossing.
The only overland option between Cambodia and Laos is at Dom Kralor/Veun Kham, making it quite popular. The Lao visa on arrival service is available. It is also possible to cross the border on a river cruise that takes you from Koh Khan Kham in Cambodia to Pakse in Laos. There is normally an additional 1-2 dollar fee for the immigration officials at the riverside checkpoint, which is in addition to the standard visa fee. The officials will normally board the boat and handle your applications onboard, without you having to disembark. While the visa-on-arrival service should be available here, it is wise to have a visa in advance, as the rules change from time to time.
There are currently six crossing points from Thailand to Laos, which are: Chiang Khong– Huay Xai; Nong Khai–Vientiane; Nakhon Phanom–Thakhek; Mukdahan–Savannakhet; Chong Mek–Pakse; and Beung Khan–Paksan. Visa-on-arrival is available for all but the last crossing point, although the situation in each individual crossing is sometimes open to change. Checks should be made prior to travel at the local Lao Embassy in Bangkok, where you can also get a normal visa in advance.
Huay Xai is Lao’s border town on the Mekong River. On the opposite side of the river the border town in Thailand is Chiang Khong, this is on the route north from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. You can travel with a bus company on a direct route to Huay Xai, or travel independently and cross the border on your own.
Pakse is in Champasak Province, in southern Laos, and can be directly accessed from Thailand via Ubon Ratchatani, the city of the same name as province, traveling through the town of Chong Mek on the border. Buses, trains and planes link Ubon Ratchatani with Bangkok, and it is approximately 2 hours by bus.
There are currently six overland points from Vietnam into Laos, at: Tay Trang–Sop Hun; Nam Xoi–Na Meo; Nam Khan–Nam Can; Cau Treo–Nam Phao; Lao Bao–Dansavanh; and Ngoc Hoi–Bo Y. All of the crossing points have the visa-on-arrival service available, and for those wanting a visa in advance, it can be obtained at the Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City.
Many major bus companies run good connections into Laos from Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, and Saigon, as well as some other cities across the country. Bus tickets can be bought at all major agencies, and they will also arrange your visa for you, for a small fee. Visa-on-arrival is available at most entry ports, but it is best to check current regulations and allowances, as this is subject to change without notice.
Previously, it was possible to enter Laos from Vietnam with a motorcycle, but this has changed recently, and the registration issues for Vietnamese bikes in Laos has meant that access with a motorcycle has been disallowed. If you are planning a motorbike tour of Laos, it is best to rent a bike in Laos after you arrive.
There are currently no border crossing points for international tourists from Myanmar to Laos. There has been no issued statement from the Lao government as the when and whether this will change. The best route is through Thailand.
There is only one border crossing currently available for foreign nationals from China into Laos, at Meng Le/Boten, about 42km north of the town of Luang Nam Tha. On the Chinese side, there are buses from Kunming, Xishuangbanna, and Meng Le that connect to the border town of Mohen, and then continue on to Boten on the Lao side of the border. From Boten, there are regular buses in the mornings to Luang Nam Tha and Odomxai, and from there you can travel to any other part of Laos.
Visa-on-arrival is always available, and it is best to cross as early in the morning as possible to ensure transport as sometimes the afternoon buses stop running due to low volume of passengers. There is also accommodation available in Boten should you get stranded.