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Lao's only railway system so far.
This old relic was used on Lao's first 'railway system', back in the French colonial era. A 7km track over a viaduct linked some small islands on the Mekong Delta in the far south of Laos.


Direct travel to Laos from China, Thailand, Malaysia; from Singapore or Taiwan via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia–Laos direct flights with Air Asia

KUL-VTE direct flights between Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur commenced on December 1st 2007 with AirAsia ( with online booking. The Malaysian discount airline (AK), is operating an A320 (Airbus) between KL and Vientiane for the 2.5 hour direct flight on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Departure time KUL is 09.35, arrival VTE 10.40. Return flights depart VTE at 11.10, arriving KL 14.45. Promotional fares start from US$12 (400 baht) one way.

China (Kunming KMG) – Laos (Vientiane VTE) direct flights with Lao Airlines

There are daily flights (except Mondays and Thursdays) between Vientiane and Kunming with Lao Airlines (QV). It's a 2hr 15m ATR turboprop service.

Travel to Northeast Thailand and Laos

Bangkok – Vientiane via Udon Thani and Nongkhai
In January this year, Singapore discount operator Tiger Airways started flying three flights per week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays) between Singapore and Udon Thani International Airport in NE Thailand, only an hour by road from Vientiane across the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River at Nongkhai. However Tiger Airways service was suspended or cancelled in October. Here is a picture of the international airport terminal at Udon Thani. Once again only Thai domestic flights operate to Udon from Bangkok and Chiangmai and there are few international connections to Vientiane direct.

Tourism to NE Thailand and Laos is on the increase, but due to high fuel prices and lack of passenger traffic, airline operators are finding it difficult to service these routes economically.

Udon Thani International Airport, Thailand

Although there are direct flight connections to Laos from China (Kunming), Vietnam, Taiwan (previous EVA service suspended), Singapore (Tiger Airways service now cancelled) Cambodia and Malaysia, the most popular and convenient Lao entry points are from Thailand. Apart from flights from Bangkok and Chiangmai to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, there are several road and river crossing points. The best known is the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nongkhai and Mittaphab, a short distance from the Lao capital Vientiane. See below for news of progress on the railway link between Thailand and Laos. It's not very encouraging, though.

From Bangkok there are air, rail (the sleeper train to Nongkhai is popular) and bus connections to the Northeast Thailand (Isaan) cities of Udon Thani and some 50km further north, Nongkhai which is on the Mekong River. From there it's a short ride across the bridge to the Lao PDR and Vientiane. Several airlines now fly to Udon including Nok Air with 3 flights per day from Bangkok (Don Muang) and a daily afternoon flight from Chiangmai. Alternatively Air Asia flies to Udon from the new Bangkok airport. There is an Airport Limousine (bus service) between Udonthani Airport and Nongkhai. See below for more detail.

Bangkok–Vientiane direct vs. Udon/Nongkhai and the Bridge?
Choosing which is better depends on your priorities: cost saving, time saving and/or convenience. The discount flight operators to Udon are cheaper by around 1500 baht ($40) one way BUT there is the extra time factor to consider, even without airport or flight delays. There is the 50km road trip to Nongkhai, followed by the shuttle bus and Friendship Bridge border control, then the 25 km drive into Vientiane. Plenty of time needs to be allowed for contingencies. You also have the added cost of travel between Udon and Nongkhai (about 45 minutes), and a half hour taxi or tuk-tuk ride into Vientiane.

The alternative is to pay $99 or 3000 baht one way (5800 baht or $170 return with a 3 month ticket) for just over a one hour direct flight from Bangkok to Vientiane's Wattay Airport which is only 10 minutes from the city.

Anyone who has done both knows which method to recommend. Thai and Lao Immigration can go smoothly, but with sometimes long queues (on either side) and full shuttle buses it take can half an hour or more on either side of the bridge. Add that and the extra time travelling by road between Udon and Vientiane via Nongkhai, this can turn into a whole day trip and sometimes a bit of a nightmare. But having said that, if money is tight and you've time to kill, and patience, then go for it! It's what most tourists do.

Bangkok – Vientiane Direct by Bus (or via Udon, Nongkhai)
The Sabaidee bus is a Thai-operated 'VIP' bus service running between Vientiane and Bangkok with air-con, toilet, reclining seats and videos. Tickets are 700 baht including dinner, and available at the bus station  as well as guesthouses and travel agents in Vientiane. Daily service departing Vientiane or Bangkok (Khao San Road) at 5.30 pm, arriving about 12 hours later.

The Thai Lao International Bus Service operates two direct services between Udon Thani, Nongkhai and Vientiane direct. The timetable is further down the page.

Bangkok – Luang Prabang direct flights (2 hours ATR turbo-prop) are operated by Bangkok Airways.

Chiangmai – Udon Thani – Nongkhai – Vientiane
Travel to Laos by road or air is possible via Udonthani or Luang Prabang but apart from making a detour via Bangkok, there is no direct railway link between Chiangmai and Northeast Thailand or the Lao PDR. So there are no trains from Chiangmai to Udonthani, Nongkhai, Luang Prabang or Vientiane – yet.

The Thailand to Laos Railroad Saga continues...slowly

"The train from Thailand will be arriving ...

... eventually!"

Rail link between Thailand (Nongkhai) and Laos (Vientiane)
There is no railway system in the Lao PDR, but 'work is still in progress' to link Thailand and Laos by rail with a 3.5 km railway line across the Friendship Bridge. The first stop is a new station called Thanaleng, near Dongphosy village close to the bridge access road. The rail service was scheduled to open in April 2008, but apart from the single track itself, by June only the station buildings and platform were complete but devoid of furnishings or equipment. A single security guard welcomes the occasional curious visitor. And there are no signs of any trains, but apparently some track testing has been done.

The deserted station is located on a signposted paved spur road from the main Vientiane-Thadeua Road, a little way beyond the bridge and at least 2km from any habitation or shops. A shuttle bus service or or other vehicle will be required to get into Vientiane by backtracking to the Bridge-City road. The reconstruction of an old unpaved back road into Vientiane is badly needed.

Laos first train station at Thanaleng

Further plans exist to extend the railway line to another larger station on the outskirts of Vientiane, with border control allowing direct rail travel between Vientiane and Bangkok, but that is several more years off. This link will eventually become part of a rail network linking most SE Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar) with China whose trade economy will benefit the most. In Lao, wheels still turn slowly and it seems even more so for locomotive ones!

When the first trains start crossing the bridge, it may serve to ease some congestion at Immigration on both sides, but the enthusiastic traveller seeking a smooth rail journey from Nongkhai to Vientiane is in for a long wait yet.

Buses run between Chiangmai and Udonthani. Road distance is 850 km (520 miles) via Pitsanulok. Daytime and overnight VIP buses (aircon, toilet) run from the Chiangmai Arcade Bus Station, (about 600 baht or $18) to Udon Thani main bus station; continue to Nongkhai and the Mekong bridge by regular bus or minibus. There are also flights between Chiang Mai and Udon Thani (see below).

ChiangmaiNongkhai  If you're driving by car or minibus, a more scenic route takes you through Loei (Thailand's "Little Switzerland"). The distance to Nongkhai is slightly less but a little slower as it winds through the mountains. There are also vineyards and resorts in the Loei area, and a nightstop is recommended if you have the time.

Flights between Chiangmai and Vientiane with Lao Airlines route via Luang Prabang, with the possibility of a stopover in either direction. A few days in Luang Prabang is highly recommended. The road (bus or mini-bus) or river (fast or slow boat) trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane passes by Vang Vieng (another popular tourist spot) through very scenic mountainous country. The journey by road or river is long and somewhat arduous, except for the more adventurous traveller. See our other Lao pages.

Chiangmai – Udonthani direct flights are operated by Nok Air (subsidiary of Thai Airways, using ATR turbo-prop). From July–October 2007 this service operates daily departing Chiang Mai 14.15 arriving Udon Thani 15.35. The return flight departs UTH 17.35 arriving CNX 18.55. Cost is around 2000 baht or $60 (including taxes) each way. The Airport Limousine bus service runs to Nongkhai for 120 baht.

Singapore – Vientiane via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur
Suspended until further notice, Tiger Airways the Singapore-based discount airline operated a thrice weekly service (Tue/Thu/Sat) between Singapore and Udon Thani, using Airbus A320 aircraft. One way ticket was about SG$150 (US$100) including taxes. Flights departed Singapore 0645, arriving UTH 0830. Return flight departed Udon 0900 and arrives SIN 1245.

All-flight options include Singapore to Bangkok with Thai Airways then Bangkok to Vientiane by Thai or Lao Airlines.

There is a VIP bus service and sleeper train service between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur – Vientiane (KUL - VTE)
Malaysia to Laos direct flights. As detailed above, Air Asia is now operating three times a week between Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur (KLIA). Service started on Dec 1st 2007. Promotional fares may still apply.

Note that if you're leaving Laos to visit Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore, you most likely do not need an entry visa.

Visa procedure crossing the Friendship Bridge at Nongkhai
(the border is open from 6 am till 10 pm)

If you already have a Lao visa, you only need the arrival/departure form (similar to the Thai one) available from immigration. Fill in both sections, using any guesthouse or hotel name (Lao Plaza, Novotel, Mekong) as your address – no one cares. Present the completed form with your passport at the Foreign Passports booth where you will be 'stamped in'.

Avoid 'Visa for Laos' services near the bridge or in Nongkhai town which offer visas for Lao PDR. These are mostly tourist traps. You pay more money and achieve very little and may even need an unplanned night in Nong Khai. It's easy to get a visa-on-arrival on the Lao side of the bridge, with usually just a few minutes wait anyway – a straightforward procedure when you know how:

If you don't have a visa, get two forms from the Visa-on-arrival window. First, fill in the simple Visa Application and hand it back together with your passport, one photo and $30-$45 cash in US dollars (preferable to baht – very bad exchange rate!). On weekends there is a $1 surcharge. Second, take a seat and fill in both sections of the Arrivals/Departure form. Wait 10 minutes or so until your name is called, collect your passport with its 30 day visa, and proceed to one of the Foreign Passports booths where you will be stamped in. Walk past Customs; they rarely stop foreign tourists. At the Entry Fee booth pay 10 baht. The final stop is a guard who briefly checks your passport stamp and the entry fee receipt. Welcome to Lao!

For more detailed Laos visa information visit our Lao Visa Page.

Vientiane (the city) is about 25 km or 15 miles from the Bridge. A newly-reconstructed smooth road leads from the bridge now, but the road-works continue from the clock tower roundabout on Thadeua Road to the city centre. If possible, this road should be avoided for the next few months.

Taxis, tuk-tuks and jumbos are likely to take the alternative new road into the city by turning right at the traffic lights at KM 10. A taxi costs 200 baht, tuk-tuks and jumbos from 100 baht.

Other transport options include the commuter bus which is crowded and slow but cheap, sharing a taxi (best choice for time and comfort) or hiring a mini bus with transport and tour prices displayed on a board in the arrivals area.

Thailand – Lao PDR International Bus Service

NOTE: You need to have an ASEAN or Japanese passport, or a Lao Visa already to use this bus service into Vientiane. No problem southbound as Thailand gives a free entry stamp on arrival.

Daily services: Udon Thani – Vientiane, and Nong Khai – Vientiane, via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River, using luxury 45 seat air-conditioned buses. Road distance from Udon Thani to Vientiane is 90 km (56 miles), and from Nongkhai to Vientiane about 25 km (15 miles).

The routes operate in terms of joint government agreements, between the Lao capital Vientiane and the two Thai cities in Nong Khai province. The Mekong River is crossed via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge which was opened in 1994, financed jointly by Thailand and Australia.

From Nong Khai to Vientiane is about 35 km (21 miles); it takes 30 minutes and costs 30 baht ($0.75). Udon Thani to Vientiane is about 85 km (53 miles), costs 80 baht ($2.00), and travelling time is around 45 minutes, excluding the two stops at the border. There are simple forms, but see notes below.

Lao Visas and Crossing the Border
Foreign visitors holding valid visas and passports are able to use these buses (and other vehicles) to cross the border, but check with the booking office about a visa for entry into Lao. It may be better to have a visa from the Lao Embassy in
Bangkok (or other country). There is also a Consular Office in Khon Kaen, the main city of Isaan, where an overnight stay may be considered. The inexpensive Europe Guesthouse will assist with visa applications; the Consular Office is outside the city centre. You can also make a reservation via the link.

The new 30 day visa-on-arrival is issued at the bridge ($30-$45 in cash plus one photo), but this takes 15 to 30 minutes to process, so it may be a problem using this bus service to enter Lao. Southbound is a simpler procedure as Thailand allows 30 day visits for many nationalities without a visa, but it is advisable to check if you are entering for the first time. See below for other ways of entering Lao by road or air.

Thai citizens can travel to Lao without a Passport, using a 3-day/2-night Temporary Border Pass valid for visits to Vientiane, while Thai residents of Nong Khai province (many of whom have Lao national relatives) can apply for an Annual Border Pass.

Lao citizens can spend up to three days (can be extended) in Nongkhai using a Border Pass Book. However, Lao people travelling beyond Nongkhai province require a Lao Passport, and also an Exit Visa from the authorities in Vientiane.

Buses in and around Lao PDR
There are three main bus stations in Vientiane. The one behind the Morning Market (Talat Sao) serves most provincial towns and signs are in Lao and English; another on Luang Prabang Road serves the main centres around the country. There is also the VIP bus station catering mainly to tourists, with services to Pakse and Savannakhet and also to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

A minibus service also runs between Vientiane and Luang Prabang stopping at Vang Vieng. Buses depart from Lao Youth Travel on Fa Ngum Road, leaving at 10 am and 2 pm daily, cost is B160 to Vang Vieng and B500 to Luang Prabang. Stopovers in Vang Vieng are possible by getting a two-leg ticket. Pick up is from your guesthouse in Vang Vieng for the onward leg to Luang Prabang, departing on Thursdays and Sundays at 9.30 am. Tickets are available at Lao Youth Travel and around town.

Other road transport
The Udon Thani Airport Limousine to Nongkhai (which uses medium-sized air-conditioned buses) serves most commercial flight arrival and departures. It runs between the airport and the Bus Station near the Bridge, with several pickup points in Nongkhai, and Udon Thani Airport. Tickets cost 110 baht ($2.75). Travel time is about 45 minutes. Local buses, mini-buses and taxis (can be shared to save cost) are also available.

The simplest way to get to Lao across the Friendship Bridge, open from 6 am till 9 or 10 pm, is to use the 10 baht shuttle buses operating between the Bus Station near the bridge in Nongkhai and the Lao side. From there you can take a tuk-tuk, bus or taxi into town at either end. The bus station is always busy with daily traffic between Vientiane and the Tesco Lotus supermarket in Nongkhai, where many Lao go to shop, as there is no equivalent in Vientiane. There is also a Bangkok Bank branch, ATMs and other shops in the Tesco complex. Udon Thani being a bigger city has a larger Tesco and other supermarkets. By the way, Vientiane now has some ATMs. See Lao Banking or our main Banking for foreigners in Asia page.

Regional airlines operating in the Lao PDR
Lao Airlines (formerly Lao Aviation) is the National Carrier and provides local and inter-regional services. International flights operate between Vientiane or Luang Prabang and Thailand (Bangkok and Chiangmai), Cambodia, Vietnam, China (Kunming) and Taiwan.

Airlines operating between Bangkok and Udon Thani include Thai Airways and discount carriers like Air Asia and Nok Air, who also operate five days a week between Chiangmai and Udon Thani. There are also Thai Airways direct flights (one hour) between Bangkok and Vientiane. Quickest, but more expensive. See above.

More ways to fly to Vientiane

Banking in Lao and Vientiane

Travel with a friend