The highways in Laos have improved in the past ten years, but the fact that 80% remain unpaved is a telling statistic. Still, the main routes connecting Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet are now sealed, and the transport options on these roads include bus, minibus, and converted truck.
Some common routes through Laos include:
- Luang Prabang to Phonsavan - minibus: cramped, so arrive early to get good seats as near the front as possible; beautiful views so secure a window seat if possible.
- Phonsavan to Sam Neua - converted pickup truck: beautiful views but lots of hills and bends, hence possible nausea
- Sam Neua to Muang Ngoi - minivan: a 12 hour trip along a horrible road; good views and a necessary evil, but fun if you're prepared to get a few knocks and talk to some Lao people who are, after all, in the same boat
- Muang Ngoi to Luang Namtha - Minivan: 10 hour trip (Oudomxay); all right road, much travelled by backpackers
- Luang Namtha to Huay Xai - road only passable in the dry season, but the same journey can be made by boat in the rainy season. China builds a new road to Thailand. The road from Luang Namtha to Huay Xai is part of this road and it is a very good road.
- Paksan to Phonsavan - there is a new road between Borikham and Tha Thom. In Tha Thom there is a guesthouse with 8 rooms. The forest between Borikham and Tha Thom is still in a very good condition (but it's a dirt road). Since most of the forest in Laos has gone this is one of the last roads surrounded by primary forest. If you travel by motorbike this is a must go! And tell it to everybody - if no tourists go there the forest will be burned or sold. There are substantial road works being undertaken by the Vietnamese between Paksan and Phonsavan and there can be some fairly long delays along the way. Even though the trip is only a couple of hundred kilometers it can take 16-20 hrs to traverse this section.
Local transport (less than 20 km) in Laos consists of tuk tuks, jumbos and sky labs, motorised three or four wheelers. A jumbo should cost no more than 20,000 kip (about US$1) for short journeys of 1-5 km.
You can now also travel the entire length of the country using a fully guided 'hop on hop off' bus service provided by Stray Travel. This is the only bus of its kind throughout all of Laos