Taking the Bus in Laos (Luang Prabang to Vientiane)

Should you take the VIP Day Bus in Laos?

Laos is a beautiful country, but its infrastructure is still fairly undeveloped, making it difficult to get around the country from city to city. Even the most popular route, the trip between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, can be long and difficult.

While the short flight between the two cities is ideal, some travelers prefer to go between Luang Prabang and Vientiane by road. There are really two options: the minivan (small, fast, and dangerous) and the VIP bus (big, slow, and slightly less dangerous). The air tickets in Laos tend to be fairly cheap, and ground transportation is notoriously uncomfortable, dangerous, and overpriced. While we highly recommend flying, if you do decide to travel by bus, we recommend choosing the VIP day bus over all other options.

Ticket booking office and travel agents will always push a traveler to travel by minibus (minivan) or night sleeper bus, but there is a third option as well: the VIP Day Bus.
The minivans drive too fast and recklessly on the mountain roads, and the news is often full of reports of fatal minibus accidents. On top of that, the minibus rides are cramped and terribly uncomfortable.

The night bus is a bit better, but as the roads in Laos tend to be a bit unsafe, driving late at night in the dark with a sleepy driver might not be the best advice either.

That really just leaves the often overlooked VIP Day Bus. But what is it really like? Here is our honest review; both the good and the bad:

VIP day bus in Laos
a VIP bus in Luang Prabang, Laos

The VIP Bus in Laos

We traveled by VIP day bus between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, Laos. Here's our honest opinion.

How much does it cost to get between Luang Prabang and Vientiane?

The cost of travel between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, Laos on the VIP Day Bus cost 130,000 Lao Kip ($15). Transportation in Laos tends to be expensive; up to double, or even triple the cost of traveling the same distance in neighboring Vietnam or Thailand.

We booked our tickets through a local ticket booking agent in Luang Prabang, but you can buy them through any hotel, guest house, and travel agency, or go directly to the bus station to buy them without paying the small commission.

The ticket comes with a coupon for a meal.

The ride is supposed to take 7 hours.

laos bus ticket information
a VIP Bus ticket from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, Laos
7:30 - a tuk-tuk picks us up at our hotel and brings us to the bus station.

8:00 - we board the bus and find our seats. Every seat is numbered, and are surprisingly comfortable. Much more comfortable than the minibus that we took to Luang Prabang! There is decent legroom, and the seats are moderately soft.

A bus employee passes out bottles of water to each passenger.

8:30 - we are off, right on time! So far so good…

VIP day bus in Laos interior
interior of a VIP day bus in Laos
10:00 - the bus comes to a stop, and the driver shuts off the engine. There is a long line of cars and trucks stopped on the muddy, winding, mountainous road ahead of us. There was a mudslide, and workers are using an industrial digger to clear it. It’s too hot to stay on the bus without the AC, so all of the passengers disembark and stand around outside in the hot sun.

12:00 - finally, the road is clear, and we begin driving again.

the roads in laos are poor and can be dangerous
the roads in Laos can be unsafe and slow
12:30 - we stop again. Part of the engine has fallen out of the bottom of the bus. We stop for half an hour while the drivers stick it back on with a piece of bamboo that they found.

breakdown on a bus in Laos
breakdowns are not uncommon on the VIP Bus in Laos

13:00 - the roads are terrible: bumpy and winding. Several passengers have gotten sick, but it’s still much smoother than the minibus. Unfortunately, the roads over the mountains are so steep, narrow, and winding that the bus can barely move 40 km/hr.

16:00 - it’s already been 7 hours, and we aren’t even halfway there yet.

17:30 - we stop for “lunch”, or at least, we stop where we should have stopped five hours ago for lunch. We exchange our meal ticket for a cheap-tasting and very salty bowl of noodle soup. It’s filling anyway, and as it starts to get dark, we head back out on the road. The meal is not very good. It's probably better to bring some snacks with you on the trip.

a bowl of noodles
noodle lunch provided

18:00 - we arrive in Vang Vieng to drop off passengers before continuing on.

23:00 - we finally arrive in Vientiane. Instead of the projected seven hours, the trip took a full 15 hours. Don’t be fooled by the times quoted to you by a travel agent; this is a very average travel time in Laos.
views of mountains in laos near Luang Prabang
the mountains in Laos between Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Pros and Cons of traveling by VIP Day Bus in Laos

The Good

  • The VIP day bus is relatively comfortable and is (usually) air-conditioned.
  • A meal is provided  (though quality is not guaranteed).
  • Two drivers take turns driving the bus, ensuring that neither gets too tired.
  • The VIP bus drives slower and more safely over the mountain roads than does the minivan.
  • The VIP bus travels by day, decreasing the risks of accidents.

The Bad

  • A trip on the VIP day bus takes a long time - longer than a minibus.
  • The roads in Laos are poor and the buses are badly-maintained. Breakdowns and road closures are not uncommon.
  • The buses in Laos have NO TOILET. The driver will stop once or twice on the trip for a toilet break, but it is a long time to wait between stops if you really need a toilet.
  • You will lose an entire day traveling just 300 or so km.
  • The VIP bus is expensive. Travel in Laos costs far more than in neighboring countries, and the quality of the bus trip (value for money) is much worse.
So, overall, while it’s a grueling and uncomfortable journey, that’s due more to the roads in Laos than to the VIP bus. Overall, we recommend the VIP bus for comfort and safety if you really must travel by bus.

However, as the bus tickets tend to be more expensive than the uncomfortable and terribly long ride is really worth, if you can afford it, you might want to just buy a cheap Air Asia flight between Luang Prabang and Vientiane (20 minutes) instead. In fact, if you plan well, a flight can be almost the same price as the bus ticket.


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