Getting around Laos
Lao Airlines is the primary carrier for internal flights and many flights to adjacent countries. The airline codeshares with Vietnam Airlines.
Many Lao Airlines aircraft are not up to Western standards. I’ve flown with Lao airlines a number of times and always found the level of safety and service to be quite high. The food isn’t so great, though, and the seats are often dirty.
Lao Airlines normally flies to the following internal airports, with more are being added each year : Hoeuixay, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxai, Pakse, Samnuea, Savannakhet, Sayabouly, Vientiane, and Xiengkhoung.
Flights go from Vientiane to/from Luang Prabang and Savannakhet at least daily and to/from Pakse almost every day. There are flights to most other towns in Laos, but they are infrequent. Still, flying beats most land transportation.
Note: North-south flights almost always stop in Vientiane, so you may find yourself with an unplanned overnight in the capital. Flights also tend to leave very early or very late, and many city pairs do not have daily service. Flights are very reasonably priced and take a fraction of the time a bus does to cover the same distance.
Renting a car is not really an option. It is possible, but not advisable, to rent scooters for trips outside the “major” metropolitan areas. The roads are not the greatest, although they are improving every year. Drivers are not skilled or concerned with proper passing, and banditry has been an occasional problem along some roads. Safety equipment, such as helmets, is dirty, poorly maintained, and rarely available.
Buses and private vans go almost everywhere. A major organizer of tours in private vans and buses is Diethelm (a Thailand-based company). Their Laos office is Diethelm Travel (Laos) Ltd., Setthathirath Road, Namphu Square, PO Box 2657, Vientiane, Lao PDR. The tour bus company drivers are far better trained than the public bus drivers, and far less likely to pick up unscheduled passengers.
You can ride a bicycle, which is not a bad idea. Just keep in mind that others out there are not good or aware drivers.
There are a number of ways to get around Laos by boat. As the roads expand and improve, the availability
of boats is decreasing, but it is still possible to spend part of a day or several days floating or power-boating down the many rivers. Some are passable only in the monsoon season; others are impassable then due to flooding.
There are no rail services in Laos.
Getting around Vientiane
Getting around Savannakhet
Getting around Champasak
Getting around Luang Prabang