Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Getting around by bus

Ordinary buses run between major towns and link provincial hubs with their surrounding districts. Operating out of Vientiane, a fleet of slightly more comfortable blue, government-owned buses caters mostly to the capital's outlying districts, although it does provide a service to Vang Viang and Pakxe.

Buses plying long-distance routes tend to be in worse shape and can be either classic buses or souped-up tourist vans. Throughout the south and along the Vientiane-Louang Prabang route, the transport mainstay is a converted Russian flat-bed truck.

Except for buses out of Vientiane, Savannakhet and Louang Prabang, when you should buy a ticket from the bus station before boarding, it's common practice to pay on board .

Timetables only exist in Vientiane, Louang Prabang and Savannakhet; elsewhere it's best to go to the bus station the night before to find out the schedule for the next day. Where there is no information, you should get to the bus station between 6 and 7am, as that is when most Lao passengers prefer to travel. Very few buses leave after midday . Even though they're scheduled, long-distance buses won't depart if empty. Route 13, however, sees a steady flow of bus traffic and it's usually possible to flag down a vehicle during daylight hours.

VIP or Mini-bus?

Minibuses are more expensive, however that does not mean they are necessarily better. The VIP Bus is just an old bus by Western standards, although it typically does have more leg room which makes a long journey far more pleasant. Both vehicle types are usually air conditioned. A VIP Bus is slower and more prone to breakdowns however.

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