First of all I wouldn’t really recommend doing this 23+ hour bus ride, unless you have little time and are on a tight budget, because it can be very exhausting. If you have a few extra days just spend them in Vientiane which is a nice city to visit too! I visited Vientiane on my way back from Pakse because I was flying out from there. That was poor planning on my side (I booked the flight before figuring out what I wanted to do in Laos, leaving Laos from Pakse would have been smarter).
Bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane
You will depart from the southern bus station which is a 35-40min walk from the night market in Luang Prabang (or a 5,000 – 10,000kip tuk tuk ride per person depending on how many you are and how hard you are willing to haggle).
I didn’t know the bus timetable so I went to the bus station 2 days before to get my ticket. In low season you can buy it the same day and still get a seat. The first bus in the morning is the 6:30am one and it’s the one you will have to take. (You might be okay with the 7:30 one but I wouldn’t recommend it, it’s good to have some extra time for unexpected events). If you want to get to the station by tuk tuk you should probably ask your hostel the night before.
Beware, it’s not an AC bus, meaning open windows and loads of dust blowing in your face! Good day to wear you dust mask if you have one. But on the other hand it’s super cheap, only 11,000kip. And you’ll definitely be traveling like a local. I was the only tourist on the bus which granted me a lot of funny looks 😀
The seats are quite comfortable though, I was feeling fine getting to Vientiane (and I’m easily subject to back pain so me feeling fine means something).
Don’t trust the guy who sells you the ticket if he tells you the bus will take 9 to 10hours!! Mine took 11h30m total with a 30min lunch break and a few toilet/snack breaks. But the 3 reasons that caused the most time loss are much more unique :
- The terrible road conditions: it had rained a lot the night before and there were landslides everywhere with trees blocking the road, hills of soil on the road that hadn’t been cleared yet and of course a whole bunch of holes which made the whole trip holey bumpy.
- The fact that the bus was around 50 years old and could barely make it uphill. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it failed us before we reached Vientiane.
- Multiple stops on the road where the bus driver was actually filling the empty seats on our bus with his groceries… seriously?? Even the locals were getting annoyed!
Changing bus stations in Vientiane
We finally got to the northern bus station at 6pm. I had trusted the ticket guy, thinking I’d be there at 4:30 max, and was supposed to take 2 city buses to the southern bus station which would have been roughly 10,000kip total.
Unfortunately, the last bus leaving the city center to the southern bus station is at 5:30pm. It’s a shame that a capital city has such a bad bus system, but, oh well, now I had to find another way. And the only alternative was taking a tuk tuk!
As I was the only one from my bus going to the other bus terminal, and because I already had read about the tuk tuk mafia of Vientiane, I knew that this setback would be costly.
The first price I got told was 150,000 for one person, roughly 17$, much more than my 12hour bus ride!! I replied that it was too expensive and said I was willing to pay 50,000. He agreed if he got 2 more people. I couldn’t really wait for people: I didn’t know how long the tuk tuk ride was, I didn’t have my next bus ticket, and I didn’t even know when the last bus to Pakse was leaving. I insisted: “50 for a private ride”, he refused and turned away. I was then trying to see if I could go with the local guys from my bus, who were headed to the city center and waiting in another tuk tuk, when the first driver came back with another guy and offered a ride for 60, private, departure now! I happily agreed (it was what I was hoping to pay max) and off we went, only 10min after getting there, phew!
Note: don’t be confused by the fact that the southern bus station is Northeast of Vientiane. It’s just that all the buses heading south leave from there as it’s closest to the highways going south.
Sleeper bus from Vientiane to Pakse
We got to the southern bus station 50min later, at 7pm, and it was pouring. As soon as I got out of the tuk tuk I was surrounded by people asking if I was going to Pakse. Is it that obvious? One of them dragged me to his friend who was already filling out a bus ticket. Hey! Wait a minute! How much? “110,000”. I was thinking: “Hmm that sounds too cheap for a sleeper”. And it was, they were trying to get me into a regular bus. “No way I’m doing a night on a seat after that day! I need a bed, even if I pay more and might be sleeping with a stranger! “
So the guy dragged me inside, to a counter this time. I was tired and just wanted to be done, so I paid the 150,000 requested without even looking around for other companies (it was still 25% cheaper than the prices I saw on 12go). I wasn’t sure it was the cheapest you can get but a young Laos I randomly met was paying the same with another company. No rip off, yay!
I chose a bed downstairs and at the front, it’s supposed to be the least bumpy, and went exploring the next door mini mart in detail, as I had 1.5 hours to kill.
I boarded the bus at 8:15pm, got a plastic bag for my shoes, and a bottle of water. There is barely any room to leave luggage, so just keep your valuables and a jacket with you (the blanket they gave wasn’t enough for me with the mandatory bus AC). I put my phone and wallet under my pillow, just in case, and made myself comfortable.
As we left the station, at exactly 9pm, I was trying to restrain myself from feeling too relieved because no one requested the bed next to me : there would be stops along the way, I might get company later…
Note: There was a toilet on the bus, at the front opposite the driver’s seat, next to the door. The bus I took back to Vientiane had a toilet at the back, also next to the door.
Note: choosing a company – I found they’re pretty much all the same. The beds are sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, sometimes you’ll get only water, sometimes some cookies. But you never know in advance.
Arriving in Pakse
As I was slowly waking up and looked around, I realized that, as far as I could see, I was the only “farang” on board. And I didn’t remember seeing any tourists at the bus station either. How surprising!
Although I woke up a dozen times, I felt quite rested in the morning. The road was less bumpy than expected, the mattress – a very thin memory foam one – didn’t destroy my back and most importantly: I stayed alone all night, how lucky 🙂 (low season man!!)
The bed is very short though, and if you’re more than 1m70 (5feet 7inches), which is my case, you can’t stretch out. If you’re as lucky as I am, and have the bed for yourself, you can sleep diagonally. If not, sleeping on your side is thenonly option. (Note: on my way back to Vientiane the beds were slightly longer)
I’m pretty sure the bus was heading to the southern terminal – 8km out of town – so when I saw on Google Maps that we were passing the city centre, I went to ask the driver to be let out wherever he could stop. He agreed, and so I had only 1km to walk to my hostel and saved money on a tuk tuk!
I got to Pakse at 8:30am, so the total bus ride was 11h30 from Vientiane.
From Luang Prabang to Pakse total time: 27h30. 23hours in buses, approx. 1hour in a tuk tuk and the rest waiting/walking.
|Transport||2 Buses and Tuk Tuk||$320,000|
|Total||Flying was ~10x more expensive!!! :O||$364,000 ($41USD)|