Original blog post: https://ling-app.com/lo/transportation-in-lao/
The roads of Laos have taken on an almost mystical significance among travelers. When backpackers first started arriving in the ’90s, the country was an unexplored jungle paradise. But, of course, one of the downsides of a jungle paradise is that the roads are often a nightmare. Today we’re going to bring you 30 Useful Words About Transportation In Lao, starting with undoubtedly the most important:
lodchak (ລົດຈັກ) — motorbike!
It is impossible to overestimate just how crucial the motorbike has been in Lao’s development. Before capitalism took hold in the final decade of the last century, Lao’s largely rural farming population had to transport their produce on foot or the backs of animals. What was once a full day’s journey from the mountains became achievable in a few hours.
Ironically, this capitalist explosion and improved living conditions were down to Communist China flooding the market with cheap, efficient motorcycles.
Transportation In Lao: Vehicles
Getting Into Laos
If you’re traveling internationally, then more than likely, you’ll be entering Laos via Vientiane or Luang Prabang, where all international flights arrive. Lao Airlines operates international flights, mainly to other Asian cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh. You can fly domestically in Lao, and domestic flights are usually very cheap, but there are only nine airports, including the two mentioned above.
Transportation In Lao: Roads
Laos has some of the most awe-inspiring, terrifying roads in the world. It can sometimes feel like everything is conspiring against you: the weather, the terrain, the millions of bombs scattered around the jungle! The roads of Laos were immortalized in this documentary: The deadliest roads in the world.
Parts of the country are simply unpassable during the rainy season, which runs from May to October. Three-quarters of the countries roads are dirt-tack. In addition, mudslides and fallen trees regularly block roads or simply destroy them.
How Do You Get Around? Laos Travel Tips
When it comes to traveling in Laos, there are only bad options and worse options. Vientiane and Luang Prabang are walkable cities if you can stand the heat. Most locals use motorbikes, although private car ownership has exploded in recent years.
You can rent a motorbike or car for a cheap price, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble if you get into an accident and hurt yourself or someone else. If possible, avoid the songthaew, the red car with the benches in the back, as well as tuk-tuks. Most will drivers will try to rip you off. I’d also say you’re a brave man if you take one of the local buses with no air conditioning and even worse drivers than the tourist buses.
If you’re traveling between cities, you’ll be loaded into a minibus along with other travelers. The journeys from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang are particularly harrowing. You’ll find yourself climbing a treacherous mountain slope for 1 hour and then flying down the other side in 5 minutes, all with children, dogs, and livestock chasing the dust cloud of the bus. A particular problem on these narrow roads is logging and heavy goods trucks that get stuck in dikes and block traffic for hours on end.
Once you arrive at your destination you’re going to need some basic phrases. For more information why not check out our blog: General Words And Phrases In Lao
N.B. Be careful when booking a tour. Laos tours have a bad reputation. Try to avoid buying a package from someone who doesn’t work for an official agency, and better yet, check comparison sites like TripAdvisor to see what tours are ranked highly.
Is Uber Or Grab Available In Laos?
At the moment, no, although I am sure there are plans afoot after Grab’s success in Thailand and Vietnam. An app called Loca claims to offer the same service and has a 4.6 rating in the Playstore.
Does Laos Have Trains?
Not quite yet, but rail transport is not far off.
Laos is a mountainous country and a nightmare for road and rail planners in Laos’s transport sector. It was only the deep pockets of the Chinese government that could tackle such a huge problem. Numerous road and rail projects are currently underway, including a 420 km high-speed railway linking Kunming in Southern China with the capital Vientiane.
In 2018 The Lao government signed off on a project that includes a 580km highway from Vientiane to Pakse, again with Chinese backing. It is a constant balancing act between improving the standard of life for regular Lao citizens and the massive damage it has on the environment to undertake large-scale building projects.
With so much Chinese money coming into Laos, perhaps you could learn a few basics about the two different Chinese languages.
Elephant (Sang) ຊ້າງ
Elephants are often put to work in remote regions of the country.
Random fact of the day: An elephant costs around $20,000 to buy, but owners see a good return on their investment. For example, a logging elephant can earn its owner around $1000 a month.
It is easier to justify working elephants when poor local people rely on them heavily. What is more difficult to justify are elephants used for tourism purposes. They are often kept in bad conditions away from their natural habitat. My advice would be to avoid elephant riding at all costs.
Learn Lao With Ling
As we’ve discovered, Laos doesn’t have one of the world’s finest modern transportation systems. In fact, in all of the Southeast Asian countries, it’s the worst. So don’t make a potentially stressful situation worse by not knowing a few key phrases.
All it takes is 15 minutes per day on the Ling app before your vacation, and all those alien-looking scribbles you see on the side of the bus station will make sense.