By Plane -- Vientiane is Laos's major international hub for air travel. Wattay Airport is situated fairly close to the city. If you are coming from anywhere far away you will fly to Bangkok first and take a connecting flight to Vientiane. A taxi to town will cost 50,000 kip. The airlines serving the airport are:
Vietnam Airlines (first floor, Lao Plaza Hotel, Thanon Samsenthai; tel. 021/217-562; www.vietnamairlines.com). Open Monday to Friday 8am to noon and 1:30 to 4:30pm, Saturday 8am to noon.
Lao Airlines (Thanon Pangkham; tel. 021/512-028; www.laoairlines.com). Open Monday to Saturday 8am to noon and 1 to 4:30pm.
Thai Airways International (Thanon Luang Prabang; tel. 021/222-527). Open Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday 8am to noon.
China Eastern Airlines (Thanon Luang Prabang; tel. 021/212-300; www.chinaeastern.com).
By Bus -- There are three separate bus stations in Vientiane. The Northern Bus Station (tel. 021/260-555) connects Vientiane with northern Laos, China, and Vietnam. The Southern Bus station (tel. 021/740-521) is the port of call if you heading in the direction of Tha Khek, Pakse, or Savannakhet. There is also a bus station at the Morning Market (tel. 021/216-507), which is called Talat Sao in Lao, but which is devoted to local buses around Vientiane province only. There are buses to destinations farther away (such as Vang Vieng) from Talat Sao, but they are best avoided because they are incredibly slow and stop frequently. It is best to head for the long-distance buses from either the Northern or Southern terminals. It is from here that buses also leave to Udon Thani and Khon Khaen in northeastern Thailand.
Note: If coming from Bangkok, a cheaper alternative to flying directly to Vientiane is to take an internal flight to Udon Thani 55km (34 miles) away in Thailand and travel on to Nong Khai by bus crossing into Laos on the Friendship Bridge.
By Train -- In 2009, the extension of the railway line from Bangkok to Nong Khai was completed. The railway terminates at Vientiane's Thanalaeng station. You can now travel from Bangkok to Vientiane (or vice versa) by train on the daily overnight sleeper train direct from Bangkok to the new international rail terminal some 13km (8 miles) outside Vientiane.
When taking this route, it is generally easier to get off at Nong Khai and negotiate the border in the normal way. The principal express trains depart Hualamphong station in Bangkok at 6:40pm and 8pm.
At present visas on arrival for Laos are not issued at Thanalaeng station in Laos, only at the Friendship Bridge, so you can only use the new through train northbound if you already have a visa for Laos. It's really not worth it for the final 4km (2 1/2 miles) of the journey. Take any train between Bangkok and Nong Khai, and then use road transport into Laos. From Nong Khai, take a local tuk-tuk from the railway station to Nong Khai bus station. A shuttle bus runs from the bus station across the Friendship Bridge to Laos every 20 minutes throughout the day. It costs about 90¢. It stops at Thai Immigration 5 minutes after leaving the bus station and then crosses the Friendship Bridge arriving at Lao Customs and Immigration. You then remove your luggage from the bus and go through Lao Customs. Once through, take another tuk-tuk to your chosen hotel.
When traveling southbound, leave central Vientiane at least 3 hours before your train leaves Nong Khai for Bangkok, in order to allow time for border formalities and the various bus/taxi journeys.
Most of the things you will want to see in Vientiane are completely accessible by foot. If you want to travel a little bit farther or a little bit faster you can do it by bicycle.
By Bicycle -- Bikes are a great way to get around town. Both bicycle and motorcycle rentals are available at many storefronts along Fa Ngum Road near the river or along Samsenthai. Many guesthouses have a few rattlers available, though don't expect anything too high-tech. The fee varies, but is generally around a dollar a day.
By Bus -- If you want to get a bus to an outlying area, go to the local bus station at Talat Sao. You can also catch a bus to the Thai border at the Friendship Bridge from here for 40¢.
Car Rental -- You can rent a car with driver for $70 per day around town. Trips farther afield will cost between $80 and $90. Call Asia Vehicle Rental (tel. 021/217-493; www.avr.laopdr.com), or inquire at any hotel front desk. Daily rates for sedans start at $60.
By Motorcycle -- Hiring a motorcycle is a popular way to explore both Vientiane and the surrounding area. Rte. 13 from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is a legendary road among motorcyclists. There are a number of places that rent out both small step-throughs for about $8 a day and bigger 250cc dirt bikes for $25 a day. If they don't provide you with a satisfactory helmet, then buy your own.
By Taxi -- Taxis operate from the airport only and cost $5 for the ride into town. Going the other way, it's easier to take a tuk-tuk for $2.
By Tuk-Tuk & Jumbo -- When taking a tuk-tuk in Vientiane you need to have your wits about you, since all is not as it first appears. There are actually three kinds of tuk-tuks doing the rounds in the city. The tuk-tuks specifically targeting tourists are the most expensive. You will see them lined up near sites and big hotels. The drivers will often have a printed rate card and the rates themselves are double what you pay for a regular tuk-tuk. They can be quite pushy if they see you walking by. You can bargain with them but it's not a very pleasant experience.
The second type is regular tuk-tuks that patrol the city looking for a fare. These are cheaper than the tourist vehicles. Cheapest of all are the fixed-route jumbos (a slightly bigger version of a tuk-tuk), which operate in the same way as buses. You can hail them as they pass or go to Talat Sao and take one from there. For most places around town you will pay about 20¢ to 40¢.
Visitor Information & Tours
There is a tourist information office on Lane Xang Avenue, just north of the Morning Market. The Vientiane Times (www.vientianetimes.org.la) is the local English-language paper, a fun read with good listings of local events.