Should you take the VIP Day Bus in Laos? - An Honest Review
Should you take the VIP Day Bus in Laos?
When you are traveling in Laos, you don’t have many options for getting between cities. There is no rail service in Laos, and flight tickets can be expensive. That leaves ground transportation, which is notoriously unreliable, uncomfortable, and overpriced.
Ticket booking office and travel agents will always push a traveler to travel by minibus (minivan) or night sleeper bus, but there is a third option as well: the VIP Day Bus.
The minivans drive too fast and recklessly on the mountain roads, and the news is often full of reports of fatal minibus accidents. On top of that, the minibus rides are cramped and terribly uncomfortable.
The night bus is a bit better, but as the roads in Laos tend to be a bit unsafe, driving late at night in the dark with a sleepy driver might not be the best advice either.
That really just leaves the often overlooked VIP Day Bus. But what is it really like? Here is our honest review; both the good and the bad:
How much does it cost to get between Luang Prabang and Vientiane?
The ticket between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, Laos on the VIP Day Bus cost 130,000 Lao Kip ($15). Transportation in Laos tends to be expensive; up to double, or even triple the cost of traveling the same distance in neighboring Vietnam or Thailand.
We booked our tickets through a local ticket booking agent in Luang Prabang, but you can buy them through any hotel, guest house, and travel agency, or go directly to the bus station to buy them without paying the small commission.
The ticket comes with a coupon for a meal.
The ride is supposed to take 7 hours.
7:30 - a tuk-tuk picks us up at our hotel and brings us to the bus station.
8:00 - we board the bus and find our seats. Every seat is numbered, and are surprisingly comfortable. Much more comfortable than the minibus that we took to Luang Prabang! There is decent legroom, and the seats are moderately soft.
A bus employee passes out bottles of water to each passenger.
8:30 - we are off, right on time! So far so good…
10:00 - the bus comes to a stop, and the driver shuts off the engine. There is a long line of cars and trucks stopped on the muddy, winding, mountainous road ahead of us. There was a mudslide, and workers are using an industrial digger to clear it. It’s too hot to stay on the bus without the AC, so all of the passengers disembark and stand around outside in the hot sun.
12:00 - finally, the road is clear, and we begin driving again.
12:30 - we stop again. Part of the engine has fallen out of the bottom of the bus. We stop for half an hour while the drivers stick it back on with a piece of bamboo that they found.
13:00 - the roads are terrible: bumpy and winding. Several passengers have gotten sick, but it’s still much smoother than the minibus. Unfortunately, the roads over the mountains are so steep, narrow, and winding that the bus can barely move 40 km/hr.
16:00 - it’s already been 7 hours, and we aren’t even halfway there yet.
17:30 - we stop for “lunch”, or at least, we stop where we should have stopped five hours ago for lunch. We exchange our meal ticket for a cheap-tasting and very salty bowl of noodle soup. It’s filling anyway, and as it starts to get dark, we head back out on the road.
18:00 - we arrive in Vang Vieng to drop off passengers before continuing on.
23:00 - we finally arrive in Vientiane. Instead of the projected seven hours, the trip took a full 15 hours. Don’t be fooled by the times quoted to you by a travel agent; this is a very average travel time in Laos.
Pros and Cons of the VIP Day Bus in Laos
The VIP day bus is relatively comfortable - much more so than the minibus.
One meal is provided.
There are two drivers who take turns, making sure one driver never gets too tired.
The big bus drivers slower and much more safely on the road.
You travel during the day, so accidents are much less likely.
The trip takes a long time, although no longer than it would on the night bus or minibus.
The VIP bus tends to break down on the rough and winding mountain roads.
There is NO TOILET on board, but you can expect to stop twice or so on the journey.
You will lose an entire day traveling just 300 or so km.
The VIP bus is more expensive than the minibus.
So, overall, while it’s a grueling and uncomfortable journey, that’s due more to the roads in Laos than to the VIP bus. Overall, we recommend the VIP bus for comfort and safety.
However, as the bus tickets tend to be more expensive than the uncomfortable and terribly long ride is really worth, if you can afford it, you might want to just buy a cheap Air Asia flight between Luang Prabang and Vientiane (20 minutes) instead.