How to Get to Laos from United States
With no direct flights to Laos from anywhere in the United States, you might think it would be complicated to get there, requiring multiple connections and expensive flights. However, you could not be more wrong. With the ever-increasing tourism industry in the country, getting to Laos is continuously getting easier, and with many of its neighbors having connecting flights to the country, it should be no problem to get a flight with just one connection at most.
Laos is an improving third-world country that has a tourism industry that is getting better every year. Facilities for tourists are constantly improving as more people travel to the small, Southeast Asian country to explore its many sights and experience the relaxed and tranquil atmosphere. Unlike its closest neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is a country where nightlife is scarce and peaceful relaxation is the key to a great holiday.
Well appreciated for its rural attractions and true wilderness locations, Laos is one of the new highlights of tourism in Southeast Asia, and the improved infrastructure has made it more popular with regular tourists, and not just the usual backpackers. For tourism in Laos, it is all about gentle exploration of the Buddhist culture and temples, the rural villages, the awe-inspiring natural landscapes, and the hugely underrated food. Mass tourism has not yet managed to get a foothold in Laos, and the country is more interested in smaller, community-based tours, and it is still one of the best places in Indochina for trekking and outdoor activities.
Of course, as with most places in Asia, a visa is required to visit the country from the United States, but the Lao National Tourism Administration, in conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has made getting the visa as easy as possible. In order to obtain a visa for Laos, you need to meet certain requirements, which are:
A valid passport with at least 6 month’s validity at the time of travel
Two blank, facing visa pages in the passport
A completed visa application form
Two passport-sized photos
The relevant visa fee in dollars
Fees for the visa depend on the country of origin, and for those from the United States, the fee depends on whether your visa is from an embassy or on arrival.
The Pre-approved Visa is easily available from any Embassy of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and in the United States, the only Embassy is in Washington D.C.. Applications can be processed by mail for those not living in the nation’s capital, and must be sent by USPS registered mail with a USPS registered mail prepaid return envelope.
The fee for the pre-approved visa is US$ 50, and must be paid by either a money order or certified check included with the application. Processing normally takes up to ten working days from receipt of the mail application, or three working days for personal applications at the embassy. The visa is valid for a 30-day stay, and must be used within two months from the date of issue. Visas can only be extended once, for a maximum of 30 days, at the Laos Immigration Office in Vientiane.
Visa On Arrival
The Visa On Arrival service is by far the most popular option these days, and allows U.S. citizens to make the application for the visa on their arrival at the port of entry. The Visa On Arrival application has the same requirements as the pre-approved visa application, although the fee can be paid in either US dollars or Thai baht at certain overland checkpoints.
The Visa On Arrival service is available at three of the four airports in Laos (Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Luang Prabang International Airport in Luang Prabang, and Pakse International Airport in Pakse), as well as certain border crossing points between Laos and its neighboring countries. However, it is not available at the Savannakhet International Airport, and a pre-approved visa is required for flights landing there. The standard fee for US passport holders to Laos is US$ 35, and if you are entering after 4:00pm local time, there is often a $1 “overtime” fee for processing after normal hours. This is not a government fee, and it is easier to pay it than to argue, since it will facilitate your visa processing.
Flights to Laos from the US
There are no direct flights from the United States to Laos, and connecting flights with one or more stops are required. Indirect flights run from several cities in the U.S. to Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Luang Prabang, via a number of different cities in both Asia and the Middle East.
Indirect flights to Wattay International Airport in Vientiane run from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, while indirect flights to Luang Prabang International Airport run from Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The only flights to Savannakhet from the United States leave from John F. Kennedy airport in New York. All flights are indirect, and it pays to look into the cheaper flights to places such as Bangkok and connect from there.
Very few airlines run direct flights from the United States to many of the countries in Southeast Asia, and it is highly likely that at least one stop will be made before getting to an Asian country from where you can get a connecting flight to Laos. Direct flights can be found to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Manila, Taiwan, and India, and from there you can get a connecting flight to Laos, although not all have direct flights.
Direct flights to Laos can be found from Singapore, as well as from Chengdu, Jinghong, Kunming, Nanning, and Guangzhou in China. If flying through China is an appealing option, you can get connecting flights from your destination airport in China or Hong Kong to an outgoing airport in China that has direct flights to Laos.
It does take some searching to find the best and cheapest flights to get to Laos, and the whole trip can become quite confusing. It is possible to get flights with just one stop, if you use Singapore and the Chinese cities of Chengdu and Guangzhou, but most flights that will be affordable will have two, three, or even four stopovers or connections to get to Laos. This means that it can take as much as 40-50 hours to get there.
Airport in Laos
Using the comparison websites, you can easily work out the ways to get to Laos from the United States with the minimum of stops. It is possible to get a pre-booked connecting flight to Laos with just two stopovers, but these are normally more expensive than multiple-stop flights, and if budget is an issue, then the multiple stops can be better.
There are many airlines in Asia that have short hops from local cities to cities in neighboring countries, and across Asia there are direct flights from many of the capitals to other capital cities for a very low price. Budget airlines are big in most of Asia, and if you get the right flight well in advance of your flight date, the cost can really be minimal. Then it can make your trip cheaper to use the overland border crossings from Laos’ neighbors.
Overland Border Crossing
There are several places where you can cross the border into Laos from one of the neighboring countries, and many of these overland border checkpoints have the Visa On Arrival service available. You will need to get a tourist visa for the country you are entering from, but for many of them, it is simple to get a visa on your arrival at the airport before traveling to the border. Vietnam also has online E-visas, which makes it even easier.
With six international tourist crossing points to choose from, getting to Laos overland from Thailand is easy. Five of the six have the Visa On Arrival service, and are:
Chiang Khong - Huay Xai
Nong Khai - Vientiane
Nakhon Phanom - Thakhek
Mukdahan - Savannakhet
Chong Mek - Pakse
The crossing point at Beung Khan – Paksan requires a pre-approved visa from the embassy in Washington D.C. Many of the crossing points have bus services to get to them, although some have little in the way of buses on the Lao side, and you may have to fork out for a taxi or a tuk-tuk.
Six crossing points lie on the border between Laos and Vietnam, and all six have the Visa On Arrival service available. Bus companies run regular buses to the border, and from many of the border crossings on the Lao side there is adequate transport to the nearest town or city. The crossing points from Vietnam to Laos are at:
Tay Trang - Sop Hun
Nam Xoi - Na Meo
Nam Khan - Nam Can
Cau Treo - Nam Phao
Lao Bao - Dansavanh
Ngoc Hoi - Bo Y
From Cambodia, there is only one overland border crossing point to Laos, at Dom Kralor – Veun Kham. Visa On Arrival is available at the border checkpoint, and the crossing is quite popular with backpackers touring Indochina. There is also a riverboat crossing that takes you from Koh Khan Kham in Cambodia to Pakse in Laos, although it is unclear whether this route is still available to foreign tourists. The route has been closed and reopened for foreign travelers many times in the past several years, so it is best to check before booking the cruise along the Mekong River.
There is only one crossing point from China to Laos, which is at Mohanzhen in China, and crosses the border to Boten in Laos. Buses run from Kunming, Xishuangbanna, and Meng Le, which take you to the border town to exit through Chinese customs before driving you across the border to Boten. Boten is the drop-off point for the buses, but there are regular buses every morning to the major local towns. Visa On Arrival is always available at Boten, and it is best to cross in the morning as early as possible, as there are very few places to stay in the small border town.
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