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Taking the Minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, Laos

When you’re in Luang Prabang, Laos, you might hear the dusty streets and river tubing of Vang Vieng calling your name. And when you do, finding a way there isn’t difficult, but there a few options you should consider. In this post we’ll share our experience on one of the options: taking the Minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, Laos.  We’ll also cover all the information you’ll need to know about the different methods and routes available to complete this journey, and some tips on your arrival at Vang Vieng.

Two Routes and Two Methods Between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Transportation in Laos is a bit more of an adventure than in Thailand. While Thailand was mostly train or bus, Laos found us taking slightly offbeat methods, like the two-day slow boat from Huai Xai to Luang Prabang.

Outside of booking private transportation, there are two primary ways to get between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng: bus and minivan. There are also two routes between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng: the “old route” and the “new route.” Buses can only take the old route, meaning there are a total of three ways this trip can go. We wound up booking the minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng on the new route.

If you scour the internet in search of reviews of both of these experiences, you’ll be left with a hodgepodge of information, including:

  • Bus people saying their VIP bus experience was anything but
  • Minivan people saying they were packed in like sardines
  • Bus people complaining about being stuck in a minivan instead
  • Bus people saying they wish they booked the minivan
  • Minivan people saying they wish they booked the bus
  • Bus people saying their bus experience was awesome and relatively smooth
  • Minivan people saying their ride was delightful
  • Minivan people saying the ride was awful
  • All the above including commentary on why the old route or new route is better.

So, basically like any other transport in Southeast Asia, you just don’t really know what you’re going to get unless you book private transport (and even then it could be questionable, as we’ve booked private transport that just hasn’t shown up).

Booking The Minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

Even just a day in advance, you’ll find plenty of hostels, hotels and travel agencies ready to book you a minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. If you search around, you’ll find they’re all roughly the same price (100,000 kip to 150,000 kip), including tuk tuk pickup from your accommodation to the Luang Prabang station. The median and mode price is 120,000 kip.

It pretty much sounds like everyone is operating the exact same racket here:

  1. You pay an agency or hostel for your ticket and transport to the station.
  2. They have an arrangement with a local tuk tuk driver who spends the day packing his tuk tuk full (12 people) and getting them to the station.
  3. Sometimes you’ll get your ticket in advance, other times the tuk tuk driver will buy it at the station for you.
  4. Minivans, at least, seemed to just depart as they filled. The times everywhere are fake and basically estimates of when you’ll get picked up.

We booked through our hotel for 120,000 kip per person. We naively hoped that booking a minivan through them they would at least be on some sort of minivan circuit with other hotels, and we’d get picked up by the minivan before grabbing some more people and departing (this did seem to be the situation for some other destinations from our hotel, so it’s possible there was confusion and he threw us into the backup system at the last minute). Alas, we were just stuck in the same racket as everyone else.

Pickup and a Reminder About Laos Time

We booked an “8:30” time slot, fully expecting to be picked up between 8:30 and 9 AM. After some confusion involving a minivan driver who expected to pick up passengers for a different destination, our front desk guy made some calls, and we got picked up by a tuk tuk just after 9 AM. We then spent the next hour driving around Luang Prabang (which is a lot of loops around the small city), making multiple stops at the same hostels to pick people up. When we finally got to 12 people (a tightly packed tuk tuk), we headed to the bus station.

Ticket Window at the Minivan Terminal

Some people had their tickets for their destination in-hand, others had vouchers to redeem at the station, and there were four of us, all for Vang Vieng, for whom the tuk tuk driver bought tickets at the station. We actually wound up at a space across the street from where Google Maps marked “Southern Bus Terminal.” As there were no buses where we were, we assume it was the minivan departure terminal and the bus terminal was (as Google said) across the street.

After about 10 minutes of transferring from the tuk tuk into the minivan, we departed at about 10 AM for our 8:30 booking. But hey, that’s Laos!

Minivan drivers waiting to take people to various destinations from Luang Prabang

The Routes from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

As we said above, there are two major routes when taking the minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: the old route and the new route. We took the new route, so our commentary is only first-hand as to that route. The rest of it we gathered from research preparing for the trip.

The old and new routes between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Here are some bullet points about the routes:

  • The new route is faster, by most estimates by about an hour or two.
  • The old route is more scenic, but the new route is not lacking in sights.
  • Buses can’t take the new route because parts are too steep and many parts are only half constructed.
  • The old route is more winding, but the new route left one girl in our van puking the entire way.
  • Both routes are subject to travel advisories/restrictions by various foreign governments.
  • The new route isn’t actually finished, and you’ll go through some bumpy unpaved spots. Most concerning is a hairpin turn along the mountain that is incomplete, lacking any sort of railing, and gets quite muddy in the rain. When we were there during a rainy spout, only one car could pass at a time, a minivan was struggling to come up it, and we proceeded down through it inch by inch.

The new road from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng isn’t quite complete.

Because it was rainy, our driver may have been a little more cautious than usual. He drove quite slowly, especially downhill. Our trip included two stops, one about 60 to 90 minutes into the ride and one in Kasi, after the mountain pass and about 60 to 90 minutes outside Vang Vieng.

Inside of our minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

How bad are the roads? It depends who you ask. Emily took Dramamine and passed out the entire ride, I didn’t feel even a bit of nausea (I don’t tend to experience it often), and one girl puked the whole ride. It was mostly just winding, but had some bumpy spots.

Travel Alerts / Advisories

Finally, a brief note about the “safety” of the two routes. Until recently, there were active travel advisories from a few governments (US, Canada, Australia, at least, I think) covering the routes between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. I believe these have expired or otherwise been revoked, but please correct me in the comments. The travel alert from the US is still present on the embassy’s website, but I can’t find much more about it, and it looks like it expired in December 2016.

If you want to go to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang without taking these routes, your only option is to fly to Vientiane and then bus from there. This won’t make sense for many people, as they probably have to fly out of Vientiane to their next destination.

Arriving at Vang Vieng

We arrived in Vang Vieng at about 3 PM after a five-hour ride. The bus station that the minivan stops at is 2 kilometers outside of the city center. There was a tuk tuk driver there asking for 20,000 kip per person. We offered 10,000 kip, and when he declined we suited up for the walk. About 50 steps down the road, a driver honked at us and we flagged him down, immediately getting the 10,000 kip per person we asked for. He drove us first just to the center of all the hostels and such, and then to our specific hostel (Army Barracks) when we asked.

Vang Vieng

A successful arrival to Vang Vieng, aka V-Town apparently

A Journey Worth Taking

At the end of the day, we were fine with our decision to take the minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. It wasn’t the most pleasant morning, but it wasn’t as bad as we were prepared for, either. While we can’t vouch for the bus or the old route, we would recommend the minivan on the new route as a fine option. We thought that the tubing on the Nam Song river was worth the effort to make it to the otherwise sleepy town of Vang Vieng, and we were happy with our decision to make the journey.


Sunday 12th of August 2018

Thanks for your article it was so helpful. We actually had the same issues, we booked a minivan for the old route . . And about 1 hour into the trip I turned on Google maps to find out he was actually driving the new route without telling us! The road was horrendous and quite scary at times, with landslides and rocks and mud everywhere. Many of the edges had eroded with no railings! I am just glad we got to VV alive ! Ha


Thursday 30th of August 2018

Oh no!! That's awful! We heard reports of that happening and were relieved when it didn't happen to us. Although I have to say I don't think either option is particularly great, as the "new" road was also quite terrifying at points! I'm so happy you made it safely! Another travel story in the books!

Merran Dubb

Sunday 5th of August 2018

Thank you, I found this particularly useful. Thank you for being so articulate and honest also, excellent post! ;)


Tuesday 7th of August 2018

Hello! I'm happy to hear it! I hope you have a safe trip if you're making the journey!


Sunday 17th of June 2018

It would be very useful if you also quoted your prices in us dollars or pounds to make it a bit easier for us to figure out costs of places.

Bob Dobalina

Sunday 25th of November 2018

You only have to Google '10000 lak in usd' and it will come up. Exchange rates fluctuate too so it's more helpful having it in the local currency