Northern Laotian Transportation

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Transportation in northern Laos happens on roads, rivers, and sometimes in the sky, but mostly on scooters and dirt. “Take motobike, “Roo?” a hotelier with a scooter asks. He wants to know if the author knows how to ride a manual scooter. I answer in Thai, which is mutually comprehensible with the Laos language. I ride the scooter into town, but it breaks on the way back. I later pay about $12 in repair costs to replace a light switch. The scooters and many cars are Chinese, and manual in Laos, as opposed to the expensive Japanese automatic scooters found in Thailand.  The mileage that they receive seems better but they don’t have the big motorcycle style engines that the Honda or Scoopy scooters do. If you have insurance, the ligher and cheaper “Zong” brand scooters might be a better choice, but if you need speed, strength, and reliability, use a Honda or a Scoopy.

The busses come in two sizes, minibus and luxury or “VIP” bus as they are called here. The drivers will not show any courtesy to you that you don’t guarantee either by insisting on paying after you arrive or keeping your ticket with you at all times. In Dien Bien, on the Vietnamese side of the border with Laos (the stop between Hanoi and northern Laos), a ticket costs “350,000 Dong; pay now.” The drivers and other people who work at the station don’t always issue tickets. In that case, the passenger is being robbed. After arrival on the Lao side, “pay money now; no ticket” means that a passenger will have to pay to retrieve their luggage.

Smaller, “tuk tuks” in Laos provide transportation around the cities and towns. They feature benches in the back of a mini truck, or truck bed pulled by a motorcycle. The drivers negotiate as hard as they can, but local rates for a shared ride don’t usually go over 10,000 Lao Kip. With a little negotiation (not by shouting or insulting), by refusing to go without a low rate, one might arrive at the standard rate provided to locals. Speaking a little Thai or Laos might help convince the driver that a passenger won’t be fooled. They are operated by owners and managers who pay drivers. The owners or managers who remain at a station prefer to receive payment in advance, but the independent drivers are usually willing to accept payment after or on arrival. Paying after completion provides the passenger with protection against added fees and costs, or fake repairs to vehicles.

The boats, “slow boat,” or “sail boat” as they are called by locals, go all up and down the rivers as long as there’s enough water. The boat dock sells tickets. There are luxury lines but the regular “slow boat” already has ample space, a small bar with food, and the seats can be moved around by the clever customer to accommodate a game of cards or a group chat. The speed boats are favored by locals. Baggage costs extra on these canoe-sized high powered bass boats.Hanoi TransportationLaotian Medicine

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