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1st trip to laos: driver wanted

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hello all,

i haven't been able to find much information about finding a private driver in laos and was hoping the fodorite community could help me out...

i'm looking to hire a private driver for travel within northern laos. i think having a private driver will get us from place to place faster and on our own schedule...rather than taking a bus or shuttle. of course we can also fly but from what i understand, the scenery while driving is beautiful and worth seeing.

can anyone please recommend reliable and reasonably priced drivers??

i would like to drive from luang prabang to plain of jars to vang vieng to vientiane.

also if anyone has any advice on how many days are needed for travel to visit these 4 places.

i've been an avid follower of the fodor's forums for years. it's always my "go to" place when planning on a trip but i've never posted a question before. i'm hopefull that someone will have some advice for me...??

thank you in advance...

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    Finding a private driver independly may be a little difficult and, although more expensive, a tour operator is probably a more realistic option. You could arrange with an operator in your own country ( the most expensive option), or upon arrival in Luang Prabang where there are loads to choose from in the Main Street. The former will simply outsource to the latter adding their own mark up. is a good website for planning Lao travel ( both the destination and forum sections).. Depending upon how long you want to stay in each place, I would suggest allowing a minimum of 10 days. Road travel in Lao is very rewarding as the scenery is spectacular in many places but road travel can take a very long time, particularly to the Plain of Jars. Vientienne to LP wil take a full day. Vientienne and Vang Vieng would not be my first choice as I feel the far north around Muang Sing, Phongsali has far more to offer even if hey do have fewer of the creature comforts for traveller. The scenery is amazing and visiting the minority people's in their villages s an amazing experience for which a good guide is essential.

    I hesitate to recommend an operator as it is around 5 years since I was last in the country and things do change. The first time we visited in the 90s we used Lao Touriisme, the state operator, who were surprisingly good, others we have used since were ok too. The last time we were there in 2008, we travelled independly around the south, makng it up as we travelled from palce to palce and were surprised as to how easy it was, but it does take time. Lao is a terrific country and it really does reward getting a little off the usual tourist path.

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    I agree with crellston. You will want to use an agency for this, and I'd also recommend that you use a local agency - not an agency in your own country.

    Where are you staying in LP? You could contact your hotel and ask for an agency recommendation.

    Do you really wants to spend several full days on the road? While some roads have been improved, the roads in Laos are not in great condition. Under the best conditions, the drive from LP to the Palin of Jars will be 8 hours, and it often takes much longer.

    How much time in each place? Well, we spent a week in LP, and I'd recommend at least 4 full days (5 nights), more if you can. At the Plain of Jars, two full days is enough from all of the accounts I've read. Maybe one night in Vang Vieng (most accounts say it's been so overrun with backpackers that it has lost much of its charm), at least three nights in Vientiane.

    Enjoy your time in Laos!

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    Thank you SO much crellston and kathie for replying!! i was worried i wasn't going to hear anything from anyone and really appreciate you taking the time to lend advice. i agree that i do not want to deal with an agency here. i think i will try to email a local agency in advance since i don't like the idea of leaving the planning until i get there. especially since this information will determine the whole trip and how many days i need in each place and booking hotels...etc etc. i would not feel comfortable not having my hotels taken care of in advance (as it is i'm freaking out that i don't have all this taken care of already. our trip is end of january)

    crellston, thanks for your suggestion to check out travelfish. i have seen that site mentioned previously in these forums and had it bookmarked to remind me to look it over. i will definitely look into it at your recommendation. perhaps i will also take some time to look into the other places that you mentioned in the north, although for this trip, i'm not so interested in visiting minority people's villages. it's something i feel like i've done before in many different places...karen village in china...tupi tribes in the amazon...villages in vietnam etc. and although i'm sure it's a different experience everywhere you's not my main focus. so i'm not seeing that in particular as a huge draw to go north but for the scenery, yes.

    kathie, i appreciate what you're saying about not necessarily wanting to "waste" the whole trip on the road. but on the other hand, i want to cover as much as possible.

    we are staying in The BelleRive Hotel in LP (i'm always somewhat hesitant to book thing through the hotel because i feel like they always charge more). i have 4 full days in LP with checkout on the 5th day figuring that we could either leave LP first thing in the morning if the 5th day wasn't needed, or spending the 5th day in LP before travelling to the next place that afternoon or evening. that leaves me with no more than 4 full days for plain of jars, vang vieng and vientiane. i was counting on only one day each in plain of jars and vang vieng but even so, am realizing now that it STILL doesn't seem like enough time.

    i guess i will have to cut something out. any suggestions?? LP had the most appeal to me from the research i've done which is why i allotted the bulk of the time there. my only interest in vang vieng was to go tubing down the river and vientiane did not sound terribly exciting to me as compared to LP.

    perhaps we can also consider flying from place to place. the money isn't my first concern...not that it isn't a thought at all, but i would rather spend a little more if it opens up other options (this is our honeymoon so if i'm ever going to splurge on a trip...this is it). i just wanted to do SOME driving because i hear that it's so breathtaking.

    fyi: this trip to laos is part of a bigger trip to thailand as well. i've been to thailand previously and did not want to repeat the exact same trip which is why i decided to include laos in this trip as well.

    thanks again for the information and i welcome any further thoughts from the two of you and from anyone else that comes across this thread.

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    If I were to cut something from your trip, it would be VV. Have you read the cautions about tubing at VV on the Lonely Planet website?

    With your limited time, some flights make sense. The long drive is from LP to the Plain of Jars. You might fly that RT, then, if you feel you must have some drive time, drive from LP to Vientiane. Or, even skip the drive and fly LP to the Plain of Jars, the Plain of Jars to Vientiane. Perhaps I am jaded from all of my travel in SE Asia, but while the Lao countryside was lovely, I wouldn't call it breathtaking. (Now Java scenery is breathtaking...)

    In my many years of travel in SE Asia, I've learned that slowing down makes all the difference. Yes, you can hop from place to place, but then you have no experience of the place. You have to slow down to local speed to experience it. I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to see the Plain of Jars, VV and Vientiane in 4 days.

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    Like Kathie, I would cut out Vang Vieng. Vientienne is ok but 2 days there would be enough. If you are in Thailand before Laos have you considered getting the boat down to LP from the north of Thailand? provides luxury cruises, but it is easy enough to organise an ordinary boat which is much cheaper. The trip takes 2 days including and overnight in Pakbeng. Another thought is to spend some time in one of the jungle lodges around LP or, if you do make it to the far north and are feeling adventurous, which is on my bucket list!

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    I totally disagree with Crellston. Vientiane and Vang Vieng would certainly be amongst my first choices. I do not know why people post outdated information before checking their facts. Tubing at Vang Vieng has been cleaned up. Vang Vieng has stunning scenery, caves, hiking and many things to do. It is definitely worth a visit. So is Vientiane. there are heaps of things to do here.
    I have lived in Lao for 7 years and have travelled extensively here.
    If you want an agency recommendation, there are two that I would suggest - Exotissimo and Diethelm. Both my friends and I have had extensive experience with both and I can thoroughly recommend both.

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    thanks all again for your thoughts and ideas.

    yes i've seen the warnings about tubing but a) i would never do it without a life vest and b) i have seen lots of contradicting information going back and forth over whether it's really safe or not and whether people are even still doing it at all (i guess the warnings means that they are). i haven't really been able to find enough information on it to know what the "real story" is and what it is and how it's done and is it safe...etc. i've ALSO seen a lot of arguing back and forth over whether or not vang vieng is worth a visit (tubing or not). i am NOT a big "party"er but thought there sounded to be enough there otherwise to warrant a visit. of course if i'm pressed for time, it might be worth cutting out.

    crellston, i know about the boat cruise from thailand to LP but am not interested. i've done this type of thing before so at least i have had a similar experience elsewhere (in india) and neither my husband nor i do very well on boats so no need to spend extended time on one... i already have my dramamine and sea bands prepared :) this gibbon experience thing looks very cool (minus the part that says to be prepared for a 5 hour walk to the canopies). i love animals but might save it for another trip. thanks for suggesting.

    i haven't accomplished barely anything last week between the holidays and work so i'm going to take some time to look into the guides recommended and look at travelfish and try to finalize some decisions. i'm definitely leaning towards booking some local flights instead of doing everything by car (of course the bangkok airways discovery pass is "not available" for the flights i want so i will have to look into booking everything seperately). i think that will also help a bit with the time constraints.

    thanks again for all the advice and please feel free to share any further thoughts.

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    Blondie, I live in Lao. The tubing has been cleaned up and is a leisurely activity these days. The riverside bars are closed as are the swings. A walkway is planned along the river. All of this information is available online as well. I am off to VV again on Thursday for 2 days. The people who post contrary information are relying on their long outdated "knowledge" of the area.

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