Driving in Vientiane

Driving in a new country can be daunting. These tips offer insight into what to expect when driving in Vientiane.

1. Understanding the Traffic Culture

Driving in Vientiane can be a bit chaotic for newcomers. The traffic rules are not strictly enforced and locals often drive in a seemingly haphazard manner. It’s common to see motorbikes and cars weaving in and out of traffic, and pedestrians crossing the road wherever they please. Therefore, it’s important to drive defensively and always be aware of your surroundings.

2. Recommended Car Type

Given the state of the roads in Vientiane, a 4×4 or SUV is recommended. These types of vehicles are better equipped to handle the uneven road surfaces and occasional potholes. However, if you’re planning to stay within the city most of the time, a smaller car or even a motorbike might be more practical and economical.

3. Parking in Vientiane

Finding parking in Vientiane can be a challenge, especially in the city center during peak hours. However, parking is generally not expensive. There are some paid parking lots and street parking is also available. It’s advisable to always park in a well-lit area and avoid leaving valuables in your car.

4. Driving with an International License

Foreigners can drive in Laos with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for up to 90 days. After this period, you will need to obtain a local driving license. It’s important to note that driving without a valid license can result in hefty fines and possible imprisonment.

5. Obtaining a Local Driving License

To get a local driving license, you will need to visit the Department of Public Works and Transport in Vientiane. You will need to provide your passport, a valid IDP, a medical certificate, and two passport-sized photos. You will also need to pass a written test, which is available in English. The process can take a few weeks, so it’s advisable to start as soon as possible after your arrival.

6. Road Conditions

Road conditions in Vientiane can vary greatly. While main roads are generally in good condition, side streets and rural roads can be rough and poorly maintained. During the rainy season, some roads can become impassable due to flooding. Always drive cautiously and adjust your speed according to the road conditions.

7. Be Aware of Road Hazards

Aside from other drivers and pedestrians, be aware of animals on the road, especially in rural areas. It’s not uncommon to see dogs, chickens, and even cows wandering onto the road. Also, be aware of vehicles driving at night without lights, as this is a common occurrence in Laos.

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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