All about the train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang (2024)

Up until December 2021, Laos didn’t have a passenger rail network. No trains at all.

Then the Lao-China Railway (LCR) was opened, cutting the travel time from Vientiane to Luang Prabang from 8 hours by minibus to less than 2 hours on the high-speed train.

The railway is an engineering marvel with hundreds of tunnels (63% of the route is underground!), bridges, and viaducts. The train tracks run as straight as possible – the Chinese-built railway doesn’t really care for the rugged terrain. Which is why all stations are miles away from the nearest town or city.

Simon in front of Vientiane Train Stationwith his backpack
About to take the train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang

I’ll spare you the details of how this railway is a projection of Chinese soft power abroad and a tool for control of the region ultimately seeking to link the Chinese mainland with Singapore for express access to one of the world’s busiest ports.

But I will provide all the necessary practical information about booking tickets, getting to the stations, security measures, and riding the train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

Lao-China Railway (LCR) Schedule of Trains

6 trains daily depart from Vientiane and 6 trains daily arrive in Vientiane. All 6 trains reach Luang Prabang (arrive or depart). All trains stop at Vang Vieng, another popular destination in North Laos.

One international train per day connects Vientiane and Kunming in China.

Three trains connect Vientiane and Luang Prabang without continuing further.

Two trains connect Vientiane with Boten – the last stop within Laos.

Correct as of March 2024. The D88/D87 is the only international train (the timetable shows stations only within Laos)
It’s best to check the LCR app for the most up-to-date timetable.
  • C- trains are high-speed.
  • K- trains are the slower, passenger ones stopping at all stations. Cheaper than C trains.
  • D- trains are international, i.e. cross the border between Laos and China. These trains are always more expensive than C and K trains for journeys within Laos.
  • Even-numbered trains are northbound.
  • Odd-numbered trains are southbound.

Vientiane to Luang Prabang train schedule

Here are only the times of the trains from the capital Vientiane to the old capital Luang Prabang:

TrainDeparts VientianeArrives in Luang Prabang2nd class price in LAK

Luang Prabang to Vientiane train schedule

And the other way around:

TrainDeparts Luang PrabangArrives in Vientiane2nd class price in LAK

Price of tickets

ticket prices on the LCR app

The tickets for the LCR are surprisingly affordable! They are just a little bit more than what you would pay for a bus journey. Having also taken the bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane myself, let me tell you that the train is worth every single penny for saving you hours on cramped buses along winding roads.

The price depends on the type of train and the class of carriage.

Between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the cheapest option is the hard seat on the K11/K12 passenger train which costs only 234.000 LAK (~11$).

The most expensive is the first-class seat on the D88/D87 international train which costs 624.000 LAK (~30$).

Other costs

The price of the ticket is not the only cost to travel on the train.

First, if you book through the LCR app, there is a booking fee of 10.000 LAK (~0.5$) per person. If you book through an agent or your hotel/guesthouse, the booking fee will be even bigger.

Second, consider the fact that the stations are quite far from the cities. In Vientiane, the station is 16 km from the city, whereas in Luang Prabang it’s 12 km away.

You must organize transport to them. The cheapest option in Vientiane is a bus/minibus from the Central Bus Station which costs 40.000 LAK (2$).

Bus 28 that runs between Vientiane and the train station
This bus #28 goes to the train station but only runs 4 times per day

The cheapest in Luang Prabang is again a bus/minibus which costs 40.000 LAK (2$). You can book it without a markup at YPS Mini Mart.

All in all, add at least 90.000 LAK to the price of the train ticket to get the real price of the journey between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

How to Buy Tickets for the LCR

The easiest and cheapest way to buy tickets for the train in Laos is via the LCR app. All you need is a Lao phone number and a Visa card.

The other options are to buy directly at a ticket office either in the city or at the station or to buy through a third party, usually your accommodation or a tour agent.

Ticket sales for domestic trains open 3 days in advance. Sometimes tickets sell out very quickly so try to book as early as you can!

Ticket sales for the international train (cross-border) open 2 weeks in advance.

Tickets for the China-bound train D88 can only be bought in Laos while tickets for the Laos-bound train D87 can only be bought in China.

LCR app

The LCR app is the easiest way to buy tickets for the trains in Laos.

You need:

  • A local Laos phone number
  • A Visa card (or UnionPay, WeChat, Alipay, BCEL One)

The Laos phone number you bought for your internet access is sufficient.

Mastercards, Maestro, AmEx cards, etc. are not accepted, unfortunately. Learn more about money in Laos.

Other than that, the LCR app is extremely easy to use. Note that ticket sales open 3 days in advance and they do sell out quickly for the popular trains!

After booking you will get a QR code in the app. You don’t need to exchange it for a paper ticket but you need internet to access it. Take a screenshot!

Last but not least – cancellations, refunds, and train changes are possible up to 30 minutes before departure – easy and convenient!

Security Checks

Security checks for the LCR trains are similar to what you would experience at an airport.

They are a bit over the top if you ask me. I mean, everyone is patted down, what’s up with that? Off topic: why did I, a male, got patted down by a woman?

All luggage goes through X-ray scanners.

  • Liquids above 100 ml are forbidden. This rule has been somewhat relaxed – water is now allowed and only “flammable” liquids are banned – what is flammable is determined by security.
  • Aerosols are forbidden. That fragrant deodorant of yours – you can’t bring it.
  • Knives are a big no-no. Pocket knives are confiscated before entry.
  • Vapes and E-Cigarettes can cause you serious trouble. Vaping is officially illegal in Laos and although at the airport they may only confiscate your drug of choice, at the train stations it may land you a fine of up to 8.000.000 LAK (~380$) and a police interrogation. This ain’t a joke.

Thankfully, portable batteries are allowed.

Train Stations

Vientiane train station front
Vientiane train station

All stations are grand but do not exactly fit the humble Laotian countryside where they are located.

All the stations are pretty much identical inside: the interior is so standardized you won’t be able to tell which station you’re in.

All stations have:

  • Clean toilets
  • A drinking water station
  • Plenty of seating space
  • Between 1 and 3 cafes to choose from (insider tip: Pun Cafe is better than Amazon)

The stations open 1 hour before the first train. If you arrive before that, you’ll have to join the crowd waiting like hobos outside.

In front of Luang Prabang train station
Luang Prabang train station

Inside Passenger train K12

The trains are modern, clean, even a little sleek!

I took the passenger train and the configuration was 3/2 seats. There are small tables on both sides and electric sockets under the seats. Faster trains and better classes offer bigger individual seats in a 2/1 or 2/2 configuration.

Inside the passenger train from Vientiane to Luang prabang. 3/2 seat configuration but still plenty of leg room
Inside the passenger train

Every carriage has a toilet which is surprisingly clean for a train. There is also a washbasin outside the toilet with soap and paper towels.

You must take your assigned seat as the attendant checks the tickets at least once, sometimes twice!

Foodwise, a food cart goes through all wagons with small snacks and pot noodle offerings. Prices are inflated, as expected.

There is no wifi on the train. Between Vientiane and Vang Vieng, the train is mostly overland and the network connection is good. From Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, the train is almost entirely inside tunnels and there is no internet connection.

All in all, the experience on the LCR train is quite good: better than similar train journeys in Java, Indonesia, and Vietnam. One may go as far as to say that the trains in Laos are as good as trains in Western Europe!

How to get to the train stations

As I mentioned before, whoever planned the railway route didn’t care much about passenger convenience. Or perhaps the Laos tuk-tuk/taxi lobby had their fingers in the pie.

The stations are miles away from the cities! Walking isn’t an option except for perhaps Vang Vieng where the station is only 4 km from the center.

Vientiane to Vientiane Train Station

Bus from Vientiane to the train station

To get to Vientiane Train Station on the cheap, take a bus/minibus from the Central Bus Station.

A big green bus number 28 costs 25.000 LAK (1.3$) and:

Departs Vientiane Central StationArrives at LCR stationDeparts LCR station
Timetable of Bus 28

Smaller minibuses go in between those times but nobody would tell me just how often. These minibuses cost 40.000 LAK (2$).

Luang Prabang to Luang Prabang train station

You will see pricelists for airport and train station transfers everywhere in Luang Prabang. Of course, most of them charge a markup.

The cheapest way to secure a ticket is at YPS Mini Mart. The minibus to the train station costs 40.000 LAK (2$), i.e. no markup.

Tips & Insider info

  • Get a Laos sim card – 30 GB for 30 days is only 60.000 LAK (~3 USD) and you need it to buy tickets on the LCR app.
  • Your ticket will be checked 4 times! Printscreen the QR code to show even if you’re offline.
  • Some tour operators will sell you tickets more than 3 days in advance. They are lying. Ticket sales open 3 days in advance for everybody.
  • You can change trains or cancel your booking entirely – all tickets on the LCR app are refundable for a small fee.

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