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Laos is a country in South East Asia surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. Hitchhiking is fairly uncommon, and sometimes people will expect money. Check out the Thai-Lao phrasebook for language pointers.
How to hitchhike
If you raise your thumb people will think you just doing 'like' and dont understand it's mean to stop. for hitch-hike take your hand and 'hit' the air
Hitching in Laos is very different between the north and south part of the country. While in the south it is relatively easy to hitchhike 300 kilometers a day and people don't commonly expect money, in the north it's hard to go more than 150 a day -- on some roads, expect to cover only as much as you can walk in a day. It can take a long time to be picked up, as few cars drive on the so called 'highway', often just a dirt road with random pavement sections. Looking at the amount of cars (in January 2011 and 2012) there are around 1 (pick up, car, truck) per 6 minutes. This makes travel in Laos very different from hitching in Thailand. But even in the north it is still possible to get a lift. Solo hitchhikers can get a ride between villages with one of the many motor bikes that roam all over the country.
Near the border with Vietnam, on the road 7, there are many logging trucks, coming from China. They speak no English most of the time. Try the pickup trucks and point that you want to sit in the back. It helps to say in advance that you have no money and it can also be a good idea to have a local person write down a few sentences like "have no money", "short distance is ok" etc. Chinese cars in general are a good idea to wave your hand at. They stop much more often. Chinese car plates are generally blue.
There are more than a few improvised pickups that will give you a ride for less money than the organized busses. sometimes it seems cheaper to go with these pickups as out of 10 hitches, you need to pay 3 of them if you don't make clear in advance that you're looking to travel for free. [rule of thumb: 30-40,000 kip per 100 km for a "hitch", or 10,000 per person (per 30km) for a bus-truck.
Still, if you are determined to hitchhike for free through Laos, it can be done, even in the north (the south is very easy, similar to Thailand). Since almost nobody can speak English, and many of them will expect a payment for the rides, it is essential that you make yourself understood: a hitchhiking letter may help a lot with that, and will also help you to be helped by the locals in order to find free rides to your destination. Traffic lights are not common, since towns are relatively small.
Another way that works well in Laos to make cars stop is to prepare a universal sign that only says "2km". As soon as the car has stopped you can still ask them where exactly they go. It's a great way to get outside of the city or just to get going when you are stuck. People understand spoken "kilomet" and the written shortage "km". Aside from that, be prepared for the long waits (or walks), have lots of patience and do it mostly for the fun!
You should be aware that some maps of Laos (Google Maps in particular is one) are not accurate.
In the '80s a lot of people went to Russia for their studies, and these are often people who have cars these days, so you might be able to use your Russian skills. English is not very common outside of cities and tourist destinations. Chinese can be used with the Chinese cars/trucks that take hitchhikers more often. The google translator doesn't offer Lao language for download and offline use, though it can save the sentences when using wifi. Thai can be downloaded and used offline and many people could understand it without major difficulties.
My personal experience - This article is very accurate in that it is possible to hitch hike from north to south, but be prepared for long waits and dusty walks. The road leading from the Chinese boarder to Luang Prabang is currently undergoing upgrades since 2014 and apparently will be completed by August 2015, however when I passed through in November 2014 it looked a long way off with a majority of the road still dirt. It is possible to stay in Wats even in the north of Lao and I had no problem camping, however in Lao there is a law in which any foreigner staying with or in a local Lao person house must be registered with the local village elder, different person from the police so don't worry. This is to protect both you and your host, all the elder will want is to see your passport and if this doesn't happen you may receive a visit from the police next morning as happened to me on my first night in the north of Lao staying in a Wat, yes even in a Wat they must register you. Apart from that Lao is an amazing country with some very very friendly people.
Experience in July 2015:- Laurieking101 (talk) 13 November 2015 - While being slightly put off by the above comments, I persisted in giving Laos a go. Managed to travel all the way from Huay Xai to Vientiane via hitch hiking (apart from one bus journey from Oudomxay to Pak Mong). Do be prepared to wait at least a couple of hours in some places though! A top tip would be keeping your eyes peeled for Chinese number plates (if you see a rather fancy car coming towards you, it's probably Chinese) - about 80% of my rides were with incredibly helpful Chinese visitors, many of whom also shared food, drinks & ciggies :)GO FOR IT!!!
Experience in November 2015 - Z-z-z88 (talk) 2 December 2015 - Hitch-hiked from Pakse to Attapeu through Paksong and Sekong (about 200 km). It is was easy to get a car to Paksong, but from Paksong to Sekong was a very few amount of cars and most of them drive short distance 2-40 km. I managed to get to Attapeu, but changed 8 cars. From Attapeu towards Vietnam border (Phou Keua, 2 km away from Cambodia) was extremely small amount of cars. For two hours (morning of working day about 10:00-11:00) I saw only one truck (Vietnamese) going towards Vietnam and few cars. But there is very cheap bus for 6.5 USD which going deep into Vietnam and sent me to Pleiku (6.5 USD for ride about 250 km). On the mountain road from Laos (Attapeu) - Vietnam (Phou Keua) from 11:00 to 14:00 I saw about 10 trucks driving from Vietnam to Laos. So I do not advise to hitch-hike to Vietnam from Attapeu. By the way, local people to the east from Attapeu may speak only Vietnamese.
Experience in April 2016 - Z-z-z88 (talk) - Crossed Thai-Lao border at Huai Kon - Muang Nguen. Road to Sayabory (Xayaboury) have extremely low traffic. Something like 1 car per 20-30 minutes. Be ready to spend 1 day to make 50 km. Getting to Hongsa (Ban Phonsai) is relatively easy, but after this village was about 2-3 cars in 4 hours. But it is easy to go from Sayabory to Luang Prabang, plenty of cars and trucks.
Experience in November 2016 - I entered Laos in Na Meo at the Lao-Vietnamese border. After I hitchhiked from there to Vientiane and Pakse I wouldn't say this article is very accurate. During my time I didn't have a single lift who wanted to charge me anything. Yeah in remote areas it can be hard to get a life since there is less traffic, but I don't know about the car/calculations above. Laos is an awesome country and hitchhiking is definitely possible!
Experience in october 2017 - indogerm - Entered via Boten border from china, hitched to Vientiane to go to thailand straightaway. Maximum of kilometres per day were 200 something, lots of hills and curves. Road is in good to very good shape(Kunming - bangkok highway, payed by china and thailand and some other). As described above, few cars. Chinese cars normally mean long distance rides, cigarettes and good food. Can also always stop motorcycles, just do some eyecontact and wave them down smiling. Most people dont wear helmets. When approaching pick ups, try signalling them that you want to go in the back when the car is full- lots of them think they cannot offer this to you. Hitching Laos-Totally possible! I always sad "Bo KIP"(no money) before entering, nobody refused to take me. Enjoyed the awesome nature between rides. Dont forget to get rid of your kip before exiting lao-they are shit. All three citys in the nortern part of Lao are tourist shit. Avoid them. Go for it!
Experience in September 2019 - I've entered Laos in Na Meo, Vietnam. No problems with getting the visa on the crossing, got charged 40$ though. First 10 or so kilometers on Laos side is dirt/mud/clay road, almost 0 traffic BUT there was a dude on a bike and when he saw me we both knew and he gave me a ride. Later on I couldn't complain. I had no letter, no translator, no sign, just my smile #1 and hand signs. I've hitchhiked from VN border down to 4k islands and back to Thai border close to Pakse. Usually I'd walk along the road and wave everyone down - cars, single riders, trucks. Got rides from all of mentioned. No one asked me for money. Waiting time from 15 minutes to 3 hours, you know the drill. Took bike riders by surprise - when they stopped I'd point at the road, at the bike and sit on the bike before they'd shake the shock off, hahaha. They never protested, took some selfies etc. Average speed for pickups was 60 km/h, 30-40 for bikes and trucks. I had one strange incident, nothing dangerous though - an American dude driving a pickup stopped just to tell me "it's a poor country, you don't hitchhike here" wished me good time and splitted. Besides that hitching in Laos was very uplifting and allowed hours of staring at beautiful Asian mountains, go for it guys.
There is only one border crossing at Mohan - Boten. It is possible to walk from the Chinese to the Lao side. If you get stuck in Mohan and need to spend the night, accomodation costs 40-60 yuan but there are some empty shops, open building entrances with space to hide under the stairs, and RovingSnails walked to the top of an apartment building and slept on the rooftop without any complains.
From Thailand. There are 8 land border crossings.
Border crossing at Chiang Khong - Huay Xai. Walking or cycling across the friendship bridge joining Thailand with Laos is not allowed, but it is possible to hitchhike if one ignores the comments from the bus service (20 baht). From Thailand to Laos, the border police kindly stopped a car for RovingSnails and even gave them water for the way under the sun.
Border Huai Kon (Thai, nearest town is Nan) - Muang Nguen (Lao) is international and you can walk between countries. On Laotian side no one ask for money as it often happens on popular border crossings. Traffic is very low.