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I'm thinking of hitchhiking from Vientiane to the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. The first big city will be Savannakhet.

It's apparently a distance of 466 km (290 miles) so I have no idea whether I'd make it in a single day or not. I have a tent but apparently it's not legal to sleep "outside" in Laos and I'd prefer cheap local guesthouses intended for Lao travellers and I don't mind the language barrier.

Google Maps doesn't seem to show any large towns between the cities but I'm sure there must be villages. Is there a known place that's good to stop on the way or does anyone know if there are guesthouses in pretty much every other village along the way?

The longest stretch seems to be between Paksan and Savannakhet, 300 km / 4 hours.

(Please don't answer "just take the bus". To me such answers are as dumb as "just stay at home and watch a documentary about Laos on TV".)

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The Google Maps coverage of Laos is not great (we're working on it...), but Route 13 from Vientiane to Savannakhet and beyond to the Cambodian border is the main highway in Laos and there's plenty of facilities en route. Not much of it up to Western standards, mind you, but I gather you're fine with this ;)

The main cities/points of interest along the way, with distances from Vientiane:

  • Paksan, 147 km, pop. ~20k. A few basic guesthouses. Not to be confused with the far larger Pakse further down south!
  • Ban Nahin, 232 km from Vientiane plus ~50 km detour along Rte 8. Small village, but with half a dozen guesthouses catering for visitors to Kong Lor Cave nearby.
  • Tha Khaek (Thakhek), 338 km, pop. 85000. Largest city en route, with a bridge across the Mekong to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand and plenty of accommodation.
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Yes.

There are many more villages along route 13 that don't show up on Google Maps and most of them seem to have at least one guesthouse. Not all have a sign in English so it helps if you can spot the signs with one of the Lao words for guesthouse: ເຮືອນພັກ (hư̄an phak) or ບ້ານພັກ (bān phak). Or the word for hotel: ໂຮງແຮມ (hōng hǣm). In theory a hotel should be fancier than the other two but in practice, the places along freeways are what I would call "motels" and can vary more based on their price than the word they choose.

A good hint is that the signs for accommodation are mostly yellow. If it doesn't have an English name and you can't handle the Lao script, if it has "WIFI" as the only English word on the sign, it's almost definitely accommodation.

I recommend using not just Google Maps but also Organic Maps (Maps.ME) and paste the Lao words above into the search. Some places are on one map but not on the other.

I travelled part of this route again in 2024, from Vientiane through Paksan to Viengkham before branching off to Laksao and the Vietnam border. This time places I stayed in charged between 80,000 kip and 200,000 kip, varying in level of comfort and amenities. Most had aircon and only one spot every accommodation I checked lacked Wi-Fi but everywhere else had it.

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