The long-awaited Laos-China Railway officially opened nearly two weeks ago amid much fanfare. The Laotian Times spoke with passengers to find out about their experiences.
While the train runs smoothly and on time, passengers say ticketing systems could use improvement, and security checks might be just a little excessive.
Passengers are required to carry photo identification and produce a valid Covid-19 vaccination certificate issued no later than 72 hours prior to boarding the train, while scores of railway employees in PPE suits perform security checks.
Meanwhile, tickets are sold only at stations and can be purchased no more than one day in advance.
But once aboard, passengers have only positive reports, describing the trains as clean, quiet, and convenient. What’s more, breathtaking views of the Lao countryside rolling by are a real treat for those traveling by train.
“I booked a return ticket from Vientiane to Luang Prabang to experience train travel in Laos. The full experience was honestly great and well managed. The train was right on time both ways, the health and safety measures – as well as the ticket control – were easy, and I didn’t have to wait or queue so much. I also had the wonderful surprise of having a lot of legroom traveling in second class,” one passenger told the Laotian Times.
“Regrettably, the toilets were already in pretty bad shape both in the train and at the station (both western-style and squat toilets), and the ticket purchase system was not convenient for most travelers but hopefully this will be resolved in time,” she said.
Asked if she would travel by train again, she responded, “I will definitely use the train again for work travel and private purposes and highly recommend giving it a try if you have the chance!”
Meanwhile, another Laotian Times reader wrote in to say that travel was convenient but social distancing was not well enforced.
“I took the train from Vientiane to Vang Vieng for a work trip. It was very convenient and while they did a lot of safety and security checks, there was little enforcement of social distancing aboard the train. People had trouble locating their seats and there was a bit of jostling between passengers before settling down,” he said.
Another reader from Vientiane said she had a very pleasant experience after arranging her trip in advance:
“I expected a few hiccups during the trip, given the train just started operating one week ago, and adjusted my expectations accordingly. So it was a pleasant surprise when everything was well-organized and ran smoothly,” she told Laotian Times.
“We arranged to buy the tickets one day in advance and arrived at the station around 7 am. We needed to queue a couple of times for checking vaccination card and ID, for tickets, security checks and to board. But the queues were not too long, and the space was not too crowded. The station staff kept things running efficiently while being polite and courteous.”
She says both the train and the stations are shiny and new, with finishing touches still being applied in some areas.
“It took fifty minutes from Vientiane to Vang Vieng on the train. There were continual announcements in Lao, Mandarin, and English about the upcoming stations. Disembarking was also smooth, though not many people traveled to Vang Vieng on our train. Because the return train was scheduled very late in the evening, we decided to travel back to Vientiane in a hired car,” she noted.
Another passenger said that there were lengthy queues at the station when purchasing tickets and when boarding due to a lot of checks.
“Traveling to Luang Prabang on the Laos-China Railway is very convenient compared to driving or flying. The train trip is really enjoyable and we can see to some beautiful views along the way,” the reader told Laotian Times.
“I just wish that the system for ticket purchases could be made more convenient. It would be good if we could reserve tickets online or even through travel agents,” she added.