Travel from Vietnam to Laos

Sunset on Mekong river in Luang Prabang
Sunset on Mekong river in Luang Prabang

Let me start my blog by saying this: I LOVE Laos! I seriously do. This country is such a beautiful and peaceful haven for anyone who dreams of an escape from the bustling Hanoi. The laid-back lifestyle here has earned Laos its nickname “Lao PDR = Lao Please Don’t Rush”. Everything is sooooo slow here. No, I am not complaining. That’s just a fact and the more I discover the country the more I fall in love with it..

Last year, after coming back from Saigon, I actually even planned to move to Laos, I tried to send my CV around but unfortunately my attempts didn’t work out. It was also a shame to admit that I had lived next to Laos for almost 30 years but never been there once, until 2 weeks ago..

Transportation from Vietnam to Laos:

There are only 2 ways to go to Laos from Vietnam: either ridiculously expensive by flights (Vietnam Airlines or Lao Airlines) at the price of roughly US$350 return trips for a total of 1 or 2 hour direct flights or crazily tiring 24-27 hour bus rides from Hanoi to Vientiane/Luang Prabang at about US$50-60 return trips.

Cheaper airlines only go from Thailand and Malaysia (AirAsia or NokAir).

For me, I didn’t even think twice to pick the bus option. I thought: “Meh, I did the 24 hour train from Delhi to Mumbai before, I can totally handle this”. And yeah I survived. Safe and sound. Can’t say those were pleasant rides though: 24 hours from Hanoi to Vientiane and 27 hours from Luang Prabang to Hanoi.

Advice to Westerners: only do this bus thing when you really can’t afford flying, because it can be your worst nightmare ever. Why? Because:

- Food stops: once or twice during the whole time;
- Toilet stops: same, and you can dream about a proper toilet;
- Space: no space. Did they say “sleeper”? Dont bother trusting it. Two of you will be squeezed under the “beds” if you buy tickets late, and the “under-bed” dimension is 1m x 1.7m. And obviously you can’t fit, thus, you’ll spend 24-27 hours sitting on the floor;
- Bus drivers don’t speak English and won’t care sh*t about you.

Vietnamese and Laotians are much better at this bus ride simply because we are smaller and easy to fit in minimal spaces and we seem to be better at suffering from hunger, thirst and being squeezed. Personally, I ate and drank very little during the bus hours to reduce toilet “demand”. Anyway, I think I’ll skip these bus rides next time visiting..

Bus-Hanoi-Vientiane
The bus from Hanoi to Vientiane was actually much much better than the bus I took from Luang Prabang back to Hanoi. The driver was nicer, and the bus was also not totally packed
Bus-Hanoi-Vientiane-inside
I bought ticket late so I had to sleep on the floor. I shared a small space with another girl. Each of us had 50 cm of the bed’s width.

So, after you have been informed about all of this and still want to do the bus (either for new experience or to save money) then here is ticket info:

Buying bus tickets in Hanoi:

- I bought ticket at 3A Nguyen Gia Thieu, Hai Ba Trung District. Tel: +84 (0) 4 3942 0554. They are quite reliable and offer cheapest price. Buy early to ensure you have a real bed, not having to sleep on the floor, so that you can see the beautiful scenery along the way. Advice is 3-4 weeks in advance.
- Ask them the name of the bus station (normally it is Nuoc Ngam Bus station – Bến Xe Nước Ngầm), and ask them to put the number of your seat on the receipt.
- You can buy tickets from the Nuoc Ngam Bus Station as well, it’s about 14km away from the city center.
- Don’t buy return tickets, because normally people travelling to Laos go back from Luang Prabang, not Vientiane.

A few notes for travelers going to Laos from Vietnam:

- Change money from Lao-Viet Bank in Vietnam. The exchange rate for Vietnam Dong in exchange booths in Laos is very bad. Or bring USD or EUR with you.
- Remember Laos is not THAT cheap. Mostly because Lao currency is quite strong. Then lots of their food and goods are imported from Vietnam, Thailand or China, thus, the price is high. Transportation cost within cities is expensive as well. I spent roughly US$350 for this 8-day trip (in which 3 days I was in buses). Speaking from a Vietnamese backpacker’s perspective that is a lot of money for one single trip.
- Don’t be surprise that there are a few impolite and unfriendly Laotians from time to time (Stereotype is that Laotians are super sweet and nice). However, still they are much much nicer than Vietnamese people overall. Sad for Vietnam(!)
- Remember to book hotels in advance in high season, especially in Luang Prabang. All guest houses / hotels / hostels in Luang Prabang were packed when I arrived there at 4.30 in the morning(!). Imagine how miserable it was to be wandering from one guest house to another from 4.30 to 8 to finally find a available room. By the way, here are a few suggestions for hotels in Laos:
+ Vientiane: I stayed at Lovan Guesthouse. Good price, central location, quiet and quite clean.
+ Vang Vieng: I stayed at Inthira Hotel. Nice one, just too expensive for backpackers.
+ Luang Prabang: I stayed at Silichith Guesthouse on Ban Xiengmuoane – this was discovered by accident. Big room, good price, central location. Contact number: +856 71 212 758
- Best souvenir is Beerlao! There are 2 types: Lao dark and Lao lager. Basically one of the best beer in South East Asia! There are some places in Hanoi that you can find Beerlao too, but of course you can buy in Lao at half of the price.

Once you’re in Laos, just take it easy, take it slow, and enjoy!

Vientiane, the capital, is not very remarkable if compared with Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang. But it’s a truly peaceful and refreshing place to relax, to have some Beerlao and watch life going by. Here is a photo taken in the tourists’ area for you to compare with the chaotic Pham Ngu Lao in HCMC or the Old Quarters in Hanoi:

Vientiane1

Vang Vieng, the backpackers’ hub, has a lot more activities to offer, such as tubing or kayaking along the pretty Nam Song river, late night parties, exploring caves and lagoons, etc. I rented a motorbike and rode to the Blue Lagoon about 7km from the town. The road was very bad (if that can be called a “road”). The lagoon premise also consists of a large cave. And the fun thing about that cave is that it’s totally dark and tourists need to rent flash lights to go inside. Very much like an adventure!

This is a very small beautiful town. Of course the mountains, caves and lagoons there can’t beat those in Northern Vietnam, but still, totally worth visiting and exploring.

VangVieng1

VangVieng2

VangVieng3

The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon
The way to Blue Lagoon
The way to Blue Lagoon
Go tubing on Nam Song River
Go tubing on Nam Song River

Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, is the prettiest of all. You can’t miss this spot in a Laos trip! The city is located right at the confluence of Mekong River and Nam Khan River, with beautiful old-style houses, delicate pagodas, clean and fresh air. Can’t describe how much I love this place!

I missed the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Pak Ou Caves, however, that was not much of a pity. I prefer sitting in a cafe next to the Mekong, feeling the fresh afternoon breezes and adoring the tranquil surroundings.

Riding a bicycle around is also a pleasant and relaxing way to explore the town. Then in the evening, there is a big night market selling handicraft goods that you can see in most Asian countries. And at the end of the market, there is a food alley that offer very tasty local food.

LuangPrabang1
Monks going around for alms every early morning

LuangPrabang2

LuangPrabang3

LuangPrabang4

LuangPrabang5
There is only one thing I feel regret about. I always took night buses to and from Luang Prabang so there was no chance to see the scene on they way which was claimed to be “spectacular”. Thus, after this trip, I have one more thing to put in my bucket list: Take a motorbike road trip from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang in the next visit.

So.. goodbye Laos, till I see you again!

About these ads

21 thoughts on “Travel from Vietnam to Laos”

    1. Đi Lào đi anh. Đẹp + thanh bình + sạch sẽ cực kỳ. Hay hôm nào huy động đội phượt nhà mình thuê xe máy chạy chuyến Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang đi để em còn thực hiện “bucket list” nào :-P. Nghe nói dịp Tết vừa rồi cũng có nhóm phượt đi xe máy từ Hà Nội sang Lào, Thái và Myanmar trong vòng 1 tuần. Nghe vừa “trâu” vừa chạy sô, mình chả ham. Nhưng mà tuyến Vang Vieng – Luang thì hoàn toàn ok. Chỉ cần lùng thuê đc xe máy tốt tốt 1 tí thôi.

    1. This colourful double decker looks awesome hah. This type is quite rare in Vietnam, but it does fit lol. I forgot to take pix of the bus from Luang Prabang back to Hanoi, and I should have captured how these tourists were laying on the floor, but then I was also too tired to do so and they may not like it either

  1. I have enjoyed reading your blogs Mien, thank you. The quality of the pictures, as well as the text of course, is very high. I am planning to travel from Luang Prabang to Hanoi some when between April and early May. You suggest that pre-booking is important, although other travellers have suggested chilling out and not planning too far ahead. You thoughts would be interesting. Thanks

    1. Thank you Andy for your kind comment. Well, you talk just like a Westerner, we Vietnamese travelers do plan before the trips more carefully than you guys haha. But sure, not planning too far ahead sounds good to me too, I only suggest you book hotel in Luang Prabang first in high season, or else you may risk having zero place available to stay (like I did)

  2. This is a lovely bit of writing and your photos are great too. You know there is another option to get from Hanoi into Laos. If you cross at the Tay Trung border crossing you can then take the Nam Ou all the way to Luang Prabang stopping at Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw if you wish. It will be quite a long journey but the scenery along the river is completely worth it.

  3. I am an elderly woman, who is living in the US. I will be in VN next week to celebrate Tet. I enjoyed your artical very much. It is very informative and educational. Lao is one of places in my travel plan, and informations you provided will come in handy. Thanks Mien, keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you so much! It’s very kind of you for such nice words. I’m glad that you like my post. Laos is an amazing country and hope you’ll enjoy this part of South East Asia. Happy Tet! :-)

  4. Beautifully written and simple to understand. Thank you. What a remarkable trip and useful information. I will be traveling to this part of the world very soon and your blog has given me much useful insight.

  5. Hi There

    Thanks for this read. Is there anyway to get from Vientiane to Hanoi without what sounds like a terrible bus trip (from a large number of blogs). Is there not an option to do at least the majority of the trip by train?

    Many thanks

  6. Thanks for sharing! Your posting and pics are great. It is very useful and informative. I love it!
    I am planning overland to Hanoi from Vientiane, maybe on end this year or january 2014. Any idea where is the bus ticket I can buy in Vientiane?
    Cheers,
    Tania

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s