Laos and Vietnam are both beautiful countries which I’m glad I visited during my Southeast Asia itinerary of 3 months. These neighboring countries can also be combined very well. I traveled from northern Laos to Vietnam by land. From Luang Prabang to Sapa to be precise, I will tell you everything about this itinerary in this article!
From Laos to Vietnam by land
If you want to travel from Laos to Vietnam, you have practically two options:
- You take the plane from Luang Prabang or Vientiane to one of the airports in Vietnam.
- You travel from Laos to Vietnam by land: by boat and by bus.
The first option is certainly the most comfortable and fastest option, but also the most expensive. The second option takes longer, but you’ll see much more of the area and you enter the non-tourist areas. And I really liked that. In retrospect, I am happy that I chose option 2, because during this route I was able to taste the most authentic atmosphere of Laos and Vietnam.
Border crossing Laos to Vietnam
These are the border crossings between Laos and Vietnam from north to south:
- Pang Hok / Tay Trang*
- Na Meo / Nam Soi
- Nong Haet / Nam Can
- Nam Phao / Cau Treo
- Na Phao / Cha Lo
- Dansavanh / Lao Bao
- Phou Keua / Bo Y
*If you travel from Luang Prabang to Sapa like me, you will take the first border crossing (Pang Hok / Tay Trang).
For Vietnam, most nationalities need a visa that must de arranged in advance. A Visa on Arrival is not possible!
The possibilities when you travel to Laos by plane to Vietnam are an E-Visa or arranging your visa at the Vietnamese embassy.
When traveling overland from Laos to Vietnam, you can only apply for your visa through the Vietnamese embassy. The e-visa is only valid if you fly into Vietnam.
In Laos you can arrange your Vietnam visa in Luang Prabang or in Vientiane. I arranged my visa in Luang Prabang. Prices here are:
- 30 days of single entry = $ 55
- 30 days multiple entry = $ 75
- 90 days of single entry = $ 75
- 90 days multiple entry = $ 90
You must put a date on the application form for the visa to start. The visa is guaranteed from that date, even if you arrive in the country later. This means that you have to leave Vietnam again after exactly 30 or 90 days from this starting date.
You can collect your visa + passport after 2 whole working days. It’s also possible to collect your visa earlier for a higher rate. You can also pay the amount of the visa in Laotian Kip.
Itinerary Laos to Vietnam
Luang Prabang » Nong Khiaw
Luang Prabang is a very nice city in the north of Laos and is visited by many backpackers. There are plenty of cool activities in Luang Prabang to keep you entertained for a few days. Such as the Kuang Si waterfall, which is considered by some to be the most beautiful in all of Southeast Asia.
In Luang Prabang, don’t forget to arrange your Vietnam visa at the embassy.
From Luang Prabang you travel by bus in about 5 hours to Nong Khiaw. You can easily arrange your ticket at your hotel or guesthouse.
Nong Khiaw » Muang Khua
Nong Khiaw is a village located in a beautiful area. The beautiful sights in Nong Khiaw, such as viewpoints and caves, make it a nice place to stay for a few days.
By boat you’ll sail from this village in about 6 hours to Muang Khua. This ticket costs 150,000 Kip and can be bought at the office at the boarding place of the boat. You can also choose to visit the small village of Muang Ngoi before traveling to Muang Khua. The boat from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi costs 25,000 Kip and takes about 1 hour.
During the boat trip to Muang Khua I enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. It reminded me a bit of the slowboat across the Mekong from Thailand to Laos. On the boat were, besided me, a handful of other tourists: a retired German and Frenchman, an Israeli and a French couple of my age. We have traveled together for a while and these were also the only tourists I encountered on this whole itinerary ending in Sapa.
Because the Laotian government decided to install a gigantic dam in the river, after a few hours we were unable to proceed and we had to get off the boat. We therefore switched to a pick-up truck that took us to the other side of the dam. There we were able to get back on a boat after more than an hour and continued our way to Muang Khua.
Muang Khua » border
In the dusty town of Muang Khua, the places to stay can be counted on one hand and cannot be booked in advance. Since we were the only tourists, it was very easy to fix a room. There is nothing to experience in Muang Khua, so I definitely recommend to travel directly to the border crossing the next day.
The bus from Muang Khua to Dien Bien Phu costs 60,000 Kip and takes about 5 hours in total including the border crossing. The departure of the bus is scheduled at 7:00, but it often doesn’t actually leave until 8:00. You buy your ticket on the bus just before it leaves. There is also a bus around 11:00 and perhaps one in the afternoon. But it’s uncertain whether these buses actually leave, at what time exactly and whether there is still place. The safest option is the 7:00 am bus.
I was amazed when I was waiting for the bus early in the morning in Muang Khua. We heard communist slogans from the speakers, the monks picked up alms in their orange clothing and the children from the village walked to school with their own stool. The bus drivers smoked something from a special DIY pipe (Do It Yourself). What a different culture!
Border » Dien Bien Phu
At the border crossing, the checkpoint for your visa is located first. When your visa has been checked, you get back on the bus and drive a little further. The passport check takes place at the border.
After the passport check, there’s a small shop where we’ve been able to buy very cheap SIM cards with unlimited internet valid for a month (for just a few euros). They tried to trick us by not returning a good amount of change, so be alert!
The bus we took this route with wasn’t very clean to say the least. The chairs were loose, the backrests looked brown from the grease stains and I continuously smelled indefinable bad odors.
Dien Bien Phu
Once I arrived in Dien Bien Phu, I clearly noticed that I had arrived in another country. The city was a big difference from the small villages in Laos. The city is big, has a busy main street and we heard honking everywhere. Something they LOVE in Vietnam (you’ll find out in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh later).
Via Tripadvisor I found the Phadin Hotel with very good rating near the bus station. The large rooms looked super neat and fancy in the photos and had air conditioning and hot water. I was ready for a luxury hotel. As we walked into the entrance I only saw businessmen in suits and suitcases. There I arrived in my elephant trousers and sweaty T-shirt … The receptionist told us that a room costs 350,000 Dong for 1 night. Just convert … that’s only € 13! While I stepped into the elevator with mirrored gold colored walls with my keycard in hand, I had to giggle a bit out of excitement.
While I walked around the city after a hot shower, many people looked at me. Some waved at me, said hello, and most just stared. It was clear to see that there are very few western tourists in Dien Bien Phu.
There isn’t much to do in Dien Bien Phu, but the city does have an interesting history. In 1954, the French army was defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This battle prompted the French to withdraw from Vietnam. You can visit the monument on the hill. You’ll also have a nice view of the city. What I liked most was walking around and seeing the surprised and cheerful faces of the locals when they saw me.
Where you can eat some tasty food in Dien Bien Phu is the Yen Ninh restaurant which is run by a friendly family. Here you eat dirt cheap Vietnamese dishes in a cozy living room.
Dien Bien Phu » Sapa
A direct bus leaves from Dien Bien Phu to Sapa with the final destination Lào Cai. There are several options for this bus. The bus leaves at 6:30 AM, 9:00 AM and 11:30 AM. The price is 230,000 dong and the ride takes about 8 to 8.5 hours. Sleeping buses also leave in the evening at 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. This ride takes 10 to 11 hours and costs 250,000 dong.
In the morning we were approached by a Vietnamese student while waiting at the bus station. He spoke a word of English and was eager to practice his English with us. Most Vietnamese and Laotians hardly speak English, so it was very nice to be able to communicate with a local normally. We asked each other questions about each other’s culture and country. Of course we took a photo after our conversation.
Also the local bus to Sapa wasn’t very clean. During the stops it looked like we were celebrities again. The locals often stared at us and some took pictures with us laughing. It is very striking that few tourists take this route, but that is what makes it so much fun!
After an uncomfortable, but incredibly beautiful drive of 8.5 hours, we arrived in Sapa. In retrospect, we heard that many locals are not enthusiastic about the local buses. Maybe the sleeper would have been better after all? Sleeper buses are generally much more relaxed than local buses in Vietnam.
Do or don’t: land border crossing Laos to Vietnam
The route from Laos to Vietnam by land wasn’t always very comfortable, but it was adventurous and very interesting. We slept in fine ho(s)tels which made the trip a lot more comfortable. This way of traveling gave me the opportunity to get a glimpse into the life of the locals and learn about their culture and lifestyle.
In my opinion, the journey from Laos to Vietnam by land is not suitable for people who need luxury and for travelers who prefer to visit only the tourist spots. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but in that case I advise you to take the plane.
For travelers who would like to see the authentic side of these two countries, like a bit of adventure and don’t mind not being on the cleanest buses, this route is great and very cool!