When I researched on travelling from Vietnam to Laos by bus (or vice versa from Laos to Vietnam), all I could find was doom and gloom stories about how dangerous it was, how long it takes, how it should be avoided at all cost. I was advised to splash out hundreds of Dollars to book a flight with Lao Airlines – because, at the moment, this was the only airline flying from Vietnam to Lao.
I was dreading it. When I spoke with Ben about it, he said, however, ‘well, we did 30 hours from Kathmandu to Delhi seated on a local bus. How much worse could it get?’. How right he was! Because, truth be told, it actually turned out to be one of the most comfortable bus rides I ever undertook. And I’ve done it all: the above-mentioned bus ride from hell to Delhi on a local bus, bus travel within India (equally not the best experiences), bus travel in Thailand (they were fabulous) and travelling by bus within Vietnam (really good actually).
I’ve become a bit like the traveler on four wheels. I always end up travelling by bus above any other means of transportation. But, if I could have it any other way, I would: I would always travel by train – which is way more comfortable. But because I seldom book things in advance, trains are usually booked out – leaving me to travel by bus time and time again.
Here a few preparatory points about travelling from Vietnam to Laos by bus (and about travelling by bus in Asia in general):
Speed. Yes, the roads are long and windy and bus drivers tend to drive too fast (like anywhere else in Asia: I experienced the same in Nepal, India, Thailand and Vietnam). Don’t travel by bus if abrupt breaking makes you nervous. Also not if you feel queasy too quickly. So far, I was never sick on a bus – but other people around me have. Bring some ‘sick bags’ just in case you are a bit sensitive when it comes to the zig-zag roads and the asian travel style.
Safety. It goes without saying: travelling by bus in Asia always comes with risk. Accidents can happen. But they can also happen when you cross the street in your own neighbourhood. My stance with this is: if your time is up, it’s up. I don’t let fear stop me from travelling on local transportation methods, because the locals do it regularly – if it’s fine for them, it’s fine for me. If you think differently about this: rather travel by train (in countries where it is possible). Statistically, there are less train accidents than bus accidents.
Fluids. Keep your fluid consumption to a minimum when you travel by bus (in Asia in general). Unless, you travel on a bus with an in-built toilet. I personally never travel on buses with toilets. Why? Because the whole bus ends up smelling of pee. I prefer to wait for the regular stops, hop outside and do my business in the bush or at service station toilets. If you have a weak bladder, don’t drink gallons of fluids before you go on a lengthy toilet-less bus ride. Seems like common-sense – and yet, you don’t even know how many times I witnessed the ‘please can you stop the bus I need to urgently’ drama.
Seat. If you travel by night bus, which for me is always the best option, as I get to save the costs for one night of accommodation: try to get a seat at the front and bottom (the bottom ‘beds’ are much more comfortable as you can actually deposit your belongings next to you in the aisle, as opposed to squeezing it next to your legs or keeping it on your lap for the entirety of the long journey).
Border crossing. For some incomprehensible reason, the bus companies leave between 5-7pm from Hanoi, Vietnam (in my case) and arrive at the border way too early. The driver switches off the engine, locks the doors and sleeps. For about 3 -4 hours. Which means the inside of the bus slowly runs out of air and it starts to smell. The further back you are, the smellier the air. Just saying. I knew that this was going to happen, so I was not entirely surprised about it. But, I thought it would be nice to warn you. Just try to sleep and wait until the driver instructs you once he wakes up. Don’t panic. Everything is under control. As a rule of thumb: just follow the locals, ask around and find your way.
Border & Visa. Once you arrive at the Lao border, you need to get an exit stamp first – then drive up the hill to the entry port and fill out a form to get a Lao Visa (which is incredibly straight-forward by the way). For Vietnam, you need to have your visa organised in advance (or at least have an official visa letter which you can order online very easily). The cost for a Visa ranges between 30 USD – 40 USD. Bring a passport-sized photo.
Attitude. I’ve heard of other travellers who complained about how unfriendly the vietnamese bus drivers were towards them – and it’s true, I experienced the same. They are quite rude and pushy. Something which I find odd as I did not have bad experiences with locals in Vietnam in general. I suppose the drivers get fed up with the endless questions about ‘what are you doing with my luggage?’, ‘where are we going now?’ etc. Just keep an open mind and be understanding – don’t let this taint your experience.
Food. I always carry some snacks on long bus journeys, in case we do not stop for dinner. So far, we have always stopped for it though – but it’s nice to have something for in between. I usually buy a bottle of water (which I barely touch), dried and fresh fruit. Sometimes chocolate and other sweets.
How to book. When in Vietnam, I would always book my travels through Sinh Tourist – they are fabulous. I booked all my bus travels through them and also the said border crossing bus to Lao via their Hanoi branch. They can also help with train travel within Vietnam, by the way.
Have you ever travelled from Vietnam to Laos by bus? What was your experience? I would love to hear your comments in the section below.