Crossing the border from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos is part of backpacking in Southeast Asia. This border cross could be long and sketchy but surely an experience to remember, at least for me! In this post, you should be able to see the border points where you could cross between Vietnam and Laos.
I will also share my own experience with crossing the NamCan border. However, you can also cross the border to China, from Lao Cai to Hekou.
From how to get a bus, the cost, travel time, and what you should truly expect from this journey. Plus, a guide on how to get from the bus station to your accommodation in Luang Prabang. If you have extra time in Hanoi and loves food, check out this food guide in Hanoi Old Quarter.
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LAOS VISA GUIDE
Laos only give free-visa access mostly to Southeast Asian nationalities. However, it is easy to get a visa-on-arrival is easy to get, you can receive it through arrival via air, land, and/or sea for a fee of $40, the visa is valid for 30 days.
- Tay Trang – Sobboun (Laichau, VN – Pongsly Prov, Laos)
- Na Meo – Banteui (Thanh Hua, VN – Huaphanh Prov, Laos)
- Namkan – NamCan (Nge An, VN – XiengKhuan Prov, Laos)
- Keoneua – Nam Pho (Hatinh Prov, VN – Bolikhamxai Prov, Laos) *I recently received an update from a reader last January 3, 2020, that this border doesn’t allow motorbikes to cross anymore. While Cha Lo border is still good to go cross. *Please refer on the comment thread below.
- Cha Lo – Napao border checkpoint (Quang Binh Prov, VN – Khammoun Prov, Laos)
- Lao Bao – Dansavanh border checkpoint (Quang Tri Prov, VN – Savannakhet Prov, Laos)
HOW TO GET A BUS FROM HANOI TO LAOS
Walk to any travel agency and ask if they book a bus from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. They will make a call to see the availability. You will be asked when you want to go, the bus drives every day. I can’t really remember if they drive in the morning too, but I took a night bus.
You will also be asked where you want to be picked up, some bus companies do pick up from accommodations some agencies will ask you to be at their office where you will be picked up.
I was picked up at 17.00(5 pm), a shuttle bus took me to the bus station, where the bus left at 19.00 (7 pm). I, later on, found out about booking a bus online, which is cheaper. This platform can be used around Southeast Asia.
Cost of the bus ticket: $47 USD or 990,000 VND
TIP: If you are travelling on a budget, you can also go to the bus station to book your own ticket in advance or show up early to make sure you get a ticket on the day of your trip. Ticket cost: $12-$22 (250,000 to 500,000 VND).
How long is the bus ride from Vietnam to Laos
Crossing Vietnam-Laos border is easy but the travel time normally takes about 24 hours to reach Luang Prabang from Hanoi, however, this depends on which border the bus will cross. Some buses even stop in the other cities which makes the journey longer.
In my own experience we travelled for 30 hours, I know! I must be crazy right?! Bus companies pick up a lot of local passengers and goods along the way which also the reason for the long journey.
What to expect from the journey
After we drove to the bus station, I placed my big backpack under the compartment, make sure you don’t include any valuable items in it. Inside the bus, bunk beds are aligned on both sides whilst there is a tiny space in the middle full of mattresses.
My advice is to take the top bunk because I find the lower bunk too isolating. The beds are soft in their own way, however, there weren’t any blanket or pillow provided. We stopped a lot throughout the way to pick up and drop off local passengers and goods.
Around 21.00 (9 pm), we stopped for dinner, where you can take a toilet break and brush your teeth before going back to the bus to continue the journey. Remember that there is no toilet inside the bus, some travellers claimed that some bus companies do have.
We reached the border of NamCan at 06.00 (6 am), however, the border opens at 07.00 (7 am), thus we have to wait for two hours. There is a building where you can buy some snacks and coffee but no “hot food”.
VIETNAM LAOS BORDER CROSSING GUIDE
I was told that I have to take out all my bags to be inspected when I exit the border of Vietnam, but this didn’t happen. I sat with the other travellers at the border control office, handed my passport and waited until my name was called. After receiving my passport with the exit stamp, I walked for three minutes to cross the friendship bridge between Vietnam and Laos.
At the border control of Laos, we were given a form to fill out. After writing out all the needed information, I handed it back together with my passport. It was like a magic for me when I got my passport with a stamped entry for Laos without paying anything. Whilst the nationals who need a visa had to pay US$40 for the 30-day visa. Finally, the advantage of having my Philippines passport.
At this point of Vietnam-Laos border, you can also exchange your remaining Vietnamese Dong to Laotian Kip or exchange your US Dollars/Euro to Laotian Kip. The rate is not very good but you don’t really have any other option as you need local money for food and transportation to your accommodation. You can also take a bathroom break here or brush your teeth before going back on the bus. We left the border around 07.45 (7.45 am).
I hopped back to the bus and continued the journey. It was already noon when we stopped for brunch. So, do remember to pack a good amount of snack for this journey. After lunch, we drove for another seven hours before we reached Luang Prabang.
HOW TO GET TO YOUR ACCOMMODATION IN LUANG PRABANG
We arrived at the bus terminal around 19.00 (7 pm), there you can find tuk-tuks that will take you to your accommodation. Try to ask the other travellers to share the tuk-tuks so you don’t have to pay a lot of money. Simply tell the driver the name of your accommodation or show the address. Don’t pay more than $2 US Dollar or 17,000 LAK.
ENTERING LAOS WITH A MOTORBIKE
If you were travelling Vietnam with a motorbike, don’t let go of it just yet because you can bring it to Laos. All you need to do is find the best route from Hanoi, some go via Lao Cai (in the North), while others take the route between Hanoi and Ninh Binh.
You have to remember that entering land borders are often hard to predict. Depending on the weather, person in charge, and rules (which changes often) – crossing to these border points may not be possible or can cause hassle.
You can also enter Laos through Nam Kan border, simply show your bike’s documents, passport, and acquire a visa if you need to. Remember that the border closes at after office hours and will be back the next day at 7 or 8 am.
UPDATE: A reader told me that you can no longer enter Laos via Nam Kan border, but they tried to enter Na Meo successfully. You can see the comment about this update below this post on the comment section. Thanks a lot, Katerina for sharing this information.
NA MEO BORDER: See Eric H’s comment and experience about crossing the Na Meo border with a motorbike.
Once you enter Laos with your motorbike, you are free to check out and enjoy motorbike loops in Laos including Thakhek and Pakse loop.
WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE
I honestly find the experience quite enjoyable. It was indeed too long and exhausting, I think I was dehydrated and had to deal with some stomach cramps because I was hungry a few times and it took us quite some time to get proper food.
However, it was nice to be around the locals and see how do they normally travel from one place to another. The view along the way was amazing too! We crossed a mountain, I guess that’s why it took us forever to reach our destination. I enjoyed it to the fact that I did the same journey from Luang Prabang back to Hanoi, I know, I must be nuts!
WARNING: You can easily cross the border from Laos to Vietnam is just same route, however, be aware of the metred taxis in the bus station in Vietnam. A lot of them have cheated their metre system, you will end up paying for too much. Negotiate with the driver and pay not more than 150,000 Vietnamese Dong. The driver will suggest using the more, don’t agree and walk away.
RELATED POST: Backpacking Vietnam
I hope this article of Vietnam Laos border crossing has been useful to you. If you are going to be travelling around Southeast Asia, here is a travel budget guide.