Land border crossing is tedious and difficult, but quite a common thing for long-term travelers to do. Airplanes can ease and shorten the entire process, but the money we save from not buying plane tickets makes up for the time spent inside of a bus.
However, previous experiences like the one we had in Poipet, made the subsequent land border crossings stressful. This time was no different.
Land borders Vietnam > Laos
There are 6 different land border checkpoints from Vietnam to Laos: Ngoc Hoi, Lao Bao, Cau Treo, Nam Khan, Nam Xoi, Tay Trang.
However, bus and tourism agencies tend to use only the following 4: Lao Bao, Tay Trang, Nam Khan and Cau Treo.
We crossed the Tay Trang border because we were heading to Luang Prabang.
While still in Sapa, we decided to split the 18-hour bus trip to Laos in two parts. First chunk: going to the Vietnamese border city of Dien Bien Phu and spend the night. The next day: Dien Bien Phu to Luang Prabang, Laos.
From Sapa to Dien Bien Phu
We bought our tickets for the morning bus to Dien Bien Phu at the bakery Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa for € 11,40.
The 8-hour trip was rough on everyone. Let’s just say that keeping down the banh mi we ate for breakfast was a struggle, as people kept opening the windows to vomit. And let’s not forget the spitting…
It was like watching this scene from Titanic for 8 hours.
We arrived at Dien Bien Phu bus station late in the afternoon and quickly bought tickets for the next day trip: € 20,15 each.
Mário and Avinash (a friend we met on the bus) at Dien Bien Phu bus station.
We spent the night at the cheapest and decent hotel we found in the area (Huyen Anh Hotel).
Due to our level of exhaustion, we hardly explored the city, dragging ourselves through a few streets in search for a supermarket to buy provisions for the next day bus trip.
For dinner, we ate at the hotel restaurant. Great portions, really cheap and surprisingly good!
At 7:30 a.m. of the next day, we set out for Laos in a mini-bus with no leg space for tall guys like us. Two hours later we arrived at the Vietnamese border building, grabbed our backpacks, and headed inside.
The queue was long and barely moving as only one guard was doing the checks outs. A rumor spread that he was asking for “farewell donations” from tourists in front of the queue—didn’t happen to us.
After an exit stamp on the passports and a short mini-bus ride in no one’s land, we reached the Laos border checkpoint: a long white building with a row of window openings at a weird height.
A guard behind the first window gave us some papers to fill with our personal information, and standardized questions like ‘Why are you visiting Laos?’, ‘Where are you staying?’. Minutes later we handed him the completed papers, our passports and the € 32,5 for the visa fee.
From the fourth window, another guard called our names and asked us for a dollar.
– What for? We just paid for the visa back there.
– It’s a processing fee, sir.
Reluctantly we paid, but as we reached for the passport, he told us to wait. Another guard called us from the 2nd window and we were asked to pay 2 more dollars.
– Because today is Saturday. Weekend fee.
A group of Canadians also crossing the border were called from the third window, charged an additional bullshit fee and coerced to take new photos for the visa, as the ones they brought wouldn’t do—this service was 5 dollars.
Oh, there was also a fee for sanitary control and infections: a further $ 1.
Fuck the police, borders are dumb.
Laos Visa on Arrival
Remember to check Laos document requirements regarding the entry of international tourists in advance. As far as we know, tourists from all nationalities can get a visa on arrival to Laos from Vietnam—provided they have a legal passport (duh!), a visa-size photo and the money for the processing fees listed below (2017):
Sri Lanka: $40
Keep in mind that the same doesn’t apply the other way round. To enter Vietnam from Laos, you’ll need a Visa in advance.
Everyone got back into the mini-bus fuming. The following 10-hour drive helped us forget what happened at the border and accept what we cannot change—hakuna matata.
What matters is that we’re here and ready to explore Laos!
Bus ticket Sapa >DienBienPhu: € 11,40
Bus ticket DienBienPhu > Luang Prabang: € 20,15
Accommodation on the HuyenAnh Hotel: € 3.96
Laos Visa: € 32,5
Extra fees: who knows.
If you have any questions or some extra info on the Vietnam-Laos borders, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you for stopping by!