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Advice needed for Laos itinerary

  • Klozknitz

    Joined Travelfish
    20th December, 2012
    Posts: 5

    We're leaving for our honeymoon in Laos in less than a week and I think I've screwed up. On reading information about the overnight sleeper train to Vientiane from Bangkok, I never considered that it would sell out. Well, it has. So now we arrive in Bangkok on 27 Dec and have no way to get to Laos. We were planning on this itinerary for 18 days:
    BKK-Vientiane
    Fly to Phonsavan
    Bus to Luang Prabang
    Nong Kiauw
    Luang Namtha
    Chiang Mai
    BKK

    But now that we have no train possibility, I'm reconsidering. Should we go backwards, starting in Chiang Mai instead? It looks like we'll have to fly, as all trains seem to be sold out for both routes we're interested in. Flights to VTE are extremely expensive but seem to be a bit cheaper to Chiang Mai. Are we allowed to fly into VTE with a one-way ticket? We have our return flights booked from BKK, will that be enough proof? I had thought that VTE would be a good way to get acclimated rather than starting immediately with the hill tribes and trekking of Luang Namtha. Egad, it's so frustrating after all the research I've done to be foiled at the final gate...

    I'd love to hear your educated opinions!

    #1 Posted: 20/12/2012 - 18:10

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  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
    12th February, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 2394
    Total reviews: 47
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    At least 98

    hi Kloz,

    DON'T PANIC! Even though the train is sold out, you can still get to Vientiane by taking the bus instead. Once you get to Bangkok, either go to the Mo Chit Northern Bus terminal or just use a travel agent to book a bus to Nong Khai and/or onwards to Vientiane. Try to get as V.I.P. a bus as you can find - something with 24 or no more than 32 seats.

    It is a busy travel time of the year, so you may need to be flexible. If you can't find a bus that goes all the way to Nong Khai and Vientiane, then maybe you could get partway to Khorat or Khon Kaen and then continue from there. I don't like the bus as much as the train, but the V.I.P. bus is still very comfortable.

    One other option could be to fly from BKK to Udorn Thani, which is about 100 km or so south of Nong Khai and Vientiane, then take the international bus or even a taxi from there.

    In any case, I wouldn't change my entire trip just because the train is full. Get to Vientiane overland another route. Good luck and have a happy honeymoon.

    #2 Posted: 20/12/2012 - 19:46

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1219
    Total reviews: 53
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    At least 48

    "One other option could be to fly from BKK to Udorn Thani, which is about 100 km or so south of Nong Khai and Vientiane, then take the international bus or even a taxi from there." This would probably be a better option than the overnight bus on your honeymoon.

    Doing it reverse isn't a bad idea, Chiang Mai is a very nice place to get settled into as well. I would recommend a one or two night excursion with Pooh Eco Travel if you are willing to pay a little more for a better experience (since it is your honeymoon and all) - you could even take the slow-boat down to Luang Prabang and skip Luang Namtha - instead opting for doing your hiking around Mung Ngoi (a 1hr boat ride north of Nong Kiaow).

    #3 Posted: 20/12/2012 - 21:03

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    Fly to Udon Thani, (Not Udorn Thani), with Air Asia. Then take the mini bus from the airport to Vientiane.

    #4 Posted: 21/12/2012 - 03:41

  • Klozknitz

    Joined Travelfish
    20th December, 2012
    Posts: 5

    Ah, so many possibilities! Is my idea of flying into Vientiane not a good idea b/c of the one-way flight problem? Or are you just trying to help me save money?

    Rufus, how much does the mini-bus from Udon Thani to Vientiane cost? And is the border crossing there fairly easy to manage?

    And caseyprich, we were planning on Mung Ngoi as well. Would you recommend more time there and less time in Luang Namtha? What about compared to Vientiane and PDJ? We would like to get a feel for several different parts of Laos, that's why the spread-out itinerary.

    Exacto, will any travel agent in BKK be able to help us solve our issue? Do they cost a lot extra? I haven't had much luck online getting a local agent.

    Thanks in advance!

    #5 Posted: 21/12/2012 - 04:05

  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location China
    Posts: 1219
    Total reviews: 53
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    I mostly recommended that if you want to take the boat down to LP as you wouldn't want to double-back to LNT from there. With 18 days I think cutting one spot out in Laos might slow down your pace a little, which could be nice - so if you made it Nong Kiaow/Mung Ngoi - Luang Prabang - Phonsovan - Vientiane you'd still be hitting up a some good spots - and with say three nights in each place you're already up to 12 nights in Laos without considering Chiang Mai and BKK.

    #6 Posted: 21/12/2012 - 08:37

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    "Rufus, how much does the mini-bus from Udon Thani to Vientiane cost? And is the border crossing there fairly easy to manage?"
    I can't remember the exact amount, but it is not expensive. The border crossing is super easy. You do the Thai formalities, cross the Friendship Bridge and then get your visa on arrival in Lao. Use USD - 30-42 depending on your nationality. 30 for Aust. 35 for US. It is no problem at all.
    This is the cheapest way to fly and is relatively quick.
    POJ is definitely worth a visit; so much so that I am buying land there to start a farm.

    #7 Posted: 21/12/2012 - 19:54

  • mooball

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2010
    Location Australia
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    Out of curiosity, what did you end up doing?

    #8 Posted: 31/12/2012 - 02:21

  • Klozknitz

    Joined Travelfish
    20th December, 2012
    Posts: 5

    In fact, this screw-up ended being a serendipitous delight! We flew to Vientiane from Bangkok, only had to wait two hours for the connection, thus gaining two whole days in Laos. We spent one more day (3 total) in Vientiane, then two nights in Phonsavan (met some wonderful people and had a fabulous guide) and have now stuck the other extra day onto Luang Prabang, which we're just loving. We're taking caseyprich's advice and cutting out Luang Namtha, and are now thinking of taking the boat on the Nam Ou all the way up to Muang Khua. Anyone ever done this? We may try to stop in Udomxai as well. We have six days to go up the Nam Ou and make our way back to Luang Prabang, any other suggestions?

    And any ideas for choosing among the many elephant 'mahout training' possibilities on offer? Any other places to do it besides Luang Prabang?

    #9 Posted: 2/1/2013 - 10:56

  • mooball

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2010
    Location Australia
    Posts: 313
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    My suggestion is to not go to Muang Khua. My suggestion would be to catch the bus to Nong Khiaw, hang out there a couple of days, then up river to Muang Ngoi for a couple of days and then a boat all the way back to Luang Prabang. It's obviously slightly quicker downstream for that long trip to LP as well.

    Why not to Muang Khua? Because there's not much there and Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi are better towns to visit.

    #10 Posted: 2/1/2013 - 12:11

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  • caseyprich

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd March, 2010
    Location China
    Posts: 1219
    Total reviews: 53
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    When I was in Udomxia in 2008 it really wasn't a place I'd recommend to visit - just a dusty cross-roads town. I think the time is better spent with stops in Nong Kiaow and Muang Ngoi.

    #11 Posted: 2/1/2013 - 16:40

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