Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

China (kunming) to Laos to Thailand

Posted by ginger1 on 22/12/2010 at 22:32


I have been obsessively reading so many posts and forums my head is spinning. I've gotten a lot of info, but am hoping someone can help me out with my specific situation / criteria. My boyfriend and I want to spend the month of January going overland from Kunming (where we will arrive on new years eve) through Laos and into thailand, with the focus in thailand on ISLAND TIME! i've been in western china for too long. we are not opposed to a flight at some point along the way, but don't know which leg of the trip is best to fly (or rather, the worst leg of the trip, the leg where a bus would be unbearable). rough idea as of now is kunming across the border somehow to luang nam tha --- luang prabang --- vang vieng --- vientiane --- overnight train to bangkok and then somehow get south and spend 2 weeks on islands / beaches. the reason i want to split up time in laos is that the idea of 10 + hours on bus isn't appealing - do any of these busses have bathrooms? i think boarding a bus makes me have to pee. i keep reading that january shouldn't be a tough time to find last minute accommodation; is there anything else i should be considering in advance? any advice or travel wisdom would be so appreciated - we are very flexible. operating on a modest budget.


#1 ginger1 has been a member since 22/12/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by christay2009 on 23/12/2010 at 04:44

I found Kunming to Laos very easy. You cannot just hop on a bus from Kunming into Laos (i don't think so anyway...?). I had to buy a ticket to Mengla (prenounced MONG apparently) which takes around 12-15 hours via sleeper bus. I stayed at Cloudland hostel in Kunming and they bought the ticket for me and had it delivered right to the hostel.

I can't remember 100% where the coach dropped me off in Mengla but i am fairly sure it was at the same bus station the Lao bus went from. After lots of hanging around, asking questions, meeting other confused travellers, walking around town...we were finally told the bus would leave at 'x' time. The bus we wanted was the direct Mengal-Luang Nam Tha bus and i do not think it leaves unless near-full. This bus takes you through the border and onward.

The other option would be to take a bus to the border, go through the border, take a bus to Luang Nam Tha. A friend of mine did this and said it was also very hassel free. I am sorry, i have no idea how he found the first bus.

The bus station staff spoke no english but at least tried to help [a little]. The most helpful man was some tout outside, grey hair, very small, spoke pretty good English. At first all he wanted to do was exchange us some KIP from Dollar or Yuan but after a while he was very informative. In fact, he rang the driver [or appeared to] and told him there were many people waiting for the bus. He might be on commission i guess.

Chinese side of the border had quite a lot of checking passport etc - one guy got his bag completely emptied onto the floor. Lao side just took your money and waved you through. It was swine flu time so we all got temperature checked to (i crossed October 09 so i am not wholly uptodate). Oh - Mengal to LuangNamTha was about 2 hours but the scenery is great compared to China - a whole other world.

There ample accomodation everywhere. Unless you have your heart set on somewhere in particular you wont have to book. In Laos, unless you call them, you cant book that easily anyway unless you're looking at 4 star accomodation. The buses don't have toilets. You can stop to pee.

Do you have only 4 weeks? not much time for this. Skip Laos. Fly from Kunming to Bankgog and enjoy Thailand for a month. OR skip thailand and enjoy Laos for a month.

Hope that gave you food for thought at least, bon voyage

#2 christay2009 has been a member since 8/2/2009. Location: China. Posts: 415
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Posted by caseyprich on 23/12/2010 at 08:08

I agree with Christay2009, a month of January to get overland from Kunming to Laos is a road trip in itself - however, you can do it more quickly. One option would be to fly from Kunming to Luang Prabang - I flew the opposite direction flight once to save myself two days of travel between the two. I know in LP you can book a bus that goes directly from there to Kunming in something like 14-16 hours though - I don't know if it has a toilet or is a minivan.

See, I took the trip in January/February 2008 when the highway that was being built to the Laos border was not yet complete - and the roads we had to take through Xishuanbanna couldn't possibly have accommodated anything but a minivan. However, I heard the highway is open now which really cuts travel time. One way to avoid the difficulty of Mengla now may be to take the sleeper from Kunming down to Jinhong (capital of Xishuanbanna) and from there book a bus directly to the border.

I'm rambling around here - but to save time and money you're best bet may be to skip Luang Nam Tha - fly directly into LP and then hit up Vang Vieng, Vientiane on your way to Bangkok. It'll save you the hassle of getting down to LP from Kunming and you'll get a taste of Laos. You could easily spend just two weeks using LP and VV as base camps for further afield exploration, but if you want to have more island time you could do the LP-VV-V route in something like a week and a half and then spend a few days in bangkok before taking yourself off to the islands - giving yourself about a week and a half on the islands. However, flights between Kunming and Luang Prabang do not run every day.

If you're looking to save time on travel to the islands (and some budget options) Ko Chang area (with Ko Wai , Ko Maak ) is a close 8 hour bus ride from Bangkok and you can find a lot of budget accomodations along with fairly cheap food. For a very relaxing time on Ko Chang I'd check out Treehouse or Zion on Long Beach (listed under Salakphet Bay in the Ko Chang section), but if you want more of a party this archipelago is probably not the best option. I highly recommend the relaxed snorkeling around Paradise on Ko Wai - for a fun, younger atmosphere (probably book ahead) and Ko Maak had great food but a more upmarket feel.

#3 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by ginger1 on 23/12/2010 at 12:04

I'm having a hard time finding reasonable flights from Kunming to LP or anywhere else in China. What carrier did you fly from Kunming to LP, caseyprich? I think bussing down from Kunming all the way to LP is trying to do too much if we still want to spend time in Thailand. Another thought is to skip Laos like you said, and fly Chengdu to Phuket (via KL) and then on the way home the airfare is somehow cheaper to fly Bangkok to Chengdu (via KL). is traveling by train from Phuket to Bangkok a good idea? or a possible idea? any other suggestions would be welcome -

thanks in advance

#4 ginger1 has been a member since 22/12/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by caseyprich on 23/12/2010 at 12:56

I booked Lao Airlines while I was in Luang Prabang and just checked but it looks like they no longer offer that flight - you'd have to take a sleeper bus down to jinhong and fly from there to Luang Prabang. Otherwise you can fly from Kunming to Vientiane.

If you decide to skip Laos you will miss out on some of that pristine forest you've probably been wanting to get into after China -- but you'll also save yourself the visa fee and you could always take a week or some days to head up to Chiang Mai in the North while you're in Thailand.

The train between Phuket and Bangkok also involves a bus service ( ).

#5 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by Rufus on 23/12/2010 at 13:06

There is no direct flight from Kunming to Luang Prabang.
There is a night bus Kunming - Luang Prabang - Vientiane. Kunming-Luang Prabang is about 28 hours.

#6 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 978
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Posted by ginger1 on 23/12/2010 at 17:15

okay - i think we have decided to stick to thailand this time around, and make a trip out of laos / cambodia / vietnam next chance we get. we're living in China for at least the year. i'm wondering if any of you can give me some advice on where to fly into / stick around in thailand. i want the focus of the trip to be islands, but i would love to see as much as possible, and we are definitely down to travel around the country as much as we can. it would be nice to spend some time in some of the more social nightlife spots, and some time somewhere more low key or outdoor adventure oriented. the cheapest flights for us are into phuket via KL, but the more I am reading the more I think flying into Phuket is tourist madness, will get expensive quick and will limit us travel-wise. we are trying to stretch the trip out across the whole month of january and for this reason we need to stick to budget accommodations, which i feel phuket lacks. it also just sounds like the islands off krabi are better anyways .... thoughts? direction? what is the best way to get around once in southern thailand?

thanks again and thanks in advance.

#7 ginger1 has been a member since 22/12/2010. Posts: 6

Posted by christay2009 on 24/12/2010 at 04:29

Might want to post specific thailand questions in the thailand forum.

I am only trying to help, honestly :) You might get (even) more responses that way...

#8 christay2009 has been a member since 8/2/2009. Location: China. Posts: 415
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Posted by VeronicaChay1 on 24/12/2010 at 10:50

Dear ginger1,
My husband and myself had returned from our road trip from North Thai, North Laos and back via Vientiane.
Our main transport is our bike, which my husband rode from Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand-Laos. We took 2 weeks leaves to do so. Have always wanted to try to touch Kunming border.
Done River Crossing @Chiang Khong -Thailand.
My photo link:
Bikes rental is available @Vientiane USD10 to USD30 (scrambler)

#9 VeronicaChay1 has been a member since 24/12/2010. Posts: 1

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