My friends and I are planning a trip around SouthEast Asia this summer, and are a bit stuck when it comes to reaching Hanoi from Laos.
We've so far seen two options, none of which really suit us:
- either take a Lao Airline flight to Hanoi which already costs about 110€ (although we're still months away!!) and does not seem to be one of the safest airlines
- or take a 30+ hours bus ride across the border, when so many tourists report online that they've been ripped off!
We were wondering, as there's 4 of us, whether we could get a private car or mini van with a driver to take us from Luang Prabang to Hanoi? Has anyone done it before on this route? How much would it cost, and how long would it take?
Can one driver take us all the way, or would we need to change cars and drivers after the border?
Also, which border crossing point would you recommend for this journey?
Finally, if you've done this already, can you recommend a travel agency or local car company we could book the trip from?
Thanks a lot for your help!
#1 Asia2010 has been a member since 1/3/2010. Posts: 4
We did it by local bus to Sam Neua (15 hours), stay over night followed by a minivan and coach to Hanoi via Thanh Hoa (15 hours) near the end of December. I can give you more details if you want.
Yes please, can you give me more details of your trip? I've looked at other border crossing points, but it seems this route is the quickest way to get from Luang Prabang to Hanoi .
Did you take the minivan from Sam Neua to the border, and then a coach to Hanoi from the Vietnamese side of the border? Was it difficult to find?
Thanks a lot for your advice!
#3 Asia2010 has been a member since 1/3/2010. Posts: 4
Well, if it's the quickest way from Luang Prabang to Ha Noi that you want, flying is certainly it. It's a one hour flight.
I've flown Lao Airlines a couple of times and found them to be quite safe, with fairly new equipment (not the old, crash-prone Chinese airplanes) and good service. I believe, if you do some searching around this website, you will find others who have had good experiences with Lao Airlines. Just make sure, if booking or searching for flights on-line, that you go to this website http://www.laoairlines.com/indexb.php as there are others, purporting to be "official" but aren't.
As to the cost of flying, it's been my experience that flights between countries in SE Asia can be pretty pricey, whereas flights within those same countries can be amazingly inexpensive.
On the other hand, if you want to see the countryside of northeastern Lao and northwestern Viet Nam, bus/van/etc. is the only way to do it.
Private car/driver would cost hundreds of Euro and be hard to arrange. The Lao Airlines (or Vietnam Airlines) flight is well worth the cost. Safe airline(s) and just takes an hour. Beats the heck outta the really long crappy road journey. I've been living/travelling the region for years and this is the one section I can say without a doubt - pay for the flight!!!
We crossed at Na Mae/Nam Xoi on 27/12/09. We caught a public bus from Luang Prabang to Sam Neua for 145,000K on 26/12/09 leaving LP at 8:30am and eventually arriving in SN at 10:30pm. It was an entertaining journey; lots of locals getting on and off with motorbikes, computers, office furniture, groceries, live animals and an AK47, with great views in the National Park towards the end (before it got too dark). It's worth trying to book ahead for a room in SN - all the best guesthouses were full but got a basic double room with bathroom (?) with some hot running water (shower Laos style with a saucepan!) and a rock hard bed for USD5.
There is a Vietnamese quarter in SN close to the centre of town. Managed to catch a minivan at 8am on the 27th Dec 09 which, we were told, arrived in Hanoi at 8pm. This cost us USD35 each - probably on the steep side but not drastic. We already had Vietnam visas so the crossing at Na Mae/Nam Xoi was easy but the roads were winding and long. Crossed the border before lunch (great views on the Laos side) but then had a long journey down from the mountains to the coast. Eventually arrived in Thanh Hoa at 8pm. Swapped buses to a big sleeper here and arrived in Hanoi at 11pm. Easy to do and not a horror story (although these were two consecutive days of 14+ hours on buses!).
Enjoy your travelling, however you do it!
I got on that same bus part way along at Nong Khaiw and rode it to Sam Nua. (12+ hours) One of the prettiest bus rides I've done. Road was paved as I remember, nice mountains. Vieng Thong especially looked worth a look around, I was riding in the dark not long after that but there was a moon up and I could see a lot of the valleys and mountains. Only person on the bus. Retraced part of the route a few days later headed for Phonsavan.
Real nice country, kind of higher or cooler, pine trees. Sometimes it's the parts in between that are worth a look see.
Just about to take the same trip. Chang Mia - Hanoi overland. Flying was looking a little pricey as I have left it a little late but im going with the mantra Sucess is a journey not a destination.
Anyone with any tips or hints would be much appreciated.
#12 TravellingScot has been a member since 4/3/2010. Posts: 7
Archmichael, what I meant was the fastest route - on the road! Although after reading a few blogs, it seems Laos Airlines seems to have bought new planes and disposed of the not-so-safe old chinese ones, the plane tickets are already quite expensive (120+ € /person) and we figured that we'd rather see a bit of Lao countryside for that same price. So overland it is!
borisborough and somsai, I think we're going to try and head the same way you travelled. As we have a bit more time, we're looking into stopping perhaps a bit more often in-between bus journeys, so that we'll have a chance to see the landscapes by day and get a good rest at night. We're thinking of breaking the journey into three days/two nights. Do you reckon there's a city on the vietnamese side worth stopping at for a night before heading to Hanoi (in order to break down this part of the journey between Na Mae/Nam Xoi and Hanoi)?
TravellingScot, let me know how it worked out for you!!
#13 Asia2010 has been a member since 1/3/2010. Posts: 4
Asia2010: Yeah, Lao Airline is just fine these days, but flights between countries in SE Asia are really quite expensive for the distances flown. I think going overland is a grand idea, especially if you can break it up with a couple of stops en route as you mentioned (two 15-hour bus days one after the other doesn't sound too appealing to me). I wish to make that trip myself one of these times.
Hi Asia 2010
On the Laos side, after Sam Neua there's a village called Viang Xai which, according to a fellow traveller, was worth a stay. Over the border we didn't see a great deal. Perhaps Thanh Hoa; it's the largest place on the Vietnamese side before Hanoi. There are lots of villages/small towns on the Vietnamese side before TH but I've no idea whether or not they're worth an overnight stay - might be a bit "basic" but then that could all be part of the fun!
Enjoy your travels.
Personally, if it were me, I would go south to Savankhet, spend a few days there, then go across to Hue and then slowly head north. If you don't have time for that, then just fly. All I've heard about the bus from Laos to Vietnam up north is long and painful.