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Ha Noi to Sam Neua via Mai Chau & NaMeo/NamXoi border

Posted by tf_geckozy on 6/4/2009 at 03:22

Hello! everybody.

I'll intoroduce a route from VN to Laos still not so popular for foreigners from my recent trip.

■Ha Noi to Sam Neua via Mai Chau & NaMeo/NamXoi border■by only local transports(by bus & xe-om=motobike taxi)

There exists one more route from Ha Noi to Sam Neua for going to LPB via Mai Chau & NaMeo/NamXoi border.

As far as I checked while I was travelling this route, between Ha Noi and Sam Neua and between Mai Chau and Na Meo there still exists no direct bus in each at least Jan.2009 , so I travelled all the way from Ha Noi to Sam Neua(→ Phonsavan ) by local transports only, and I confirmed that it‘s entirely possible for anybody to travel this route with the same way to me having a litte bit difficulty.

Apart from it (=option-1 below), there are 2 more options for going to Sam Neua---one for chartering cars at Mai Chau and at Lao border gate with 2 times in all---one for remaining chartering a motorbike taxi (=xe-om) to Na Meo border at Mai Chau and then one more time chartering a car at Lao side after crssing border if you want to reach Sam Neua in a day from Ha Noi or Mai Chau.


Ha Noi to Sam Neua via Mai Chau & NaMeo/NamXoi border by only local transports(by bus & motorbike taxi)

Details of this route:
①Ha Noi(My Dinh or Ha Dong b/s)→3 hours by bus→②Mai Chau→54km→③Quan Hoa(=Hoi Xuan)→16km→④Dong Tam(=junction of Mai Chau & Thanh Hoa & Na Meo)→35km→⑤Quan Son→55km→⑥Na Meo town→100m→⑦Na Meo/Nam Xoi border(gate to gate: 200m)→54km→ Vieng Xai village(=the entrance of village on NR)→28km→⑧Sam Neua→⑨Luang Prabang / Phonsavan / Vientiane -------(Mai Chau to Na Meo: total 160 km)

Explanation of each part:
①Ha Noi→②Mai Chau---3 hours by regular local bus / 50,000VND (=official price at booking office.--if you ride a bus without buying ticket, you will be 100% overcharged.It’s normal in Viet Nam.)

*Bus(s) to Mai Chau leave My Dinh and Ha Dong bus station every day many.
*My Dinh b/s is 7~8km west of city center=Old Quarter area in Ha Noi.
*Ha Dong b/s is about 10km south west of city center=Old Quarter area in Ha Noi, along NR.6. (Ha Dong b/s is actually in Ha Tay province neighbour to Ha Noi city)

Bus leaving Ha Dong b/s around 07:00AM(07:00~07:30) goes to Quan Hoa, a town 54kkm more from Mai Chau, so if you have no plan to stay at Mai Chau, you may go to Quan Hoa directly by 07:00AM bus leaving Ha Noi arriving Mai Chau around 10:00AM and Quan Hoa(=Hoi Xuan) around 11:30AM.

②Mai Chau→③Quan Hoa (=Hoi Xuan)--- 54km / 1.5 hours by bus coming from Ha Dong b/s / 40,000VND i paid

Tourists who are staying at Mai Chau can grab this bus in front of Mai Chau b/s (around 10:00AM) or at the entrance of Thai minority village “Ban Lac” about 10::30AM waiting on NR.15.

③Quan Hoa (=Hoi Xuan)→④Dong Tam (=junction of Mai Chau & Thanh Hoa & Na Meo)--- 16km / 20 minuites by xe-om(=motorbike taxi) / 25,000VND i paid.

*Between Quan Hoa and Dong Tam is only 16km, so take a xe-om(=motorbike taxi) just after arriving Quan Hoa without losing your time here..

④Dong Tam (=junction)→⑤Quan Son---35km / about 1 hours by local bus coming from Thanh Hoa / 30,000VND I paid 

About 10 buses come from Thanh Hoa city and go to Quan Son every day and those buses are passing through Dong Tam(=junction) and pick up passengers here then head to Quan Son, but i'm not sure what time direct buses including direct buses going to Na Meo & Sam Neua (on Fri) will come to this point(=junction), so I reccommend to wait for a bus at a cafe and take the first bus coming here. You may expect a bus going to Quan Son 100% surely here.

⑤Quan Son→⑥Na Meo (town)--- 55km /2 hours by motorbike taxi.

It’s available at Quan Son because once I negotiated with the driver about the fare for going
to Na Meo but actually I did hitch hiking a private car going to a town(I don’t know the name of the town now) of midway between Quan Son and Na Meo.

And after arriving a midway town I took a Xe-om(motorbike taxi) for going to Na Meo, but bike driver whom I negotiated and agreed the fare didn’t like to go to Na Meo in the dark(**) after starting a few Km and abandoned me on the way to Na Meo, so I had to hitch hiking one more time and fortunately by happen I met a private car going to Na Meo and I could grab it.

(“In the dark”(**)-—it means thatI spent much time for checking and researching of this route itself and transports and accommodations in details at each point.)

The car I did hitch-hiking was a private car drived by schoolmaster of Na Meo elementary school 10km before Na Meo town, and after ariving the school I was served dinner and wine among other teachers and then I was taken to a GH in Na Meo town by motobike, so the time I arrived Na Meo town was at 20:30PM.

If you do your travel to Na Meo with no loss time at each point, you will surely be able to reach Na Meo before or just after dark the same day you leave Ha Noi or Mai Chau.

Bus from Thanh Hoa to Na Meo are operated 3 buses a week, but your arrival Dong Tam or Quan Son is probably too late for catching it even it's on the day those buses leave Thanh Hoa, so I reccommend you to take a motorbike taxi with negotiating of the fare as quickly as possible just after arriving Quan Son for reaching Na Meo before dark.

Negotiation with the xe-om driver will become sometimes very hard on this route, but I think the limit of the amount should be max.170,000VND(about10 $ for 55km/ 2 hours driving.
And in the case you cannot negotiate successfully any more, I suggest you divide this part "Quan Son to Na Meo" into 2 parts, because negotiation for a short distance and the fact that you know the exsistence of a midway town on the way to Na Meo and it’s details makes your negotiation(=the fare & go or not go at late evening) more easily.

⑥Na Meo town→⑦NaMeo/NamXoi border---100m / 5 minuites walk

*NaMeo/Nam Xoi border is no VOA avalable at both sides of VN and Laos.
*immigration offices at both sides are very new & big.
*There is no local transport after return bus(sonftheaw)left Lao border to Sam Neua at 10:30~11:00AM and no accommodation at Lao side.

If you want to go to Sam neua or Vieng Xai village the same day after return bus(songtheaw)has already left, you need to ask Lao immmigration officers to call a hired car, but it’s cost becomes expensive if there is no one for shareing and the amount of the fare of foreigner(s) becomes more expensive than the one of locals and depends on the number of passengers.
But please don’t regist it too much easily because it’s different from rips-off and overcharging in Viet Nam---and because Laotain is different from Vietnamese in many cases!

⑦NamXoi (Laos) border →⑧Sam Neua---85km / 2.5~3 hours by bus(=songtheaw)/ 20,000Kip I paid but normally 25,000Kip.

Bus leaving Sam Neau east bus station arrives Lao border gate around 10:00AM and leaves Lao border gate around 10:30~11:00AM as a return bus. Lao border to Vieng Xai village(=the entrance of the village on NR) is 54km/2 hours by sontheaw and arrives Sam Neua east bus station around 14:00~15:00PM.

*Regular bus between Sam Neua and Lao border is only 1 bus(songtheaw) a day, and if you want to go to Sam Neau or Vieng Xai village after this bus leaving , you need to ask Lao immigration officers to call a car. They are very kind for doing it enough.

*After Rice-Planting finished (Febluary), you can enjoy beautiful scenery of rice fields covered with green all the way to Sam Neua.

From Vieng Xay village to Sam Neau is 28km/about 50 minuites by bus(sontheaw) and many buses are running all day long over 10~13 buses a day from early morning to evening.

⑧Sam Neua→⑨Luang Prabang / Phonsavan / Vientiane

Buses to Luang Prabang/Phonsavan/Vientiane are avalable at Sam neua south bus station 1km from the city center=touristy area

from Sam Neua to Luang Prabang--145,000Kip/from Sam Neua to Vientiane via Luang Prabang--170,000Kip/from Sam Neua to Vientiane via Phonsavan--150,000Kip/from Sam Neua to Phonsavan--70,000Kip (Jan.2009)

If you are in 1~2 persons, you may take xe-om(=motor bike taxi) from Mai Chau to Na Meo border. Between Mai Chau to Na Meo is total 160 km in distance and it takes about 4.5~5 hours by motorbike and the fare for a bike is around 400,000VND(≒23USD now).
The road is paved all the way to Na Meo border but cntinuos 5 hours riding on the back seat of the bike without driving for your self may be very hard.
If you stay at Mai Chau then take a xe-om for going to Na Meo border and want to cross border before regular return bus to Sam Neua leaves Lao border, you need to leave Mai Chau very early morning around 5 o’cllok morning reserving a xe-om the day before your departuare.
But you want to go to Na Meo and stay 1 nigfht then cross border next morning, it ‘s OK around noon.

If you are 3~5 persons in all or may have enough passengers for sharing a car, you can charter a ca at Mai Chau for going to Na Meo border and one more for going to Sam Neua from Lao border gate. It takes about 4 hours by charterd car and the fare around 80~100 USD and more from Mai Chau and 40~100USD from Lao border gate, but as for a chartered at Lao side, you have to ask immigration officers to call. Lao officers are every time(i crossed 3 times) very kind and friendly of doing it for foreigners a bit different from Vietnameae.
If you leave Ha Noi b/s early morning, and charter a car at Mai Chau and Lao border 2 times , you can reach to Sam neua in a day. But the cost will become very high.  

ACCOMMODATION more detailed than before and others:

*Mai Chau---Standard style GHs are not many, and local government permits foreigners to stay at Thai minority villages only Ban Lak, Ba Pom Coong, Ban Van. About 1 km from bus station. Ban Lak, Ba Pom Coong are very often used for accommodation for foregn guests of Mai Chau tour from Ha Noi.

*Co Luong(a town on the way to Quan Hoa)---18 km from Mai Chau, a rendzvous point of Ma river and NR.15 going to Thanh Hoa. There is a GH in Co Luong.

I saw the timetable bus from Co luong to Thanh Hoa( & Sam Son=a sea side city east of Thanh Hoa at Mai Chau bus station. It said that operating of the bus is daily service 1bus a day(Jan.162009) /Departure time: 13:00PM/60,000VND, so if you take this bus at Co Luong when you miss the bus coming from Ha Noi at Mai Chau , you can go to Dong Tam(a junction I mentioned next) and be able to go to Quan Son with grabing a bus coming from Thanh Hoa at Dong Tam, but probably you cannot reach Na Meo before dark even if you can find a good bike driver who never abandon his guest on the way.

(As for Co luong town, it’s a town very good for cycling from Mai Chau. The road going to Co Luong is almost no up-down and having a beautiful scenery of many traditional haues of Thai minoritys’ along the road at both sides and beautiful rice fields covered with green with the background of the villages, and one more –along this road there are very few Vietnamese ununity and too much decorated indecent?? houses though this road is NR.15. It makes a very peaceful scenery and atomosphere! But Co Luong is very dusty and not interesting town in my impression.)

*Quan Hoa (=Hoi Xuan)---54 km from Mai Chau.. “Quan Hoa” is the name of a district in Thanh Hoa province. Local people are using one more town name "Hoi Xuan". Quan Hoa is a comparatively big local township and having 2 GHs.

*Dong Tam(junction)— I don’t know “Dong Tam” is correct name or not, but local people use this name for the junction. in Vietnamese lunguage “tam” = ba is “ 3 ”(ie: Tam Dao=3 islands) , so it means a “Junction” as 3 roads are crossing there, and town center of Dong Tam is 12 km from there and has a few GHs, i heard it from local people.

*Quan Son---Quan Son is a rural township comparatively big in mountain area and you will see many kind of local governmental buildings in this town. Quan Son is a final destination of the bus from Thanh Hoa to Quan Son , but bus to Na Meo sometimes stops at Quan Son no more going when passengers going to Na Meo are very few. Tourists who take this route by local bus going to Na Meo must beware of that Quan Son has 2~3 GHs.(I confirmed 2 GHs.)

*A town of the midway between Quan Son and Na Meo—I don’t know the name and probably havs a few GHs. There are a few restaurants along the road. Xe-om=motorbike taxi also available here.

*Na Meo (border town)--There are 2 GHs and 1 very small GH(=dormitory) as below.
①“km 88 Hotel”=mannaged by local government.--7~10 $ per night. (Tel:0373592558)
②“Yen Trang Hotell”--- 7$per night.
③Pension“Phuc Loc”=dormitory for only sleeping, close to border gate and riverside.--2$per night.

*Vieng Xai village---There are not many GHs, but tourists also not many, so there are enough
GHs. In Vieng Xai village you can listen synphonic music sounds goo played by frogs orchestra at the stage of rice paddies around your GH every night and
you will sleep well till tomorow morning.

*Sam Neua--- many GHs. and there is a Internet shop at left side of the road on the way to east bus station after crossing a bridge, having high spec machines but terrively slow.

I visited Laos many times whole of countrty, and Vieng Xai village is one of my most favorite places in Laos--very quiet & peaceful and lovely & beautiful village plenty of flowers all year long, and now is the time you can enjoy beautiful scenery of rice paddies covered with green not only the way from the border but also all around Hua Phan province.

Have a nice trip, everybody-- Bye!

#1 tf_geckozy has been a member since 2/9/2008. Posts: 82

Posted by scottyheather on 14/11/2009 at 03:52

Brilliant post tf_geckozy. Although we are doing the trip in reverse, your information is really informative and just what we needed. Thank you.

#2 scottyheather has been a member since 30/3/2008. Posts: 89

Posted by borisborough on 24/1/2010 at 11:37

We did this crossing on 27th December 2009. After arriving in Sam Neua at 11pm the day before and getting the crumiest guesthouse in town (but for USD5 - not serious!) I decided to walk around town to the bus station to find a way out. As I was walking up the road at 7:15am, a bloke in a minivan stopped and offered a trip leaving at 8am and arriving in Hanoi at 8pm for USD35. This is probably a bit high but seemed so easy and convenient I couldn't pass it up.

We actually left Sam Neua at 8:20am with a few locals and a warehouse full of machine parts and picked up along the way (including at Viang Xai a traveller from Switzerland going to Hanoi). Arrived at Na Meo at 10:30am and, after leaving Laos immigration we were driven to Vietnam immigration (already had a visa) and then on for lunch in Nam Xoi by 11:30am. One of the locals smuggled a live bird through immigration & customs down the front of his undies!

The drive down the mountains from Nam Xoi to Thanh Hoa seemed to take ages and the bus became more and more cramped as more locals hopped on. We eventually arrived in Thanh Hoa at 7pm and everyone gets off and walks off (including our driver) leaving just us three Westerners (and the driver's mate) with backpacks wondering when we'd get to Hanoi.

All of a sudden, a sleeper coach pulls up and we are told to take our luggage and climb on this sleeper ("no pay, no pay"). We got on - it was packed! Half an hour up the road the coach stops for a dinner break and a few locals get off leaving us enough berths (these berths are designed for Vietnamese who tend to be, in general, a third of the size of me!!!) for the rest of the journey.

We eventually arrived in Hanoi at 11:30pm and hailed a taxi to a possible hotel (Little Hanoi Hotel) which we hope will have rooms available. It does and we sleep the sleep of the dead!

Lonely Planet and the like suggest that this crossing is not easy and not worth it - except for arriving in Hanoi three and a half hours after we expected, it was a doddle!

#3 borisborough has been a member since 30/11/2009. Posts: 21

Posted by tf_geckozy on 17/5/2010 at 21:59

Now "daily" direct bus service between Thanh Hoa and Sam Neua city center exists besides direct bus service buses leaving Sam Neua East and South bus stations as not daily bus servce.

I confirmed it and actually took it in my recent travel from Ha Noi to Sam Neua Mar.25.2010.

I'll introduce it with details in my next post here, please wait a moment.

#4 tf_geckozy has been a member since 2/9/2008. Posts: 82

Posted by tf_geckozy on 19/5/2010 at 01:43

to be continued #4

#5 tf_geckozy has been a member since 2/9/2008. Posts: 82

Posted by movinghobbit on 24/2/2011 at 21:47

Hi there,

I plan to do this border crossing in March, but I don't have a Visa for Laos yet. Is there a Visa on arrival in Nam Xoi right now? Has anybody got a Visa within the last weeks / months?

Thanx for your help!

#6 movinghobbit has been a member since 24/2/2011. Posts: 2

Posted by tf_geckozy on 25/2/2011 at 20:09

At Nam Xoi (Lao border gate) , you can get Visa on arrival.

#7 tf_geckozy has been a member since 2/9/2008. Posts: 82

Posted by movinghobbit on 28/2/2011 at 18:56

The German Embassy in Vientiane just told me the opposite, but now I am just going to try! So if you don't here anything different from me later on, there ARE visas on arrival at Nam Xoi in March 2011 ;-)

#8 movinghobbit has been a member since 24/2/2011. Posts: 2

Posted by tf_geckozy on 1/3/2011 at 00:49

Stuffs in Japanese Embassy in VTE know nothing about detailed informations in frontiers (=to them) and i think probably stuffs of Jarman Embassy in VTE are also the same and they have no actual informations except air routes. It 's nothing paticular and i've never depended on their informations in my travellings because their information was not correct and not up dated in real time.

I crossed this border 2004(the year this border was opened for foreigners), 2005, 2007, and in #1 post-"VOA is not avalable" was old information now.
And last year(March 2010) i crossed this border one more time from VN, and at that time, i comfirmed about "VOA" at Nam Xoi border gate directly by myself though i (=Japanese) need no Visa for staying max.15 days in VN & Laos & China but every time i used to check about "VOA" at any borders for my unknown fellow travellers coming later.

Any way, at 7(=all) International border crossings between VN and Laos, now VOA is all avalable for entering into Laos at Lao border gates (to the contrary, for entering into VN, at some points--(A, B, E, G),VOA is still "not avalable")

(VN/Laos) --direct bus is avalable but (E) only still not daily service.
A--Tay Trang/Pang Hoak border---between DBP and Muang Khua(daily)
B--Na Meo/Nam Xoi border---betwen Thanh Hoa and Sam Neua (one bus company only operates daily and others not daily)
C--Cau Treo/Nam Phao border---between Ha Noi and Vientiane (daily)
D--Cha Lo/Na Phao border---(rary used)
E--Nam Can/Nam Khan border---between Vinh and Phonsavan/Luang Prabang (not daily)
F--Lao Bao/Dennsavanh border---between Hue and Savannakhet/Vientiane (daily)
G--Bo Y/Phou Keau border---between Central highlands in VN and southern Laos(daily)

(3/1-- in Ha Noi)

#9 tf_geckozy has been a member since 2/9/2008. Posts: 82

Posted by LD on 27/9/2011 at 22:18

HANOI - SAM NEUA VIA THANH HOA (Na Meo / Nam Xai Border)

I recently went from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa to Sam Neua (it was not necessary to go via Mai Chau) and thought I would add the details in case they were helpful.

- see seat61.com for train information or get a bus from Ben Xe Nam Hanoi bus station
- bus takes 3 hours, tickets can be bought a day in advance. In Thanh Hoa, the bus may drop you off at a different bus station to the one from which the Sam Neua bus leaves
- note, Hanoi buses do not necessarily depart at the scheduled time. May only leave when full

- the Sam Neua bus station is off Tran Phu. From a Thanh Hoa map this looks like Ben Xe Noi Tinh station on Nguyen Trai (double check it when you get there)
- bus from Thanh Hoa to Sam Neua is scheduled to leave at 8am in the morning, it can and does leave earlier. Be there an hour beforehand, particularly if you want a seat
- if you need accommodation, try hotels on Tran Phu (eg Lam Son 253 Tran Phu - Ba Dinh - VND 390,000) for an easy walk to the station.
- could only buy tickets on the day and needed kip for these, though VND prices were quoted in the station. VND 250,000 or 130,000 kip. Cost / currency may vary depending on the ticket seller

Travelling and times:
- Thanh Hoa - Na Meo / Nam Xai Border - approx 6 hours
- Border - approx 45 mins. Visa on arrival available for USD $30
- Border - Sam Neua - approx 2 hours

Long trip, but the scenery from Thanh Hoa - Sam Neua was great, particularly on the Laos side of the border.

- all through my trip, banks were available to change money and there were international ATMs (even though they will advise you have zero kip available, your money will still come out)

- there are lots of guesthouses by the bridge straight down from the central 'diamond' shaped monument (50,000 - 100,000 kip a night)
- restaurants are available around these guesthouses
- the Sam Neua tourist office have great information and speak very good English
- is a good base to do hill tours, visit the Vieng Xai caves and to go on to Phonsavan etc

- the Vieng Xai caves (1 hour from Sam Neua) are where the Pathet Laos hid out from the Americans and co-ordinated their campaign for an independent, communist Laos
- 60,000 kip for audio tour and mandatory guide. Great audio tour (the stories of Laos people who stayed in the caves told by them and translated into English)
- tours go at 9am or 1pm. At other times there is an additional 50,000 kip charge

Getting there from Sam Neua
- 25,000 kip 3km tuk tuk ride to Nathorn Bus station for local bus to Vieng Xai
- 20,000 kip local bus (tuk tuk) to Vieng Xai. These only leave when there are enough passengers, not on the hour and will stop by 3pm (not 5pm)
- the drivers will try to inflate prices for foreigners (eg 150,000 kip). Try to get tickets at the ticket office or go and return early in the day or stay overnight in Vieng Xai if you have time
- otherwise, hire a scooter from approx 60,000 kip in Sam Neua

- at the top of the hill past the central 'diamond' shaped monument (approx 20-30 min walk)
- bus leaves at 8.30am. 80,000 kip. Go half an hour - an hour before departure time
- approx 10 hour trip

- lots of hotels on the main street to chose from
- a number of hotels / agencies cater for tours and you can create itineraries with them
- the Plain of Jars sites are the main draw card for the area
- across from the UXO museum in Phonsavan is a bar that has an interesting one hour video about the American Secret War on Laos
- cost for 1 day 4 - 5 group trip in a mini van, approx 200,000 kip per person

- tuk tuks to either bus station are approx 10,000 kip per person
- the mini van station is beside the night market
- public buses leave from close to the old town
- go early. Approx an hour for public buses / half an hour for mini vans
- mini van (takes only 10-12 people) leave around 8.30 am. 110,000 kip
- approx 8 hour trip by mini van
- from Phonsavan you will be dropped at the bus station where you can either walk or take a tuk tuk. Tuk tuks prices are higher for foreigners (eg 50,000 kip) for a trip into central Luang Prubang (3 - 4 km to the town centre).
- in central Luang Prubang, walk to the Mekong River-there are loads of B&Bs/hotels alongside it

- info centre at the main intersection (start of the night market) in the centre of town
- numerous tour companies covering everything you can do in and around the town eg waterfall, caves, monastries, Mekong River trips etc etc

#10 LD has been a member since 27/9/2011. Posts: 2

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