For those who are interested in using this border crossing, let me post our journey from Nong Khiaw in Laos to Than Hoa / Ninh Bin in Vietnam. I indicated the duration of the sangthaew/bus trips, but for the sangthaew we always waited approximately 1 hour from the 'advertised' departure time (loading bags, waiting for passangers etc..) and the number of stops really depended on the passangers.
We started off at Nong Khiaw, a nice little village in 3 hours north of Luang Prabang (we did not take the route from Phonsavan to Sam Neua).
Day 1. (Thursday)
In Nong Kiaw, we took a sangthaew that was originally heading to Vieng
Kham. As the Lao guys in the ticket office saw that there were a few
foreigners in the sangthaew, they offered us to bring us to Vieng Thong. I
am not sure if there is a minimum number for them to offer this, we
were 7 on this day. Sangthaew left around midday and arrived to Vieng
Thong at around 16.30-17.00pm. Until Vieng Kham the vehicle was packed, after that, only the 7 of us.
Vieng Thong has got a hot spring where you can walk and have a
nice hot 'shower', like all the locals do. The day we went there was a
conference in Vieng Thong (???) with a delegation of 40 people, so
the 2 guesthouses of the village were full! Both the owners were very
resourceful and prepared makeshift rooms for us. I am sure this
happens once in a century, otherwise, accomodation should not be a
Nong Kiaw - Vieng Kham: 20.000 kip per head (1.5 hours)
Vieng Kham - Vieng Thong: 65.000 kip per head (3 hours)
Day 2. (Friday)
The sangthaew for Sam Neua was scheduled at 7am and we started our
trip at 8. It was freezing cold in the morning and very dusty in some places. But in many places you can see that the road is brand new and they make improvements... According to our German colleague the part of the journey until Highway 6 used to take 5-6 hours, now it took 'only' 3 hours - so we felt quite lucky! Got to Sam Neua at 2 pm; which left us some time for eating, checking out the market (rather just looking than buying, as they have a lot of strange and not-too-appetising stuff) and the internet (veeeery slow).
We asked around about a direct bus to Thanh Hoa in Vietnam, and got a lot of different bits of information; the only thing i can say is that there was a direct bus to Thanh Hoa on Saturday, but this may change any time :-(
The bus station has a sign stating that there is bus on Friday and Sunday, though the lady in the ticket office said the bus is now scheduled to Friday and Saturday; people in the tourism office said at one point that it was moved only because of the TET festival in Vietnam; another guy said it is actually Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday!!!
It is probably a safe bet to get to Sam Neua on Thursday or Friday, so you have good chances to get a bus without waiting for days. We wanted to visit the Vieng Xai caves on Saturday, but as the bus left on Saturday we had to leave the next morning.
Price: Vieng Thong - Sam Neua 40.000 kip per head (6 hours)
The sangthaew trip is not the most comfortable that you can imagine,
the road is winding and bumpy all the way most of the time.
but the the hills are beatiful and you get to see the villages very
close (and stop in most of them)...with all the kids smiling, waving
and shouting Sabaidee!
Just for the record, there is a public bus that run from Vientiane to
Sam Neua through Luang Prabang and Nong Kiaw. The only problem is that
it arrives to Nong Kiaw very (!!) approximately 7.30 which, according
to the locals can be 8, 9, 10 pm or later :-)
So you do most of the trip in the night which means
1 - miss the scenery
2 - probably would not get great sleep as the road is very bad
3 - i would not be too happy to travel on the the winding and bumpy
roads in pitch black!
Day 3. (Saturday)
A Vietnamese minibus left from the bus station at 8am (more or less on time), packed with 6 of us and a bunch of Lao youngsters who went to uni in Thanh Hoa apparently...so there was a bit of a schooltrip feeling. The minibus was Ok-ish, though really packed with people and baggages, so was quite incomfortable towards the end of the very long trip. The driver went really fast on the windy road, which made the Lao guys throw up... We got to the border at around 10.30am, and it did not take very long for us, foreigners to cross. But it seems it took a bit longer for the Lao guys, which meant we departed from Nam Xoi only at 13.00.
The road in Vietnam is maybe even more scenic than in Laos, as the rice paddies were really green (in Laos, we were at the end of the dry season) and the roads are generally better. Unfortunately this also meant that our driver now really drove like a madman!
Even at this speed, we got to Thanh Hoa only at 7pm, where the bus dropped off the students at various campuses, and the driver did not want to bring us to the bus station, but instead drop us off at 'cheap hotel' (of their choice)! Our fellow travellers stayed in the hotel, so probably it was OK.
It was quite late at this point and we had no idea of how to get to the bus or train station... but we really wanted to make it to Ninh Bin, our base to explore Tam Coc, the Cuc Phuong National park etc. Thanks to a nice local guy, we managed to flag down a bus on the Highway 1 that went to Ninh Bin. The trip is approximately 1 hour, so we got there around 9pm. A really exhausting day...i read of some people who managed to get to Hanoi after this journey, but i think it would have been very difficult to us, and i do not think finding a guesthouse around midnight is much fun.
Price: Sam Neua - Thanh Hoa 100.000 kip per head (full day)
#1 krisztinita has been a member since 15/2/2007. Posts: 3
Thanks krisztinita for such an excellent trip report.
I am printing this out to use for our planning, it's really well written.
If you don't mind could you answer a question for me? I was wondering if you organised your Vietnamese visa when you arrived at the Nameo-Namxoi border, or did you organise it previously? Do you know if you can get them easily in Vientienne or similar big towns in Laos?
Thanks in advance, and thanks again for a superb report, I appreciate the time you took writing this.
#3 drutherford has been a member since 2/1/2007. Posts: 22
Sorry, I just thought of another question. I have heard there is not many ATMs in Laos. What was your experience in Nthern Laos? What would you suggest to take as far as currency? Do you have any budgeting tips etc?
Any info you have would be very much appreciated as this is one area I'm quite concerned about.
Thanks again :-)
#4 drutherford has been a member since 2/1/2007. Posts: 22
We did get a Vietnamese visa in advance in London (gbp38), but you can also do it in Luang Prabang. We talked to some people who did it in Luang Prabang, it took a day i think and it was actually a bit cheaper than 38 pounds. I am almost sure you can NOT get it on the border, all of us who crossed had the visa in advance.
It is true that the only ATM is in Vientiane. Some shops in Luang Prabang do 'cashback', probably the rate is not great though.
As for the budgeting - despite the advice in Lonely
planet, we found that we could not bargain much in Laos. The
guesthouses and trekking tours (the most expensive bits of the trip) never made any discount - even when the guesthouse was empty, they never ran after us :-(, only exception were the tuk-tuk drivers.
The prices we paid were:
- Dbl room in Very nice guesthouse with hot shower in Luang Prabang,(Villa Philaylack, Ban Wat That) : 12$/night
There where other guesthouses with rooms for 4$ as well according to others, but after the Huay xai - Luang Prabang boat trip we wanted something nice!
- Basic bungalow in Nongh Kiaw (Sunset or Sunrise bungalows) - 4$/night
- Dbl room in (probably the nicest) guesthouse at Muang Noi - though only cold shower : 6$/night
(Bungalows with shared toilet were $2)
- Dbl room in Sam Neua : 5$/night
Dollar is 10.000 kip, ie: $4 room = 40.000 kip.
Lao Biere (half liter bottle): 10.000 kip
Fried rice or Fried Noodles: 15-20.000 kip
Tours are quite expensive compared to Chang Mai in Thailand, as they get less people... most 1-day treks (with kayaking, biking, hilltribes) were 30-35 $ per person, as they did not have anyone else for the next day, so they would have just left with 2 people.
We took quite a lot of Thai Bahts with us, as we did not want to go to Vientiane to the ATM... but ended up not spending too much. In Luang Prabang, you can buy souvenirs on the market and there are some fancy coffee shops (19.000kip a bagel...) but other than there, I found it was almost hard to spend your money!
Hope this helps,
#5 krisztinita has been a member since 15/2/2007. Posts: 3
Thank you so much again Krisztina,
This is very helpful, and I appreciate the time you've taken to reply :-)
#6 drutherford has been a member since 2/1/2007. Posts: 22
Im from Indonesia and I would like to traveling to Europe this month. I will go to Copenhagen then to Tuttlingen after that go to Switzerland.
Can some body help me to give information about travel to Tuttlingen,Germany to Switzerland how do I get to switzerland from tuttlingen, is there any train and how long does it takes and how much the cost
#7 sofia has been a member since 19/6/2007. Posts: 4
Errr Sophia, not sure what your post has got to do with the rest of this thread but if you hadn't revived it I'd probably never have seen it.
Many thanks to krisztinita for that excellent report. I think I've just been inspired. :-)