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Visas and border crossings

Visas and border crossings forum

Vietnam-Laos border crossing (Na Maew-Nam Xoi)

Posted by cplhsu on 22/4/2008 at 17:55

We're thinking of doing this crossing by taking a bus/train to Thanh Hoa first. Is there anywhere I can get information about how the bus timetable/cost to the border? Also has anyone done it recently and how safe is it?

#1 cplhsu has been a member since 22/4/2008. Posts: 4

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/4/2008 at 08:57 admin

We've got no recent reports on that crossing unfortunately -- the only one is from late 2006, coming from the other direction -- details below (taken from the border crossings FAQ):

"Chunk79 reports from 13 October 2006: Six of us went through no problems although the Vietnamese check every bag quite thoroughly so it takes some time. To get there, we caught a bus from Sam Neua at 06:20 (although it didn't leave until 07:30) which ran all the way to Thanh Hoa in Vietnam (100,000 kip) arriving there about 16:30. There are lots of local buses north to Hanoi (3 hrs 40,000 dong) from Thanh Hoa. In theory there should be a more direct way to Hanoi but it wasn't evident from the bus. Not sure if the bus runs every day - it is definitely the only bus that goes all the way through."

Sorry can't give more info -- but please report back after you make the crossing!

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,062

Posted by nuff on 28/4/2008 at 18:17

We have the same plans and will go in about a week, would be really helpful if you could write down some details about that crossing (if you went on with it).

#3 nuff has been a member since 28/4/2008. Posts: 3

Posted by cplhsu on 7/5/2008 at 12:06

First internet in a week!

We did end up crossing at Na Meo and here is what happened:
- We had a hard time in Thanh Hoa because nobody spoke any english. We went to 4 different guesthouses/hotels and all were the same. After much pictionary and use of the phrasebook we eventually found out that there was a daily bus to the Na Meo border at 0530.
- We took a taxi there, which cost 15000VND so it was pretty close.
- At the station we were surrounded by touts immediately. The bus driver was a total bastard and refused to take us for less than $20 USD each (he asked for $25 at first) and tried to drive off without us.
- The drive took 6-7 hours and we arrived around 1230 but they were out to lunch until 1330. After taking a long long time they looked at my passport, asked me to spell my name and looked in my journal.
- On the Lao side we had to pay $1 USD and were told that there was only 1 bus to Vieng Xai/Sam Neua a day and it was at 1100. A moto was gonna cost $50USD pp bus we finally got a private car for $25 to Vieng Xai.

My advice would be:
- dont cross from Thanh Hoa unless you're prepared to communicate with basically no english. We went to the bank and we had trouble getting USD. We were eventually directed to a jewellers down the road. Blackmarket but the banks dont change into USD.
- better to probably hire a private car if you can, for the amount of money we paid.
- stay at the Vietnamese side if you get there later than 1000, since there's only ONE bus at 1100. There are 2 guesthouses there.
- it's also possible to cross from Mai Chau. We met a guy who crossed by hiring a moto for $18 USD, 4.5 hours. Pretty reasonable.

Hope that's helpful :) and I would recommend crossing this way if you're not too tight on cash. Just in case anything goes wrong, as it did in our case. The scenery is stunning and Vieng Xai is amazing. It was a beautiful introduction to Laos, but it was pretty stressful when we almost rolled down the mountain.

PS there are ATMs in Luang Prabang and Luang Nam Tha, just in case anyone was wondering. But still bring enough backup cash as transport is a bit expensive, especially when the bus keeps dropping you at the tuk-tuk station a few km's outta town. It adds up. And the ATMs only allow you to take out 700,000kip per day.

#4 cplhsu has been a member since 22/4/2008. Posts: 4

Posted by somtam2000 on 7/5/2008 at 13:05 admin

Thanks for the report -- there's some great information in it.

Enjoy Laos!

#5 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,062

Posted by SBE on 7/5/2008 at 17:41

Excellent info thank you!

#6 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055

Posted by nuff on 7/5/2008 at 18:12

oh damn, I thought you were going in the other direction , my mistake.

Anyway, We are getting ready to find out how the crossing works out heading into Viet Nam, tonight we'll get the nightbus to Xam Neua (like the mountain roads aren't scary enough already) and I hope that we can give you a full report within a few days.

#7 nuff has been a member since 28/4/2008. Posts: 3

Posted by nuff on 13/5/2008 at 23:04

We did it!

It sure wasn't the smoothest border crossing Ive done, but it's possible if you have time, patience and willing to be overcharged... Saturday really is the keyword for this border. Here comes the short version!

Vientiane - Phonsavanh.
Quite many buses leaves every day from the Northern Bus station. Around 100.000 kip and about 12 hours. There are buses straight to Xam Neua but they are 22 hours or more, Phonsavanh makes a good stop on the way.

Phonsavanh - Xam Neua
2 buses are announced at the bus station, but there should be a few more passing by each day. Buses are 70.000 kip and theres one in the morning (8.00) and one at 19.30.
What to expect:
-Local bus with all included; crowded, loaded with random stuff, armed soldier and no air-con.
-9-11 hours with a few stops, dont worry if they get the tool kit out and crawls under the bus (I think they adjusted the gear box).
-The bus at 19.30 comes all the way from Vientiane and thats a long way to get delayed on. On a lucky day, you could catch a ride the following morning to the border, but you may as well be late from Phonsavan and miss them all.

In Xam Neua, depending on the day, you have two options listed below. Personally, if you have the time, the caves in Vieng Xai are recommended.

Option A.

Xam Neua - Vieng Xai (optional)
Sangthaws leaves at least once each hour from Nathong bus station (not the one you'll arrive at) and prices are fixed at 10.000. Takes 45min-1 hour.

Xam Neua - Vieng Xai - Nam Xoi
One Sangthaw to the border leaves at 7.10 in the morning and should be 25.000 kip. 3 hours of beutiful landscape included!

Vieng Xai - Nam Xoi
We never sorted this out, but the locals advice us to be at the big road at 6.45 to catch the ride to the border. They say its the one from Xam Neua but that kinda brakes the rules of physics.. But at 7 we actually found 2 rides to the border, one truck and one sangthaw, both coming from Vieng xai. We took the Truck and payed 25.000 (21.000 is the advertised price for the one from XN). Sangthaw from Xam Neua passed by later (the day we went it didnt leave Nathong until 8.00)

Nam Xoi - Na Meo
No problems at the Lao side of the border, they seems to be helpful.
Walk a few hundred meters and arrive at the vietnamese side. Pay 2000 dong (1.500 kip) and have your bag "searched".
What to expect:
-A big, new, shiny Laotian border station.
-A big, new, shiny Vietnamese border station.
-Very little english spoken/understood, especially on the vietnamese side.
-A very shallow bag inspection.

Na Meo - Thanh Hoa

In Na Meo we fought a war. The whole town is a mad house. Noone wanted to drive us further than Mai Chau, not even for $200! (we ended up being 8 people, ready to pay $25 each). There was a red "half size" bus "available" at $25 to Thanh Hoa (which later became $30) but the bus driver could've won a price in the "showing none interest at all" championship. We tried every possible move to make him go, even offering him the silly $25 each(!) but we didn't go anywhere that day. It all came down to the hotel manager (big, new, stateowned hotel) and the busdriver running all transportation as they want, and that day the bus driver wanted to sleep. We ended up having to stay in Na meo for one night, we searched the town to avoid the big hotel and the manager. We found a small guesthouse in the far end of the town with a kind of dormitory for 50.000 dong/night. Matress on the floor and no food, but 6 of us stayed there and we had a good time despite our situation.
The next day (saturday) we were denied getting on the bus coming from Xam Neua, a nasty piece of work from the hotel guy, bus driver and also customs officers, all in all the whole town were in on it. We swallowed all our pride and went with the red bus, which suddenly was down to $20 and were happy to leave.

What to expect:
-War, but unless you're in Na Meo on a tuesday, thursday or saturday, don't expect leaving the town.
-A few other options, including minivan to Mai Chau ($35/person!, no further discussion) and some motos willing to go 50km at $15-20.
-A local bus at the worst, the first hours are really bad. Leaves at 12.00 (12.40 in our case).
-In Na Meo - little to eat, we managed to buy some rice (worst rice we had in the whole trip) and vegetables. Everyone in town accept KIP at 1.6 rate.

Option B.

You're lucky! You choosed to go on a saturday and can skip the complete madness of Na Meo.

Xam Neua - Thanh Hoa (vietnam).
Leaves at 7.40 (according the time tables we saw, time unconfirmed) and goes straight to Thanh Hoa. A bargain at 100.000 kip ($12) for the 11 hour trip. You can flag down the bus from Vieng Xai, just hang around the main road in the morning.

Thanh Hoa - Hanoi
We ended up getting the night train (23.30, 43.000 dong), not the best solution since you'll arrive at 3.30 in Hanoi. Book a room in advance and get a cab. The ones at the station (Mai Linh, green logo) seems to be realiable.


We were 8 tourists crossing the border the same day, I dont know if we were lucky or if the border is used pretty widely. We had learned that the bus is said to leave only at tuesdays, thursdays and saturdays, but we were offered to go the same day we arrived and we spent hours of fighting about even going. The day after the hotel manager went down to the border station right before the bus from Xam Neua arrived and talked with the personel. Earlier that morning a lot of border police was happy to tell me about the bus from Laos and where to get on, and suddenly a higher officer tells us that there will be problems and that we have to get the other one. The price the tourist information office in Xam Neua gave us for the ride to Na Meo - Thanh Hoa was $7 dollars, we got nowhere near it.

A guy who crossed the day after us hitched a ride with some Laotian fuel trucks. That's a possible way to go, but out of 6 trucks in the convoy, only 1 agreed to take passengers.

#8 nuff has been a member since 28/4/2008. Posts: 3

Posted by packtoofull on 15/5/2008 at 12:23

Hi nuff -- excellent report. Many tks

#9 packtoofull has been a member since 16/5/2007. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 39

Posted by cale392 on 2/1/2009 at 13:55

We crossed from laos to vietnam using this border crossing on 6/12/08. Here is our story:

After reading this thread we decided that catching the saturday bus from Xam Neua over the border all the way to Thanh Hoa was the only way to do it (unless getting stuck and ripped off in Na Meo is your idea of a good time, that is!).

As it stands at the time we were in Xam Neua, this bus runs twice weekly in both directions. Leaving Xam Neua at 8am on every friday and saturday. It 'officially' costs 100,000kip and takes 10 hours. I am not sure of the times going the other way.

When we arrived at the bus station on the saturday morning there was 4 other tourists waiting for the same bus (so 6 of us in total). When the bus arrived (with only one other local passenger) the bus driver, who spoke no english, requested 200,000kip each (double what was published on timetables and known by employees at the bus station). All 6 of us agreed to make a stand and not board unless the proper fare was charged. This resulted in 45mins of heated arguments, the bus driving off on us, and then finally coming back and giving in (as I guess he realized that driving 10hrs with only 1 passeneger was not worth his pride). So we were away! but there was more to come...

In short. At the border the bus drove off on us while we were getting our visas stamped. We were forced to walk across the border and into the vietnamese town of Na Meo, where to our relief we found our bus driver in a local restaurant eating his lunch. Two Italian tourists that we had met the previous day were also there trying to negotiate their way onto our bus. We attempted to help them but were quickly (well actually forcefully) ushered back onto the bus before the driver drove off leaving them both behind and at the perrel of the corrupt little town. We can only conclude that there is an agreement between the bus operators in Na Meo and this particular bus service that prevents them from taking anyone who reaches the town by there own means. The two Italians told me that the local bus operators wanted $25US each for the 5 hour journey to Thanh Hoa . Oh and one of the other tourists in our group was suprised to find that the driver and crew had taken several of his snacks and left the empty wrappers up the front!

Later on in the journey the bus was stopped abruptly when a small group of angry guys in another small town ran onto the road and began shouting aggressively at the driver. One guy also was waving a brick around and began thrusting it through the open window of the driver, threatening him I guess - it was all in vietnamese of course. This went on for 5 or so minutes before the bus was reversed all the way down the main street where we stopped and had a 'rest stop' for half an hour. Our driver regained his courage with a few tobbaco pipes and swapped the driving with his wingman while he hid as we drove back through the town.

Despite our new driver being the most insane driver I have ever seen, we reached Thanh Hoa in one piece.

All in all this was an action packed and very interesting, if not a little disconcerting at times, adventure. Proceed with care and an open mind!

#10 cale392 has been a member since 7/10/2008. Posts: 1

Posted by somtam2000 on 3/1/2009 at 07:34 admin

cale392 - thanks for the report!

#11 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,062

Posted by jbsf6 on 8/1/2009 at 10:30

has anyone crossed on motorbike? i'm trying to find out exactly what documentation i need and the ease of this

#12 jbsf6 has been a member since 8/1/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by borisborough on 3/1/2010 at 10:27

We crossed here on 27/12/09. We caught a public bus from Luang Prabang to Sam Neua for 145,000K leaving LP at 8:30am and eventually arriving in SN at 10:30pm. It's worth trying to book ahead for a room - 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. 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. 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!).

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

Posted by tf_geckozy on 24/5/2010 at 03:28

Now there exists "daily" direct bus service between Thanh Hoa and Sam Neua (Mar.2010), but it's departure point is different from the ones in other direct bus services.

Anyway,this route is becoming one of the fastest and easiest route between Ha Noi and northern Laos.

My newest information is as below.

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

Posted by Limbonis on 20/10/2014 at 21:25

take this border as your last resort.. it's horrible. road is yet under construction, and it's a hell of a ride to get there. see here for the photos of my recent adventure to this border

#15 Limbonis has been a member since 10/8/2014. Posts: 2

Posted by stickmansucks on 26/4/2015 at 06:35


Do you know now if there is still no visa on arrival at these borders ?

Nam Khan Nam Can border

Nam Xoi Na Maew border

Any idea how to go there from Vientiane in laos ?

Thank you so much.

#16 stickmansucks has been a member since 10/6/2011. Posts: 22

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