The Dreaded 30-Hour Bus From Laos to Vietnam

4 Feb

For most twenty-somethings backpacking around Southeast Asia, it almost seems as if the bus ride from Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam (or the reverse trip) is something of an initiation as it basically becomes an inevitable journey for the budget traveler.

I had heard so much about this dreaded bus trip before heading to Laos and, although I really didn’t want to do it, I knew that I had to.

I’ve heard so many horror stories and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little intimidated by this gruelling, 30-ish hour bus trip.

Anyway, after an awesome few days in Vang Vieng, it was time to head to Hanoi. We had previously secured our visas in Luang Prabang and were ready to finally head over to Vietnam. I can’t stress this enough — make sure that all the information on your visa is accurate (i.e. the dates of validity and your passport number. This visa didn’t have my name on it like Laos and Cambodia did). Border control going into Vietnam from Laos is very, very strict. To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, read Adventure Kate’s post about how she almost got banned from Vietnam at the border.

Anyway, when we bought our bus tickets in Vang Vieng, the lady we bought them from said that it would be a 21-hour journey. I knew that this probably wasn’t going to be accurate and I actually prepared myself to expect at least 30 hours of traveling.

The bunks

We got picked up by a mini-bus at around noon which took us to Vientiane, Laos’ capital city. Once we got there we were ushered onto a random bus with bunk bed style lounge seats. It’s weird, if you go to Southeast Asia you’ll notice how much of an organized mess everything is. Here’s what I mean. When we got off our mini-bus in Vientiane there were a ton of big buses and our mini-bus driver kind of just took off. We confusedly stood around for about a minute before someone just came up to us and brought us to where we needed to go. Even though there was absolutely no verbal communication between us because he didn’t speak English, everything just kind of fell into place. It seems so chaotic, but don’t worry, it actually all works out (usually) in the end. At least, it did for me and, believe me, I took SO many buses around Southeast Asia and came to know what to expect. I eventually got used to the chaotic set-up of transportation around Southeast Asia.

Here’s a tip for you: Bring as much food on the bus as you possibly can because I swear all the bus drivers bring you to their friends ‘shops’ and get you to buy whatever they are selling. In our case, it was a plate full of disgusting mystery meat and overcooked rice. We were so hungry though so, along with everyone else, we were pretty much forced to eat this pile of who-knows-what.

After we stopped for this mystery meal, we continued for a few more hours before we got to the border. It’s funny that they tell you it’s going to be a 21-hour trip because there is absolutely NO way that this could ever be true because the border will be closed when you get there. AND they will turn the air-con off while you sit in your own sweat overnight waiting for the border to open at, I believe, 5 a.m.

Ashley!

The awesome friend who I was traveling with, Ashley, as well as many others, actually needed to get off the bus because it was too hot for them to sleep. So bring a book (or two) and fully charge your iPod! Mine died halfway there and it was torturous.

Now, as for the border crossing…

This was probably the most unpleasant border crossing I have encountered throughout my travels, other than my experience going into Bolivia. There are a few things I think I need to point out. For one, on top of the fee you needed to pay for your visa, you will need to pay an ‘extra’ fee when you’re getting your passport stamped. This is totally a tourist rip-off. You can try to fight it (as some did), but I suggest just paying the few dollars to get through hassle-free. Also, depending on your nationality, they might give you an even harder time forcing you to actually have to bribe them to get across the border. This happened with one girl on our bus who was from Morocco. She had no idea why they were giving her a hard time and, after much debate, they accepted a bribe from her. So, I would suggest bringing some extra American dollars with you in case you find yourself in a sticky situation like this.

You also need to put your bag on this conveyor belt that goes through this machine that’s probably an x-ray and I found that the men working around there were extremely aggressive, especially with young, Caucasian women like myself and my friend. They really, really gave us a hard time. I mean, they were grabbing ours arms and saying inappropriate things to us. It was really unpleasant and we got out of their as quickly as possible and chucked our bag back on the bus.

You then have to walk to the actual border crossing. It was actually quite a distance. I’m not good with accurately measuring distances, but it was probably somewhere from 1/2 km to 1 km. It took about 20 minutes. Here’s a picture (of course it was raining!).

Walking to Vietnam!

Make sure that you try and do all these steps (departure stamp/’extra’ fee and putting your bag on the conveyor belt and back onto your bus) as quickly as possible because your bus is only going to wait for so long before they leave. Believe me, they will leave without you.

Anyway, we got into Hanoi after another day of driving. Once we got into Hanoi, we all piled into another mini-van which took us to their “choice of hostel”, a.k.a. their friend’s hostel. We quickly grabbed our bags and headed into the streets of Hanoi at night. Finding Hanoi Backpackers on Ma May street was easy and stress-free as it seems like everyone on our bus had the same idea of heading there. So, if you’re planning on heading to Hanoi Backpackers, there will more than likely be someone on your bus going there as well, so just ask around like we did.

I know I’m making it seem like the 30-hour bus was awful, but it really wasn’t awful at all. Unless you’re extremely high maintenance, then this journey will probably not be so bad for you. I’m not going to lie, it was uncomfortable, but I think any bus trip that’s longer than 15 hours would be uncomfortable. For being on a bus for 30 hours, it wasn’t bad at all. You’re also going to be around several other people who are in the exact same situation and who are probably just as nervous as you are.

I made some great friends and it was definitely an experience in and of itself. More importantly, the beauty that awaited us was well worth the dreaded 30-hour bus ride. This is what greeted us on our way into Hanoi:

Arriving into Hanoi, Vietnam

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