You are planning to travel from Hoi An in Vietnam to Laos by bus? This is an in-depth guide for a trip from Hoi An to Laos. I completed this journey via the Lao Bao border to Pakse in April 2023. But also other destinations in Laos are possible! Due to a lack of information online about the crossing I’d like to share my experience and pass on helpful advice. I also included the visa application which I completed at the Laos embassy in Da Nang as I heard some stories about people being rejected at some borders when trying to get the visa on arrival.
There are many other ways to do the border crossing from Vietnam to Laos. As I finished my Vietnam trip in Hoi An I wanted to cross the border to Laos as south as possible instead of going up to Hanoi and crossing in the North. The flights to Pakse are not direct and therefore very expensive. I’m also trying to avoid short flights when possible. Luckily I found one bus company offering the trip from Da Nang and Hoi An to various destinations in Laos.
Disclaimer: There are probably cheaper ways to do this by taking the local buses instead. The issues with this approach, however, are that you have to take multiple buses, there is no set time table, and the whole journey is harder to plan. This blogpost is about a more comfortable (still adventurous) journey where you have a contact person who ensures that you arrive safely at your final destination.
Overview Laos visa
Depending on your country of origin there are three different ways to enter Laos for 30 days. The cost for the 30 day visa is roughly $35.
You can get the electronic visa for Laos online. The downside is that it can be used to enter only 7 specific international ports which excludes many border ports. For the trip between Da Nang and Pakse the e-visa was therefore not an option.
- Visa on arrival
The visa on arrival is granted when you arrive in Laos. However, the visa on arrival can not be obtained at all ports. Some friends of mine wanted to cross at the border close to Sapa, but they then had to take a flight instead as the border they chose apparently doesn’t grant visa on arrivals anymore. If you are flying into Laos or are coming from Thailand the visa on arrival is a good option. Getting a visa on arrival at Lao Bao border was no problem!
- Apply for tourist visa at Laos embassies & consulates
If you are planning to cross the border from Vietnam by bus, getting your visa for Laos at an embassy beforehand is probably the safest option. Especially if you are not sure yet which port you are traveling through. There is a Laos embassy in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.
Applying for the Laos tourist visa in Da Nang
I applied for the Laos tourist visa in Da Nang and would like to share my experience. Summing up it was very smooth, easy and the staff at the embassy super friendly.
What to bring
You only need to bring a passport photo, 1 Mio. VND (~40 EUR) and your passport. Everything else will be provided at the embassy. Also make sure to dress in a respectful way, meaning covering your knees and shoulders.
The application process
My partner and I took the scooter from Hoi An which was a 45 minute drive. We arrived at the embassy at around 9.30 am. I recommend to come before 10 am to avoid being rejected as there is a two hour afternoon break from 11.30 am. According to my research some people are not allowed in, if their visit is too close to the break.
When you arrive at the embassy go straight to the little house at the right side of the gate. The guy sitting in there will put your name and passport number into a book and then you’re allowed to enter. You will then be asked to fill out a form containing information about you and your planned stay. This includes:
- Reference address in Laos: I booked a guesthouse and stated this address.
- Date you are planning to enter: Make sure you give a date that is doable for you, as the validity of the visa will be from this date for 30 days.
- Border for the crossing: If you are doing the crossing from Da Nang to Pakse, put in ‘Lao Bao’ border
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Once completed the form, an officer will take it with your passport and prepare the visa. For me, it only took 20 minutes until I got my passport back and paid the fee of 1 Mio. VND. I read online that in Hanoi you normally have to wait three working days or have to pay an extra $5 to get the visa within one day.
How to book the bus from Hoi An to Laos
Booking the bus tickets was a bit tricky. I went to a few travel agencies in Hoi An but none of them were offering trips to Laos. Also online couldn’t find any reliable information or time tables. Eventually I got in touch with Danang Bus. On their website they have some information about the different bus options. There is also a WhatsApp number (+84)907401090 through which you can easily contact them (I didn’t get a response to my e-mail).
When we drove from Hoi An to Da Nang to get our visa we went to their office, paid and picked up the tickets to Pakse. The office doesn’t look like a typical travel agency but rather like a private house. In case no one is there contact them on WhatsApp or try this one.
The whole trip from Hoi An to Pakse in Laos, including a private pick-up, cost 1.550.000 VND (around 60 Euros). There are no VIP busses available, only the normal sleeper ones. The bus journey takes around 20 hours and is intense, especially if you are used to the very nice “VIP” Vietnamese sleeper busses. I recommend to get in touch with Danang Bus via WhatsApp first and talk about the details there. They are very responsive and can tell you more about availability and the schedule!
About the bus journey from Hoi An to Pakse, Laos
We were picked up in Hoi An by private taxi at 6.45 am and brought to a bus station in Da Nang. It wasn’t a big bus station but rather only for busses going to Laos. In case you would like to go to the bus station and get on the bus without buying a ticket through the agency it’s best to go to this location.
Hoi An to Lao Bao border
At 8 am we got on the bus and started the journey. It felt all a little bit chaotic due to language and cultural barriers. Basically you feel like the locals are screaming at you and their intense gesturing sometimes felt a little bit rude.
We then went on an 8 hour long ride to Lao Bao Border. There were a few toilet stops and one lunch stop in between. As I am vegetarian I wanted to be on the safe side and brought all my food for the day from Hoi An.
#1 advice for your trip
Stay relaxed, don’t take the locals behaviour personally & take it with humour. Rudeness doesn’t bring you anywhere in Southeast Asia. Also there are many locals on the bus and they LOVE to skip queues.
If you have special dietary requirements prepare some food for the day. Otherwise bring some snacks. The bus only provides a 250 ml water bottle.
Crossing Lao Bao border
What looked like a 5 hour ride on Google maps turned into an 8 hour trip. At around 4 pm we arrived at Lao Bao border. We were then told to get off the bus and walk towards the border. Just take your most valuable things as the bus will meet you again on the Laos side.
First, we got our exit stamp at the Vietnamese offices. We then walked towards the Laos immigration and all had to pay an administration fee of 10.000 KIP (0.54 Euros). The people without a visa then filled out some forms and paid the fee to apply for the visa on arrival. We already had our visa so we only had to fill out the entry form.
Then things got a little bit funny. We walked towards the Lao side and were then sent back to the border offices. As we did the whole processing after 4 pm we had to pay another ‘overtime’ fee of 10.000 KIP. After paying the second fee we finally got our entry stamps in our passports and could get back on the bus.
#2 advice for your trip
Keep your valuables in your hand luggage as the other luggage can be thrown around. Also have a jumper available. The AC on the bus was not super cold but not every seat had blankets.
Exchange some money into the Lao currency (LAK) before the journey so you can get a good exchange rate and you can pay the fees at the border, and potentially get some food in Laos for the rest of the trip. There will be a chance to exchange some cash at the border, but the exchange rate isn’t great. You can also buy a SIM card here, but I would recommend to wait and go to a proper phone shop instead.
Lao Bao to Pakse
All in all the first leg of the journey was long but comfortable. The real fun began when we arrived close to Savannakhet in Laos at 11 pm. We were basically thrown off the bus as it continued all the way to Vientiane. If we hadn’t shown the driver that our luggage was still in the back I think they would’ve just driven away. So make sure to always know where your luggage is.
We were then told to sit on some chairs at the side of the street. No one said for how long or how the journey was supposed to continue – but we just trusted that it would. After around one hour a very packed bus showed up. We were lucky to get a seat, the people who got on the bus after us had to sit in the aisle.
The bus was incredibly crowded and the hardest bit about it was that we were suddenly sitting on normal seats. Our expectation was that we could get some sleep for the remaining few hours. I think we were too spoilt by the sleeper buses in Vietnam and thrown into the real traveling adventure. Also not being surrounded by any travellers was just a weird feeling.
After 6 hours of restless sleep on a chaotic bus, we arrived in Pakse at 5am. Click here to see where the bus stops in Pakse. We paid a tuk-tuk driver 50,000 KIP (~2.5 EUR) to drive us to the hostel where we got some sleep. I booked an extra night which was worth it after such a long journey!
#3 advice for your trip
Download Google offline maps for your destination to know where you are going. Also bring a fully charged power bank – there is nowhere else to charge your phone during the trip.
All in all the journey was very adventurous but successful! We were able to cross the Lao Bao Border and travel all the way from Da Nang to Pakse within 24 hours. Also the application of the visa beforehand was very easy.
If you consider my travel advice in this blogpost and are open minded this could be an adventure you will still tell stories about in the future. It’s one of those real experiences that makes traveling exciting.