April 24, 2003

Hanoi to Phonsavan via national road 7 (Muang Xien to Nong Haet)


view from the back of the motorbike taxi
The first step is to catch a train or bus from Hanoi to Vinh. I recommend the slow night train that leaves around 9:50 pm and arrives in Vinh around 6:30 am. I got the hard sleeper for about $6 and slept a solid 8 hours which was great. In the other direction it may be helpful to know that the Sinh Cafe bus to Hanoi seems to come through Vinh around 1:30 am or so and the cost is $5. Upon arrival in Vinh you should take a taxi or motorbike taxi to the bus station that is several km away (I paid 5,000 VND or about 33 cents). At the bus station find a bus headed for Muang Xien. The one I took had a sign in the front window, although people were also able to point me to it. The bus should cost 30,000 VND each or about $2 but they may try to overcharge foreigners. I ended up paying about 33,000 VND since I didnít know the correct local fare until I saw others paying. I saw the bus driver give money to the moto driver that brought me to the station, as well so Iím not sure exactly how the extra money was split up. The bus ride takes around 7 hours and you should get off at the last stop. Once you are in Muang Xien motorbike drivers may spot you and start following the bus. You can get off earlier and go with one of them if you are short on time like I was.
at the border with my taxi driver
You also might want to spend the night in Muang Xien since you will probably have a better chance of getting transportation from the border into Laos in the morning. The Minsk motorbike guys asked for $3 and I ended up paying $2 for the 30 minute ride to the border. This ride alone was worth the whole trip as it is on a winding mountain road that seems to be uphill the whole way to the border checkpoint. The scenery was amazing. Donít be surprised if the motorbike driver stops just outside of town and asks you to get off. When mine did this he just wanted to remove part of the muffler so that we could climb the hills a bit better. The motorbike driver will probably direct you to the office where you can get and fill out an entry/exit form as well as the SARS health form. Next you will need to walk a few hundred meters (and around the corner) towards Laos to the actual Vietnamese immigration checkpoint where they will spend plenty of time double checking all of the details with your paperwork.
leaving nong haet
The guards seemed friendly enough and one of the guards outside wanted to practice his English while I was waiting. Eventually you will get stamped out of Vietnam and can then walk a few hundred meters to the Lao checkpoint. By the time I got to the Lao checkpoint it was a few minutes after 5 pm (I think the border crossing technically closes at 5 pm) but the border official was very friendly and quickly stamped my passport after finishing his volleyball game. He spoke good English and said that you can get a 2 week Laos visa on arrival if needed, but I already had a 1 month visa in my passport. Transportation from the border point to the nearest town of Nong Haet could be a bit difficult to find, especially in the evening. A private car was just returning from a visit to the border and offered me a ride for $1 which I was happy to pay in dong. There was a bus leaving Nong Haet the next morning for the border, but I donít know how regular this bus service is. Iím sure you could find a motorbike taxi if nothing else between Nong Haet and the border. I suppose the safest option would be to cross the border in the morning so that you have more time to find onward transportation, no matter which direction you are headed. In Nong Haet there is one guesthouse with a sign up that charged 10,000 kip ($1) per person. They have toilets out back but no place to shower. I showered with the rest of the village at the water spout about 500 meters down the road, which was a fun experience in itself. I think there is a second unlabeled guesthouse in town, but I didnít look very closely. My guesthouse owner was very gracious in cooking excellent vegetarian food and changing my remaining dong into kip. The rate probably wasnít the best, but it wasnít terrible either. She was also willing to change dollars. The next morning there was a bus and several taxis going to Phonsavan for what seemed to be a fixed price. From Phonsavan you can catch regular taxis/buses to Luang Prabang, Sam Neua, Vang Vieng, Vientiene, etc.

See my Hanoi to Laos and Nong Haet to Phonsavan photo albums for more pictures of this route.

Posted by Andrew on April 24, 2003
Comments

I'm planning my 3rd. trip to SEA for 2 months in the fall. Your info. on Cambodia - Vietnam & Vietnam - Laos border crossings is very helpful.

Posted by: Chris Offutt - aquaholic on May 21, 2003

Thanks for this positive and informative travel tip.

Me and my husband are travelling through SEA for right now and when reading ahead on different websites, most comments contain warnings about scams, shootings, scams, robberies and more scams.

Posted by: V. on May 23, 2003

Ouch!

Interesting info was made an extremely hard read as was not formatted (paragraphs).

It's good to see some people actually like to meet the locals, even live with them. I do not understand why someone travels thousands of miles only to isolate themselves in air-con buses and remote, western-style hotel.
~

Posted by: J Peters on May 26, 2003

Very interesting information for me. I am planning to go from Nha Trang to Thanh Hoa and than back to Vinh. Than I will go to Luang Prabang and this border crossing is the best way to get to L.P. Is it possible to make it from Vinh to L.p. in one day????

Posted by: Paal on July 9, 2003

Probably it is not possible travel from Vinh to Luang Prabang in a day using public transportation since I only saw one bus bound for the border from Vinh. I arrived in Vinh around 6:30 am but the bus didn't actually leave until about 3 hours later and by the time we got over the border it was nearly dark. If you stayed overnight in Vietnam in the border town you *might* be able to make it on to Luang Prabang in a day, but you'd be better off taking a few days to see a bit more of Laos on the way. I enjoyed the small towns in the hill country more than the ultra touristy Luang Prabang anyway. I certainly wouldn't want to be too stuck on any schedule using this route as transportation can be erratic and unpredictable.

Posted by: Andrew on July 9, 2003

would you be able to tell me anything about the boarder crossing VT-Loas up at Dien Bien Phu? I hear it is clossed to foreigners have you heard otherwise?
Good info on the highway 7 route. I think that i will take that alternative if the northern crossing is not possible. Just means going via Vinh. Been there before and it is not so pretty.

Posted by: muess on July 11, 2003

I've read a couple of reports of people trying to get across near Dien Bien Phu with no luck. Some tried "gifts" including money, cigarettes and drinks, but had no luck and ended up going back south via Vinh.

The road from Vinh to the border is pretty scenic though and you barely have to spend time in Vinh at all if you take the night train and connect directly to the bus.

Posted by: Andrew on July 11, 2003

I love to be able to contact Andrew Porter who posted his beautiful photo en route from Hanoi to Nonghet & Phongsavanh - Laos.

I was born in Nonghet, Laos and I am interested to talk to Andrew about his trip.

Could someone pass my message to Andrew.

Pao
Melbourne, Australia.

Posted by: Pao Saykao on October 2, 2003

We hope to cross from Laos (Phonsavan) to Vinh.
Do you reckon that Vietnamese immigration would allow us to enter the other way?

Cheers and regards...

Posted by: Matt on January 26, 2004

Matt,

When I was first researching this route I had heard only of people going the opposite direction so unless something has changed (unlikely) I reckon they'd allow it.

Good luck!

Posted by: Andrew on January 28, 2004

Andrew, the info and photos posted here are first class!!! In response to Matt i can confrim that it is possible to cross the border in the reverse direction ie from Laos.

Posted by: Darren on September 16, 2004

very useful tip. I searched into many guides on vietnam and laos and didn't find a single line on bus travel to laos departing from hanoi. I look forward to get some tips about hanoi-luang prabang by bus via nam xoi-na maew border crossing which seems a much shorter trip, at least on the map.

Posted by: hugo mader on September 18, 2005

Due to the large amount of work it takes to keep this comments section free of spam and also due to the fact that I wrote the original article nearly 3 years ago (and therefore can't really provide current information about the route), additional comments on this page are now closed.

Posted by: Andrew on February 6, 2006