My decision to leave SaPa, Vietnam, was blessed with good weather and a safe journey. And now, I have finally arrived Laos, in Luang Prabang Province. The journey was long and winding, dusty and bumpy route. It’s a long haul!
Below I have briefly described an account on the journey of how to travel from the highland SaPa (Vietnam) to Laos, specifically to Luang Prabang Province. Also some advice during this travel. Exchange rate and price stated may change from time to time.
From SaPa to Dien Bien Pho Province (Day 1)
The journey starts at 8am in the morning. I got the bus ticket from the hotel. The price that I paid was 210,000 VND. You can’t get any cheaper, the least you will paid is 200,000 VND. The mini van (non-aircon) to Dien Bien Pho will pick you up at your hotel from Lao Cai. So be prepared to wait at the hotel lobby at 7.30am. The mini van is always full, every sit is taken; sitting with shoulder touching shoulder. The best advice is to get a sit that you are able to stretch your legs a bit further. Otherwise, you will feel pains on your knee calf and hips after hours of traveling on the dusty road. The route from Sapa to Dien Bien Pho will take about 10 hours, including 40 mins of lunch break at Lau Chiau province.
The temperature in Sapa is usually 25 Degree Celsius in the month of early April. At times, weather may get very cold. So it depends on the weather on that day you are traveling from Sapa. The best bet is to check the weather forecast on the internet. Click on this link to see 10-days forecast in Hanoi. To lighten your day-pack, a winter jacket is not necessary. Because after you arrive at Dien Bien Pho, the weather may get warmer and humid.
Cyclist may find ease of riding while the first 40 Km of the journey is mostly down hill. From time to time, there are a few up-slope that cyclist have to challenge on. I have also encountered 60% of the roads are under construction. Either building new bridges or improving on the existing roads and bends. And there are no road fencing along this mountainous region. I would recommend cyclist to be careful on this while traveling to Lai Chau Province, not too sure about the distant. Along this trip, you may encounter some other minorities whom are so much further than SaPa. There look quite similar to Red Dao or the Black Hmong minorities.
On my arrival at Dien Bien Pho, the time was about 6.30 pm. There is no way that you are able to continue with your journey to Laos border. A few guesthouses are located very near to the bus stations. On the exit of the bus station, you may turn left and want to walk further down the road to look for cheaper guesthouse. Generally, the rate is 150,000 VND from 3 guesthouses which I have surveyed. One of them located after the bridge, 150m away from the bus terminal. Be in mind that you don’t require any motorbike driver to bring you to other hotel. Everything you need is within walking distant in this small precinct.
I’m lucky to met one Canadian traveler on the same trip as mine. We shared our expense on this one room. Nothing special about the room facilities, so the only purpose for the one-night stay is to make sure you have enough rest to catch up with the next bus to Laos.
It will be good to buy some loaf of French baguettes for the next day breakfast. Some locals sell that with a basket loaded at the back of their bicycle. Otherwise, walk around to get some lite food. Price of one baguettes is 5000 VND, freshly baked!
From Dien Bien Pho to Muang Khau in Laos (Day 2)
Time of departure to Laos (Muang Khua) is 5.30am! Be sure to be at the bus station at 5am in the morning to purchase the bus ticket at the entrance. The trip is only 1-way, fixed price at 88,000 VND. The entire journey is tentatively 8 hours. Mine took 12 hours.. Why? Please read on….
- The road was obstructed by herds of buffalo crossing to the opposite rice padi fields. April is the month of plowing and seeding, every farmer start to work on their fields. 20 mins delayed.
- The road to Tay Trang, Lao border, is 2 hours. About 15 travelers on that day, and it took 30 mins to exit custom checkpoint from Vietnam’s side.
- Between the 2 immigration checkpoints of Laos and Vietnam, there was a road construction. Usually it takes not more than 20 mins to reach the other side of Laos checkpoint upon Vietnam’s exit. 2.5 hours delayed. We make use of this time to walk to the checkpoint, short distant though.
- More road constructions along the way to Muang Khua. We encountered a two big trucks which is trying to negotiate a narrow road. Road was uneven, and the ground is slightly soft. There is no other roads left. On one side of the road is mountain slope, while the other side is the cliff. We ended up to alight from the bus and walk 100 meter forward. The driver is kind enough to risk his life to drive the uneven narrow passage to pass through the big truck. 30 mins delayed.
Be prepared for all this bad incident and delays. Most will get hungry if delay happens during lunch hours. Baguettes at 5000 VND is worth it!
You can purchase your visa-on-arrival at Tay Trang, Laos. Three Swedish traveled spend $42 to have their visa ready at Hanoi, while it only cost $35 to make on arrival. Canadian visa is the most expensive, price at $42. China is the the cheapest at $20 per entry. Singaporean, no visa needed. On top of this, everyone as to pay 7,000 kip for goods and service fees.
The immigration officers from both checkpoint will usually offer an exchange rate to change VND to KIP. It is not a good choice to have this exchange, because there are not give you the bank rate. Forex is having 22,000 VND to 10,000 Kip, whereas there are asking 27,000 VND to 10,000 Kip. 5000 VND difference is worth to buy one freshly baked baguettes, 3 folds of these can save you for a bowl of chicken soup noodles in Sapa. (15,000 vnd per bowl). Anyone can have currency exchange at Muang Khua, if you are traveling on weekdays.
Arriving Muang Khau at about 5pm. Everything is at the opposite side of Nam Ou River. The bus will not bring you to the opposite side of the river bank, you have to pay 2000Kip to board a small boat to cross over it. No way, you can argue with the driver that you paid 88,000 VND with river crossing included.
From Muang Khau (Laos) to Luang Prabang Province (Day 3)
Muang Khau is a little village, with rural life settlement along the Nam Ou River. Quiet and peaceful. People are friendly and sociable. Not a very developed touristy place.
At Muang Khau, there is a tourist information center. 2 banks which is giving a good exchange rate. 1 USD to 8430 Kip. One of them provide VND to KIP, while the other provide THB to KIP. There is NO ATM in Muang Khau. A few restaurants and guesthouses at the rate 40,000 kip per night. Some giving 30,000 kip with shared toilet outside.
From Muang Khau, there is 2 ways to travel to Luang Prabang.
- By boat (2 days). First trip to Nong Khiaw. Price is about 120,000 Kip. 5 hours by slow boat. Need to stay a night to continue with next boat to Luang Prabang in next morning. Price from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang that I have surveyed is not very favorable, there are charging 2,800,000 Kip, which I think its ridiculous! Compared to boat from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw only cost 120,000 Kip. Furthermore, its and upstream river boating. You may want to double checked if you arrive at Nong Khiaw. Pls comment to update this post.
- By bus (1 day). At 7am in the morning, take a Tuk Tuk truck to the bus station of Muang Khua, about 8 Km away. You will pay 5000Kip for this short trip. The bus from Muang Khua to Udomxai will leave the station at 8am, price at 30,000 kip. The road is much better then the earlier ones. The entire trip will take about 3 hours. I arrived at the Udomxai station at 11am. Walk straight to the bus counter at Udomxai to purchase another ticket to Luang Prabang. Price is 50,000 kip. The trip is 8 hours. There is an afternoon bus leaving at about 12-2pm. It usually waits till the bus is full.
- Additional Info. From Udomxia to Vietienne is 15 hours direct bus.. Price is about 150,000 kip.
Luang Prabang Bus station to town center is about 15km. I took a Tuk Tuk truck which charged me 15,000 Kip to the town. Currently, I’m already at Luang Prabang for its Lao New Year, or Songkrang Water Festival. What is your experience that you have encountered during your trip from Luang Prabang to Sapa? Or do share and update whatever info that is already outdated in this post.