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Need advice about crossing borders: Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia

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vink2
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Need advice about crossing borders: Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia

Postby vink2 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 11:34 am

My plan is to fly to Ha Noi, Vietnam and from there travel buy bus to Vientiane, Laos and from there to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Will this work? Will it be easy to cross the Vietnam-Laos and Laos-Cambodia boards? Do they have nice bus services?

Any advices welcomed.
Thanks.

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Strong Eagle
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Postby Strong Eagle » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 12:11 pm

I can't really tell you about bus service on the route from Hanoi to Vientiane since I did all of them on a motorcycle but I can tell you that most of the buses I saw were of the local village type... open windows... diesel powered with conditions ranging from pretty good to downright awful. If I can find a picture of the bus station in Vientiane I will post it as an example of what kind of ride you will find. I don't know about tours, though.

Be aware that substantial portions of the road from Hanoi to the Laotian border and beyond is gravel/dirt, sometimes only one lane wide, and often full of lovely potholes. The ride will not be fast. Once you have descended on the Laos side the roads are tarmac and generally pretty decent with some notable and unforgettable exceptions.

You should get ALL of your visas in advance. You can get a VOA at Ha Noi airport but it can be quite time consuming. Get a multi-entry if you are planning on back tracking back through Vietnam... for example, flying back from Siem Reap to Ha Noi to complete your trip home.

The border crossings are high up in the mountains from Vietnam to Laos. If I recall you can get a VOA but trust me, even without, it takes a lot of waiting to get processed... all quite bizarre with lots of people milling about... but no real issues. Quite scenic as well.

Now, if you want to go to Siem Reap, things get a bit more complicated. One way to do this is catch an overnight bus from Vientiane to Pakse... I'll find a pic if I can... these buses come with lie flat beds... Highways are OK but I can't imagine getting much sleep with all the rocking and rolling.

Your problem is that from Pakse to Siem Reap, there is no obvious, easy way to get there. Highway 7 is the main major paved road out of Laos, and there really aren't any good east/west roads. I don't know what you are going to get, and from my experience, it can be anything from decent tarmac to decent gravel, to pure unadulterated cattle trail that you will bounce over at 10 kph.

You might consider taking the bus from Vientiane to Bangkok, a well traveled route with plenty of buses, then from Bangkok to Siem Reap, again, lots of buses available.

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Postby vink2 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 12:36 pm

Thanks, Strong Eagle, very useful answer.

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the lynx
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Postby the lynx » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 12:38 pm

I completely agree with SE on the roads. From Hanoi, I would strongly recommend you to do a stopover in Luang Prabang before Vientiane because the journey is really really draining. The roads, like SE mentioned, is really rudimentary with few exceptions of tarmac road.

Do not take local buses under any circumstances, no matter how desperate you are. The locals also carry their motorcycles, chicken, warehouse's worth of greens on board, which make the journey really unpleasant. There are tourist buses (the coach style) from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, which you can book from most hotels in Hanoi but you will be hard-pressed to find one directly to Vientiane.

About visa, depending on your nationality, you must get your visa sorted BEFORE you arrive the border. You don't have to worry so much because you should be taking a tourist bus, not a local bus, so your bus will wait for you. But it pays to be prepared.

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Postby vink2 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 1:03 pm

the lynx wrote:I completely agree with SE on the roads. From Hanoi, I would strongly recommend you to do a stopover in Luang Prabang before Vientiane because the journey is really really draining. The roads, like SE mentioned, is really rudimentary with few exceptions of tarmac road.

Do not take local buses under any circumstances, no matter how desperate you are. The locals also carry their motorcycles, chicken, warehouse's worth of greens on board, which make the journey really unpleasant. There are tourist buses (the coach style) from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, which you can book from most hotels in Hanoi but you will be hard-pressed to find one directly to Vientiane.

About visa, depending on your nationality, you must get your visa sorted BEFORE you arrive the border. You don't have to worry so much because you should be taking a tourist bus, not a local bus, so your bus will wait for you. But it pays to be prepared.


Thanks.

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Postby Strong Eagle » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 1:42 pm

Thanks for the updates about the buses, Lynx... didn't know about the hotel options. But, she is right about the fact that EVERYTHING will be carried on the buses.

Pictures worth at least a couple of words:

Buses at the Vientiane bus station... getting ready to travel to all sorts of exotic places.

Image


Overnight sleeping bus between Vientiane and Pakse.

Image


Vietnamese checkpoint. No computers. Everything is handwritten in a ledger so that even though your info was entered into a computer in Ha Noi, these folks have no access.

Image


The border crossing itself. The border guards got a kick out of our bikes.

Image


The Lao checkpoint. Took about 3 hours for 10 of us to get through. Bring beer.

Image


And finally, a pretty typical example of _highway_ encounters in the mountains. We had several people on a chase bus... it backed down in this case.

Image


It was a grand trip. Highly recommend it. Motorcycle best... but even a bus would be OK.

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Postby vink2 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 1:45 pm

Interesting pics, thanks. Probably, I will need to review my trip

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Postby the lynx » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 1:54 pm

Image

This is how an overnight sleeping bus in Vietnam is like. For Cambodia and Laos, you get something like the one SE showed you: reclining seats.

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Postby the lynx » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 1:56 pm

If you really, really want to cover all three countries in one trip. Go this way instead: Hanoi > Ho Chi Minh > Phnom Penh > Siem Reap > Vientiane. The journey is more pleasant and the border offices between these places are better.

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Postby Strong Eagle » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 2:04 pm

the lynx wrote:Image

This is how an overnight sleeping bus in Vietnam is like. For Cambodia and Laos, you get something like the one SE showed you: reclining seats.


Nope... the bus I put on display is pretty much like the pic you put up... each "cabin" had a seat and a bed... didn't see the upper deck.

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Postby the lynx » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 2:33 pm

Ah when I was in Cambodia, all 'sleeper' bus is actually a typical reclining coach like the ones in Singapore. Only in Vietnam, you get a cabin bed on board.

But I have to warn you, the size can be tad uncomfortable for Westerners with large build. Even I had a little problem there.

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Postby JR8 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 7:56 pm

@ Vink2

There is a saying in England, roughly, 'The man who has traveled the world and yet seen nothing'.

What it is trying to convey is that you should take your time to get the feel of a place. It reminds me of the travel ads you see in the SG press, tours of '12 countries in Europe in 14 days!!!'... what is the point, apart from boasting you've '''toured Europe'''. You'll have spent something like 50% of your waking hours in a coach, with your fellow countrymen.

I would suggest either doing one country at a time. Or, flying the really long journeys. I think you will see a lot more that way, and the enriching experience will be something you will look back on fondly in later life.

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Postby vink2 » Wed, 23 Jan 2013 8:07 pm

JR8 wrote:It reminds me of the travel ads you see in the SG press, tours of '12 countries in Europe in 14 days!!!'... what is the point, apart from boasting you've '''toured Europe'''. You'll have spent something like 50% of your waking hours in a coach, with your fellow countrymen.


Craziness!!! Europe has around 55 countries and almost all of them are amazing: rich in history, focus on details in architecture, warm people, the best natural places (see Scandinavian countries) we have all climates there, we have the best beaches: Turkey, Cyprus, Crimea, Italy, France, Greece, Croatia. Some cities may take weeks to visit with open mouth. Some undiscovered countries like Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia.

I was born Europe, but it still in my heart. The best place to live on Earth and I don't need to promote it, I just enjoy it.

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Postby the lynx » Thu, 24 Jan 2013 8:38 am

vink2 wrote:
JR8 wrote:It reminds me of the travel ads you see in the SG press, tours of '12 countries in Europe in 14 days!!!'... what is the point, apart from boasting you've '''toured Europe'''. You'll have spent something like 50% of your waking hours in a coach, with your fellow countrymen.


Craziness!!! Europe has around 55 countries and almost all of them are amazing: rich in history, focus on details in architecture, warm people, the best natural places (see Scandinavian countries) we have all climates there, we have the best beaches: Turkey, Cyprus, Crimea, Italy, France, Greece, Croatia. Some cities may take weeks to visit with open mouth. Some undiscovered countries like Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia.

I was born Europe, but it still in my heart. The best place to live on Earth and I don't need to promote it, I just enjoy it.


What JR8 is trying to say is that you should either choose to visit Hanoi (or the entire Vietnam) in a single trip, or Vientiane (or the entire Laos) in a separate trip, or Siem Reap (or the entire Cambodia) in another separate trip. Travelling within a county gives less visa headache and you really get to immerse yourself in that city/country.

My example. I spent 2 months backpacking in entire Vietnam (and Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia as a side detour).

Hanoi alone took me 2 weeks because:
1. It is a beautiful city.
2. It has Ha Long Bay nearby.
3. It has the beautiful Sapa on the other side.

And I even missed few towns that should worth my visit like Vinh, Ninh Binh and Dong Hoi and the mountain ranges trail near Dalat, because I did not have enough time.

So just to share my thoughts and my experience.

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Postby zzm9980 » Thu, 24 Jan 2013 8:57 am

the lynx wrote:And I even missed few towns that should worth my visit like Vinh


I can assure you Vinh is not worth more than two hours. But if you ever get in to trouble there (or anywhere in Ha Tinh or Nghe An province), I know people who can help you out :P

On a serious side, I agree with Lynx. there is so much to see in Vietnam (can't speak for the others authoritatively, but I'm sure it's the case) that it is worth considering just a trip to each. This isn't the Schengen Area (or even NA) where crossing borders is simple :p SE's time estimates sound normal, and you could arbitrarily be subject to much longer delays or problems, or 'fees'.


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