|Laos immigration office in Thanaleng|
Before any misconception is made, I am making myself clear on all fronts.
I am against the proliferation of drugs and illegal substances but I fully support the growth of the Laos tourism industry.
The drugs and the drunk tubing may have been gone, but the town of Vang Vieng remains as gorgeous as ever with its towering karsts hills. Floating down the river sober is still encouraged and there remains a host of activities waiting for your in Vang Vieng such as spelunking down its caves, and kayaking among others.
Vang Vieng needs tourists for its restaurants, travel agencies, tour operators, hotels and hostels to remain viable and survive. The recent policy changes, have discouraged a lot of would be tourists from visiting Vientianne and Vang Vieng, but I hope that this is just a short spell.
As part of my contribution tothe growth of the Laos tourism, I am making this step by step border crossing from Thailand to Laos.
Crossing the border now is very tricky since they have implemented border pass fees.
|departure area of Hualamphong train station|
The best way, and I mean this to be the most cost-efficient way of getting to Laos is by land trip, crossing the border through the northern eastern tip of Thailand.
First, you have to get to the Hualamphong station, which is about an hour from Suvarnabhumi airport. You can take the Airport-Train Link located at the third basement floor of the airport. (see another post for this).
At the Huamlampong train station, go to any ticket counter and purchase a ticket to Nong Kai, this the northeastern portion of Thailand before crossing to Laos.
Travel time from Bangkok to Nong Kai takes about 12 hours, and they have a 6;30pm and 8:30pm trains.
|lobby of Hualamphong station|
Because I was on a limited budget, I decided to take the ordinary seat inside the non-airconditioned coach which costs about 498 THB. This was a big mistake.
Guys, if you have money to spare, take the airconditioned sleeper coach.
At the ordinary coach, you have to spend 12 hours sitting on a hard two-seater facing strangers. I was sitting beside the train window so it wasn't that hot but during the train stops, it was humid.
I forgot the number of train stops, because I was partly sleeping but Nong Kai is the very last stop so you won't miss it.
Nong-Kai to Thanaleng
By the time I arrived in Nong Kai, I was feeling hungry and grimy. I barely slept because of the hard seats so I was willing to soldier on all the way to Vang Vieng but I found out there are new rules in crossing the border.
There is supposed to be a train connecting Nong Kai train station to Thanaleng but the first trip leaves at 10am. I wasn't willing to wait for another three hours for a short train ride.
I had to get out of the Nong Kai train station and hire a tuk tuk for 50 baht to take me to the Thailand exit immigration office.
After that, I had to pay 20THB for a bus that will cross the Friendship Bridge and take me to the Laos arrival immigration office.
At Thanaleng, I was greeted by touts who kept offering me private vehicles to Vientianne and I just ignored them.
|border fee costing 10,000 kip|
But I was surprised to find out that all tourists, regardless of visa status, will have to pay another 10,000 kip or 1.3 USD to cross the border.
By then, you can exit the immigration office and proceed to your vehicle going to the Vientianne bus station.
I was backpacking so I made no prior reservations so I had to pay 50 baht for a large tuktuk from the immigration to the bus station.
Be careful, some of the tourists I was with was charged 100 THB or 150THB.
It was a 13-kilometer ride from Thanaleng to the bus station but the trip was smooth sailing.
Vientianne to Vang Vieng
Here comes the tricky part. There are no buses going to Vang Vieng at that station. Apparently, there is another bus station at the northern portion of Vientianne where you can take busses to Vang Vieng.
What's available in the bus stations are private mini-buses or large vans going directly to Vang Vieng. They are privately owned so the prices that will be asked of you vary depending on the car operator and sub-operators.
I was asked 50,000 Kip while others were asked 35,000 and 45,000.
The trip takes another three hours. So all in all, you will travel about 17 hours from Bangkok to Vang Vieng including the immigration stops, crossing the Friendship bridge and going to the Vientianne bus station.
I know that for many, this many be a turn off but once you start seeing the karsts surrounding Vang Vieng, all your worries will disappear and you will start looking forward a new kind of adventure available only in Laos.
|The karsts of Vang Vieng|
|crossing the Friendship bridge|