[Driving through the mountains to Laos]
30 hours later, we arrived in Luang Prabang! What a journey! I’m just glad I didn’t have to do this alone. It’s amazing how easily you bond with strangers when you are in a foreign country where there’s a huge language barrier with the locals and you are all struggling to get to the same place 600 km away. After many bus transfers, immigration checkpoint, visa and passport control, toilet breaks, random stops, pickups/dropoffs, bags flying off the roof, and a police check..7 of us made it all the way from Sapa.
For those who are planning this treacherous journey, it costs $40 to buy your bus ticket in Sapa. I would advise to do that rather than trying to do it on your own because it will cost the same amount in the end, but with less of a hassle. You will receive a handwritten paper ticket. Do not lose it! This is your only ticket you will receive. The overnight bus can get very busy and full, so whoever you purchased your ticket from will transfer you to the bus station, pay the driver, and ensure that you get on the bus. It gets a bit chaotic, especially while the they are trying to strap your luggage on the roof.
*Note: Bus tickets can be bought at Queen Hotel, Sapa Grace Hotel, and Nha Nghi Hoa Tra Hotel.
Sapa-Dien Bien Phu (sleeper bus)~12 hours overnight
Dien Bien Phu-Laos/Vietnam border (small local bus)~3 hours
Laos visa on arrival costs $30-$40 for all countries except Canada $42 (seriously?!) Then you must pay $2 stamp fee, $2 visa processing fee, and $2 weekend fee (because we traveled on a Saturday). You can also exchange Vietnamese Dong to Laos Kip here, but the exchange rate wasn’t great.
Laos/Vietnam Border-Muang Khua (small local bus)~5 hours
Muang Khua-Luang Prabang~7 hours
Total time: ~30 hours (including stops, immigration, transfers)
Total cost: $40 + $42 (only because I’m Canadian) + $6 fees = $88
We were told we would be arriving at 5:30PM but ended up arriving at 2:30AM, 9 hours late. I think we stopped counting after 12 hours into the journey. Knowing that travel in Asia is unpredictable, I thought ahead and booked a hostel for 2 nights prior to arrival. Once we arrived at a random bus station, we found a tuk tuk and made our way over there in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, the hostel was full and my new friends had to find another place to stay. I’m so happy to be in bed and not in a moving vehicle anymore. On a positive note, the drive was very scenic! Especially with the massive orange sun setting behind the mountains while we were ripping around the crazy cliffs of Northern Laos!
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect” -Paul Theroux