To get from Laos to Vietnam, you can either fly or cross the land border, which is what I did.
After completing the necessary administrative formalities in Vientiane, I was more than ready to take the bus to Vietnam.

Little did I know that the experience would be interesting, to say the least.

Of course, this strange trip only happened to a few friends and me. I know many other travelers for whom it was totally different.
In any case, I think it’s important to show you that traveling isn’t all fun and games, but that it does provide some exciting stories to tell.

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Sleeper bus

I’ve already spoken briefly about this type of transport and its advantages and disadvantages.

You generally have a choice of different types of bus, from the most ordinary to the most luxurious. They all have 3 rows of seats that look more like beds since they are already reclined, sometimes with a bathroom at the end of the bus.

Sleeper bus in culture shock post
Photo by Hobi industri on Unsplash

Speaking of seats, here’s one of the most important things – I hope you get lucky – not like me, because most of the time, it’s on a first-come, first-served basis.
What I mean by that is, don’t choose the back seats, they look more spacious as it’s the only one that can accommodate 2 or 3 people, but you’ll soon understand why locals and experienced travelers avoid them.

The reason: this place is the closest to the toilet, and I can tell you that if the toilet is broken, as it was for us, you’ll regret it. It can quickly become a smelly and uncomfortable place to spend 20 hours.
Plus, you may have to share your “bed” with one or two guys, or a couple, which isn’t the most pleasant, but maybe the most fun!


All in all, it took us almost 30 hours to get to Vietnam, during which time it was harder to sleep than I expected due to the sweltering heat and frenzied driving.

As we needed to keep busy, we chose to share stories and play cards with the people we met on the bus.

But the adventure was just beginning and I witnessed something that left me speechless. I discovered that some people are more nonchalant than others!

What happened

Our group of 6 was quietly enjoying ourselves when suddenly we heard a loud noise and saw the two windows in front of us chipping and cracking.

In fact, everyone on the bus heard it and wondered what had happened, as the driver and his colleagues didn’t seem to mind.

What’s more, the cracked windows were less than a meter from our heads when the incident occurred. We were glad that nothing more serious had happened, but the whole bus was tense and we didn’t know what to do.

We finally stopped 20 minutes later and the drivers got out to see the damage. We did the same, and I still don’t know what hit us, but what we saw dampened our already dampened spirits a little.

The hole was so big that we were surprised the window hadn’t broken.

How did they “fix” it, you might ask: by sticking a mattress over the glass and less than 30 minutes later, we were back on the road. Apparently, this wasn’t a first either.

In fact, we were very lucky in this unfortunate experience, and it’s always one of the “fun facts” I tell my fellow travelers when they ask me about an outstanding memory.

You might think I stopped taking sleeper buses after that, but no, I still chose to take them on several occasions after the event. And so far, this has been the only “bad” one (fingers crossed).

Crossing the border

Warning sign in Laos to Vietnam post
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash
  • Laos Border Office

    I was lucky enough to have friends who were already familiar with the process of crossing the border by bus. Because I have to admit it was pretty scary, you have to get off the bus and make your way through what looks like an abandoned building where you have to give your passport to get an exit stamp.
  • Security checkpoint

    Then you have to walk to another place where your luggage will be checked. They are generally quite calm about this. I’d still advise you to take your valuables before you get off the bus, as there have been many stories of people not finding their belongings.
  • Customs

    This is where they will stamp your passport, which will allow you to enter the country. Don’t forget that you need to get your Vietnamese visa before you arrive. Here too, scams are rife, and you can choose to pay the so-called “fee” or refuse. But you’ll have to stand your ground, as the officers can be quite intimidating. Eventually, they’ll leave you alone, because they know it’s not legal.

Arrival & Taxi scam

After the interminable journey and the main event, we finally arrived at our destination: Hanoi. But the ordeal wasn’t over for us yet.

As we were quite far from our hostel, we opted for a cab. I really try to avoid taking cabs in general, but especially in Southeast Asia, as there are a lot of scams. That’s what happened here, the cab meter was going up a bit too fast and it didn’t take us long to figure out what was going on.

We decided to get out of the car after trying to get an explanation from the driver. After a few discussions about the fare, and thanks to a friendly local, everything was finally settled by him and another cab driver who came to help us. In the end, it was he who drove us to our hostel without ripping us off this time.

Final Thoughts

It was a slightly bitter Welcome to Vietnam – offset by the kindness and helpfulness of the locals – that we discovered the country for the first time.

But that’s far from defining my experience of Vietnam. I didn’t dwell on these negative events and continued to explore the country. I’m glad I did, because the adventure I had there and the people I met are still precious to me today.

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