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From Hanoi, Vietnam to Phonsavan, Laos

LAOS | Sunday, 31 March 2013 | Views [3676] | Comments [9]

Left early in the morning for the SE7 train from Hanoi to Vinh. Unfortunately, I've left my iphone in the room. Time to double back to the hotel. Luckily the hotel manager is still at the front desk to let us in. I run upstairs grab the phone and hustle downstairs. Amazingly, there's a car outside (manager hailed a cab) and two waters free of charge. So great. Jumping in the cab, we head back to the train station. Arriving 20min before departure we are helped by a porter who won't take no for an answer. Reluctantly, we follow him to our train cabin and egg him away for 10000 dong. Originally, he requested 50000 (an outrageously high amount for what he did).  

A pleasant 6hr train ride later with a nice nap helps to rebuild our fortitude after waking up early and rushing back to get my phone (and dealing with an uncooperative porter). Vinh is flat and wide. Very dusty and without character. Why? Well, unfortunately, Vinh was subject to non stop bombing during the American War, leaving it with officially two standing buildings and a population of ZERO. Thank you USA. Regardless, the people are friendly and we check into a hotel across the street from the bus station. After picking up bus tickets, we grab a dinner (least favorite, but all things considered, it could have been worse) and head to bed.

Early the next morning we head down to the bus station, grab a quick bowl of Pho Bo and hop on the bus. It's a very nice sleeper bus. Cushions, Aircon... Awesome for sleeping. Passing out occasionally on the ride up, while awake we see stunning karst mountains, Tai and H'Mong villages, and, quite frankly, some of the most beautiful cliff side/mountain valley scenes of all time as we moved vertically through the jungle. A smooth transition through customs eased our nerves and a lovely drive from the border to Phonsavan helped top the cake. Checking into our hotel, we pass out.

The next few days we, for the most part, chill out. As a one horse town, Phonsavan is not very exciting or large. Most or what you come to see here is the Plain of Jars and a number of Secret War sites and minority villages. We took a tour one of the days and visited a number of cool and humbling sites. First on the tour, the Plain of Jars, a place littered with stone jars, one of which weighing over three tons! Second, H'Mung village, to see their way of life. Third, a hot spring and craft village where the guide demonstrated how to fish with a throw net and the villagers showed us the weaving and garlic they harvested. Fourth, a quick stop at a rice wine maker; fermented rice in oil barrels and then distilled over an open fire. Finally, a field littered in craters. Again, thank you USA for your holes and UXO. UXO is perhaps the most prevalent and dangerous thing in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Laos, over 2million tons of unexploded ordinance sits in the soil of Laos. Why? Because around 30% of the bombs dropped by the Americans didn't explode. Sadly, much of where the UXO sits is in prime farming and building land. Our guide even pointed out a UXO recently discovered located not more than one meter from the road.

This stuff is everywhere. Imagine a world where you can only walk on the established path. No sitting in the field, no gardening new plots. This is the life of the Lao. This inhibits the locals from being able to farm the land and build safely. Thus, many are forced to buy what could be plentiful, i.e. rice, from Thailand and Vietnam, because the airable land is so limited by the UXO. Why is it still here? Because it's very expensive to remove and their's so much of it. Feel bad? Donate to MAG (an international NGO that removes UXO all over the world) or write your representative asking them to pay reparations or assist in the removal of UXO in Laos and the rest of SE Asia. Our time in Phonsavan has been humbling. In contrast, much of the UXO in farmland in Vietnam was removed by the Vietnamese with the help of the Russians. MAG continues to provide assistance in remote places being opened to the public, but it is still unsafe to travel on unestablished paths. Help is needed to remove this stuff.

We leave tomorrow for Luang Prabang. Hopefully, we will help teach English and other things along with visiting all the cool sites. 


Tags: bus, hanoi, laos, phonsavan, train, uxo, vietnam, vinh



"...quite frankly, some of the most beautiful cliff side/mountain valley scenes of all time..."
More to come. Enjoy.

  Buttchie Apr 2, 2013 6:23 PM



We are looking into doing this very journey in a week or so. What bus company did you get to Phonsavan? How easy was it to find and did you book in Vinh? Sorry for all the questions but information seems ever illusive.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


  Riv May 23, 2013 2:33 PM


We actually took the early morning train from Hanoi to Vinh and checked into the hotel directly across the street (NW corner lot) from the bus station (they don't speak much English, but the place was cheap, had clean sheets, good a/c and hot water plus a fridge). To get tickets, you need to walk to the bus station. Buy your tix the day before after you arrive. The bus leaves in the early morning. Don't enter the first building on the right. Instead, head to the rear to the old government bus station building. As you enter, there is a hallway to the left. The first door on the left has a very nice man with excellent English. He can book you bus tickets on the VIP bus to Phonsavan. It's a sleeper type bus. It's a fun trip as they fill the bus to the brim in the asles (don't worry as you will be fine in your seat). You stop for lunch at a family style place. I think it was 50k each. Was good and fresh food and the server spoke good English as well. At the border you will be directed to the main office. Give your passports to the guy. After you get through the Vietnam side, walk to the Lao office and head to the main building on the right (if confused, go into the main Visa area and someone will walk you over). You will see a sign pointing you to the passport on arrival office where the guy will do the visa and take your fee (he might be out to lunch, but he will return and do your visas eventually; don't worry as all the Vietnamese folks will still be going through customs well after you finish). Fill out all forms (entry, exit and application). After you pay, go back to the main customs area and have one of the officers stamp your new visas. Done. Keep your exit form for when you leave Lao. The bus will be in the parking lot ob the Lao side. You arrive in Phonsavan at night (we were dropped off about 200m from the start of the guesthouses and restaurants on the main drag---not at the bus station located about 1km down the main drag past the big interstation). It's a small town. We were able to walk-in book at Nice Guesthouse (300m from where we got dropped off). The morning and lunchtime market has great food (try the banh cuon lady for a tasty bfast/lunch, and the cafe lady does a great Lao coffee). Also, for Farang food check out Bamboozle and the Indian food place. Onward travel is easy. Walk down the main drag to the minibus station and book from the office. Cheap tix and easy walk.

  G+G May 23, 2013 4:01 PM


Thank you for this post! Finding information on a trip between Vinh and Phonsavan seem to be cumbersome. You're the first post that confirms that the direct connection exist. But I've read that buses don't depart daily, instead they travel every other day, is that the case, do you know?

Thank you again.

  Aleks Oct 4, 2013 9:56 PM


Correct, as we recall the bus is not every day; we remember that the bus left every other day. I suggest visiting the actual bus station since the timetables could certainly change! Let me repeat: visiting the bus station in Vinh is the best way to confirm the bus timetables, but we had no trouble making our way into Phonsavan, Laos from there and found Vinh to be a fun town in the meantime.

  G&G Jan 10, 2014 12:46 PM


Hello Geoff, your posts are quite enlightening but we are planning to do the trip the other way around (luang Prabang - Phonsavan - vinh - Hanoi). Would you have information on this? If so, kindly help us so we can at least make the trip with a bit of assurance. Thanks in advance!

  Leah Noveras Nov 16, 2014 12:41 PM


Hi Geoff, I agree on the limited amount of information on getting to Laos from Vinh. Geoff, was the bus you took the one that got you quickly to Laos or the longer route that doesn't go every day? Thanks,
Jo Thomson

  jo Mar 19, 2015 4:57 PM


Hi Jo: Sorry, I'm not sure which bus it was - it seemed direct to me and I think it left every other day... but that was two years ago and I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly! I don't remember stopping except for lunch and at customs. It's possible that the bus schedule and options have changed by this point. I'm confident that there will be some kind of bus going to Phonsavan though... they will be able to help you at the bus office in Vinh (hopefully the guy who speaks really good English is still there!)

Good luck!

  G&G Mar 19, 2015 11:12 PM


Thanks Geoff for the info. Think we'll call the bus company and make sure of time and date.

  Jo Mar 20, 2015 4:02 PM

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