Traveling throughout Southeast Asia is relatively cheap whether it by land, sea or air. However, I found myself in Siem Reap, Cambodia needing to make the journey to Luang Prabang, Laos within a timeframe of three days at the very most. Usually I would travel to locations along the way but I was meeting a friend in Luang Prabang hence the timely nature of the journey.
HOW TO GET FROM SIEM REAP TO LUANG PRABANG
I spent a short amount of time doing some brief research and quickly discovered I had a couple of options to make the journey of 1533 km. I could fly from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang for approximately $140 USD or I could make the journey by land on several buses for a total of $65. Considering I had three days to make the journey and the potential to save $75, I naively opted to travel overland by bus.
The journey would end up taking me three days and I rode in 11 different vehicles. This is what to expect if you, like me, opt for the budget route from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang.
While you are in Siem Reap be sure to check out the floating village in Chong Kneas
SIEM REAP TO VEINTANE
I bought the first ticket in Siem Reap for $47, which was supposed to be a 17 hour journey. It would get me 1203km to Vientiane, a city on the Mekong River and the Laos border. At 7am a man picked me up from my hostel and on a motorbike he took me to a small shop to wait for a van. Half an hour later the van drove picked me up and drove me to Krong Stung Treng.
It was in Krong Stung Treng that I asked the vendor at what time I would arrive in Vientiane. To my surprise he said 7am in the morning. After an interesting discussion it seemed there was nothing to do other than to accept the 7 hour add-on of time to my trip. He drove me to the bus station where I waited half an hour and boarded a new van.
CROSSING THE BORDER
This van drove me all the way to the Cambodian/Laos border. The driver took our passports, had us fill out the necessary forms and dealt with all of the processing for us. Several people in our van decided to do it themselves as they didn’t want to get ripped off. In the end they saved $2 for their hassles. The cost of the visa for Laos differs depending on what country you are from. For me the whole thing cost $40 no strings attached although a Canadian in our van had to pay $47. It seemed pretty standard to me in comparison to Vietnam and Cambodia, which were $50 and $30 respectively.
We walked over the border 10 steps and a new van picked us up on the other side. We drove to Don Det and dropped off half of the passengers in the van. Two of us remained and we felt like kings spreading out in the van.
I had been listening to a podcast that involved Mexicans telling stories and recounting their experience of hopping the border into the US. It put my 24-hour journey into perspective and I didn’t dare complain.
I arrived at Pakse bus station and was told to wait two hours for the bus to depart for Vientiane. To my relief the bus was a double-decker sleeper bus. It sounds comfortable but in reality it is a 5ft long bed, which is about as wide as a single bed. Oh and you share it with a total stranger.
The first three hours were pretty uncomfortable but I got lucky as the guy sharing my bed departed at an earlier stop. With the bed all to myself, I then managed to get a few solid naps in before arriving in Vientiane.
As I looked around at my options at the bus station, the sun was just beginning to light up the sky. It seemed 30,000 Kip or $4 USD was the going fare for tourists to be transported in a jeepney to the city centre.
VIENTIANE FOR THE NIGHT
I arrived at my hostel pretty weary eyed and left my bag in the lobby before taking one of their free bikes out to explore the town. This is one of the benefits to taking the overland. I had one day to explore Vientiane, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. The city is right on the Mekong River and on the other side of the wide stretch of flowing water is Thailand. I hung out at the markets and watched the sunset over Thailand while sitting on a wall in Laos. That was a pretty unusual experience and one I won’t forget.
I paid for accommodation that night in Vientiane and bought a ticket to travel to Luang Prabang for the next morning at 7am. Although there is another option if you are feeling up for it. You can save your second night of accommodation in a row by taking the sleeper bus that night. I decided a good night sleep would be worth it after the long day of travel previously.
VIENTIANE TO LUANG PRABANG
At 7am a van picked me up and took me to the bus station. A big bus with two seats to myself, this was more like it. This bus took us through some winding roads, overlooking some stunning mountainous scenery and small villages. The ticket even included lunch at a small restaurant (Don’t expect a menu or silver service). A choice between chicken/lemongrass Pho style soup or rice, chicken and vegetable plate kept everyone happy. Aside from a few small fees to use toilets along the way there were really no other costs to included.