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Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

Chiang Rai, Thailand
6 posts
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Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

My fiance and I are planning a 2.5 month excursion through SE Asia - starting from Chiang Rai in early October. Any suggestions on our proposed 10 day itinerary from Thailand to Vietnam through Northern Laos? While not quite on a strict backpackers budget, we can't afford luxury (hence the buses and not flights):

-Slow boat to Luang Prabang where we'll stay for 5 nights (Is this a good amount of time?)

-2 days in Phonsavan - Plain of Jars. (Is a DIY motorbike tour the way to go for this?)

-2 days in Sam Neua/Vieng Xai - Pathet Lao Caves.

-Bus into Vietnam and eventually onto Hanoi from Vieng Xai?

I'm planning on taking the bus between these destinations and I've heard some horror stores (especially from LP to Hanoi). However, by splitting this up, I'm hoping to avoid the "Bus Ride From Hell" and only take a 12 hour bus from Laos to Vietnam instead of a 24 hour one. Also, both Phonsavan and Vieng Xai seem like worthwhile stops and I've heard the countryside is gorgeous!

Is this itinerary doable and are there buses every day? What about that bus into Vietnam? I read the bus originates in Sam Neua and passes through Vieng Xai where we are essentially hitchhikers at that point. Would you suggest backtracking to Sam Neua so we can hop on the bus at its origin or flag it down an hour into the journey?

Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated. Also affordable accommodations and restaurant recommendations would be great! I know this part of the trip will be rough. We're up for an adventure.

Thanks!

Cologne, Germany
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for Cologne, Laos
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1. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

The first part sounds good. nice relaxing boat trip, and then spending time in wonderful LP. you will have enough time to visit the temples, head to the Kuangsi Falls, relaxing at the river frontetc. wonder, if you could add one more night in the north, you could actually add a stay in Nong Khiaw as well for two nights, and stay in Lp for four nights. It is a 3-4 hour bus ride, and you can take the boat back to Lp (6 hours ). I absolute loved that area.

Unfortunately I missed Phonsaven, so hopefully can gove you advise for the second part.

And I am not sure that the Laos part will be rough, I didn't have any issues in over three weeks there, and found cheap and nice accomodation (bungalow in NK was $4 - however for LP you will pay more for decent accomodation (wold plan for $10, but was surprised what $5 more can give you)

Chiang Rai, Thailand
6 posts
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2. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

Thanks!

I didn't even consider Nong Khiaw but I see now that it's a reasonable trip.

Regarding the accommodation, should I book in advance? or just show up and find a place? I figure we can probably bargain if we just show up but it will be more exhausting.

Any recommendations on budget accommodation in Luang Prabang? I know there are plenty of options.

Thanks again!

Oregon
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335 posts
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3. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

I think 5 days in LP is too long; while it's a charming enough place, it's kind of DisneyLao and full of the tour bus tourist crowd. Even if this is what you're looking for, 5 days is too long. You can get a good feel for the place in two or three days. Two days in Phonsavan is good and yes, you can rent a motorbike from any number of agencies on the main drag and it's a very nice ride out to the three main sites, all of which can easily be seen in a day. Not much going on in Sam Neau; an OK market area. Vieng Xai is a beautiful area, but not much in the way of tourist amenities. The caves portion will only occupy a couple of hours. You can rent bicycles at the cave office, but they're of poor quality. Good trekking in the area. I don't know that it's worthwhile to go all the way back to SN to catch the Hanoi bus, but I believe you will have to travel about 10km from VX to the main road, where you'll catch the Hanoi bus. Best to ask around when you arrive in SN or VX. You shouldn't have any trouble negotiating a room on the spot in any of the areas you've selected; I would not book in advance. Best rooms in VX are right across from the cave office.

Keep in mind that buses in Lao are VERY slow; you'll do well to average 40km/hr. You might consider paying a bit more for a mini-van from LP to Phonsavan.

Edited: 13 July 2013, 17:15
Chiang Rai, Thailand
6 posts
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4. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

Awesome. Thanks for the recommendations!

I just haven't found much info on the Vietnam bound bus from Sam Neua/Vieng Xai. I'd prefer to get on at it's origin in the Sam Neua bus station rather than flag it down on a highway like a hitchhiker. I'll have to ask around to see the most reasonable/feasible option is for this.

Any insight on the Thanh Hoa bound bus? How long is the border process? We'll have our Vietnam visa's already so that won't be a problem, but I'm not expecting a 'smooth' transfer across the border to Thanh Hoa.

Thanks again.

Oregon
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335 posts
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5. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

I didn't go into Vietnam, so can't help you there. As far as backtracking to Sam Neau, you'll have several daily options from the VX market area (same place you will be dropped off). There are two bus stations in SN, so you'll have to sort out which one you'll need to use for Vietnam. If it's not the one that the VX bus goes to, there will be songthaeuws available to shuttle you to the other station. BTW, I had a very difficult time getting to the bus station for VX. Very few taxis in SN early in the AM and I tried hitchhiking to no avail. Finally went into a gas station and started begging (it worked!).

6. Re: Northern Laos - Suggestions for Itinerary?

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