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Getting to Laos, the hard way

By in Travel on

GoKunming recently ran a story contributed by reader Colin Flahive about travelling to Laos (老挝) by private car. For readers who don't have wheels of their own, here's some other options.

Due to time constraints, we flew from Kunming to Jinghong (景洪). This flight can get expensive, with a full fare of 860 yuan, but remember how the Chinese air ticket pricing system works: book early and you could pay less than half that.

Travellers with a little more time might like to take the bus. Day and night buses leave frequently between 8am and 8pm from Kunming's South Bus Station, most of them priced at 239 yuan. Take extra care with your belongings on the night bus, as thefts are common.

Jinghong, or Banna (版纳), is a nice enough place to break the journey; check out the cafés and bars on Menglong Lu (勐龙路).

The main Jinghong bus station has direct buses to Muang Xai (勐赛) (aka Udom Xai), Huay Xai (会洒) and Luang Namtha (南塔) in Laos, not all of which are daily, so plan ahead. If you can't get the straight shot into Laos, you're going to have to make it to the border in stages.

From Jinghong there are regular buses to Mengla (勐腊, about 3 hours, 39 yuan) which is the final transport hub before the Chinese border post at Mohan (磨憨). On arrival in Mengla, you'll need to walk around 2km from the main bus station to the south bus station - turn right as you leave the main station's ticket office. At the south station, tickets to Mohan cost 17 yuan and buses leave frequently.

In Mohan the border checkpoint is around 500m past the bus station. You can grab yourself some final Chinese eats here, and also buy some Lao kip. We were sold kip at 1200LKP/1CNY. Outside the border area, expect to find difficulty exchanging yuan.

Once you've exited China, another 500m or so walk will bring you to the Lao border post at Boten. Visa on arrival is available for most nations - expect to pay somewhere between 30 and 40 US dollars. Remember to take along a passport photo.

There's a little bit of a break in the transport chain here, which is filled by a bunch of songthaew drivers who'll quote you whatever they think you'll pay. A 25km ride to Route 13 (Laos's main transport backbone) will cost around 30 yuan.

The village at the intersection is called Na Teuy, and has Chinese-run establishments including guesthouses and restaurants, helpful for Chinese-speakers. If you've made good progress on the rest of the trip, you'll be able to (space permitting) squeeze into a bus from Luang Namtha (南塔) and head deeper into Laos.

For 35,000 kip a head, we were able to continue to Muang Xai, where we stopped for the night. In all, with three buses, a songthaew and a few spells of waiting we'd accomplished what can be done in a single bus ride from Jinghong.

From Muang Xai, you can head for the riverside retreat of Nong Kiaow, or head south to the UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang and the Lao capital of Vientiane.

Other Options
The road route from Kunming to popular destinations in Laos will usually be the same: highway G213 in Yunnan and Route 13 in Laos. But there are many possible flight and/or bus combinations depending on where travellers are interested in stopping, how much time they have, and their tolerance for spending long stretches of time on uncomfortable and often malodorous long distance buses.

Those blessed with supernatural stoicism could even brave the direct Kunming-Vientiane bus, an estimated 38 hour ride. Travellers who are not interested in stopping in southern Yunnan or far northern Laos might also consider the once-daily direct Kunming-Luang Prabang bus from the South Bus Station. There also appears to be at least one direct Kunming-Mohan bus every day, along with several non-daily routes from Mengla to various destinations in Laos.

Finally, Kunming-Vientiane flights are operated by both Lao Airlines and China Eastern.

Note: Have you taken a trip from Yunnan to Laos recently? Do you have some useful travel advice? We look forward to seeing your comments below.

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If you're going to Thailand, you can get a direct bus from Jinghong to the Thai border at Hueyxai, on the Mekong - leaves 6AM, you arrive in Hueyxai in time to make the crossing the same day. Still have to buy the Lao visa, tho.

Note that traveling by bus saves the planet considerably in terms of atmospheric emissions, & simultaneously allows one to travel rather than merely teleport.

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