China – Laos: How NOT To Cross The Border
Traveling Yunnan Province, China, with my mom left me with some of my fondest travel memories: enjoying tea at a local teahouse in Kunming, hiking the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, and cruising the Mekong in Xishuangbanna. With a heavy heart, my mom and I left Jinghong in Yunnan only to travel to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to: Luang Prabang in Laos! (check out how to have the best time in Luang Prabang)
Even though the long-distance bus ride from Jinghong to Luang Prabang was a horrible experience , here is how we still made it down to Laos from Yunnan, China.
1. Book a overnight bus from Jinghong to Luang Prabang
Unfortunately, there is only one bus leaving Jinghong and driving down to Luang Prabang per day. Make sure to book your ticket about 2 days prior to your trip. I tried to book tickets even earlier than that but the lady at the bus station told me to come back later since it wasn’t sure that one bus made it back. Yeah… very promising. I ended up returning to the bus station 3 times until I was able to book my ticket.
Bus station in Jinghong: Jinghong Long-distance Bus Station is located at No.23, North Road.
Ticket price: around 260 RMB one-way
Duration: 12-20 hours.
2. Jinghong to Laos Border
I took the express bus from Jinghong leaving at 7 AM. The ticket lady told us the trip was going to take around 12 hours down to Luang Prabang including immigration. From Jinghong to the border, everything went smoothly. The bus was filled with Chinese traders or migrant workers traveling down to Laos for business. They traveled with lots of packed goods and all kinds of other luggage. Around 3-4 hours later, you will reach the Lao border at Boten checkpoint.
3. Crossing the Border – Immigration
The border crossing was designed beautifully and almost resembles a golden temple. To get into Laos, you need a visa which you can obtain upon arrival. However, you have to bring a passport sized photo with you to ensure smooth immigration. Expect to pay somewhere between 30 and 40 US dollars for the visa granting you a 30-day stay.
Tip: There are people walking around offering to exchange some RMB into Lao Kip. I exchanged a little bit of money and didn’t get ripped off.
4. Torturous Bus Ride to Luang Prabang
Everything had worked out rather smoothly but this suddenly changed once we crossed the border and continued towards Luang Prabang. The roads in Northern Laos can hardly be called “roads” and remind of dirt paths that don’t seem safe for traffic. We barely passed other cars and saw a couple of poorer people living in straw huts along the ways tending to their vegetable and fruit gardens outside their huts. One of the advantages when traveling by bus is definitely the views you get. It really gave me a great insight into life in Laos for locals.
Then it got dark and we hit heavy traffic due to some kind of huge truck not being able to drive along the dirt roads and some other construction. There were times when we actually feared for our lives and expected the bus to slip and slide down the edge of the dirt road and we would be one of those tourists that got lost in the middle of nowhere and found years later…
5. Arriving in Luang Prabang
In the end, we arrived around 8 hours after our estimated 12-hour bus ride, completely exhausted and on the edge of despair. The driver dropped us off outside of town at 3 AM in the morning with no taxis around. Luckily, a local tuk-tuk driver (a three wheel motorcycle to transport people and goods) came by and took us to our hotel within 20 minutes. After checking into our amazing hotel, we fell on the beds and slept. When we woke up, we saw that everything was worth it in the end and that Laos was absolutely beautiful!
6. Laughter and Regrets
My mom and I look back onto this bus ride and laugh about it. It was a terrible trip and I wouldn’t honestly recommend it to anyone to cross Laos this way. We had actually planned on taking the same bus back into Yunnan but immediately booked two flight tickets on after this horror bus ride! Lesson learned: sometimes trying to save a few bucks on transportation is just not worth it when you need to cross no-man’s-land in a shabby bus for 20 hours fearing for your life.
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