Edit: Have recently discovered that Dong is a closed currency. Spend it or change it to something else before you leave Vietnam or you’re stuck with it!
The tales you read on the internet about crossing from Hanoi to Vientiane on a bus range from the uneventful to the truly awful. It’s a 20-24 hour bus ride which is about a fifth of the price of a flight. As I’m in full saving money mode, I didn’t have much else in the way of choices. I took the bus. I booked through my hostel and paid $28 USD for my ticket. The bus seemed fairly clean, modern and had a toilet that did not make me vomit in my mouth.
Every review I read commented on the fact that that white people are put at the back of the bus. This is normally next to the toilet, in the bottom bunk (where you can’t sit up because the compartment is only about 70cm tall) and right above the engine block (so your back feels like it’s on fire). The reviews are all correct. That’s exactly what happens. If you expect anything else, you will be disappointed. Don’t try and argue. The bus staff already hate you for even existing and now you are on their bus which has basically ruined their whole week. They’re not going to move you but they might leave you behind at the border if you really annoy them so just suck it up like a big brave soldier and get on with it or, you could cry. I cried but I was poorly with a cold which made me feel very sad about the whole thing indeed. And no one from the bus crew saw me crying. They were silent tears of a very British nature.
Other stories about the journey tell of cockroaches and creepy crawlies sharing your bed. We had cockroaches but they were only babies so the tissue and flush method was employed successfully on four samples before they stayed away. This amused the locals on the bus no end as they had obviously never seen a white girl deal with a cockroach before in their lives.
Other retellings of the journey say that the aisles were packed with people, chickens, rice sacks and all manner of other things. My bus was OK. There were even a couple of spare seats. Very civilised in that respect.
The journey itself was fine. No mechanical mishaps. No issues really. We got to the border about 45 minutes before it opened. We waited and, at the appointed hour, got stamped out of Vietnam for a $1 USD fee (not an official fee I don’t think).
Once stamped out, it’s about 1km to the Laos border. All the locals were allowed back onto the bus for this trip. The two white people were not allowed back onto the bus (despite trying to get onto it) and instead took a nice stroll.
Arriving at the Laos side, you enter the arrival corridor, acquire a visa on arrival form, fill it out, hand over a passport photo, $35 visa fee and $1 for, I dunno, the ink they’ll use stamping your passport. Hopefully you get a Laos visa back in exchange. I did and proceeded back to the bus in triumph.
Back in the boiling hot engine block toilet coffin, I watched Laos zip by until we arrived at Vientiane bus station. The bus station is a few km out of town. The second you get off the bus, you will be encouraged to take a tuk tuk instantly. Don’t. Walk out of the station and get a big tuk tuk from the front of the station, it’s cheaper and there a couple of ATMs if you need local currency too.
All in all, another pain free crossing completed in 22 hours.