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How To Travel By Bus From Sapa, Vietnam to Laos

by Nomada How Far
Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos

When we were in Sapa, with an almost expired visa, we had to go into Laos so we wouldn’t overstay our visa. We hesitated a lot what the best option could be, but knowing that we’re on a budget, we opted to take the bus journey to Muang Khua in Laos. There are a lot of horror stories about the bus ride on the internet that scared us. But it seems that a lot of them are outdated. Here you’ll find our thoughts and up-to-date facts about this 24-hour journey.


For a lot of backpackers, the last stop of their Vietnam trip is Sapa and many of them want to go to Laos afterward. There are multiple ways of getting into Laos from Northern Vietnam. Options range from low-budget (by bus) to expensive (by plane). Making the journey by air will be the easiest and most comfortable way to travel from Vietnam to Laos. Unless when you’re in Sapa and need to take the night train back to Hanoi. By doing this, it gets quickly very expensive.

Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos


Luckily, there is also a budget-friendly option! You can take a bus from Sapa towards Laos, a journey of more than 400km. There are two options to choose from. There’s a sleeper bus that leaves from Sapa town at 7 pm. This bus will arrive at the bus station of Dien Bien Phu early in the morning at 5 am. Just in time to be transferred to a minibus that connects Vietnam and Laos. Or you can take a daytime bus that leaves from the center of Sapa at 7.30 am. This bus will arrive in Dien Bien Phu in the afternoon. The bus towards Laos leaves the next day in the morning, so you’ll need to stay a night in a guesthouse close to the bus station.

Both options have their pros and cons. The journey offers some of the most magnificent views of North Vietnam, with high mountains and green rice terraces in the valleys. You won’t see anything of this when you’ll be taking the sleeper bus. This option will be -most likely- booked as a package, including your transfer in Dien Bien Phu, which will be more expensive when taking the regular day bus and booking your transfer individually. We heard that it’s almost impossible to get some sleep on the sleeper bus because of the ongoing turns and hairpin bends along the mountain roads. Plus, there are more people than seats, so some people have to sleep in the bus aisle. The daytime bus will get you a good night rest in Dien Bien Phu and excellent views, but there is the chance that it will be more cramped and uncomfortable.

Prices for both buses will vary a lot. Ask around in Sapa town at the tour operators and your place of stay. Prices for the sleeper bus and transfer will be $22 – $26, and daytime buses will be $13 – $20.

Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos

Transfer to another bus in Lai Chau


It was a tough decision, but eventually, we chose to take the daytime bus. Our hotel, Heart Of Sapa (which we recommend to everyone), fixed our bus for $14/person with pick-up at the hotel. Unfortunately, the ‘normal’ minibus was already fully booked. This minibus is more focused on tourists apparently and is the most comfortable one. However, there was one other minibus that was leaving at 8 am. But they warned us that it’d be full of locals, chickens, and pigs. We had the lowest expectation we could have to make the best out of it. Because of this, we wanted to do it even more, to experience how the locals do it.

The minibus picked us up at the hotel at 8 am and brought us in less than 2 hours to Lai Chau, where we transferred to the local bus. The hotel made sure that we both had seats on the bus for the whole journey. The bus, with its 21 seats, filled up quickly after stopping a couple of times until the bus was packed with 29 people. Women sitting together in the front, men in the aisle on big rice bags. And, the hotel was right, there were four chickens and a pig in the back. Let’s say it was an interesting journey. But, it was way better than expected! We had just enough space for our legs, and the bus stopped multiple times so we could stretch them regularly and eat some lunch.

Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos

Pulling a goat into the bus at Dien Bien Phu bus station.

Travel Tip: Don’t drink or eat too much, especially if you’re a girl. Take a plastic bag because these endless bending roads can make you sick.

We arrived in Điện Biên Phủ at 4 pm. We immediately went to the ticket booth to buy our tickets to Muang Khua (Laos). Tickets are sold at the bus station for 115.000 Dong, which is much cheaper than in the package of the sleeper bus. It’s also possible to book tickets directly to Luang Prabang or Oudomxay. This bus leaves the next day at 5.30 am. We went left out of the bus station and found a cheap and clean guesthouse right around the corner for $10/night (book here).

Travel Tip: Make sure to book the bus to Laos the day before!

Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos


After a good night sleep, we went to the bus station at 5 am. The bus was already there, and the backseats were already full of big rice bags and other boxes. The bus wasn’t full at all, and we left the bus station on time half-filled. The journey towards the border was pleasant, with a few stops in between to pick up some more people and bags until we arrived at the border at 7.30 am. The Vietnam border is the best place to exchange your Dong into Kip, with a decent exchange rate at the time of writing. The exit procedure went smoothly, and after a short drive, we were already at the border of Laos.
The border procedure here is really straightforward. Window 1 is to get your visa application forms, once they are filled in, give the papers back and pay for your visa (between $30-$42, depending on your nationality, usually $35) and 10.000 Kip as processing fee. At window 2, you have to pay $2 or 16.000 Kip for tourist fee. At window 3, you get an extra stamp, and you need to pay an extra 20.000 Kip (don’t ask us why). Finally, at window 4, you get a health check at the ‘low price’ of 5.000 Kip.

Update October 2017:

There have been some reports that Vietnamese e-visas are not getting accepted at this border checkpoint. If you are in the possession of this e-visa, do not take this border crossing as you will get send away and need to find another way back to Điện Biên Phủ. Get the list of checkpoints where e-visas are accepted here.

Travel Tip: Don’t forget a passport photo. If you do, it’s possible to take pictures at a fee of $5 at the border.

After the border, the travelers that go to Luang Prabang or Oudomxay need to go on another bus. From the border, it’s another 2-3 hours until Muang Khua.

Bus Sapa Vietnam Laos

Suspension bridge in Muang Khua, Laos


The bus journey from Sapa to Laos is not for everyone, but if you’re in for some kind of adventure and don’t mind to sit between the locals in a small minivan, it isn’t as bad as you think. We had a good time, and the journey was way better than expected. Take the day bus from Sapa, and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the mountains and valleys.

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How To Travel By Bus From Sapa, Vietnam To Laos

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Leanne Bartlett October 11, 2017 - 7:57 AM

This post was so useful and my go to for our adventure across the border to Laos recently. One major thing we discovered at the border is, they will not process an E-visa. One poor German guy had to find his own way back to Dien Bien Phu as his E-visa wouldn’t be cleared for exit out of Vietnam. Also there was an extra 20000kip per person for who knows??????.

Nomada How Far October 20, 2017 - 6:43 AM

Happy to see that it helped you during your adventure Leanne! It’s good that you told us about the e-visa thing because we didn’t had a clue about that issue. We’ve updated it now. Thank you very much!

Janek October 18, 2017 - 7:44 AM

Beware that with e-visa you cannot exit Vietnam through the border crossing between Dien Bien Phu and Muang Khua. The only exception is when you are leaving the country on the last day of your e-visa validity period. Otherwise, they just don’t let you exit. Rather will point you to some other border crossing that allows e-visa (check their list on: https://www.vietnam-evisa.org/vietnam-e-visa.html). You can take your bags from the bus, of course loosing all money that you’ve paid for the ticket and wait for any transportation back to Dien Bien Phu (bus about 11-12 or some car passing).
The officers are really narrow minded. With 2 days before the expiration date they won’t let you go even though traveling to any other border crossing would take about a day, not to mention money. Even an extra processing fee cannot do the magic…
You have been warned. Cheers!

Nomada How Far October 20, 2017 - 6:39 AM

Thank you very much Janek for this valuable information! We have updated the article with this information to keep helping other travelers.

Nomada How Far October 20, 2017 - 6:47 AM

Thank you very much Janek for this valuable information. We’ve now updated the article in order to help other travelers during their border crossing. Safe travels!

Ara Coral December 12, 2017 - 4:58 PM

Hello, so, what border crossing You did?

Nomada How Far December 13, 2017 - 1:26 PM

We did the Dien Bien Phu border crossing.

kate March 8, 2018 - 8:47 AM

My boyfriend and I are about to take the bus to Laos from Sapa. We have read many horro stories like you said. Your post makes me feel so much better now. Thanks you for the tips!

Nomada How Far March 20, 2018 - 2:07 AM

Glad to hear! We hope everything went as planned?

Sean Little May 6, 2018 - 1:35 AM

Hi Kate – Did you have any problems with exiting this border crossing? Did you have an e-visa? I am looking at doing this same trip shortly and need to know if I’m going to run into problems. I am Canadian and purchased my visa back home, before leaving for this trip, through the online process, (after which the paper was mailed to me back in Canada). Please let me know as I’m quite concerned about getting into difficulties at the border.

Sean Little May 6, 2018 - 1:30 AM

Hi – I am a Canadian traveling in Vietnam currently and looking to exit Vietnam to Laos via the land border between DBP and Muang Kuah in the next week. I am concerned about the e-visa situation noted above. I purchased my visa using the online process and the piece of paper was mailed to me, back in Canada, before I left for my trip. Is my understanding correct in that II can only exit Vietnam at this crossing, with my visa, on the day it expires? Please let me know as soon as possible. Thanks! Sean

Nomada How Far May 6, 2018 - 5:34 PM

Yes that’s correct. Technically, Dien Bien Phu is not a border crossing that you can do on a Vietnamese E-visa. The only way to get through is indeed on the last day of your E-visa, because they won’t let you overstay your visa. Good luck!

Sean Little May 7, 2018 - 1:37 AM

Thanks for confirming – Had I not found this yesterday, I’d have had some problems in the coming week! As it is I’ve altered my trip plan a little so that I am back in Hanoi to arrange my bus from there to Laos.

Any suggestions on which border crossing is best to use from Hanoi?

Thanks Again,

Nomada How Far May 7, 2018 - 5:03 PM

I think that most people leaving from Hanoi take the bus to Vientiane. This will get you through the border of Cầu Treo and over there they accept a border crossing with an e-visa. Have a safe journey!

Sean Little May 8, 2018 - 1:05 AM

Thanks very much!

Kevin Cardoza October 1, 2019 - 4:35 PM

Hey! Just wanted to thank you for this blog post because it helped me plan my Vietnam/Laos trip better, and was a cheaper and more fun experience than having to go from Sapa back to Hanoi and then taking a plane.

Also, wanted to let you and/or anyone else reading this blog that the e-visa service has been improved as of February 2019 and is now accepted at many more border crossings. You can even see on the same link used above (https://www.vietnam-evisa.org/vietnam-e-visa.html) that Tay Trang (Dien Bien Phu) is now listed as an option to use the e-visa. (However, I believe you can’t get your e-visa completed there by immigration if going the other direction.)

Nomada How Far October 5, 2019 - 9:59 AM

Hey Kevin! Thanks for the update, really good to know! ?

Rohit Singh October 8, 2019 - 7:32 PM

Hi, This page is very informative. I am planning to visit Vietnam and then Laos in December’2019. So far I have come to know that there are two land ways to reach Laos from Vietnam.
1. Take a bus from Hanoi to Vientiane, which takes around 24-26 hours and costs around 22-25 USD.
2. Take the bus from Sapa and reach Muang Khua (Laos border) via Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam).
I want to know about the cost and time taken during journey in option no.2. Is it cheaper than the 1st option? Does it take less time to reach Laos?
Kindly guide.

Nomada How Far October 22, 2019 - 7:40 AM

Hey Rohit! If you’re not interested in visiting the Sapa and North of Vietnam’s higher regions, then your best bet will be the bus from Hanoi. However, Sapa is a great place for hiking and getting to know local culture. It’s very different then the rest of Vietnam. So it might be something to consider if you have the time. We suggest to spend at least 2-3 days in Sapa. From Sapa, it will take you one day, with an overnight and bus switch in Dien Bien Phu. Taking the local bus will be cheaper than your first option, but it’s up to you if you choose for ‘comfort’ or not. Your best way to reach Sapa is with the night train from Hanoi.

So in general:
If you’re short on time and no interest in Sapa, take the bus from Hanoi.
If you have time, go to Sapa, enjoy the region and take the bus from Sapa towards Dien Bien Phu and from the bus station in DBP a bus towards Muang Khua. Cost-wise it’ll be a bit the same.


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