Hanoi to Cat Ba
Minivan transfer to main bus station —> 3 hour bus ride —> 1 hour ferry ride —> 1 hour bus ride
Book tickets at Hoang Long Bus Company (GML) (20-30 minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake area). Pick up also at the company.
Cat Ba to Sapa
Reverse of above route to Hanoi —> Sleeper Bus to Sapa
Booked through Cat Ba Guesthouse
390, 000 VND
You should be able to book this through any guesthouse in Cat Ba.
Bus drop off in Hanoi may not be pick up for bus to Sapa.
Sapa to Mung Khua
Sapa —> border where we changed into a minivan —> same minivan to Mung Khua
(~9 hours in total)
Booked through a tour company (we compared prices and just picked the cheapest)
400 000 VND
Even if you are skipping Nong Khiaw, try not to book direct tickets in Sapa as they are excessively priced!
This bus will be quite uncomfortable and squeezy/ chaotic.
Mung Khua to Nong Khiaw
5 hours boat ride
Meet other travelers to make sure there’s enough of you, arrive the next day at the pier and buy ticket
135, 000 kip
The boat is very, very small.
Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang
3.5 hours minivan ride.
Purchase bus tickets at bus station the day before.
37 000 kip
It is a minivan, and it will be squeezy.
On arrival, purchase Luang Prabang —> Bokeo tickets to avoid ripping off by tour companies.
Luang Prabang to Huay Xai
12+ hours ride in a bus
Purchase bus tickets at bus station (quite far from Luang Prabang center)
135 000 kip /
170 000 kip (if you purchase from tour companies)
Very, very bumpy ride.
Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai
3 hour ride.
Ask a local for bus to Chiang Rai, they will point you to where to wait for the bus.
Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai
4 hour bus ride.
Purchase tickets at bus station from Green Bus.
428 baht (cheapest possible; prices vary based on timing and comfort)
Chiang Mai to Bangkok
Overnight, 12 hour bus ride. You may be given snacks!
Purchase tickets at Arcade Terminal where bus drops you. It is quite far from central Chiangmai.
You can also try Tour Companies in Chiangmai. We saw some for 400 baht.
Border Crossing Guide
Sop Hun - Tay Trang Border
The Sop Hun Checkpoint is the Vietnamese side, at Dien Bien Phu. You get ushered into a large, empty building. The first room is where you change your vietnam currency into laos kip, which is useful for paying the fees later on. But don’t change too much because the rate is probably poor. You can also change other currencies into kip. The second room is where the officers wills stamp your passport.
Then the bus will bring you across the border, to the Tay Trang Side. It is a very small, one-storey building. You will be given a form to fill (ASEAN citizens don’t need visas, so no photo is required). Fill up the form, go to the counter, and pay your 7,000 kip, although the officers may make you pay more depending on their mood (In our case, they literally said “7,000 one person. Two person, 20,000”) Anyway, roll your eyes and then proceed to the next room for your “temperature check” and cough up another 5,000 kip. Roll eyes again. The bus will bring you to Mung Khua from there.
Huay Xai - Chiang Khong Border
You will need a tuk-tuk to bring you to the Huay Xai border. It looks less dodger than the Tay Trang one. Wait till 8 am to avoid the “overtime fee” of 5,000 kip. Get your passport stamped, and hop on the 20 baht bus to get you to the Thai side. At the Thai border, fill out the forms again and wait in line. From there you can take a 40 baht bus into Chiang Khong town.
Most of the people crossing these borders will be fellow backpackers, so don’t worry too much. These borders will not be crowded, but they won’t be completely devoid of people as well.