Monday, August 19, 2013

From Bangkok to Vientiane via Sleeper Train

 I always liked flags since when I was a kid. I remember browsing through our Collier’s Encyclopaedias series and going through all the flags in the world. And with that interest, I have known many names of different countries even though I have no idea where they are. Countries like Nepal, Qatar, Mongolia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Paraguay and the list goes on. Laos is one of those countries I only know by name and have no knowledge of its culture and it is my luck to get the chance to visit this country even for only 2 days. Laos’ flag is made of three stripes, red on top and bottom and blue in the middle with a white circle in the centre of the flag. Well I’m not going to discuss what does the flag stands for as it may bore you about history. So when I went to Bangkok a week long break I decided to make a research on the neighbouring country. I thought of Siem Reap, Cambodia and Vientiane, Laos but decided to go the latter instead because of the challenge to take a sleeper train from Bangkok to Vientiane. I have never been on a long train ride.

The train ride from Bangkok will only take you to Nong Khai which is the border town to get you cross the bridge to reach Vientiane. I have researched online and found a Filipino who travelled the same way and she was quite helpful. You can click here to see the full details of taking the sleeper train. Although I did not follow her instructions when crossing the border as I met a Thai-American couple whom I joined with in crossing the border. That is actually the advantage when travelling alone, you get to meet people and it is easy to drag yourself wherever things may lead you. And we managed to save some money travelling with each other. But then I learned that you can even do it cheaper by crossing the border the local way.  So follow these if you want to do the cheapest way.

Cheapest possible way of crossing Nong Khai, Bangkok border to Vientiane, Laos:

  1. From Nong Khai station, take a tuktuk that will bring you to Thai Immigration Border. Please take note that the tuktuk driver waits for other passengers until the tuktuk is full (roughly about 5 – 6 passengers) before leaving. The fare for tuktuk is 30 Baht.
  2. Upon passing the Thai immigration, you can take the bus that will help you cross the bridge and this cost 15 Baht.
  3. When you reach the Lao Immigration Border, you need to secure a border pass worth 5 Baht before passing through Lao Immigration. Please take note that Border Pass Counter is just opposite the Visa On Arrival Counter. You also have to take note that if you are an ASEAN passport holder, you do not need a Visa to enter Laos so you only need to secure a border pass. And then for those nationals who are required to get a visa upon arrival, you do not need  a border pass. Do not be confused because me and the Thai local who was with me got confused because it is a new ruling at Lao Border for this border pass. And keep the receipt of the border pass as you need it when leaving Lao again.
  4. After you have exited the Lao Border, the cheapest possible way to get to the city is by their local bus. The bus number is 14 and this costs 6000 Lao Kip (US 60 cents) Travel time by bus from the border to the city centre is about 30-40 minutes.
  5. Bus 14 will end at the main bus station which is opposite the Talat Sao Mall.

Travelling back from Vientiane, Laos to Nong Khai Thailand:

  1. Go to bus station located behind the Talat Sao Mall and take bus 14. Remember that you pay the bus fare when you are going down. Locals may even tell you that the bus takes a long time and persuade to take other means just so they can profit from you but do not worry as bus 14 will take 30 – 40 minutes only which is almost the same when taking a taxi or a tuktuk. The bus will end at the Lao Immigration Border.
  2.  Upon reaching the border, secure your border pass, present the receipt of your first border pass so you do not have to pay.
  3. After passing the Lao Immigration, get a ticket for the small vans that will help you cross the bridge to reach the Thai Immigration Border. The ticket costs 12000 Lao Kip. The small vans are operated by locals wearing blue polo and they are quite helpful to tourists and no need to tip them.
  4. Upon crossing the Thai Immigration, walk to the left side and you will see tuktuks waiting for passengers. They go to different parts of Nong Khai but you can ask them to drop you off at Nong Khai Train station and it costs 30 Baht.

Hope this cheapest way of crossing the border helps you all.

Oh by the way, when taking the sleeper train and buying your tickets, ask for the bed for the lower deck as it is easier to sleep in the lower deck. I tried both and the uppder deck was a killer as the train has been shaking all the way. When I was going back to Bangkok, I had a good sleep in the lower deck. 

Vientiane, Laos
August 15 & 16, 2013