There’s no direct bus going to Luang Prabang from Sapa. It will be a series of bus transfers and a very short boat ride in Mhuang Khua. If you want to minimize the overland transfers, you have the option of booking cheap flights to Luang Prabang from Hanoi. You can stay at Hanoi for the night. Hanoi hotel booking is made easy by travel websites. Or from Sapa, you take a bus to Lao Cai and then a train from Lao Cai to Hanoi.
For this trip, we booked our minivan transfer at Sapa Tourism Council which you’ll see near the open park. One ticket cost 240,000 Dong or approximately $12. The cost was pretty much the same as what the other travel agencies were offering.
We were not that cramped inside the van and there were only around 14-15 passengers although we were not that comfortable either. Bear in mind though that I travelled (May 18) in the low season and you might experience a different situation if you travel during high season.
There were a lot of bags and other stuff that made it a little uncomfortable. Luckily, we were seated at the back and had more space compare to other passengers. The bus ride left at around 8AM and took around eight hours to reach Dien Bien Phu.
Tip: Bring food and water but don’t eat nor drink much. You don’t want to stop the bus just to run to the nearest toilet (you’re lucky, if there’s any), do you?
Upon arrival in Dien Bien Phu, I immediately bought a ticket that would take us to Mhuang Khua in Laos. The bus ticket cost around 100,000 Dong or roughly $5 per person. The bus though departs every 5:30AM and we booked a hostel where we could spend the night.
We found a hostel in front of the station and booked a triple room (we were travelling with another backpacker we met in Hanoi) for only 150,000 Dong (50,000 Dong per person). The initial price though was 250K but we bargained hard enough explaining that we would leave the hostel at 5AM thus only staying for about half day.
(Dien Bien Phu Bus Station Ticket Office)
Tip: The ticket office is at the entrance gate of the bus station. If you’re only spending the night in Dien Bien Phu just to catch the next bus to Laos, look for other travellers that you could share the room with so you could save some money.
(Bus to Mhuang Khua at 5AM)
The following morning we met a lot more travellers en route to Laos in the bus station. The bus didn’t leave on time and waited for more passengers and departed at around 7AM. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Tay Trang Border and waited until everyone was finished with the exit procedure.
(Tay Trang Border)
The Laos border was approximately 4KM away from the Vietnam border and the road was not yet cemented. I could not imagine crossing this road if it’s raining. It would have been an impending disaster. The criss- crossing road was still not cemented as I’ve mentioned before and it’s prone to mudslides. Luckily, the weather was fine that day.
We took a couple of hours waiting for everyone to finish their entry procedure before heading to Mhuang Khua. Everyone paid for 2000 Kip for the temperature check and 3000 Kip for the entry fee.
Tip: They give poor exchange rates at the border. If you still have a lot of Dongs with you, might as well change it at the banks in Mhuang Khua.
We reached Mhuang Khua town at around 2:30PM and crossed the river (5000 Kip per person). We immediately asked if there’s a slow boat leaving at around that time unfortunately the boat departs only in the morning.
We then proceeded to the town to exchange dollars to Kip and by the time we asked about the bus for Udomxay, it had left already. So we’re stucked in the town for the night. We met a guy who offered a room overlooking the river for only 25,000 Kip for the three of us (around 8500 Kip per person) which was so far the cheapest room I’ve ever been in this trip.
Tip: The hostels near the docking area were a bit pricey (around50000 Kip/room), walk around and you’ll find rooms for around 30000 Kip. If you want to stay where I stayed, ask for Manotham Guesthouse, starting price at 30000 Kip (bargain politely). The last bus from Mhuang Khua going to Udomxay leaves at 3PM.
The following morning, we boarded a tuktuk (5000 Kip Each) to the bus station and paid another 35000 for the minibus to Udomxay where we took another bus (55000 Kip) that took us to Luang Prabang.
(Bus Ticket Prices)
Tip: Tuktuk inside the bus station charges 20000 Kip per person. Go outside the bus station and you can get it for only 5000 Kip per person.
It was tiring but passing through all those scenic routes made the trip worth it. This overland crossing took three days starting from May 18 (departure in Sapa ) up to May 20 (arrival in Luang Prabang).
Here’s A Summary of How Much I Spent for Transportation and Border Crossing
Bear in mind that this information might vary from the actual price that you might get on the road (depending on when you’re travelling).
|Local Currency||Cost in $|
|Minivan from Sapa to Dien Bien Phu||240000 Dong||12|
|Bus from Dien Bien Phu to Mhuang Khua||100000 Dong||5|
|Health Check||2000 Kip||0.25|
|Immigration Entry Fee||3000 Kip||0.375|
|Boat Fee to Cross the River||5000 Kip||0.625|
|Tuktuk to Mhuang Khua Bus Station||5000 Kip||0.625|
|Bus from Mhuang Khua to Udomxay||35000 Kip||4.375|
|Bus from Udomxay to Luang Prabang||55000 Kip||6.875|
|Tuktuk from bus Station to LP Center||50000 Kip||0.625|
I also did not include in this list some items such as food, drinks, accommodation and other miscellaneous items because the price would definitely depend on your choices.
Feel free to share some new info and tips about overland travel to Luang Prabang.