I’ll be honest, we were struggling with the cost and temperature, they were both rather high. It started to impact on our mood and we soon realised we needed a change of tack.
In our hearts we wanted to be brave and push on further south, get of the backpacker trail a little more and explore deepest, darkest Laos. Our heads however wanted to go somewhere less hot and cheaper.
A tough decision had to be made and we chose to head up to Hanoi and begin our Vietnam odyssey earlier than planned.
We resolved to return to Laos in a cooler season to explore the south and then found ourselves with another decision to be made, as is the life of the perpetual traveller.
Vientiane to Hanoi – fly or bus?
A bus is stated to take 24 hours from central Vientiane to central Hanoi and costs $30 USD per person. From our brief bus travels in Laos we could see that the roads are a mix of nice new ones with rough sections thrown in to keep you on your toes.
The cheapest flight we could find (booked 3 days ahead) from Vientiane to Hanoi cost $105 USD per person and took just over 1 hour.
After a bit of research which involved reading a series of harrowing 26 hour sleeper bus journeys including boarder crossing troubles we decided book a flight. I realise that’s $140 USD more for the 2 of us but justified it by saying we would be going to a much cheaper city sooner and saving that way.
How to get a visa for Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the few remaining countries in the world you need to be ‘invited’ to visit. This basically means using an agency to get an invite letter so you can obtain a visa for at least 30 days.
This applies if you are flying in like we did or using one of the many overland boarder crossings. There is no visa on arrival for Vietnam at the time of writing so plan ahead.
There’s a ton of agencies online to obtain an approval letter via email which you then print out and present on arrival.
The other option would be to go to a Vietnamese embassy in Laos and apply for a visa. The prices and timings seem to change daily but the general rule is it’s $50 UDS for a 30 day visa within 24 hours and $70 USD for a 3 month one.
We used VietnamVisaCenter.org to get a 3 month visa and chose the 1 day service as we left it to the last minute. This ended up costing a painful $45 USD per person and we naively thought this included the actual visa cost. It didn’t.
Upon arrival at the airport you need to first head to the Landing Visa Counter and get your visa stamped into your passport. This is where the ‘immigration stamping’ fee of $25 USD per person applies, $50 USD for a multiple entry visa. So make sure you have the correct cash with you to hand over.
Total cost of flying to Hanoi
So if you’re any good at maths you will see that our budget took quite a battering the day we flew from Laos to Vietnam. Per person the costs were:
Flight from Vientiene to Laos: $105 UDS
Visa on Arrival Letter: $45 USD
Immigration Stamping Fee: $25 USD
Total: $175 USD
So for the both of us it was $350 USD. We are since paying less than that to rent an apartment for 1 month in Hoi An but we still feel we made the best choice at the time. I guess we could have got a good ‘sleeper bus from hell’ post out of it but the flight was quick and smooth.
Flying with Lao Airlines
We had a very enjoyable flight from Vientiane to Hanoi which took 1 hour 10 minutes. The plane was modern and comfortable with plenty of legroom. We were near the back of the aircraft and there were quite a few empty seats so we could spread out a little.
After taking off we were served tea and coffee plus a snack box containing a small roll and a couple of pieces of fruit. It was an unexpected bonus and the crew looked after us well despite the short flight time.
We’d certainly recommend Lao Airlines when travelling in South East Asia and it reminded us of the wonderful island hopping flights we took in Hawaii. Their logos even bear the same flower!
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