The only way to travel direct between Vientiane and Hanoi is via bus or plane. The flight costs about 130USD vs the bus which costs 40USD. We gathered more information about the bus and heard the 22 hour ride wasn’t so bad so we went for the bus which also saved us a night of accommodation. We were picked up at 17:00 for the 19:00 bus but were taken to their travel agency to wait for others. We waited there for about an hour which seemed completely pointless since they could’ve just picked us up at 18:00 and we would’ve been fine.
At about 18:15 a bus arrived from Vang Vieng and a load of people got into our minibus and we headed off for the bus park. There was quite a bit of confusion as to which bus to get on but eventually we found the right one and go on. Unfortunately since we were the last group to arrive we got stuck with the seats in the back of the bus, several of which were much smaller than the ones in the front. And most of us were physically much bigger than an average Lao person, so you can imagine how small these seats really were. We squeezed ourselves into the sleeper seats and due to there being absolutely no space between any of us we got to know each other pretty quickly. I still can’t believe how many sleeper seats they crammed into the bus. For the first time in my life I quickly located where the emergency exits were and how to open them.
We departed shortly after 19:00, stopped for dinner a few hours later, then I dozed off. At least one time in the middle of the night the bus stopped somewhere for a few hours so the driver could sleep. The only reason I figured out this was happening was because the engine and thus the aircon was shut off and it became really hot inside the bus. At about 06:45 we arrived at the border which was due to open at 07:00. In hindsight, we should have departed Vientiane at something like 23:00 with no stops. That would make a whole lot more sense. But it’s Laos and what makes sense usually isn’t what actually happens.
It took about 2 hours total to clear immigration on both the Laos and Vietnam offices. The no man’s land between the two borders was a 300m walk up a hill. The Lao side was easy to clear but the Viet side took a while, so long that the immigration officer asked us to take a seat. Also, this was the first land border I’ve ever crossed which charged a fee for the entry stamp. It’s only 20000VND (appx 1USD) but the principle of it is still not cool. They did a cursory check of our bags and then we got back onto the bus around 09:00. At about 11:30 we stopped for food then headed off again.
At around 16:00 we stopped in some city so that they could unload stuff including some finished wooden slabs that were behind my seat in the back of the bus. I joked that it was illegally logged Lao wood which now I’m pretty sure it was after reading some other people’s accounts of the bus ride. Apparently each one of those slabs (about 80cm in length) is worth a few thousand USD. I guess I’m not surprised that there was some shady business going on.
We arrived at the bus park in Hanoi at around 19:20 in the evening. Including the time from when we were picked up the entire journey lasted almost 26.5 hours but I was lucky enough to sleep about 20 of those hours. It was the longest bus ride of my life but altogether not a horrible ride. I was expecting far worse. And our driver was a pleasant guy and gave us accurate timings as to when we would arrive in Hanoi. However, if you have the money I recommend flying.