It's story time!
The bus ride wasn't actually that bad, but it was pretty frustrating. It's advertised as a 24-hour long journey on a sleeper bus, which already sounds like a bad idea. Why would anyone want to stay on a bus for an entire day? Well, it's pretty cheap at $30. Flights (from Laos) are about six times that cost and out of our budget.
Booking the ticket
We booked the ticket from Soukchaleun guesthouse while wandering the streets in Vientiane. If you're in the city centre, there's tons of guesthouses/agencies to look at with prices ranging from 180,000 kip to 240,000 kip including the tuk tuk ride to the South bus station located outside of the city centre. We're actually not quite sure if the pricier ones are better, since we heard that some agencies may just bank the extra cash and book you on a cheaper bus. Almost every guesthouse/agency will offer the VIP experience, but that does not guarantee a comfortable ride nor do the pictures always indicate the bus you will actually board. So, ask around and choose wisely.
We went for the cheaper one because we figured it was going to be a horrible journey anyways and we were on a budget.
The Sleeper Bus
At first glance, it's not too terrible. There's an upper and lower bunk with three rows of seats. The seats are made of leather and it reclines pretty far back. The seats have small railings on the side, so you won't fall out as easily. Although, some seats have broken railings and dysfunctional seat belts. Safety first, right?
If you're tall, you're going to have a bad time because there isn't too much leg room. It's best to grab a seat at the back where you can stretch your legs in the aisle. At 5'2, there was just enough space for my legs with some room to spare.
Luckily, our bus wasn't full so there were some seats remaining. It was raining most of the bus ride and my window started leaking. I was pretty happy I had the option of switching seats.
I also found the bus to be a little chilly, so it might be good to bring a sweater or scarf. Note, we went in January, so it might differ in the summer months. Also, we were not offered any blankets.
Crossing the border
The first part of the journey was fine. There's a rest stop a few hours in where you can grab food and use the washroom. After that, the next stop is the border crossing. The bus will usually make it there in the middle of the night and then park there since the office doesn't open until 7 a.m. Around 6:30 a.m., the bus driver and workers will wake you up to head into the office. Once the office opens, you need to hand your passport to the officer, who will stack it up in a pile to stamp all at once - which we thought was strange.
Once you get your passport back, head across the gate. You'll have to wait there for your bus to get checked before you can get back on to head to the Vietnam border. This whole process took about two hours for us.
At the Vietnam border, getting stamped in will cost $1 USD. If you don't have USD, you can pay in kip. This process was much easier and only took about half an hour. The bus was checked once again so our luggage was taken off the bus and then reloaded.
We had to make an unexpected stop at a mechanic shop since our bus wasn't functioning properly. Unfortunately, this took about three hours to fix. The only restaurant in town was run by people who only spoke Vietnamese, so ordering was quite difficult. Thankfully, we speak enough Vietnamese that we were able to order something for our group.
The rest of the bus ride
Given the unexpected delays, the rest of the bus ride was pretty smooth. We didn't make many stops after this, only short pit stops at the side of the road. We made it to Vinh around 3:30 p.m and finally Hanoi around 10:30 p.m.
This was not a fun journey, but definitely not as bad as we thought.