After five relaxing days in Katchanaburi, location of the famous bridge over the river Kwai, saw us looking to head out of Thailand as our visas were due to expire. Really there are only 4 options to choose between. Mynamar to our left, Cambodia up and to the right or almost straight up into Laos. We had of course already done Malaysia to the south. We decided to revisit beautiful Laos, so needed to figure out a way of getting to Vang Vieng from Thailand. We’d been to Vientiane before and didn’t really want to spend any more time there, we figured a week or so on the river in Vang Vieng would be just perfect.
Getting to Laos from Kanchanaburi, Thailand was by no means a quick hop across a border. It would involve no less than 3 Tuk Tuks, a taxi, an overnight train and two mini vans. Hard enough with just the two of us but with a 9-year-old and 6-year-old in tow it shaped up to be a little bit tougher, not to mention more expensive. But to be fair to the boys they are great little travelers.
Booking the Tickets
First up I headed to the local train station to buy tickets for the number 69 overnight train from Bangkok to Knong Khai, a small nondescript town on the Laos/Thai border. Easily done and it is worth noting you can buy tickets on any train from any station in Thailand. I picked the non A/C sleeper class as I had done countless times before we started traveling with kids. An adult ticket was 500 baht per ticket. 750 baht would get an A/C sleeper 2nd class. Leaving at 2000 hours and arriving at 0615 hours it was a great way to travel. Walking back to the hotel little did I realise the storm that would be heading my way. More on that later.
Returning to the room my wife informed me that Laos was experiencing its worst dengue outbreak in recent memory. 50000 cases and 50+ dead. A big outbreak at home was 13 cases and a week off work for the victims. Sometimes the internet and its wealth of knowledge sucks big-time.
After much discussion we decide to press on regardless. Needless to say, we cleared out the town of all DEET related products. We actually found out later that the Dengue outbreak covered the whole of south-east Asia!
The Journey Getting from Kanchanaburi, Thailand to Laos
Getting to Vang Vieng from Thailand started with an uneventful 3 hour trip in the mini van to Bangkok followed by a quick, cheap taxi ride to the main train station meant we had 3 hours to kill in the station. We parked ourselves on the floor with numerous other travelers and set about reading or playing. The boys managed to strike up a ball game with an Austrian family sitting next to us. 5pm saw all rise for the Thai national anthem.
Soon we were up and heading to our train carriage. The carriage was about 6 up the track so took some walking. On seeing the carriage my wife hit the roof. Her “You are joking.” statement ringing in my ears. Of course I couldn’t see the problem. I didn’t know about the dengue when I booked the tickets and hadn’t given the train any thought after we found out. Sitting in our seats with the tension bouncing around trying to work out what to do I ran back along the track and to the ticket counter. With only 5 minutes left and people queued up for miles, a helpful guard pushed me to the front. No, unfortunately there are no A/C sleeper beds left. Bollocks. running back to the train the food lady had managed to find a lady in A/C whose brother and friend hadn’t turned up. I bought the tickets off her and moved the kids and Alyson down into A/C. Crisis avoided. A/C sleeper class for us from now on and I don’t think I will forget after that ear bashing. I joined them once the guard had moved past. I never did mention I was cold in the night.
Border Crossing from Thailand to Laos
Waking to lush rice paddies racing past the window, we were soon at the Knong Khai border town and into a waiting Tuk Tuk, of sorts, speeding to the border. We were quickly out of Thailand and onto the bus across to Laos. At the Laos border I had to fill out visa forms for the four of us. Luckily the line was taking ages as it took the better part of 30 minutes to get all 12 pages sorted. The immigration official told me to change my Thai Baht into USD which saved us the better part of $130. Who says immigration and customs don’t care?
Laos Border to Vang Vieng
We negotiated the throng of waiting taxi drivers and piled into the back of a truck/ tuk tuk hybrid for the short 20km ride into the capital Vientiane. Not known for its great sights, we decided to give it a miss this time. We happened to be standing outside a tourist information office near our drivers drop off point so we grabbed a map and then headed to the bus station on foot. There was to be a delay for a scheduled bus, but never fear, there were plenty of mini vans waiting to take us wherever we desired. 3 hours north up to Vang Vieng passed quickly as the countryside and local life grew ever more beautiful and fascinating. Getting to Vang Vieng from Thailand isn’t hard or expensive. In fact it is a beautiful journey across some of South East Asia’s rural farm land you might otherwise not take if you flew.
Vang Vieng is a lovely town perched on the river, we grabbed a hotel, dropped the bags and headed out for some food and beer. A new country and a new beer is always exciting.
Mini buses in the past used to leave and arrive around Victory Monument in central Bangkok but all buses have now been moved away to official bus stations. It is still possible to get mini buses from places like the Khao San road but the best option and where most will drop you off in Bangkok on the return journey is either the Southern Bus terminal or Northern Bus Terminal (Mochit). Time to the Southern bus terminal is 2 hours or 3 hours to the Northern terminal to and from Kanchanaburi.
Trains have also had a large upgrade and finding 2nd class non A/C is actually quite hard. For the journey north to Knong Khai I’d recommend booking in advance a few days to guarantee your seats. Especially if there are more than 2 of you. Like wise if you are going up to Chiang Mai booking a week ahead isn’t uncommon to get your seats on the train you want. You can check options, prices and timetables here.
Have fun getting to Vang Vieng from Thailand which ever way you choose to go. It certainly is one of the nicer trips across Asia. If you want to avoid buses you can catch a train from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok although please note that the stations are different from where Kanchanaburi trains arrive and depart and the main Bangkok station, Hua Lamphong.