Traveling from Kunming (China) to Luang Prabang (Laos) is quite easy if you are willing to travel with the locals. This is made possible using the Mohan-Boten border crossing. We took the night bus from Kunming south bus station to Laos and it took about 24 hours in total.
We found this bus using the chinabusguide.com website that had help us many times before in our journey across China. These tickets are not bookable online, but you can maybe ask the site to book something for you. We purchased tickets at the “Kunming South” station the same day, but we were prepared to stay another night in case they were sold out (which they can do). A protip is to go the station before hand and buy tickets for your travel date.
The station “Kunming South” is actually named “Nanbu Bus Passenger Transport Station” and is reachable via the metro line 2 by the station “South Coach Station”.
The journey is listed as:
Kunming → Luang Prabang (昆明→琅勃拉邦)
Expected depart time is 18:30 and tickets costs 398 yuan per person. The bus is departing from a special part of the station dedicated to “International lines”. When you enter the waiting hall the terminal is in the very left corner of the hall and the personel is happy to help you out. We waited until around 19:00 until they finally let us in to the bus.
The inside is not too bad, it has three rows in double bunk beds with two corridors separating them. You are instructed to take off your shoes in the bus and keep them in a bag during the journey. Each bed has a pretty fresh thick blanket and a pillow.
The bed it self is tiled in an angle in the upper part so that you can both sleep and half-baked sit up depending on the time of day. They are quite narrow and does not offer very much leg space for tall persons (like me, 195cm, 6 feet 5 inches). However, the combination of the wall, the handle, the seatbelt and the bed is self, allowed me to fold up nicely and get a decent nights sleep (more than any other sleeper bus I’ve tried in Thai-Asia).
The bus sets off just as the darkness falls, onto the nice Chinese highways. After a short while there is a short toilet break to prepare for the night. After this you are allowed to sleep quite well until the early next morning when you are dropped off on a dirt paved parking area. You are instructed to take your belongings and walk to the Chinese emigration station just up the road (as you enter the parking area take a left turn). There are few locals wanting to sell you Laosian kips, but you can safely deny their services. As you walk along the main road there are a few restaurant and snack shops which can be good to grab a quick bit for breakfast or bring onto the bus for later. As you close up to the border building, you follow the stairs on the left hand side and the rest of the process is just to follow the signs. On the other side you are left without any information, but you are supposed to take your belongings and continue along the road by foot. The asphalt quickly turns into a dirt road just as you see the Laos immigration station a few hundred meters away. Here you first are obligated to pay a small tourist fee (by dollars, kip or yuans) and after this you apply the a visa-on-arrival through a series of windows. Make sure to have a photo, a pen and money to pay the visa fee in dollars. The fees are also different per country. Some countries does not even require visa. More laos visa info.
After this you are left to wait for the bus on a big dirt plane. Have patience while waiting for the bus, as it has to go through the traffic queue which can take even more time than your own exit-entry process. Our process from exiting the bus until we caught it again on the other side was far over 2 hours, due to the bus being stuck in the long vehicle line.
After this a more swinging journey begins. The area around the border is plain messy construction site with no proper roads for a while (at time of writing). Maybe in the future this will be a completely different story. The roads after this is very different from the straight highways of China. Bending curves, one after each other. The vegetation is quite different, and you really start to feel the warm and humid air. It is quite a roller coaster ride for a while, but thanks the leaning beds and seat belts you are quite comfy in all of this.
At round 13:00 there is lunch stop for 30-40 minutes in a small town with two restaurants and a few street food like food stands. The restaurant might be ok (did not try), but the other alternatives were not very inviting (in our opinion).
After this the journey continues and you start to close up on Luang Prabang just as the sun sets over the jungle landscape.
You arrive in Luang Prabang at what seems to be a bus drop off point. There are a few tuktuks eagerly waiting to pick up people into the city. We expected to be dropped off at the “Northern Bus Station”, but that was not the case. It’s more in the southern part of the city. We payed 20 000 LAK per person (~2€/per) for the transportation to our hostel, quite worth it considering the darkness and traffic. Tips for the road
Some tips for the road
- Read up on the visa fee to have the correct amount at hand.
- Have some spare yuan/dollars/kip to pay tourist tax (~10CNY/p)
- Have a photo and a pen ready at the border.
- Bring breakfast and lunch that can be stored in room temperature, if you are hesitant to take the alternatives along the road.
- Buckle up, safety first (also it holds you in place).
- Prepare to have you hostel name and address at hand.
- Pack a small bag to have onboard the bus.
- Earbuds and eye-cover are recommended for a soft sleeper.