Da Nang is located in central Vietnam where the country is very narrow and it reaches around 100 km in the width. There are many remote border crossings around, but only Lao Bao is an international one where you can get a new Vietnamese visa while traveling overland.
The whole process is pretty straightforward and everything is going like a charm since the border is dealing with many foreigners on a daily basis. The route to reach the border crossing from Da Nang is very scenic and historically important, so we’re going to share the process of getting your new Vietnamese visa along with the route and ways to reach Lao Bao border.
Let’s start with the documentation and process of getting your new Vietnamese visa!
Documents You Need Before Heading to Lao Bao
Before doing a visa run, be sure that you have all the documents for a new visa application. Gathering all documentation is very easy and it won’t take you much time or money, but be sure to double-check everything!
Documents you need:
- Invitation letter
- Two passport size photos
- Money for Laos visa
- Money for Vietnam visa
Basically, these 5 things on the list are everything you’ll need to have on you when heading to Lao Bao!
It’s effortless to gather all the documents, but it’s recommended to start thinking on time when it comes to documentation since getting an invitation letter can take up to one week as you need to have an original letter with the stamp with you!
How to Get an Invitation Letter in Da Nang
An invitation letter is a sponsorship letter provided by a company. If you’re working for a company then you will most likely get the letter sponsored by your company, so you don’t need to worry about it.
For others who’re not working with a Vietnamese company, you need to figure out how to get the invitation letter (sounds harsh, but in reality, it’s a piece of cake!).
There are many companies that are offering invitation letter services, but the majority of them are very limited when it comes to the border options and it takes much time for the post to deliver the original letter to your address.
We were having a hard time finding a reliable company in Da Nang that provides with the invitation letter for Lao Bao. After few days of looking and talking with expats, we found Visa Van!
The company provides invitation letters specifically for Lao Bao but also offers the organized tours to the border and their professional help when applying and getting the visa.
Antonio didn’t use their driving services since he drove on his motorbike to Lao Bao, but some of his friends used a van service and they were more than satisfied!
The price for the letter is $25. The company will deliver the original letter to your address and if you don’t have dollars, they accept VND by the exchange rate on the current day.
Transportation Options From Da Nang to Lao Bao
There are few transportation options when it comes to reaching Lao Bao border which is always a perk when you’re living in a huge city. It really depends on your budget and time which option you’re going to pick, so we’re going to introduce you with all options.
Taking a Public Bus
Taking a public bus is the cheapest option, but also it will take most of your time. You need to go to Da Nang bus terminal and find Lao Bao counter. Be sure that you’re getting a direct ticket to Lao Bao as there won’t be any stops until Dong Ha. If you take a normal ticket, the bus will be crappy, overloaded and with hundreds of stops. That kind of trip can last for a day!
The bus drive will take about 6 hours (stops included) to reach Lao Bao international border.
Another option that gives you a bit more flexibility is getting the bus directly to Dong Ha and then hire a private shuttle to the border. It’s a bit more expensive, but it won’t break your bank, especially if you’re in a rush with a time.
Hiring a Private Car or Shuttle
The option to hire a car or shuttle from Da Nang is possible, but it can be a bit more expensive, especially if you don’t have a group of people going together. Visa van has the option, on certain dates, to organize a group tour to the border and back for $30 per person. It’s an amazing deal and you’re done with everything in 12 hours.
They also have a private driver, if you can’t go in their organized dates, but that service costs 2.5 million VND. It’s very expensive if you’re going alone, but if you’re going with few people, then it can be the best option for you when it comes to budget and time.
Note: We’re not affiliated with them and we’re not getting any compensation mentioning the company. We tried their services and we’re more than happy what they did for the low price. Definitely a recommendation when it comes to doing a visa run from Da Nang!
Hiring a driver can be a bit costly, but you are totally flexible when it comes to timing since there are no stops and driver will usually take the fastest route to Lao Bao.
Driving Your Motorbike
Driving a motorbike can be a bit tricky, especially for people who’re still not comfortable with Vietnamese traffic. Antonio did his visa run driving the motorbike to Lao Bao. When driving there, you’re going to pass through amazing passes (Hai Van), driving around stunning nature, stumbling upon random waterfalls, experiencing a local life around Quang Tri province and having your costs under control.
The biggest concern when it comes to a driving motorbike is the safety of course and time consumed. For the budget, you’re in charge of it since you only need to spend on the fuel and maintenance of the motorbike. Everything else is up to you.
Further Read: A Budget Breakdown for Biking Around Vietnam
When it comes to time, you will probably need a whole day if you want to do a visa run in one day. Antonio took three days since he was exploring the province and the roads. Quang Tri is the most bombed province during the war and it has huge historical meaning, so driving and going around the sites can teach you a lot.
Antonio was really unlucky as the weather was terrible, so he stayed in Dong Ha for a night and the next day he continued his trip to Lao Bao.
Driving to Dong Ha took about 6 hours with few stops and rain during the whole trip. From Dong Ha to Lao Bao, expect to drive 2 – 3 hours of chilling drive. The road there is amazing and the way provides you with crazy beautiful scenery!
In the further text, we’re going to provide you with a detailed description of the route from Da Nang to Lao Bao and back!
The Process of Getting a New Vietnamese Visa
Well, the process is pretty straightforward and easy since the immigration process many foreigners there, so the whole process is well-organized for Vietnamese standards. Also, some officers can speak a bit of English which makes the whole process much easier!
So, once you get to the border, the process is next:
- Go to Laos side first and there is a small house with an immigration officer who will check your documents and invitation letter. The guy will stamp you out of Vietnam. This is where you do a STAMP OUT OF VIETNAM.
- Go to the next house which is just a few steps left from the first one and get the application for Laos visa. Fill in the form first!
- Go to LAOS VISA ON ARRIVAL and provide the officer with the application form, $35 and the photo for the passport. Our advice is to have dollars with you since they will charge you on a very bad exchange rate if you’re paying in VND. Once you get a sticker and the stamp, you’re ready to go again to the Vietnamese side.
- Go to LAOS EXIT STAMP and give the passport to the officer. They will check your invitation letter for Vietnam before giving you a stamp.
- Go to the next officer who will provide you with the application form for Vietnamese visa. Once you’re done with filling the form, you just need to pay for your visa and the officer will put the sticker in your passport.
- Go to VIETNAM ENTRY STAMP (next to the officer who gives you Laos exit stamp) and give him the passport. The officer will give you all the stamps and you’re ready to go! Just be sure to check out all the stamps and see if everything is matching.
- Pick up your motorbike in front of the immigration office and you will need to present your passport to another immigration officer outside. You’re ready to go!
- Congratulations! You’ve just got a new Vietnamese visa!
Yeah, that’s the whole process once you get to Lao Bao border. Believe us it’s very straightforward, but it can take a bit of time since the border is usually busy.
It took about 1 hour for the whole process when Antonio was going. That time, it wasn’t so busy, but there were many locals getting in and out of the country.
Plan your time accordingly and good luck!
Traveling from Da Nang to Lao Bao By Motorbike
In this section, we’re going to provide you with details about the route from Da Nang to Lao Bao. Please have in mind it was raining heavily when Antonio did a visa run, so he avoided the coastal drive. Probably the whole route would be more scenic if he added a bit of coastal ride, but anyway, the route he took was not so busy at that time, and it provided some spectacular views that add up to an overall driving experience.
In this part, we’re going to separate the whole journey into few sections, so we can give you more information and visual content on each section of the journey. Also, it can give you a more organized outlook of the journey so you can decide which parts or sections you’d like to take if you decide to do a visa run by motorbike.
Passing Hai Van
Depending on your starting location, the route may differ a bit. Anyway, you need to complete Hai Van Pass in order to get to Lao Bao. There is another route that heads directly to the west from Da Nang, but it’s a very long one and it doesn’t make much sense to take it if you’re lacking the time.
People who’re starting the journey either from Hoi An or Da Nang should take the coastal road named Nguyen Tat Thanh which will give you stunning views over Da Nang bay and will show you how local fishermen lives. Once you hit that road, on your right you will see stunning Hai Van mountain overlooking the whole city. You just follow the road and at the end of the road, there is 90-degree turn left that will connect you to infamous QL1.
At that point, QL1 is usually busy since trucks and buses are getting outside the city and when you combine that with the busy outskirts of Da Nang, you get a very tricky situation to drive in. Be extra careful there! Just follow the road and you will get to the point where you’ll slowly climb to Hai Van. Every kilometer will give you better and better views over the city.
The pass is always busy and the curvy road makes it very dangerous since there are many buses, trucks, and cars who’re overtaking, so don’t drive recklessly and you will be fine. Once you reach the top of Hai Van Pass, you can chill a bit while enjoying stunning looks over Da Nang city.
That’s the first section of the journey and you roughly cover about 30 kilometers reaching the top of Hai Van Pass. Lao Bao border is about 260 kilometers away from Da Nang, so there is a lot more to cover!
Lang Co and Detouring Hue
When you reach the top of Hai Van Pass and starting to descend the mountain, you will be presented with stunning views, river streams, waterfalls, and stunning infinite ocean view. Just drive slowly as the road conditions aren’t the best and usually the road is a bit slippery, even on the sunny days since there is some oil, mud, and sand on the road.
When you reach the bottom of the mountain you will get to the small fishermen town called Lang Co. You will recognize it by a small river and a huge bridge circling around the river. After you pass the bridge, you’ll get in front of the Hai Van tunnel entrance. Be careful driving around there since it’s very busy with trucks and buses that usually don’t pay much attention to motorbike drivers.
Stay on QL1 and just drive carefully since you’re going to drive on that road for a long time now. The road conditions are relatively good, but the traffic is usually busy since this road connects Hue and Da Nang. This section is a bit boring since it’s just a straight road without not so much to see. In the beginning, there is a huge lake and the coastal drive with the smell of pine trees in the air, but afterward, it’s just a highway passing through small towns and villages on the way.
At one point, you should turn right and just continue to follow QL1. If you continue to drive straight, you will end up in Hue, which isn’t a mistake, but you probably want to avoid the busy city and take a detour instead.
Antonio just stayed on QL1 and did a detour around Hue. The road is very dangerous since it’s narrow and trucks are the main vehicles in the traffic. There are few gas stations and parking lots on the way, and nothing more.
Just stick to QL1 and you will soon reach the town in front of Hue. After that, you’re just going to stick to QL1 till you reach Dong Ha. There are not many things to see in this section, but there are few towns where you can rest and refuel your energy. Don’t forget to try their iconic Bun Bo Hue!
Dong Ha to Lao Bao
Once you reach Dong Ha, it’s time to refuel yourself with amazing food and good coffee. The city itself isn’t much interesting, but the vibe and people there are amazing! There are a few amazing coffee places where you can chill a bit and also, the food around the center is delicious and relatively cheap, even compared to Da Nang. It was very strange when Antonio mentioned he had trouble finding a Banh Mi around Dong Ha!
In the city, there are few amazing homestays if you decide to stay there for a night and continue your trip the next day. Antonio stayed two nights at Hoa Phuong Guesthouse. The guest house is run by the family and they are very friendly and hospitable. They can cook a few meals from the menu, but the value isn’t the best for the price you pay. Also, the room was cozy and very clean and for the price of about 130k per night, it was definitely a good deal!
The most pleasurable driving experience starts once you hit the road from Dong Ha in the direction to Lao Bao. The whole route is about 70 kilometers and if you’re starting from Dong Ha, you don’t need to rush and you can just take your time to explore the beauty of Quang Tri province. Along the road, you will stumble upon many historic places from the war since this part of the province was the most bombed and also the bloodiest battles were held there. That was the northernmost province of South Vietnam at that time.
The road conditions are amazing since there are not many holes or construction works and also traffic isn’t heavy.
When you combine these conditions of the road with stunning curvy road surrounded by valleys and mountain ranges in the distance, wild river streams, waterfalls, and crazy beautiful views, you get the perfect driving experience!
There are few pictures showing the memorable parts of the route to Lao Bao and also the videos so you can see the beauty yourself:
Costs of Doing a Visa Run to Lao Bao by Motorbike
We recommend you driving your own motorbike if you’re not having a time limit and you’re flexible with your budget.
Antonio wanted to drive around the province for at least week to explore historical places, but unfortunately, the rain didn’t stop pouring for a week, so he decided to come back to Da Nang after three days on the road.
Here’s the breakdown of the cost he had by categories:
As you can see, the who trip costed roughly 2,920,000 VND. Antonio was three days on the road and staying two days at the guest house. The province is very cheap when it comes to food (similar prices as the prices in local places around Da Nang), but since the tourism isn’t a huge economic driver there, the accommodation options are scarce. It means there are hostels which gives you only guest houses as the option.
Guest houses are amazing accommodation, don’t get us wrong, but it can hit your wallet, especially if you’re traveling alone!
We’re always doing comprehensive research when it comes to booking accommodation, so this time, Antonio took the best value room. He chose Hoa Phuong Guest House because of a good price combined with amazing reviews and highest ratings in the city.
Doing a visa run is the reality for the majority of travelers who wants to stay for a bit longer in Vietnam. It’s not the most convenient way to extend your visa, but it is cheap and usually gives you an amazing experience.
We recommend you going to Lao Bao by your own motorbike since you get complete freedom. If you’re lacking the time, motorbike drive isn’t advisable since the whole round-trip is 550 kilometers long and it’s almost impossible to finish it in one day.
If you’re lucky and have few days to do a visa run, then definitely take the bike. The accommodation, food and all other things are relatively cheap in the countryside, the roads combined with stunning views give you an unforgettable experience.
The whole visa process is pretty straightforward since there are many travelers doing a visa run on a daily basis.
Antonio was 3 days on the road while doing the visa run and spent around 3 million VND on the whole visa run (process + logistics).