So you had a fantastic time exploring the beauties of Vietnam with a motorbike and now you're thinking about your next adventure? Well, why not to bring your bike to a neighbor Laos and experience untouched nature and off-the-beaten-track while having complete freedom?
Many travelers don't know there is a possibility to cross the border from Vietnam to Laos by your motorbike! It's possible and usually (depending on the border) hustle free! Anyway, you have to be very picky when it comes to crossing point as some borders are impossible to cross/bribe required!
Also, immigration officers tend to change the rules from day to day, so always have a backup plan. Antonio crossed the Lao Bao / Dansavanh border, spent one-month driving and living in Laos and returned to Vietnam through the same border. All without a single hustle! Not a single officer asked him about the motorbike!
Here's everything you have to know about bringing your motorbike to Laos and back!
Getting to Lao Bao From Da Nang/Hoi An/Hue
We already wrote a huge guide on doing a visa run from Da Nang to Lao Bao where we shared a complete and detailed route. Head over it to get more information. I started the journey in Da Nang and stayed one night in sleepy Dong Ha before heading to Lao Bao border. Dong Ha is a perfect stop since it's just around 70 km away from Lao Bao border and the historic road provides you with stunning views over mountains, rivers and passes.
Once you arrive at Lao Bao / Dansavanh border with your motorbike, here's what you have to do to cross to Laos:
Required Documents For Crossing to Laos By Motorbike
There is some documentation you have to obtain before going to the border. Also, it depends on your plans - do you plan to go back to Vietnam after exploring Laos? I had a plan to spend a month in Laos while driving my beloved motorbike and then head back to Vietnam. To be able to do it, you have to obtain an invitation letter for Vietnam beforehand (original letter with the red stamp on it!).
The immigration officer will ask you about your plans and invitation letter. After a short check, you'll get an exit stamp and you're ready to get a visa sticker for Laos. The process is effortless for getting Laos visa for a month.
You go to the counter for Visa on Arrival, fill the form, provide one passport photo and $35 for a visa (it depends on the nationality and ranges from $32 - $45).
My advice is to always have dollars with you since the officers will give you an inflated exchange rate for any other currency! Be careful with dollars since they check the condition of the bills, so be sure that you don't have ripped bills since they will reject taking them!
To summarize, here are documents you'll need:
- passport photo
- filled Laos VoA form
- original invitation letter for Vietnam (in case you're planning to go back to Vietnam)
- $32 - $45 for Laos visa
- passport with more than 4 empty pages
- blue card for your bike (no one asked me about any document related to my bike)
If you don't plan to visit Laos, but you're heading to Lao Bao just to do a visa run, head over to our detailed guide on doing a visa run from Vietnam that will answer all your questions related to infamous visa run.
Detailed Process of Crossing the Border With Your Motorbike
Alright, so you're approaching Lao Bao border and you're getting all nervous overthinking about everything. Don't worry! Keep reading as I'm going to share all the information that will make your crossing to Laos with a motorbike effortless! Here you go:
- Once you approach Lao Bao border, you'll stumble upon a building complex and the parking lot (on a Vietnam side). You can ignore that complex entirely since that's the place where you make a Vietnamese visa and getting an exit stamp from Laos. You don't need any of that, so you can slowly drive your bike further.
- Soon, you'll approach another building complex that is on the Laos side. You have to park your motorbike there and go straight to 'Vietnam Exit Formalities' house where the officer will check your current Vietnamese visa and the invitation letter for your return. Also, he might ask you about your plans to Laos. I was extremely opened and shared my complete plan and told him about the motorbike (some people suggested me not to talk about the motorcycle). Anyway, after a minute, he gave me an exit stamp from Vietnam.
- After you get the exit stamp, you head over to Laos VoA counter where you have to fill a visa form, provide a passport photo, $35 for a sticker and you're ready to go. The whole process of getting a Laos visa will take about 10 minutes. No one asked me there about the motorbike, but they do ask me where do I go and what I plan to do.
- The next step is getting back to your motorbike and bringing it to Laos. I left the backpacks and all the stuff tied to my bike while I was doing the process and everything was still there.
- The most important is that you don't drive a bike around the border, but push it. Just push it next to 'Vietnam Exit Formalities' and there will be a Vietnamese and Laos officer who will check your paper. They tend to be very interested and positive with a bit of knowledge of English. They didn't ask anything about the motorbike/or any paper.
- When they checked my papers, I was about to turn on the bike, but the officer told me to push further. You push for the next 20 meters until you reach the next checkpoint. Smiling Laos officers greeted me with a loud 'Sabaidee', check my passport and visa, didn't ask for a single document for the bike and told me you're ready to go!
That's it! After one hour of the whole process, I was officially in Laos with my motorbike. No questions or papers asked for the motorbike. It was relatively easy to pass the border. Also, few other travelers shared the same story.
There is a building that says 'Vehicle Import' on the border. Don't go there! Officers will tell you to go there if you have a bigger bike. I was told that you should go there if you have a motorcycle bigger than 175cc.
Best Place to Exchange Your Money
Alright, so the first struggle for me, after getting my motorbike to Laos, was where to get Lao Kip. There will be few women around the border offering you to exchange the money, but I just gave them friendly no. They live off of exchange rate, so I guess the rate won't be in your favor. Literally on the border (parallel to the place where you push your bike) are two banks - Lao Viet Bank and Phongsavanh Bank.
Go over there and you'll get a fair exchange rate for your VND or USD. They even change Euros to Lao Kip. I did a mistake and missed that place without any Lao Kip in my pocket. I ran out of fuel just in a small town with three banks. After checking two banks, they said to me the same, 'Go to another bank, they change'. The last bank said no too, but I explained to them that I was in a bad situation and the manager went to the car and came back with a huge amount of Kips.
They gave me an outstanding exchange rate and I had a wallet full of Lao Kip. Be sure not to be an ignorant traveler and always check the current exchange rates, so you know if you have a good or bad deal. The banks or other exchange places are usually for negotiating about the rate if it's not official. I advise you to use XE Exchange, a lightweight and cool app that will keep you updated on the current rates.
Also, we wrote about other handy mobile apps for your motorbike trip!
Other Helpful Tips for the Road
- I advise you to start your journey early and get to the border before the lunch break. I was told by many people to avoid 11 am - 2 pm, and despite that, I literally arrived at 12 am. There was no other tourist, and I had the process done so fast. Officers were very friendly and helpful too.
- Change your money to Lao Kip in the bank on the border to avoid the awkward situations that can happen later on the road.
- Try to reach Savannakhet or Thakhek before dark since there are no street lights on the road. Don't worry, the road from Dansavanh all the way to Savannakhet is the best road I've ever driven on in SEA. I was cruising at 75 - 80 km/h with my Honda Wave all the time. Also, there is almost no one on the road, so it's very easy to drive.
- Be careful of cows and goats on the road!
- Cover your skin with long sleeves since Laos is extremely hot! It was so hot during my visit in early March!
- Always have enough water with you. If you run out of the water, you can always ask on the gas station and people will fill your water bottle free of any cost.
- There are few small villages on the way to Savannakhet, so be sure that you always fill your bike once you're in the town as the gas stations are pretty far away from each other.
- If you have a modified bike or you don't have two mirrors, fix it and change it! Police there doesn't care if you're a foreigner or local. They are pretty notorious for bribes and they see you like the opportunity to earn some money. I had a modified exhaust and spent a few hours in the police station after police caught me.
- Maintaining and fixing the bike in Laos is easy since there are many local mechanics on the road. It's a bit more expensive than Vietnam but still affordable and mechanics know how to get the job done. A regular price for an oil change is 30k LK. Don't pay more!
For the end, there are some pictures from the journey to Savannakhet. :)
Wish you a safe trip and successful crossing to Laos. Please share your experiences with us!