It’s important to note that you will have to purchase a Vietnam visa prior to your arrival in the country; you cannot buy one at the border. Arriving at there without one will cause problems. You can buy them at any Vietnamese Embassy, and we recommend doing it before you leave for your trip. You can also request a visa via email, by sending in a photocopy of your passport, fees and appropriate information, and you’ll receive a form allowing your passport to be stamped at the border while entering the country. If your plans are more up in the air, you can go to the embassy in Phnom Penh or Vientiane, or most major cities in SEA, however make sure you allow yourself 5 processing days unless you want to pay an expedition fee. While you’re filling out the paperwork, you can specify the 30 day period that you’ll be visiting, and as long as you enter and leave Vietnam within that period you’ll be fine.
We got ours in Vientiane, Laos, and the embassy is easy to spot, it’s just northeast of the Patuxay Monument. Travel to the northeast end of the monument park and follow the road branching off the back right corner of the park and you’ll find the embassy just past the Toyota dealership. You’ll see the entrance on the right side of the building (closest to Patuxay). We were unfortunately a little mislead by the internet on how long it would take to process it. We were told that if we showed up before 9am you could return at 5pm the same day and it would be processed. Apparently that wasn’t a thing anymore, and there is always a two day wait for expedited processing (which costs more) or a five day wait for the standard rate. We asked very nicely (read: begged) for a same day processing because we had already booked a spot on a night bus to Pakse departing at 8pm that day. They managed to swing it for us, but charged us a bit more. It cost us $70 US each, but would cost less if you didn’t want same day processing. Make sure to bring enough cash to cover that cost, as well as a passport sized photo. You’ll have to leave your passport with them while the visa is processed, and you’ll receive a stamp in your passport which acts as your visa to get into the country.
We crossed the Vietnam border twice, once into the country vie bus from Pakse, Laos to Hué, Vietnam, and once back out between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Traversing borders is always something you should read up on when travelling between foreign countries, and here we share our experiences as well as some tips to make your travel go smoothly!
We booked a bus from Pakse to Hué, Vietnam. Not the usual route to Vietnam, and we found out why pretty quickly. However it did save us money and time. The other option was to take the bus back up to Vientiane and bus from there or fly. The bus we took cost 230,000 kip ($38 CAD), which was steep, but again it’s not a usual trip. A flight between Vientiane and Hanoi costs about $150 CAD, and we would’ve had to pay for a bus back up to Vientiane from Pakse on top of that. Even though we entered Vietnam in the middle, it was still cheaper to travel north, then fly all the way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (approx $60 CAD) within Vietnam than to fly between Laos and Vietnam. Our bus ticket included a tuk-tuk to the bus station at 5:30am, which was nice, but our route to the bus was odd. We were picked up at our hostel at 5:30am, then were transferred to a larger tuk-tuk with more people about 20 mins later, stayed there for about 20 mins, then spent another 20 mins driving and finally got on the bus at 6:30am. We were shown the back 5 person bed in the back with three other tourists and weren’t given blankets or pillows like everyone else. We stopped at a cafe at 11:30am and got to the border at 1:30pm.
As long as you have your visa done beforehand, the crossing is relatively easy. We walked into the building, went through the checks and got our stamps, then left the building and walked down the road to a little cafe to wait for the bus to be checked before we went on again. You’ll be greeted (read: attacked) by Vietnamese women in hats and masks who offer to exchange your kip for dong. We didn’t do this, but make sure to research the exchange rate beforehand so that you know you’re getting a good deal.
Once we got back on the bus after about 45 mins we did a bizarre loop back across the border into Laos, the way we had just came from, then back into Vietnam about 100m from were we boarded and sat at a gas station. We were there for 45 mins while the bus driver and crew moved some stuff around, then proceeded to sit on the sidewalk and smoke. We weren’t told anything about this stop, so we were wary to leave the bus in fear we might be left behind. We finally took off at 3pm and made it to Hué at 7:15pm, almost two hours later than our ticket had advertised. We were dropped off on the side of a busy road along with one other tourist and the bus drove away. Two guys were waiting for us on motorcycles and offered to drive us to our hotels for a price, but we weren’t having anything to do with that, especially with our packs. So we walked about 3.5km to our hotel.
It sounds bad, but we managed to traverse it and get to our destination in tact, and with all of our belongings. If you end up taking this route, stay patient, make sure to stay near the bus at all stops, and keep an eye on your belongings. Everything will be fine if you just stay calm!
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We took a bus from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam across the border to Phnom Penh. It’s about a 7 hour bus ride, including the time spent at the border. Make sure to pick a good bus company, as there are a few that will scam you. All buses will collect your passport before you get to the border, and will either charge you for your visa when you pay your ticket or when they collect your passport. The visa should cost $30 US. They will also charge a small processing fee, but it shouldn’t be more than $5 US. We’ve heard a lot of people complain about this and try to argue it, but in the end it’s more of a hassle than it’s worth, and it has just become standard when crossing the border. We heard one story about two girls arguing and refusing to pay for the processing fee, who were actually left behind at the border by the bus. We booked with Mekong Express who have an office in the main backpacker district on Pham Ngu Lao Rd. The ticket cost us $15 US, and they assured us the visa would cost $35 US which included the processing fee. Our hostel tried to sell us a ticket for $9, which we were excited about, until we asked how much the visa was. He told us it was $45 US, which is way more than it should be, and there was a processing fee on top of that.
The Mekong Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh bus was one of the more spacious buses we travelled on, and it also had A/C. They provided a small breakfast of a sugar cake and a pizza bun too. During the drive they put on an English movie, and the wifi actually worked! We hit the Cambodian border within 2 hours, left our luggage on the bus and were led into the border building. We basically just waited in a group of people while our bus driver got our visas processed (they had collected our passports earlier), and then called out our names. Make sure to listen carefully as they will often mispronounce your name. You get your passport back, get back on the bus and drive 20 seconds to the Cambodian side. Then you get off again, go inside to get your passport stamped, and get back onto the bus. Two minutes later we stopped at a cafe for lunch, they accept both US dollars and Vietnamese dong. We rolled into the Phnom Penh bus station at 3:30pm, which will drop you off east of Olympic Stadium near Preah Monivong Blvd. We walked about 20 mins to our hostel. We would definitely recommend travelling with this company!
Now that you know how to get in and out, check out our Vietnam post for the best places to see!