Siem Reap to Vientiane overland

When we first set off on our travels we were merrily hopping around Borneo and Indonesia for as little as £13 a time. So it came as something of a shock when we planned to head to Vientiane – the capital of Laos – and were shocked at how expensive flights were. There wasn’t a cheap flight out of Siem Reap to be found. Lacking the £100+ each needed for the short flight, we realised we would have to get from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland.

This left us with two options. We could head across Cambodia and up through southern Laos – a journey that reportedly could take over 30 hours if we didn’t add in stops along the way. We ruled this out quickly, fearing there might be karaoke on the bus.

We decided on plan C – we would bus it to Bangkok and jump on a sleeper train to Nong Khai on the Thai side of the border. We booked a bus to Bangkok (splashing out on the “luxury” $28 tickets – a cheaper $9 ticket is also available) which left Siem Reap at 9am and arrived in Bangkok just after 4pm.

As an alternative, we could have arranged transport just to the Poipet border crossing and then picked up one of Thailand’s subsidised “casino buses” to Bangkok from the Thai side of the border, which may have been slightly cheaper. Details are here if you are interested but we opted to stick with just the one bus. We are far too old to be faffing with bus changes, and we didn’t want to miss our train. We might have considered it if we were finishing our journey in Bangkok.

The Poipet border crossing is notorious for scams and overcharging going into Cambodia. I’m delighted to report heading out of Cambodia and into Thailand was straightforward and scam-free, and we were back on our bus within an hour. It’s always a pleasure to be back in Thailand. The food is delicious and everything just runs a bit…smoother. We relaxed and settled in to the last leg of the journey.

A short 4 hours later, we pulled into Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station and paid a tuk tuk driver 50 baht to drop us at the nearest MRT station, which we took to Bangsui railway station. The journey (with one change) takes about half an hour including the tuk tuk and buying tickets.

If you are going from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland I think you can do the entire leg in one go from Bangkok by changing to a shuttle train in Nong Khai, but we opted to break our journey in the Thai border town of Nong Khai. I do love a border town.

The sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai departs from the main station – the gloriously onomatopoeic Hualamphong – but the same 8pm train can also be picked up a few minutes later at about 20:18 in Bangsui station. Bangsui is easier to get to on the MTR from Mo Chit bus station, which is where Siem Reap buses terminate at.

We booked our tickets at the counter at Bangsui station; our preferred second class tickets were sold out for that evenings train but we splashed out and picked up a first class sleeper cabin for £24 each instead. Let it never be said we don’t know how to live, people.

After a leisurely meal in a local restaurant we headed back to the station for our train, which pulled in bang on time. Safely installed in our compact little cabin, we read and ate Oreos (again, never say we don’t know how to live on our travels!) until we were lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train.

Siem Reap to Vientiane overland
First class sleeper bunks – even room for the rucksacks!

Seven hours of decent sleep later, we were woken up by the train guard 20 minutes before we reached Nong Khai station. We stepped outside our cabin, and within a minute he’d packed away our beds and set them up as a comfy seat for two, like some kind of room-rearranging ninja.

Siem Reap to Vientiane overland
Setting our sleeper cabin up for the morning!

At just after 7:30am we were in Nong Khai and headed to the beautiful Mut Mee guest house. You could just as easily head to the border and be at the Laos border crossing for 8am.

All in all our journey took 22 hours, but 12 of those were spent dozing on a train. It may not be the quickest route from Siem Reap to Vientiane, but going overland was less than half the price of a flight (£100 v £44) and we arrived fairly refreshed. If we’d taken cheaper buses and used third train class seats we could have saved even further, but sometimes you have to treat yourself, no?

If you want to travel from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland

  • Most guesthouses in Siem Reap will be able to help you with booking a ticket on a bus of your choosing to Bangkok. Book at least 24 hours in advance if you can to secure the time you want. Our tickets cost $28 each – roughly £18.50.
  • The journey from Mo Chit bus station to Bangsui takes about half an hour, which includes the tuk tuk ride and one change of train. This costs about ฿50 for the tuk tuk and ฿28 each (I forget the exact cost) for the MRT – about £1.50 per person.
  • A first class sleeper carriage from Bangsui to Nong Khai costs about £24 per person. This was the most expensive ticket; there are also second and third class options and we’d have gone second class if it had been available.
  • If you need help with train times, train costs or anything else train related, Seat 61 is the place to go for pretty much any country in the world. We’ve used it several times; it is a helpful, up to date and comprehensive guide to international train travel.

6 Comments

  1. Melene said:

    Hey! I’m at the moment in Laos and want to do the opposite of what your article is about, namely go from Vientiane to Siem Reap. Can I just reverse everything you wrote in the article? And also, what about a visa for passing through Thailand?

    June 16, 2016
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      Hi Melene
      Sorry for not coming back to you – I hope you managed to organize the logistics. I think the journey should work although unsure on train times – the maninseat61 website may be able to help confirm if sleeper trains run the other way.
      As you’re going quite a distance within Thailand usual visa rules would apply.
      Let us know how you got on!

      July 21, 2016
      Reply
  2. Tanya Denmark said:

    Hi
    Thanks for this information did you have to buy a visa for Thailand as well?

    November 18, 2016
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      Hi, no we didn’t because we are Uk citizens so (from memory) we get 30 days in the country without needing a visa. Depending on your nationality different laws may apply.
      We were only in the country for about 16 hours but – as we went via Bangkok and overland – this would have counted as a trip within the country, so your normal visa rules would apply.
      Katie

      November 18, 2016
      Reply
  3. luci parkinson said:

    just thought i’d leave my info on another way around not going through the bus journey of hell (28 hours+) from vientiane to siem reap!

    it took some extensive researching, but tomorrow this is what our plan looks like:

    3 hour bus journey from vientiane(laos) to udon thani(thailand)
    plane from udon thani to bangkok cost us about $55 australian each (our guesthouse was offering the sleeper train from vientiane to bangkok for $60, and also the entire bus ride from hell from vientiane to siem reap for about $60 aswell) the plane ride will only take one hour.

    now we will land in bangkok at 10:35pm at dong muang airport, and head to our hostel near khao san road. I’ve been to bangkok many times, so breaking up the trip here in a short amount of time is fine with me. we’re a bit strapped for time at the end of our holiday and wanted 2 weeks to explore cambodia. we’d heard going through 4000 islands in laos there was a new route that takes 6 hours for 20USD directly from don det to siem reap, so if this is something you’d like to do then i think it sounds like a good option. we just didn’t have the time to explore and didn’t want to rush through somewhere we hadn’t been before without seeing what it had to offer. it’s also a decent bus ride away from vientiane, and if i’m not mistaken, you first must go through pakse.

    the next morning we have a bus booked at 7:45am from bangkok to siem reap. giant ibis was on trip advisor, and sounded like the best bus company to take us across the dreaded boarder. it was a tiny bit more expensive than other bus companies at $32USD each, and will take 8.5 hours.

    flights from vientiane to siem reap were roughly $360 aud each and was just simply out of the question as it is the same price as flying home to melbourne, although would be the fastest and easiest option.

    we were going to opt for the overnight train as it sounds interesting but after realising how long it would take in comparison to the flight of the same price we just couldn’t resist!
    the plane company is “nok air” a thai company that only seems to fly within thailand. luckily udon thani is only 3 hours from vientiane!

    sorry if some of this doesn’t make sense, I’m tired and have been organising this all day, just wanted to leave some info somewhere on the web incase someone else likes this route better than the later!

    the flight and bus altogether for two people will be 196 australian dollars.

    November 16, 2017
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and tips Luci! Hope you had a great trip.

      November 16, 2017
      Reply

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