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From neighbouring countries to Vietnam

laos airlines
It’s increasingly popular to enter Vietnam overland from China, Laos or Cambodia, an option that means you can see more of the region than you would if you simply jetted in. However, it must be said that regional air connections are becoming better and better – you can fly from many cities in Southern China, from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap with Cambodia Angkor Air (bookable through codeshare partner Vietnam Airlines), or from Vientiane with Vietnam Airlines or Lao Airlines (w laoairlines.com).

From China there are three overland possibilities. The Beijing–Hanoi train enters Vietnam at Dong Dang, north of Lang Son, where there’s also a road crossing known as Huu Nghi Quan. The border is also open to foot traffic at Lao Cai in the northwest and Mong Cai in the far northeast.

From Laos, six border crossings are currently open to foreigners: Lao Bao, the easiest and most popular, some 80km west of Dong Ha; Cau Treo and Nam Can, to the north and northwest of Vinh; Na Meo, northwest of Thanh Hoa; Bo Y, northwest of Kon Tum; and Tay Trang, just west of Dien Bien Phu. While it’s perfectly possible – and cheaper – to use local buses to and from the borders, international bus services also run from Savannakhet and Vientiane to Hanoi, Dong Ha, Vinh, Da Nang and other destinations in Vietnam: these direct services are recommended, as regular reports of extortion continue to come in from those crossing independently.

From Cambodia you can travel by air-conditioned bus ($9–14) from Phnom Penh straight through to Ho Chi Minh City, via the Moc Bai crossing. Cheaper operators charge half these prices, but use old buses and usually get you to switch at the border. Many tour companies in Phnom Penh will be able to organize boat-plus-bus services, which are a fun way to cross the border. There are two crossings in the Mekong Delta area – Vinh Xuong and Tinh Bien, which are respectively 30km north and 25km west of Chau Doc. There are also border crossings at Xa Xia, on the coast west of the delta, which is useful if you are coming from Kep or Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast; and at Le Thanh in the central highlands, making it possible to go from Banlung in northeast Cambodia straight through to Pleiku.

As long as you have a valid visa, crossing these borders is generally not a problem, though you may still find the odd Vietnamese immigration official who tries to charge a “processing fee”, typically one dollar. Most border gates are open from around 7am to 5pm and may close for an hour over lunch.

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