Many visitors to southeast Asia end up in visiting Thailand at some point or another. Often these explorers have plans to visit other nearby countries too, such as Cambodia or Laos. Years ago we actually took the train from Bangkok to Cambodia; however, other travelers may be interested in going to Laos. So if you are trying to figure out how to get from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos, then continue reading on to learn more about our recent overnight train experience and the details to help you plan your trip.
Booking Advanced Train Tickets from Bangkok to Vientiane
If you are anything like me, when you plan out the details of a complicated trip like a tour of southeast Asia, you want to confirm your tickets as soon as you can. Unfortunately, much of southeast Asia doesn’t have online booking for transportation – including buses and some trains. Usually, you won’t have a problem showing up and getting a ticket, but sometimes you want to be sure you get a specific train or a specific seat / sleeper!
Knowing that sleeper tickets on an overnight train can go fast, we really wanted to get our train tickets from Bangkok to Vientiane ASAP. We didn’t want to risk not getting a bed on a long overnight train.
Unfortunately, Thailand railways didn’t offer us a way to book our Bangkok to Vientiane train online.
However, we were fortunate to find a way around this with a new travel agency called 12Go Asia, they offered a ticket reservation and pick up service. So we were able to go onto their website and review the train schedules for Bangkok to Vientiane (actually Nong Kai), and request the tickets. The system doesn’t purchase the tickets. It is a just an inquiry, then their staff will purchase the tickets and send you a confirmation email with the ticket information.
The great thing is that you can do this before your trip! Then when you arrive in Bangkok, you can just go to their office (conveniently located across the street from the Hua Lampong train station) in Bangkok to pick up the tickets before you depart.
This was a great service for us, and we highly recommend it. We felt good knowing that we had our tickets from Bangkok to Vientiane on the exact train we wanted, and we were able to request our sleepers before they were sold out.
The Overnight Train from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos Actually Goes to Nong Kai
We decided to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Vientiane because we find trains to be much more peaceful than a bus, especially overnight. However, when you go to buy your tickets you will see that there are no trains to Laos — that’s because there are no trains in Laos! Instead you will need to book your ticket to Nong Kai, Thailand – which is actually just over the border from Laos along the river. From there you can connect to Vientiane (which I’ll explain below).
We chose to take the 8 pm train, so we were able to still do a bit of exploring in the day before we got on the train…and it saved us a night of hotels because we slept on the train. The train was scheduled to arrive at 6:45 am, which gave us plenty of time to sleep, wake up, and have some breakfast before pulling in.
What’s It Like on an Overnight Train in Thailand?
This was our first time on an overnight train in Thailand. So before we got on the train, we picked up some food and other snacks for the journey. However, just after we boarded there was a woman walking around and taking orders for the evening and for breakfast the next morning. We declined because we brought our own food, but it really looked yummy when they delivered it to passengers!
Shortly after departing the train station in Bangkok to Vientiane, our car attendant went around to convert all the seats / tables into sleepers. We didn’t really want him to make our beds yet, but he insisted! So before we knew it, we were up in our beds.
This was another lesson for us…bottom sleepers are the BEST option in Thailand!
Since we had never taken a Thailand overnight train before, we didn’t know this. But we quickly discovered that the top bunks are scary because they are more narrow than the bottom, and the trains in Thailand are not very smooth — so they sway and bounce a lot.
This kinda freaks you out when you are laying on a top bunk without a railing. Josh and I were sure that we were going to be thrown from our bed during the night. Therefore, neither of us got much shut eye on the journey.
But the bottom bunks looked amazing! People had more space and could gaze out the window in the evening and at sunrise the next morning. So book a bottom bunk if you can on a Thailand overnight train. They are more expensive…but well worth it!
Getting to Laos from Nong Kai
After you exit the train you used to take a bus over the bridge to Laos; however, now they have built a short rail line connection that goes over the bridge. But it is a different train, and you can only buy the ticket at the Nong Kai station (you can’t buy it in Bangkok).
But it’s super easy to get your ticket. When you exit the train, you just go straight into the station building to buy your ticket to Thanaleng station for 20 baht. After you have your ticket, get in the line to get stamped out of Thailand and board a different (short) train for the jaunt over the friendship bridge into Laos.
Travel Tip: At the ticket office they will try to sell you the train ticket + transportation into Vientiane. But this is MORE expensive than if you just buy the train ticket and pay for transportation yourself on the Laos side. Even if they insist, don’t give in – buy the train ticket only.
Once you arrive at the Thanaleng station in Laos, you will be directed to immigration to purchase your visas for Laos. As of the date of this post, the price is roughly $35 USD. They prefer US dollars, but will accept Thai Baht, although they charge you more if you use Baht.
** You also must bring 2 passport sized photos with you. They will charge you more to take your photo there if you don’t have one. We always bring a few in our wallet, just in case.
We went to the first window to get our application to fill out, then we returned it to the window and paid our fee. We had to wait around for a few minutes, but it didn’t take too long before they called names out to pick up their passports and with beautiful visa stickers in them.
Getting from Thanaleng Train Station in Laos to Vientiane
One thing that we noticed when traveling in Laos is that most of the transportation is located far away from the city! This means that when you arrive you will have to pay to take a tuk-tuk or minivan into town. That’s the case at Thanaleng station, because it’s actually a good 30 minutes away from central Vientiane!
Once you pick up your visa, you can follow the signs (and the people) to the transportation area. You will need to buy a ticket first, then get on a tuk-tuk or minivan. The prices are a little different, but we found the minivan to be cheapest. Unfortunately, they crammed SO many people and our bags in the van that it was quite uncomfortable – but luckily it wasn’t a long journey.
Arriving in Vientiane, Laos
The minivans and tuk-tuks will drop everyone off in a central location in Vientiane – quite close to most of the major hostels and hotels, and not terribly far from the night market. Most people choose to walk to their hotels from here because it’s close, but you could hire a taxi or another tuk-tuk if you are further out.
Going Beyond Vientiane
We recommend that people stay and explore Vientiane for at least a day (if not a couple days) to explore this charming town and take a break from traveling. But if you are in a rush to get somewhere else, then you will likely need to transfer to one of the bus stations in town (since there are no trains in Laos). There are a few bus stations in Vientiane, each going to different destinations.
Check out our post Laos Travel Basics for more details on which bus station you should go to.
Another option is to visit a local travel agency in Vientiane — they are everywhere, especially in the tourist area near where you will get dropped off in town from the train. This might be easier than making your way to the bus station on your own, because the agencies will book your tickets and sometimes even have you picked up and taken to the bus directly. While it may be a little more expensive, it’s going to save you a lot of time and headaches (especially if it’s hot).
Plus, maybe you’ll have a bit of time to relax at a local café in the heart of town before heading out.
Travel Tip: Many guest houses in Vientiane offer bus tickets too. If you are staying there, it’s convenient to work with them – but even if you aren’t staying there, you can usually pop in and book a ticket anyway. Again, much easier than going to the bus station yourself and we found the price to be nearly the same.
We Were Surprised by Vientiane, Laos!
Vientiane really surprised us during our visit, and we actually extended our stay. This relaxed town doesn’t feel like the capital city of a country. It’s small and walkable, and has lots of great food as well as beautiful views over the Mekong river at night. For more information, be sure to check out our complete post about our visit to Vientiane which includes our tips and recommendations.
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