As a digital nomad, I get to travel a lot. All the time, basically. But in recent years I’ve become more mindful of my impact on the environment. I now stick to a mostly vegan/ vegetarian diet, I use a Lifestraw reusable water bottle, and I try to minimize the amount of waste I produce. However, as a frequent traveler, the biggest culprit when it comes to my carbon footprint is flying. Aviation is responsible for 12% of all CO2 production. Not to mention the amount of fossil fuel that is needed to carry you through the air. So, I am trying to limit my flights, by only flying long distance intercontinental, and traveling over land whenever I can.
This decision was made easier by the fact that I don’t like flying. Not because of fear, but because of boredom. Flying is an excruciatingly boring form of transportation. It involves a lot of waiting, hassle with luggage restrictions, jet lag, discomfort, and you don’t get to see all that much out the window. No, I much prefer buses and trains.
Buses over airplanes
I already tried traveling over land last summer when instead of flying, I took Flixbus from Amsterdam to Vienna at the start of my trip. I then proceeded to travel by bus, train and car across Austria, Italy and Slovenia. And it was perfect. The only flights I took were too and from Sardinia, as I simply couldn’t afford the ferry fare. A real bummer, but green travel isn’t always as much of an option.
So, when I spend another winter in Southeast Asia, I resolved to only fly twice: from Amsterdam to Hanoi and Bangkok to Düsseldorf. In between I would only travel over land through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Luckily, this is super easy in Southeast Asia. It’s how the locals travel. All went great until I stumbled on a problem: a 10-day gap between the end of my Lao visa and my flight home from Bangkok. I did not feel like returning to the north of Thailand during burning season, nor did I want to spend 10 days in Bangkok. What I really wanted was to lie on a beach and recover my Cambodia tan.
I did a bit of research and landed on Koh Lanta as my destination. But here came the challenge: how to get there without flying.
Flying was the obvious choice, with affordable flights from Luang Prabang to Krabi or Phuket with a layover in Bangkok. But the prices were still out of my budget and I had promised myself that I wouldn’t try. I looked for blogs, but as it turns out, no-one had been this quite this crazy before. So I started to piece it together myself and came up with this schedule as the cheapest option:
- Luang Prabang to Vientiane
- Vientiane to Nong Khai
- Nong Khai Bangkok
- Bangkok to Krabi
- Krabi to Koh Lanta
It would involve several modes of transportation, including 2 night buses to cover a roughly 1400 km distance. But I figured: what the hell. Live while you’re young. And taking night buses would also save me accommodation costs. So here is the story of my epic journey from Luang Prabang to Koh Lanta, so you can replicate it if you are crazy enough 😉
Step 1: Luang Prabang to Vientiane
On the first day of my trek from Luang Prabang to Koh Lanta, I wake at 5 am to witness the Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang. I’m not a morning person, but since I had to get up early for the bus anyway, I thought I might as well. After the ceremony, in which monks walk along the street to receive food from the locals, I have just enough time for a quick breakfast, before the minivan picks me up at 7.30 am.
Let me start off by saying that minivans are probably my least favorite mode of transportation. They are always packed, drive to fast and it’s impossible to sleep or relax. I would have preferred to take the VIP bus or even the local bus, but they would have taken too long and I have to cross the border today, so I don’t overstay my visa.
This one is relatively comfortable, but I have to keep my eyes on the windy road to avoid getting carsick. After 4 hours, we arrive in Vang Vieng, where I am taken to the minivan station to wait for another van to take me the rest of the way to Vientiane.
The second van is clearly for locals as it is much older and less comfortable and the driver is blasting Lao music through the speakers. We also stop everywhere and nowhere to let people on and off and even do some shopping. I start to get anxious about missing my connections in Vientiane, but I’ve spent enough time in Southeast Asia to know that I just have to accept that we’ll get there when we get there. No stress. Much to my relief, we pull into Vientiane with only one-hour delay at 15:45.
Step 2: Vientiane to Nong Khai
The minivan drops me off in the middle of nowhere in Vientiane and I decide to just shell out 50.000 for a tuk tuk to the Central Bus Station from where the local bus to Thailand departs. I arrive at the bus station at 16.15 and find out the next bus departs at 18:00, not 16:30 as I thought. Oh well, time to find a bathroom and buy some snacks.
Because the 6 pm bus is the last one of the day I have to pay an additional 2000 kip for my ticket, making it 17.000 kip in total. One of those lovely Southeast Asian bureaucracy things. The bus itself is comfy and mostly empty, I guess not many people are crossing the border tonight.
We arrive to the Lao side of the border, are quickly stamped out of the country and have to pay 10.000 kip fare to cross the “Friendship Bridge” over the Mekong. We get back on the bus and drive across the bridge to the Thai side of the border. There we have to get all our luggage off the bus and get stamped into Thailand (free visa on arrival!). But no one even takes a single look at our luggage.
We get back on the bus, that now drives on the left side of the road, and arrive at the Nong Khai bus station at 19:30. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anywhere to exchange money at the border, so I am now stuck with 20 euro worth of Lao kip that I can’t use.
Step 3: Nong Khai to Bangkok
On top of that, the bus I was planning to take (Udon Air) is sold out. A first for me, as I am used to being able to book things on the spot in Southeast Asia. I guess Thailand is becoming more western by the year. Luckily there are plenty of bus companies running buses to Bangkok here, so I’m not stuck, but I do end up having to pay about 200 baht more than I expected. Lesson learned: book night buses in Thailand at least a day in advance.
Although the bus I have booked is more expensive, it is also more comfortable. Bathroom on board, plenty of space, full recline, water and a snack. No dinner stop, unfortunately, so by now the only real food I’ve had all day was breakfast. I watch some Netflix on my laptop and make myself comfortable.
After a pretty decent sleep (thanks to sleeping pills, neck pillow, eye mask and earplugs I can sleep anywhere), I am woken up at 8 am as we are driving in to Bangkok. By 9 am, we arrive at Morchit bus station, where I get off, feeling a little groggy but that bad at all.
Step 4: Bangkok to pier
I’m nothing if not a quick study and I immediately make my way to the ticket desks to book my bus to Koh Lanta. Here I get some good news, the bus is actually cheaper than what I read online. I now have a full day to kill until it departs at 17:45, so I decide to get some breakfast and find a place to work.
I contemplate storing my backpack in luggage storage and going out to explore Bangkok, but decide I’m too cheap.
Breakfast is easy enough (thank you 7/11), but a work spot is harder. There are no plugs to be found anywhere in the waiting areas of the bus terminal. I guess Thailand is not quite that western yet. Luckily Amazon Café has plugs and high speed WiFi, although you only get one hour with every purchase. I try to make the most of my free hour by downloading some files, answering e-mails and charging my devices.
As it turns out, the KFC offers 30 minutes of free WiFi every time you log into their website, and it doesn’t even need to be with a real email address #travelhack. I do some more work there, eat lunch and bide my time until the bus departs.
Finally, after a long day, it’s 17:45, and I leave Bangkok, heading south. The bus is definitely less comfortable, but still fine. Although I am baffled to find that there is no dinner stop again. Unlike buses everywhere else in Southeast Asia, which even had dinner stops at 10 or 11 pm, we keep chugging along and only stop once for gas and a bathroom break. I decide to make the best of it and just get some sleep.
I’m awoken at 6 am, for some godforsaken reason by the stewardess right before we get to Krabi. She makes me turn in my blanket and raise my seat, even though I am not getting off at Krabi and we have at least two more hours to go. Two hours that I could be sleeping, mind you. Eventually we arrive at the Hue Hin pier around 8:30.
Step 5: pier to Koh Lanta
I get my luggage, walk to the pier, get my ferry ticket (20 baht) and straight onto the waiting ferry. I am to the only “farang” (foreigner) as most opt for tourist buses and minivans to take them to the islands. But this is much more my speed and the sea breeze is lovely after breathing A/C air for 14 hours.
A nice local guy asks me where I’m going and offers me a ride with his friend who is picking him up, when I tell him I’m planning to take a tuk tuk. They are both policemen on the island and take me all the way to my hostel, and in true Southeast Asian fashion we become Facebook friends. With that, I arrive at my hostel on Long Beach at 09:30 am. A little worse for wear, but in much better shape than I feared!
From 07:30 am on 05-04 to 09:30 am on 07-04 is a total of 50 hours travelling, of which I spent 37,5 hours actually in transit.
Minivan from Luang Prabang to Vientiane: 185.000 kip
Tuk tuk to CBS: 50.000 kip
Bus to Nong Khai: 27.000 kip
Bridge crossing: 10.000 kip
Night bus to Bangkok: 640 baht
Night bus to Koh Lanta: 680 baht
Ferry to Koh Lanta: 20 baht
1340 baht + 272.000 kip = more or less 73 USD or 64 euro
It took me two full days to get from Luang Prabang to Koh Lanta over land. I took several buses and minivans, at varying degrees of comfortability. Could I have done it quicker and cheaper? Sure. But traveling over land in South East Asia is a pretty fun experience. Certainly more entertaining than flying. And much more eco-friendly. I mainly did it this way to show myself, and all of you, that it’s doable. That if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s not that hard to explore the region by land.
So what do you think? Am I completely insane? Would you go to the same length for the planet/your wallet?
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