Aware that it would be an extremely long bus ride with plenty of opportunity to sleep, I woke early and trekked to the Ben Xe bus station and purchased my ticket to Vien Chang (aka Vientiane) Laos. The relatively small dirt lot supported quite a few buses. I ate some noodles and tried to talk to the locals as I waited for our bus to fill up before departure.
The bus didn’t go the route I expected to minimize travel time, but people got off at various points so it must have been a practical route. After a long drive through Central Vietnam’s countless fields, the elevation started to increase. Finally, by the afternoon we reached the Mụ Giạ Pass border crossing near the top of a mountain ridge. The vehicles were almost exclusively cargo trucks, but I was lucky they knew how to process American passports and they did it without any unethical practices.
The Laos side was extremely mountainous, forested and under developed, which aligned with my understanding that over 60% of the country’s population lives by subsistence agriculture.
We arrived at Southern Bus Station in the outskirts of Vientiane by late evening after all the buses stopped running, but someone helped me flag down a motorbike who took me to the city center where I was able to exchange some money and pay him for the ride.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to pretend you don’t have any money to pay a driver until they get you to your destination or somewhere safe where you can use an ATM or exchange money at a hotel. This way, you won’t be abandoned in a bad situation. Be cautious if the driver suggests specific places.