Summary: The Dien Bien Phu / Tay Trang border crossing (also called Pang Hoc) is a popular route between northern Vietnam and northern Laos. Since 2019 you CAN exit from Vietnam here with an e-visa (previously you couldn’t) but you can’t get a Visa on Arrival for Laos. Read on for the details.
While on a recent bicycle tour through northern Vietnam I met some travelers who had been denied crossing here due to their visas, so I started researching the issue to see if my own visa would be problematic.
Good news, it wasn’t, but the information I found online was a bit confusing. If you’re an independent traveler hoping to exit Vietnam at the Dien Bien Phu border crossing with Laos, here’s the deal.
I originally wrote this post based on my own experience crossing at Tay Trang by bicycle in 2018. At that time it was possible to get a visa on arrival for Laos at this border crossing, but was not possible to exit Vietnam with a Vietnam e-visa (other visa types were fine).
Since then the visa requirements for both Laos and Vietnam have changed. Currently it is possible to exit Vietnam with an e-visa (according to the official list of ports), but is not possible to get a visa on arrival for Laos at this border crossing. You can still enter Laos here if you already have your visa, but you’ll have to arrange it in advance.
No Exit Allowed with Vietnam E-visa (Update: Now Allowed)
If your Vietnam visa is an E-visa, you cannot exit Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu border crossing. Not at all. Not on a motorbike, not on a bicycle, not in a car, not on a long-haul bus you already have a ticket for. You will be turned back and, according to most reports, not given much help, direction or sympathy from the border officials. There is not a lot of transport at this border crossing, so don’t expect to just hop in a taxi if you’re turned away. It will take some work to sort this out.
If you’re trying to exit Vietnam at Tay Trang / Dien Bien with an e-visa, luckily for you the situation has changed and this is now possible. Here is a helpful site with a map showing which border crossings are open to e-visa holders.
What is a Vietnam E-visa?
An e-visa is a new option since 2017 that allows foreigners to apply for a visa through an official government website.
The original program was limited to citizens of 40 countries, but changes were made in 2019 and again in 2023. Now the e-visa application is open to citizens of any country or territory in the world, and the list of entry and exit ports has been expanded.
An e-visa is convenient for some travelers because, unlike a Visa On Arrival, you don’t have to enter Vietnam through an airport. The border crossings you may enter and exit at are those in this list.
Which types of Vietnam visas can I exit with?
There are three ways to get a tourist visa for Vietnam:
- Visiting a Vietnamese embassy in your home or other country. This is the most flexible – you can enter and exit at any border open to foreigners – but it’s also usually the least convenient to get, requiring a longer wait and parting with your passport for at least a few days.
- Pre-arranging a visa on arrival (VOA) which you will pay for and pick up at one of the international airports. This is usually done online through one of many Vietnamese companies, for a small additional fee, and is easy and quick. You can exit at any crossing open to foreigners, but you can only enter at the allowed airports.
- E-visa: a visa applied for on an official government website which allows entry and exit through only the ports listed here.
As of 2024, all three visa types allow you to exit Vietnam at Tay Trang / Dien Bien. (Previously, as recently as 2018, type #3 could not exit at this crossing.)
Crossing the Border Into Laos
Dien Bien Phu is a large Vietnamese town about 35km from the border crossing itself. Tay Trang refers to the small area immediately around the border crossing; there is no town there.
The crossing was pretty straightforward with the correct visa.
Lao visas are available on arrival for most nationalities and the rates were clearly posted. There were a few additional small fees, including an overtime fee for weekends, which were also clearly posted so no arguing was allowed.
UPDATE: As of January 2020, this border crossing and several others no longer grant Lao visas on arrival. I’ve received one report of a traveler being turned away already. Supposedly several more borders will have their VOA phased out by June of 2020. Travelers crossing into Laos at these borders should get their Laos visa ahead of time from an embassy in a neighboring country, or their home country.
Note that crossing in the other direction, Vietnam visas are NOT available on arrival. You’ll need to arrange a visa in advance through an embassy or an e-visa.
I crossed to Laos on a bicycle with no issues, except for the fact that the border is at the top of a huge hill and the road on the Vietnamese side is very bad. Lots of dust/mud and potholes and washed out sections, with plenty of lumbering trucks until past the rock quarry about halfway.
There are a few kilometers of no man’s land in between the Vietnam and Laos border posts, which you’ll probably need to walk or hitchhike unless you came with your own wheels or a bus booked all the way through.
On the Vietnamese side there is a small restaurant and shop that can also change money. I’m not sure about the Laos side.
I arrived at 11:30am and the border officials were already on lunch break, which ended at 1pm. During this break your only option is to wait. I hung out at the restaurant and chatted with some other folks waiting to cross.
On the Laos side the road was new and beautiful and nearly empty, making for a blissful downhill coast.
Transportation into Laos
Most tourists cross this border on buses booked from Dien Bien Phu or farther away in Vietnam. If you’re crossing independently, note that it’s hard to find transportation on the Laos side. There were no taxis waiting when I was there and traffic was sparse (granted it was a Sunday).
I did meet a hitchhiker who managed to find a ride to Muang Khua without too much trouble. But on the Vietnam side he said it took 7 different rides and a lot of walking to get up the hill from Dien Bien Phu to the border crossing.
Changing Money When Crossing into Laos
I would recommend changing enough money at the border for a couple days in Laos, either at one of the small shops or the immigration window itself. The rates were not great but I had trouble finding a working ATM in Laos and as it was the weekend, the banks were closed and local shops did not seem to be in the currency exchange business. Fortunately some other tourists helped me out, but I should have just bought more Lao kip at the border.
Once In Laos
When crossing into Laos your first town with a guesthouse is Muang Mai, about 30km from the border. I stopped there as it was getting late. Most tourists who aren’t pedal-powered continue to Muang Khua instead, 65km from the border, which is more charming and tourist-friendly.
From Muang Khua I recommend taking a “slow boat” on the river to either the backpacker village of Muang Ngoi or the larger town of Nong Khiaw (or both, one after the other). From Nong Khiaw most travelers continue to Luang Prabang.
It’s a beautiful area on both sides of the border. I highly recommend it. Just double check your visa situation and enjoy.
SE Asia Cycling Resources
If you happen to be crossing this border by bicycle as I did, here are some other related posts to help you plan your trip:
- Why cycle tour in Southeast Asia (or not)
- Guide to Independent Bicycle Touring in Laos
- Guide to Independent Bicycle Touring in Northern Vietnam
- Bicycling Safety Tips for Southeast Asia
- Ideas for how to dress as a woman while cycling in Southeast Asia
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