Kunming to Luang Prabang – Laos Visa

A visit to the points of interest of Kunming, China before taking the overnight bus to Luang Prabang, Laos

Kunming is the capital city of the Yunnan province in southern China.  Kunming offers the following points of interest for tourists and photographers;

  • Yuantong Temple
  • Green Lake
  • Stone Forest
  • Dian Lake
  • Trips to Dali, Lijiang (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Shangri La

Kunming is a large city but the good news is that it’s walkable.  Hotels in Kunming are good value and plentiful, you should find one easily within your budget.

Kunming, Yunnan, China

Kunming, Yunnan, China

There are lots of good value hotels near the train station in Kunming, I’d recommend staying here especially if you arriving / leaving by train.  You can walk to the main shopping district of Kunming (above), various restaurants and the points of interest such as the Yuantong Temple and Green Lake Park.

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple is a Chinese temple you should make a couple of hours to visit whilst in Kunming.  The temple dates back over 1300 years to the Tang dynasty.  During the Ming and the Qing dynasties the temple expanded to what it is today.  In recent years the temple has been expanded more with funding coming from another Buddhist country, Thailand.

In the lake which the temples surround you should keep your eye out for water turtles, there are quite a few swimming about.

Green Lake, Kunming

Green Lake, Kunming

It’s worth walking to Green Lake Park in the center of Kunming although I thought that the lake in Yuantong Temple was greener than the lake in the park and would deserve the name ‘Green Lake’ more than the actual lake in the Green Lake Park.  This park is to Kunming what Central Park is to New York and worth a visit.  There are lots of traditional well kept Chinese buildings and bridges in the park making it the perfect location for photography in the city.

Dali, Yunnan

Dali, Yunnan

If you have a week or so to spend in the Yunnan province then you must visit the historic Chinese towns of Lijiang, Dali and maybe even Shangri La in the mountains.  Shangri-La is a city in the mountains of Yunnan as well as a famous hotel chain.  I visited ancient Dali and Lijiang, I recommend you stay at least 1 night in each of these cities.

Dali is a 4 hour bus ride from Kunming.  Dali is an ancient Chinese city which is very well maintained and perfect for photographing.  The ancient city is famous for, The Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple, Dali Ancient City (entrance above) and Foreigner’s Street Central Square.  If you want an authentic Chinese experience then I recommend you spend a day or two in ancient Dali.

Water Wheels, Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan

Water Wheels, Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan

Lijiang is a 3 hour bus ride from Dali.  The old town of Lijiang is a UNESCO world heritage site which makes Lijiang more popular than Dali, although I found them to be both as beautiful.  A symbol of the old town of Lijiang are the water wheels (above), you’ll see crowds of Chinese tourists taking selfies and Instagram photos around these wheels.  Whilst walking around the old city you’ll see lots of buns being sold, these are known as Lijiang Stuffed Buns, I recommend you try one, they come in two flavors, minced ham or sugary.

If you do go to Shangri La, it’s in the mountains and 4 hours away from Lijiang.

Overnight bus from Kunming to Luang Prabang

Overnight bus from Kunming to Luang Prabang

This site is all about overland travel and this part of the journey overland from Kunming, China into Luang Prabang, Laos is not a famous overland route.  There is talk about making a train line through Laos and Thailand, all the way down to Singapore but if you make the journey overland today you’ll have to take this bus (above).  The journey takes 24 hours and the good news is that you get a very small single birth on the bus so although it’s a little cramped you can stretch out.  The bus stops regularly for bathroom and food breaks as well as to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.

The good news about entering Laos is that you can buy your visa on arrival at the border.  You’ll need to fill out a form, provide passport photos and pay from $30-$40 (depending on your nationality).  It’s cheaper to pay in US Dollars, so buy some before arriving at the border.

In Laos they speak a language very similar to Thai and I can speak Thai.  I offered the Laos immigration officer $5 to stick the Laos visa on top of old stamps in my passport to save pages in my passport.  He was very angry I asked him this and put the Laos visa on a new page.

The bus left Kunming in the evening around 6-30pm and drove through southern China to the border at night. Early morning was when we went through the border, first exiting China then entering Laos. The bus drove all day through Laos before arriving in Luang Prabang a little behind schedule at around 8pm.

Luang Prabang to Udon Thani

2017-05-29T17:00:06+00:00 May 26th, 2017|Asia, China|27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Natasha Haley May 27, 2017 at 10:44 am - Reply

    We have been dying to check out Lijiang. Really jealous you have been! I never knew you could do a bus from China to Laos. Interesting and may be something I need to add into my trip. The temples look wonderful

  2. Gracie Gill May 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    This is quite an adventure! 24 hour on a bus might sound boring to others but for me, if I have all the time, I wouldnt worry taking one to get to Laos. Though it will still be convenient for everyone if the train that they are planning will be done. About the visa, I will check if it will be the same for me. I would like to visit Laos as well and maybe do some backpacking around the area too. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Marcie in Mommyland May 27, 2017 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Dali looks a great place to do a photowalk. We’ve been talking about exploring South China in the next few years. We usually travel with our little kids, so I don’t think a 24-hour bus ride is in our future 🙂

  4. Hendrik May 27, 2017 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    Ok I can see why the Green Lake is called like this… I was now after reading your latest post very interested about the city Kunming – so it has an urban population of around 4,500,000 – that’s really pretty huge!
    All in all it looks like a very interesting and als colorful place. But really great to read is that obviously the whole region there has a lot of nice places to visit, I guess all those ancient cities and temples (1300 years!) – this is something that would fascinate me the most about such a trip. All these ancient spirits everywhere…
    The 24 hours bus tour sounds again very adventurous but when I remember correctly, you had lately some similar marathon bus / train trips, so you are already well trained 🙂
    Great and interesting post like always, James!

  5. clare May 27, 2017 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    I haven’t heard of this area of China, but it looks like a great place to visit, with lots to do. I never even realised you could go from China to Laos. I do love Laos it is a great area of the world, maybe on my next visit I can fit in a trip to China with it 🙂

  6. Mimi & Mitch May 28, 2017 at 6:17 am - Reply

    Love to hear about these remote places of China! Sounds like a crazy journey to Laos though! Although, if there is one enjoyable and adventure seeking place to do it..it’s in Asia right haha? Can’t wait to go to Laos Mate! Will sure check how much it costs for Canadians and Australian to make sure we don’t get scammed haha!

  7. Vicki Louise May 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    I came to Laos via Thailand, so it was interesting to read that it is possible from China also, even if the journey is a bit longer. There looks a lot to do in that part of China though – and its nice to hear about areas tourists typically don’t go to! (Or at least you don’t hear much about them in Western media!)

  8. Global Girl Travels May 28, 2017 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    I prefer to visit destinations like Kunming. It’s easy to walk around and is not as crowded as popular cities. You’ve showcased quite a few great destinations that I cannot wait to try!

  9. Marlies May 28, 2017 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Never knew you could take a bus from Kunming, China to Luang Prabang, Laos! I bet it’s quit the experience.

  10. Rashmi and Chalukya May 29, 2017 at 3:36 am - Reply

    The Buddhist temples are so beautiful with its fascinating architecture and the bright hues. We would love to explore the temples and buildings of Green Lake as well as the cities of Dali and Lijiang. But 24 hours bus ride is definitely not our thing we would have to look for alternatives. Thanks for all this information 🙂

  11. Mike Cotton May 29, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Hi, James, what a very timely article. I’m hoping to do some travelling around Asia next year, it’s always good to read about Laos visa regulations etc.

  12. Jenni May 29, 2017 at 10:24 am - Reply

    it looks a colourful place to visit. I would not be able to cope on a bus for 24 hours. I haven’t been to Laos yet so the tips on the visa regulations will be helpful in the future.

  13. Susan May 29, 2017 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    It’s nice to read about a part of China that is off the beaten track. Is Kunming near an airport at all or is it best to get there by train? I think the bus would be a challenge for me as I like to always be near a toilet!

    • James Smith May 29, 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Yes, you can fly to Kunming airport.

  14. sophie May 30, 2017 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    This is quite an adventure! the best way to get there is by train or by plane? would love to go there soon! Thanks!

    • James Smith May 30, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      I was on an overland journey so arrived by train and left by bus. The easiest way to get to Kunming would be to fly into Kunming airport.

  15. Kim May 30, 2017 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Kunming looks like such a colorful city! I love the vibrant roofs and details of the temple structures, would love to capture this city. I was surprised to read that Thailand had contributed to Yuantong Temple’s expansion, very interesting.

  16. neha May 31, 2017 at 3:23 am - Reply

    Very beautiful places. Even the bus is so decorated. I love the vibrant colors that are all around on display in Kunming , be it parks or monasteries. I am definitely going to add it to my bucket list

  17. Liana June 5, 2017 at 10:53 am - Reply

    I’ve never been to China, but I love to hear about remote places, where the tourist doesn’t get his foot on. I have a good friend who’s been there and she’s been texting me about her trip there, and sending me photos, and reading your Kunming article makes me want to go asap! It’s on top of my bucket list by now! So interesting!

  18. Iza Abao June 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Yuantong Temple looks like a place of pilgrimage and has a peaceful atmosphere. It is good that you can buy a visa upon arrival at the border. I still cannot imagine traveling on a bus for 24 hours. I would be in so much pain probably because I cannot sleep well when I travel on a bus.

  19. yukti June 15, 2017 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I have never heard of Kunming but thanks to you, because after reading your beautiful post, I now see different beautiful offbeat destination. Overnight bus from Kunming to Luang Prabang is so colorful. Water Wheels, Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan is my favorite. Green Lake looks like a folk story of Chinese story.

  20. Stephanie October 26, 2017 at 8:36 am - Reply

    How much was the bus ticket from Kunming to LP? Going on December on land too.

    • James Smith October 26, 2017 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Stephanie. I took the bus quite a few years ago and it was 387 RMB and took 24 hours. It’s probably a little more expensive now. You’ll need cash for the visa on arrival on the Laos border as well.

  21. Dan October 30, 2017 at 8:23 am - Reply

    Hey there, thanks for this article, super helpful. Do you know if you can purchase the visa with RBM at the border?

    • James Smith October 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Dan, I can’t remember and I’m not sure. I’d take some US dollars just in case, in small bills. They’ll come in useful in Laos as well.

  22. Helene November 15, 2017 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Hi! How much was the bus from Kunming to Luang Prabang? Thanks!

    • James Smith November 15, 2017 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Helene, the bus was about 400 RMB. This was a few years ago so it probably costs a little more now.

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