As of today, I can say that it’s possible to cross from laos into Vietnam at Nam Soy. This is what I did: I was in Sam Neua, but the same can be done from Vieng Xay directly, I suppose. From Sam Neua you have two options. First, get on a songthaew for a 3 to 4 hours ride across paddy field and beautiful northern Lao scenery from Sam Neua Nathong bus station to Nameo. There is a daily songthaew leaving at 7.40 am, but you better be there earlier, like always in Laos. Problem is, the onward bus connection from Nameo, Vietnam side, will take you to Than Hoa only on tuesdays, thursdays and saturdays. It’s probably better to wait fridays or saturdays, when a direct bus service from Sam neua to Than Hoa, Vietnam, is scheduled. But it seems like altough scheduled, you always should cross your fingers.
The border is extremely chilled and you won’t have any problems, just smile to the viets and let them check your bags, they will get tired after 3 minutes. If you cross INTO Laos, be ready to pay a $1 immigration fee, thing that will not happen on the Vietnam side. And, very important, remember that you need a visa to enter both countries because they don’t release visas on the spot here!!
About Nameo: very rural border town, terrific scenery, but also, terrific nothingness if you get stranded there, risking to ruin your first Vietnam experience. I also had a pretty bad one, not because of the truckers that invited me to dinner, gave me food, booze and tobacco pipes, but because of the son of a bitch bus driver. The price for the bus ride to Than Hoa should be $8 (still, too much when you think about the open bus ticket from Hanoi to Saigon, 1710 km, costs at a ridiculous 30/40 $), but the bastard didn’t let me on the bus before I gave him 20$. Extortionate, sure, and pretty bad commercial for vietnamese border efficiency, but I had no option rather than be ready to spend at least 2 more full days waiting for another bus, or trying to bribe the truckers passing by. I just hope the bastard will die choking on the 10 extra bucks he stole me.
About Thanh Hoa: there is nothing there and they will leave you in front of the bus station. Just there you can find a hotel for 10$ a room, quite clean. If you really are desperate on cash like I was, there is a dormitory inside the bus station which is really, really basic and has no shower nor nothing for 50.000 viet dong, but I guess if you can’t speak vietnamese, they won’t let you in there. I ended up staying in a place with no name that I can remember, with decent twin rooms for 100.000 viet dong. They probably have cheaper but the owner was so shitty she didn’t want to give them to me, allegedly saying they were all busy. Bullshit, I say!
Anywyas, from where the bus will drop you off, turn right and walk for 10 minutes, you will see a small hotel complex on your left and you can stay in there. The next day, many buses leave for Hanoi. I went back to the station and left around 8.30 am for 65.000 viet dong, air-con bus, very comfortable ride. This will get to Hanoi Giap Bat southern bus station. Dont take a taxi because it wil cost you more than a room for the night, try the motorbikes instead, and get to the Old Quarter. Your bargaining skills will be the key to a succesfull transaction. Good luck on getting to Hanoi from Sam Neua, fun and adventurous now that I think about it, but a real pain in the ass when almost stranded in Thanh Hoa.