Travelling Overland from Singapore to China

Aaron/ August 12, 2015/ Southeast Asia/ 7 comments

All the information you’ll need if you’re planning to travel overland from Singapore to China. Or beyond.

Overland travel can be long and tiring, but also interesting and fulfilling. In May 2015, i did an choverland trip from Singapore to Moscow, taking buses and trains all the way. Here’s the first leg of my journey, a quick (but not that quick) one from Singapore to Kunming, in Southern China, with overnight stops at Bangkok and Chiang Rai. This overland itinerary can easily be part of an Asia/ Southeast Asia overland, London to Singapore overland, or simply, a Singapore to Bangkok overland adventure.

 

If you're travelling overland across Southeast Asia, you'll almost definitely pass the mighty Mekong river at some point. In this trip I crossed it at the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, between Chiang Rai (Thailand) and Huay Xai (Laos).

The mighty Mekong, across my breakfast table in Chiang Rai.

 

Singapore – Hat Yai (Thailand) – Bangkok (Thailand) – Chiang Khong (Thailand) – Huay Xai (Laos) – Kunming (China)

 

Travelling Overland from Singapore to China in numbers:

Countries passed: 5 – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China
Borders crossed: 4
How long does it take? 88 hours (3.5 days)*
How much does it cost? 217 (Singapore) dollars*
What is the distance covered? 3,610 kilometers*
*Approximate

 

1. Singapore to Hat Yai (Thailand)
Bus from Singapore (Golden Mile Complex) to Hat Yai (Thailand).

The bus from Singapore to Hat Yai (from Golden Mile Complex).

Bought tickets for the bus from Golden Mile Complex in Singapore to Hat Yai in Thailand online (~S$42). The first ticket was the only pre-booked one of this trip. The bus departed from Golden Mile Complex (an attraction in itself) rather uneventfully and passed the customs smoothly. It was a Sunday evening and traffic across the causeway was minimal.  The bus arrived in Hat Yai (Thailand) the next morning (~14 hours).

The bus from Hat Yai to Bangkok was from the bus station, a short transfer away by songthaew from where the bus from Singapore stops (I think each operator stops where their shop is). It should have been a straightforward matter, but early in the morning, without sufficient rest to make proper judgement, I took a motorbike taxi which brought me instead to the driver’s friend’s shop, which sold the same/ at least similar bus tickets at ridiculously inflated prices, explaining with a different excuse each time (no such bus/ tickets sold out/ bus has left/ etc). Was much more sober by the time I alighted (less than 5 mins later), and after being ripped off (solely through my own fault of taking a dodgy motorbike taxi- regulated motorbike taxi drivers in Bangkok seem much more ethical), I finally made my first sound judgement of the morning by seeking help from the nearby train station. Since the train was not leaving till much later in the day, and it would be much slower than by bus, I got directions from the ticket counter to the actual Hat Yai bus station, found the right songthaew a short walk away and soon I was back on track.

Despite that unfortunate detour, I managed to make it just in time to catch the morning bus to Bangkok. Got the tickets to Bangkok over the counter at the Hat Yai Bus Station (832 THB). Comfortable ride with a decent lunch included (I nearly missed it because I didn’t know about it, and was wondering where everyone went at that rest stop), and arrived at Mo Chit Bus Terminal (near Chatuchak) in about 13 hours.

Taking the bus from Hat Yai to Bangkok (Thailand).

On the highway from Hat Yai to Bangkok.

 

Mo Chit Bus Terminal, Bangkok.

After almost 30 hours, finally in Bangkok.

If you intend to travel overland from Singapore to Bangkok, this is it. About 30 hours and S$80 later. Doesn’t cost much more to fly, and about 10% of the time required. Really doesn’t make any sense, but that’s not too far from how I make many important decisions. Turns out quite well … sometimes.

Anyway, after purchasing bus tickets for the next day (couple of counters selling the tickets but they appeared to be similar, 655 THB), I made my way to the hostel for the night. At the bus station, couple of taxi drivers wait for passengers outside of the official queue and they appear to quote prices way beyond the meter fares (I asked two of these drivers for a quote and decided to go to the official queue a short walk away- if was wayyy cheaper in the end than any of the earlier quote prices).

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

Pretty mystic ..

It was good to be back in Bangkok, especially after my extended trip less than half a year back. Was glad to have a nice warm bed after over a day on the road (or rather, on the bus). Checked in and headed out for dinner at one of the friendly roadside stalls.

 

Roadside stall in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dining by the road.

I randomly bought something (as I always do when I can’t speak the country’s language), and it turned out to be fried rice this time. Spent the night at a clean and modern hostel (360 THB) in a quiet neighbourhood (maybe a little too quiet). Not much of an atmosphere but great for a good rest near Mo Chit Bus Terminal or Chatuchak Weekend Market.

 

2. Bangkok to Chiang Rai (Thailand)
Bangkok, Thailand.

The next morning, from the hostel.

After a simple breakfast that was provided, and armed with tickets that I got the previous night, I left the hostel to catch the bus to Chiang Khong, a quiet town at the Thai-Laos border in northern Thailand.

 

Bangkok. Thailand.

Down the alley.

 

Mo Chit Bus Terminal, Bangkok.

Back at the bus terminal where I was the night before.

 

Mo Chit Bus Terminal, Bangkok.

The bus terminal was a huge space, almost felt like it had a life of it’s own.

The bus to Chiang Khong was similar to the one on the previous day from Hat Yai to Bangkok, where seats were comfortable, snacks were served, and bus attendants spoke little English. Lunch was included too, much less fancy than the one the day before but still decent.

 

Chiang Khong, Thailand.

Chiang Khong at 10pm.

Chiang Khong was deserted by the time I arrived. Got a little lost as directions provided by the site I booked the hostel from were off, but the bus attendant as well as the hostel owner were really nice and got me to the hostel. I was famished and the hostel owner looked ready to turn in but she was very hospitable and made me dinner. 🙂

I spent less than a couple of hours in Chiang Khong but it definitely left an impression and I would love to make a trip back. Seemed like a nice place to relax.

Chiang Khong, Thailand.

Northern Thailand is a beautiful region encompassing so much art, culture, nature and history and definitely worth a visit for anyone exploring Southeast Asia. A trip to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the surrounding areas can easily be included into such a trip as there are numerous buses, trains and flights from Bangkok (Pictures from my previous trip to Thailand exploring places such as Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai/ Pai, Chiang Rai, and other regions here). I wasn’t able to visit Chiang Khong (somewhat near Chiang Rai) during my previous trip and was glad to catch a tiny, tiny glimpse of it on this trip.

3. Chiang Khong to Huay Xai (Laos)
Mekong River, Thailand/ Laos.

Next morning, while waiting for breakfast.

The accommodation (100 THB), which was more like a series of wooden huts beside the river, was a lovely place with an amazing view and very affordable price (though a little rundown- or should I say, rustic).

Laos across the Mekong, looking surreal.

Laos across the Mekong, looking surreal.

Took a vid too:

 

Chiang Khong, Thailand.

Kinda purr-fect morning.

 

Simple and healthy breakfast with a couple of other travellers also heading across the border.

Simple and healthy breakfast with a couple of other travellers also heading across the border.

After taking in the views from the dining area while enjoying a hearty breakfast, the hostel owner arranged transport for the few of us who were heading towards the Laos border (50 THB). Shout out to friends I met here, hope you’re all doing well!

 

Rowing along the Mekong River.

Row, row, row your boat.

It was a short ride to the customs on the Thai side. Relatively smooth queues, especially for Southeast Asian passports. Tickets for the bus across the bridge to Laos are 25 THB.

Retro-looking bus with cool controls and a cassette player.

Retro-looking bus with cool controls and a cassette player.

Crossing the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.

Where it switches from a left hand drive to right hand drive

In Laos.

Across the border!

Made full use of my passport to bypass all the lengthy visa stuff at the Laos customs. Outside the customs, some sort of songthaews were waiting for customers. It was 100 THB (baht still useful here, I didn’t have to use any Kip during my few hours in Laos) to get to the boarding point for the daily bus to Kunming. Not too sure about pricing to other destinations such as the town center.

Pickup/ I don't know what.

Pickup/ I don’t know what.

Wooden vehicular bridge that didn't felt too safe.

Wooden vehicular bridge that didn’t felt too safe.

Arrived at a hotel somewhere in Huay Xai to buy tickets and board the 10am bus to Kunming in China (320 CNY). Looked a little dubious at first (wasn’t a proper bus station) but turned out to be fine.

4. Huay Xai to Kunming (Yunnan, China)
Sleeper bus to Kunming.

On the sleeper bus to Kunming.

The sleeper bus was slightly cramped, but sufficient. Probably the most unbearable part of the trip was the non stop playing of variety shows from China, but very much understandable, as there were only 3 passengers that were not from China (including me).

As the bus set off, it appeared that the scenery along the highways was going to be similar to that of Thailand/ Malaysia, but not too long after we began, the bus entered the mountains and the next shot near the start of the mountain road was probably a good indication of the road conditions to come.

Mountain road in Laos.

‘Cause you had a bad day You’re taking one down You sing a sad song just to turn it around .. This one ain’t turning around any time soon.

 

Villages along the mountain 'highway' in Laos.

Villages along the mountain ‘highway’.

 

Winding mountain roads in Laos.

Winding mountain roads.

 

Rice fields in Laos.

Passed fields ..

33

.. and mines/ quarries.

And took another vid:

 

The bus from Huay Xai to Kunming.

And suddenly, a toilet break in the middle of nowhere.

Later in the afternoon, the bus arrived at the borders. Second new country in a day.

 

35Laotian customs at the Chinese border.

Laotian customs at the Chinese border.

 

Chinese customs at the Laotian border.

Chinese customs at the Laotian border.

 

Outside the Chinese customs building.

Outside the Chinese customs building.

There were some people standing outside the Chinese customs exchanging stacks of cash with people streaming out of the customs. Looked somewhat suspicious so I kept my distance. #scaredofeverything

 

Mohan International Commerce Centre (China).

Mohan International Commerce Centre.

Finally in Yunnan! Had a long break in the evening just after the Chinese border, in Mohan. Had sufficient time for dinner and some leg stretching before the final stretch towards Kunming.

Mohan, China.

Mohan.

After dinner, back on the bus, back into the mountains, with the sun fast fading away.

Late night stop in Yunnan, China.

Late night stop.

 

First light in Yunnan, up in the clouds.

First light in Yunnan, up in the clouds.

 

Kunming South Coach Station, China.

And with a quiet sense of accomplishment, I stepped off the bus into the bustling city of Kunming.

If you’re interested in completing the overland trip from Singapore/ Southeast Asia to Moscow/ Europe / London in a more direct route, there are many trains from Kunming to Beijing daily, where the Trans Siberian Railway begins. I took a detour on this trip, exploring the mountains and ancient cities in Yunnan.

 

Kunming South Coach Station, China.

Kunming South Coach Station.

Travelling Overland from Singapore to China: Summary

A little tired, a little excited as I got off the bus – 88 hours after the first bus I took left Golden Mile Complex. It had been a long way up, but there was a longer way ahead, and definitely more excitement in store. The next 3 weeks were to be more straightforward, with lesser travelling and more sightseeing, but things seldom go as smoothly as planned …

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