Central Vietnamese workers are opting for illegal work and higher salaries in Laos and Thailand, despite the risks of working without government protection.
Buses from Vinh Town in the north-central province of Nghe An to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, are often full of Vietnamese workers.
"It's easier going to Laos than going south. It's easier to find jobs and we get better pay," said Nguyen Van Phu, a laborer from Nghe An.
The 24-year-old has worked at a construction site in Vientiane for seven months. He and more than 30 other Vietnamese get paid nearly VND4 million (US$209) a month plus meals and accommodation under deals they've struck with the Vietnamese contractor.
His sister opened a hair salon there two years ago. She has asked him and three other cousins to come.
Hundreds of people from Nghe An's Yen Thanh and Dien Chau districts go to Laos every year to collect scrap metals for resale. They have brought back money to build houses.
The Immigrant Management Division at the Nghe An Police Department said it had received 1,200 passport applications every day for the past two weeks since Tet.
It had also been inundated with requests for permission to go to Laos, more than 300 per day, said Nguyen Xuan Vinh, deputy head of the department.
Vietnamese citizens do not need a visa to travel to Laos and Cambodia but in many situations they do need an official pass.
The figures were 20 times more than the normal workload, Vinh said.
Many women from the nearby Ha Tinh Province are running small shops or cooking for construction workers in Laos and Thailand to earn a living.
Bui Nguyen Lan, director of Nghe An Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said around 10,000 people from Nghe An apply to work in Laos every year.
They've been working at their own risk as Vietnam has no formal agreement with Laos to officially send workers there, Lan said.
"[Vietnam's] agencies have no information and cannot intervene when bad things happen to them."
And bad things have happened, especially when people have been brought to Laos by strangers.
Early last year, Nguyen Xuan Bay from Nghe An paid VND12 million to a man named Truong in Ha Tinh who promised to send him to work in a restaurant in Thailand for nearly VND3 million a month, plus meals and accommodation.
His work turned out to be dishwashing from early morning to midnight for VND1.5 million a month. Bay had to be cautious as he didn't have a passport or an official pass to be there.
In May last year, border guards in Ha Tinh and police in Laos rescued Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, 16, and Nguyen Thi Trang, 17, who had been seriously abused by a Vietnamese employer.