After a month in northern Thailand, our 30-day tourist visa was up and we had to skadoodle on to the next country, Laos. In this post, I’ll give details and advice about border crossing from northern Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos. This was the first time I entered a new country by land!
In the morning, we took a two-hour public bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong. Some people opt to spend the night in the border town, but we bypassed it. Be sure to say “Friendship Bridge” to the bus driver and/or the person selling tickets on the bus so you can be dropped off accordingly.The bus stopped for us to cross to Laos and dropped us off in the middle of the road. Tuk tuks were conveniently stationed to drive us over for 10 minutes to immigration. This cost 50 baht per person, but one could probably walk it in 20 minutes.
At immigration, we got our exit stamps and had to board a shuttle bus for 25 baht a head. This bus crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos immigration. We filled out some paperwork, attached a passport photo, and coughed up $35 USD (only USD!) for our Laos visa. It took up a whole page, so be sure to have enough. Overall, it was a painless and easy process. From there, you can go to the ATM or exchange money. Baht and USD are also accepted, but the exchange rate is worse than kip.
A tuk tuk will take you to the border town, Huay Xai, for 30,000 kip a person. We were with a group of other backpackers and everyone thought this was too expensive, so we began walking the 12 kilometers. Adam and I were ready to pay the money as it really isn’t a lot (about 4 USD), but we luckily were able to hitch a ride in someone’s truck. The scenery was lovely. People in Laos drive on the right side of the road, so we had to adjust our mindsets after two months of driving on the left.
The town itself isn’t anything particularly special, but I’m glad we stayed the night to get acquainted with the laid back pace in Laos. We stayed at Phonethip Guesthouse for 60,000 kip (about 7 USD) for a private fan room on the rooftop floor. Plenty of accommodation on the one road though.
We walked around the town, visited a peaceful temple on the hill (especially beautiful during sunset), ate some mediocre food. We were disappointed with the quality of food and Adam got food poisoning, so it wasn’t a good first impression of Laotian food, especially after Thailand. It got better, somewhat.
Overnight Bus to Luang Prabang
We booked a sleeper bus to Luang Prabang through one of the many agents. The bus terminal is too far to book it yourself. The ticket through the agent includes a tuk tuk ride to the bus terminal.
The 12-hour overnight VIP bus cost 175,000 kip (about 22 USD). A bit pricey by SE Asia standards, but it is overnight so it also takes care of accommodation. I prefer to sleep while traveling long distances rather than spend the sunny day in a bus.
If you opt for an overnight VIP bus, beware that it may not be comfortable for tall people. I’m the perfect height (5’2”) so I can stretch my legs out fully in the beds.
There are upper and lower berths. We came to prefer the lower berth so the person in the aisle can stretch their feet out more. Also, if you are traveling solo, be aware that you will share a bed and be very close with a stranger. If you’d prefer to avoid the awkwardness, buy two tickets.
Bring an eye mask and earplugs because neon lights sporadically go on and it’s not uncommon for the bus driver to blast obnoxiously loud music, even in the middle of the night. Also bring food if you get hungry at night because the stop doesn’t have adequate food.
Welcome to Laos and enjoy!
Read about some things to do in Chiang Rai!