Absolutely everything you need to know about the Thailand Laos Border Crossing and getting from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai, the two main border towns. Learn about what to do, each step in the border crossing process, where to stay, how to get around and more important information.
If you are traveling Southeast Asia overland you will need to know how to do the Thailand Laos border crossing. Though best you are prepared to travel from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai and know what to expect. Whether you are curious about how to get to the border from Chiang Khong itself or simply wanting to know the procedures at immigration, I will let you know everything for a seamless border crossing experience.
The Thailand Laos border crossing is one I have done multiple times during my travels throughout Southeast Asia. I have also stayed overnight at both Chiang Khong and Huay Xai so I have explored some of the best things to do in these towns.
Thailand Laos Border Crossing: Getting From Chiang Khong to Huay Xai
- Getting To Chiang Khong
- What To Do In Chiang Khong
- Preparing For The Thai Laos Border Crossing & Traveling From Chiang Khong to Huay Xai
- Chiang Khong To The Border
- Getting Through Thai Passport Control
- Crossing Over The Thai Laos Friendship Bridge From Chiang Khong To Huay Xai
- Withdrawing Laos Kip
- Passport Control And Getting A Laos Visa On Arrival
- How To Get Into Huay Xai
- Things To Do In Huay Xai
How To Get To Chiang Khong
Chiang Khong is relatively easy to get. The majority of travelers will get there by going from Chiang Mai. This is the largest city nearby and a major stop on the Thailand backpacking route.
You can easily book a minivan at one of the travel agencies or your guesthouse in Chiang Mai. Alternatively, there is also the option of taking the bus. The bus is a lot roomier than the minivan, though the journey itself will be a bit longer. The minivan will also likely stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai. So, if this amazing temple is on your bucketlist best go with the minivan option.
If you are wanting to book a bus you can do so over on 12Go.Asia.
What To Do In Chiang Khong
Chiang Khong isn’t the largest town to start with. Though, there is enough to keep you entertained for a night for two. This is especially so if you are just looking for somewhere to relax for a couple of days and chill out.
We stayed at Namkhong Guesthouse and Resort for two nights while in Chiang Khong. The price was only $5.70 per night for a twin room (That’s $2.85 per person!). There’s a pool to use, its located in the lush tropical garden, a seven-eleven a is a two-minute walk away and an amazing restaurant called PadThai Baan Yim Restaurant just down the road. Everything in the photo below cost $5.20 including the drinks! Apart from taking a casual stroll along the riverbanks we basically spent our time enjoying the pool at the cheapest resort I have ever stayed at.
Preparing For The Thai Laos Border Crossing & Traveling From Chiang Khong to Huay Xai
For the Thai Laos border crossing you will require certain things to have on you for immigration. This allows you a straightforward experience with no complications.
Apart from bringing yourself and your baggage, the most important thing is obviously your passport. To leave Thailand you will also need your departure card. This would have been given to you when you arrived in Thailand and filled out your arrival card. This departure card should always be kept inside your passport. Unfortunately, if you have misplaced it the border officers might ask for a fee for a replacement otherwise you might be able to get one for free. As far as I am aware there is no set fee for the replacement card, so likely you will end up paying whatever the officer requests.
If you are entering Laos with a visa on arrival, there are some things you will need to bring with you. The Laos visa on arrival is available for many nations and definitely the most popular option when entering Laos. It is relatively straightforward just remember to bring a passport-sized photo, your passport, USD for the fee and a pen to fill in the paperwork. The amount you will need to pay depends on the country of your passport and it is cheaper to pay in USD rather than Thai baht or Laos Kip.
Chiang Khong To The Thai Border
The easiest way to travel from Chiang Khong to the Thai border to begin the Thailand Laos border crossing is definitely by tuk-tuk. You don’t need to organize this in advance as there will be plenty available along the streets.
The cost should be approximately 150 baht. This is what I paid in Thailand and what other travelers generally pay from what I have researched.
The ride itself to the border is pretty uneventful. You will be taken slightly away from the touristy area of Chiang Khong where the hotels and located, past the local areas with the early morning markets and eventually up a road which ends at the Thai Immigration building. The drive itself takes around 20 minutes.
Getting Through Thai Passport Control
It is a pretty straightforward process passing through Thai Passport control. Generally, immigration here is usually pretty quiet in my experience and only a couple of the lines are usually open. I have passed through at both early morning and within the last hour of the border closing and both times were relatively quiet.
If you have happened to lose your departure card throughout your travels in Thailand then you will need to fill out a new one before entering the immigration lines to leave Thailand. It may take a bit longer for the border officer to process you as they need to match up your arrival card number with your new departure card number. Occasionally I have heard of the guards asking for ‘fees’ or ‘fines’ for losing your departure card. Though there is no consistency with this and basically it seems to just be a game of luck.
Crossing The Thai Laos Friendship Bridge
After passing through Thai Immigration you will be greeted by a booth selling the bus tickets to cross the Thai Laos Friendship Bridge. The ticket cost starts at 20 baht, though it can increase if it is a weekend or a public holiday. Nevertheless, it is still extremely cheap and just has to be budgeted in as an extra cost of crossing the border.
The bus only leaves when it is pretty full. Therefore if you are planning to arrive early at the border to catch a slow boat, be aware the bus won’t go until all seats are filled. This is what I did on my first trip from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and we ended up having to wait an extra 30 minutes for more people to arrive.
When there are enough people the driver will start getting people to load their bags underneath the bus and at that stage, you will be allowed to get onboard. It is an easy 5 minute or so drive across the bridge and its a pretty quiet journey. There are barely any other vehicles around, at least you dont have to worry about traffic!
Now I have read of travelers refusing to pay this charge and deciding to walk the bridge. Now PLEASE dont be this person! The Thai Laos Friendship Bridge is a sort of no man’s land between the two countries. There is no real footpath to follow and it is actually quite a fair distance to walk under the hot sun. Just pay the dollar to take the bus.
Withdrawing Laos Kip
If you are requiring Kip (the local currency in Laos) there is an ATM as soon as you get off the bus at Laos immigration. The rates here won’t be as good as the center of Huay Xai or Luang Prabang, though sometimes you don’t have any other option. This is especially so if you are planning to head straight down to the slow boat pier. There is only one ATM there at the pier and you will need money to pay for the ride down there so you may need to get kip out beforehand. Also, be aware it is quite common to be able to pay with Thai Baht in Huay Xai so if you have a bit extra you can use it here.
If you don’t have any USD on you then you will need to get some Laos kip. This is so you can pay the visa on arrival fee when you’ve crossed the Thai Laos border. The amount depends on the country you have come from, though generally is somewhere between $30.00-$45.00. For the exact kip conversion, you will need to ask the immigration officers on the day.
Laos Immigration & Getting a Laos Visa On Arrival
Once you have jumped off the bus and have crossed the Thai Laos Friendship Bridge you will have arrived at Laos immigration. Here is where you need to get a Laos visa on arrival. On the tables, you should find the visa on arrival application forms as well as the arrival/departure cards. Be aware you will need to have your own pen or borrow one from another traveler. Be sure you know of your ‘intended address in Laos’, which you can simply put down as the address of your hostel or guesthouse in Pakbeng or even perhaps Luang Prabang. Ideally, it is the next place you will spend the night, though that’s not an official rule.
Once you have filled out your forms you will need to head over to the big window under the visa on arrival sign. You will need to hand to the officers you’re filled out visa on arrival form, a passport and the amount the visa fee is for your passport country. Again you are best to pay this fee in USD. Though, baht and kip are accepted.
Once your visa has been processed you will collect it to the window to the left. If you have successfully received your Laos visa on arrival you can then head through to the immigration officer at his booth. He will inspect the visa, confirm the details are correct and stamp you into your next country of Laos!
How To Get From Laos border to Huay Xai
Of course, the Laos border is in Huay Xai, though its about a fifteen-minute ride into the center of town. After passing through passport control you will be greeted with the typical Laos tuk-tuks. The drivers will approach you and that is when you can start haggling for a fare. Try for a rate of approximately 25,000 kip per person.
Be aware if you are arriving early to Laos and was one of the first people to cross the border, there might be quite a wait until the driver finds enough people to full up the tuk-tuk. This happened our first time arriving in Laos and we were in a rush to catch the slow boat. We ended up finding a driver who would take just us to the slow boat pier for 100,000 kip.
Things To Do In Huay Xai
Huay Xai is a relatively sleepy town in Northen Laos. It certainly won’t be the main stopping point on your Laos itinerary. Though, if you are looking to get away from the crowds for a couple of days there is no better option than Huay Xai.
No doubt the most popular thing to do in Huay Xai is the Gibbon Experience. Imagine sleeping high in the treetops, ziplining around and being surrounded by the amazing Laotian jungle. Well, that is exactly the Gibbon Experience. It’s pricey, but I have heard nothing but great things about this once in a lifetime opportunity.
The main reason people stay overnight in Huay Xai is to catch the 2-day slow boat to Luang Prabang the following morning. Huay Xai seems to just be catering to these travelers partaking on this long journey. The guesthouses here are simple and no-frills. Just an FYI if you are going on the slow boat be sure to organize a packed lunch. This needs to be done the previous night because it is IMPOSSIBLE to do it that morning. The restaurants will be too busy preparing food for other travelers.
For a chill evening in Huay Xai, I highly recommend climbing up the 100+ steps to the impressive Wat Chomkao Manylath. There is a great view from here where you can watch the sunset over the Mekong River. Be sure to cover your shoulders and knees so you can go for a walk around the temple as well.
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