Thailand you were wonderful, but alas it is time for us to get the show on the road. Partly because they wouldn’t give us another visa without flying out and back into the country but mostly because our Laos FOMO was kicking in. I mean we like to travel slowly but at this stage we weren’t so much slow, as stopped and in serious danger of moving backwards. Time to get our ungraceful asses over the Thai-Laos border.
With so much of our South East Asian odyssey laying ahead of us we decided to get a move on and set our sights on the next destination and the next adventure, yes we decided to get Laos -T (get it !?). As we were finishing up our Thai time in the north of the country, it made the most sense for us to cross into Laos at her top and work down. After much research, the route that was the most convenient/cheapest for us was to go from beautiful Chiang Mai to Laos capital city of Vientiane.
There’s an abundance of different ways to get from Chiang Mai to Laos including flying, bus and what seemed to be the most popular, the Laos slow boat to Luang Prabang, but to be honest, we didn’t much fancy the idea of having to disembark at the end of the day and go ashore to the, apparently not-so-pleasant, village of Pak Beng in search of accommodation… We know, right? you would imagine a two day boat ride would include the night too but anyway, what follows is the route we took, including the tips and tricks we learned by making the mistakes so you don’t have to! You’re welcome.
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Table of Contents
Border Crossing Checklist:
- 1 x Passport photo, regular European size did the job for us.
- 1x Pen, seems a little obvious I know but there are guys at the Thai-Laos border who’ll offer to help and then put the hand out for a tip, so save yourself the hassle and bring a biro!
- $35 (or 1,500 baht but to pay in dollars works out cheaper because of the exchange rate), make sure when you’re getting them that they’re all PRISTINE as in no rips or creases. Thai-Laos border officials are super strict on this and will refuse a note with the slightest imperfection. We were stung with this and ended up having to pay in a mix of US dollars and Thai baht, and we weren’t the only ones.
From Chiang Mai To Udon Thani:
From Chiang Mai Arcade bus station there are a few companies going to Udon Thani or direct to Nong Khai which is where the Thai-Laos border is and where you’re ultimately trying to get to.
At gates #13 & #14 you will find Chakrapong Tour, they operate a VIP bus service to Udon Thani for 767 Baht (€20) taking 11 hours or direct to Nong Khai for 820 Baht (€22) taking about 12 hours both depart at 8pm.
Alternatively Phetprasert bus company at gates #5 & #6 goes to Udon Thani, taking 12 hours and costing a much more respectable 545 Baht (€14.60) departing at 5.30pm and 7.30pm
We opted for the Phetprasert bus, cause you know… go cheap or go home. We arrived at Udon Thani at 6am.
From Udon Thani To Nong Khai:
Sittin’ in the cheap seats!
The bus dropped us at the main entrance to a large shopping plaza. Here we saw small circular offices with “Van” displayed. From here you can pay 50 baht (€1.30) to jump a minivan to Nong Khai.
Note: The mini vans will drop you at Nong Khai bus terminal, which means taking another van or tuk-tuk to the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge to stamp out of Thailand. The first van leaves at 6.30am.
To save hassle, we suggest, as we did, taking the train to Nong Khai instead. Not only is it cheaper but the Nong Khai train station is within walking distance to the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge cutting out that extra van cost.
The Udon Thani train station is a handy 10 minute stroll from the Central Plaza Mall where the bus leaves you. Exit the car park towards the main road and take a left up Prajak Sillapakom. The station is at the end of this road. The trains are less regular than the minivans but there is one leaving for Nong Khai at 7.40am costing only 11 Baht (€0.30). It is a comfortable and spacious one hour journey, so put your feet up and relax.
If you do decide to take the bus, you will find the Udon Thani bus station less than a 5 minute walk from the Central Plaza Mall. Exit the plaza, head towards the nearby main road, crossing to the opposite side and keep heading straight. The terminal is the second left, follow the arriving buses!
There is a local government bus leaving at 8.30 am that travels from Udon Thani to Vientiane in Laos but it states “no visa no ticket” so we assumed it didn’t stop at Thai-Laos immigration or gave little time for passport stamping.
No messin’ here lads!
The lady at the information desk in Chiang Mai told us about this bus service and mentioned that it does in fact stop at immigration but you have limited time and if you take too long it will leave without you.
They also said not to panic if this did happen as you can jump a local bus from the border to Vientiane for less than €1. You won’t be stranded. We didn’t stick around for the ticket office to open to find out. but we’re all about options and thought to include this one just in case you wanted to try.
From Nong Khai To Vientiane:
From Nong Khai there are two trains that cross the Thai-Laos border (immigration is included at the train stations) one at 7.30am and the other at 2.45pm each for a very reasonable 20 Baht (€0.50). The train runs to Thanaleng station, from there you will need to de-board and take a bus into Vientiane.
You can easily take a tuk-tuk from Nong Khai train station to the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge/border. It will cost around 30 Baht (€0.80) per person and takes less than 5 minutes. They may quote you 50 Baht (€1.30). If they start walking, they will quickly reduce their fare to 30 Baht.
We decided to walk the 1 kilometre; it took us 20 minutes and was an easy straight walk. If you do walk, the Thai immigration station is on the left hand side. Once stamped out of Thailand exit the building and directly on the right hand side you’ll find the ticket office for the shuttle bus across the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge. Unfortunately, you cannot cross this bridge by foot but thankfully, the 5 minute trip only costs 15 Baht (€0.40).
Do I need to sign in blood?
Again, enter Laos immigration on the left hand side and head for ‘Visa on arrival’. Pop over to either Window #1 or #2 to receive the Visa forms, fill them in and pay your $35 here also. When promoted, go to Window #3 to collect your passport. Here, visa fees for all countries are displayed,
Visa Fees as of August 2018
Note: it is $1 extra if you cross the border outside the hours of 6 am – 10 pm on Monday- Friday, or during weekends and public holidays
Now that you’re in Laos at last you’ll want to get to Vientiane from the border. Unless you want a van straight to your hotel, which will cost you between 100 – 200 Baht (€2.70 – 5.40), ignore the taxis and vans and head for the bus stop across the road. On the right hand side, next to the market stalls you should hop the #14 bus or a Songthaew for 8000 kip (€0.80) or 40 Baht (€1) straight into the city.
The drivers are well used to random foreigners and told us which bus to get on, and showed us where to jump off. This would not have been a hugely complicated border crossing if the information online was slightly less confusing, so here’s hoping this blog makes the journey slightly shorter and a bit less “fly by the seat of your pants-y” for you than it was for us! As always, if you have any questions, musings or comments do feel free to send us an auld message. Alternatively if you have crossed the Thai-Laos border recently and any of the info needs updating, as is often the case in South East Asia, let us know!
Happy Travels TUG x
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