After two days in Chiang Rai the time had come to pack our bags and make our way to the Thai-Lao border. When entering Thailand we received a 30 day visa on arrival and as hard as that was to believe our time in Thailand had now almost come to an end.
While staying in our guesthouse in Chiang Rai we discovered a lovely family owned restaurant just a few minutes down the road. We returned here for our last meal in Thailand and once more enjoyed the amazing food and the hospitality of the owners. I wish I knew what the name of their restaurant is, they served us the best pad Thai in the whole of Thailand!!!
With our backpacks weighing us down in the hot midday sun we decided that this time we will try and travel by a nice air conditioned VIP minibus to the border town of Chiang Khong. However when we asked about this at the bus station’s tourist information desk we were directed to a local bus. I am not actually sure whether private buses travel between Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong, previous experiences in Thailand would have suggested yes, as they have a tendency to offer the more expensive minibus option to tourists over the cheap local buses. Not this time.
Oh well. We got on the bus and sat ourselves down at the back row of seats. The driver planted our backpacks firmly in the corner, all seemed ok, ready to go. The bus started filling up slowly, mainly with locals and another backpacking couple, who got the seats next to us, their backpacks in front of them. By now the bus was so full, a couple of locals casually sat down on the steps of the bus in the open door which was to remain open for the duration of the journey. Some more boxes and bags were handed up into the bus for delivery and were stacked on top of our backpacks and in the aisles. It seems that locals use bus services for quick and cheap delivery of goods. The bus stopped along the way every now and then where someone was waiting to receive a box or a bag.
The journey took about two hours and cost 60 Bahts each (£1.25).
Nearby Chiang Khong we stopped at a crossroads where a couple of armed policemen got on and took photos on a phone of the passengers, one of the front of the bus and one of the back. Adam said they looked like they were photographing each other… I’m pretty sure they were photographing the passengers. This close to the border, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Another 5-10 minutes’ ride and the bus pulled up on the side of a busy main road along a line of waiting tuktuks. I had read upon the border crossing procedures the night before and knew we had to get off the bus here and get one of the tuktuks to border control. The German couple sitting next to us weren’t so sure and wanted to go all the way to Chiang Khong. We explained to them what was happening and that they needed to get off the bus if they wanted to go to Laos. They eventually got off the bus and into a tuktuk, but they didn’t look too convinced. We got to talking later and they told us they had an out of date guide book 🙂
We got on our tuktuks and they took us to border control for 100 Bahts (£2). At border control we filled in the departure cards that we were handed when we first arrived and got stamped out of Thailand.
The next stage of crossing the border was to get tickets (25 Bahts, £0.50) to the coach that was to transfer us over the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge over the Mekong. Bags in the bus, tickets shown, seats taken, off we go. This journey took approximately two minutes. Off the bus, bags out of the hold and into the Laos immigration building. Now the real fun starts.
In order to get into Laos we both had to apply for a single entry visa on arrival, which is similarly to Thailand given for 30 days. But in Laos after filling in the visa application form and then the arrival card you have to hand over a passport photograph and $35 visa fee (actually it was only $30 for me as a Hungarian citizen. One of the very few times my Hungarian citizenship trumps over Adam’s British citizenship :-))
Once all was done and the immigration officials were happy, the visas were glued into our passports and we were free to walk through the doors into Laos. We got some local currency out the wall and for the first time in our lives we were millionaires!!! One million Lao kips is the equivalent of about £83.
Oh but no, this still isn’t the end of our border crossing journey. We now had to arrange a trip into the Laos border town if Huay Xai, a 10 minute tuktuk ride away. We shared a tuktuk with the German couple and the guy bargained hard and negotiated our fares down from 50000 kips to 40000 kips per person, a saving of £0.70 per person!!! Now I know you are meant to barter with the locals, but aggressive haggling for a £0.70 gain – I usually don’t bother myself and neither does Adam. We just pay up like good little tourists.
Despite our shared border crossing adventures and having a nice chat into Huay Xai in the tuktuk, the German couple disappeared as soon as we got off the tuktuk taking our new friendship no further. This is still something I have to get used to, a lot of travellers we have met along the road are nowhere near as forthcoming as I was hoping. Of course many of them are, this is just an observation, a topic for another blog post perhaps.
So just to summarize the journey from Chiang Rai to Huay Xai:
- Bus from Chiang Rai to the outskirts of Chiang Khong
- Tuktuk to Thai border control
- Leave Thailand
- Coach transfer over the Friendship Bridge
- Enter Laos
- Tuktuk from Lao border control to Huay Xai town
And that’s it.
We had now well and truly arrived in Laos!! We literally walked into the very first guesthouse we set our eyes on as we got off the tuktuk in the centre of Huay Xai and took a room – the first room so far we hadn’t had prebooked, what an achievement for the neurotic over-organiser in me!! 🙂
We went out for a safe dinner of Thai green curry right by the mighty Mekong and plotted our next move: the famous two-day slow-boat journey down the river!