Even after all of the research, crossing overland into another country in South East Asia can seem daunting.
It starts off with a pleasant five hour bus ride from Chiang Mai on the Greenline VIP bus (395 baht) that includes air conditioning, onboard bathroom, reclining seats, free snacks and bottled water. The bus makes a quick stop in Chiang Rai for a bathroom break and to pick up some snacks and food before finally dropping you off a few minutes before the Chiang Khong border crossing. A quick tuk tuk ride (100 baht) will take you to the border proper.
A Tale of Two Cities
Leaving the Chiang Khong border was easy enough– just hand over your passport and signed departure card and you’re good to go. We met up with the second half of our traveling cohorts, newly arrived from Chiang Rai, and waited for the bus which took about 20-30 minutes to arrive.
Crossing the Friendship Bridge will cost 20 baht and once you are over, congrats! You are officially in Laos. All you need now is a passport size photo, $35 USD and signed Visa On Arrival paperwork available at the counter. The whole process went pretty smoothly and only took around 15-20 minutes tops.
Hello from the Other Side
Once the bus crosses the bridge, you are now officially in Laos! All you need is a passport sized photo, $35 USD and signed Visa On Arrival paperwork. Once you clear immigration, there will be tuk tuks aplenty waiting to take you into the nearby town of Huay Xai (50 baht each) that should take about 15 minutes.
Most travelers visit Huay Xai for either the Gibbon Experience or as a stop over before venturing on to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng or Vientiane. Because of this, the town’s main road comprises of a few hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and travel agencies catering to the burgeoning local ecotourism economy. We stayed at the Huoaysai Hotel with a gorgeous view of the Mekong River.
Protip: Huay Xai seems to be spelled a million different ways, as well as referred to as Bokeo on some bus schedules, so be mindful when researching transportation and lodging options.
Can You Paint with All the Colors of the Wind?
The rest of the evening was spent grabbing dinner next door then toasting Beer Laos on our hotel balcony as the sun set over the Mekong. Many bloggers and travel sites recommend staying on the Chiang Khong side of the border because of the better food and hotel options, but I’d actually recommend staying on the Laos side. Even if the choices seem sparse, the view across to Chiang Khong at sunset is pretty breathtaking.