Countries have extensive shared borders, making it fairly easy to hop across from one place to another. Northern Thailand has two neighbors, Myanmar and Laos, making for easy visa extensions or travel options.
Infrastructure isn’t always the greatest in these areas, causing extensive land trips to be a bit difficult. One of the most commons means of travel in the north is the route from Chiang Rai, Thailand, to Huay Xai in Laos.
Buses run almost every hour from Chiang Rai Arcade Bus Terminal, and cost 185 Thai Baht (about 6 USD). Take the Green Bus line; you might have to wait a while to get your ticket, but buses are very clean, and tickets often come with a snack and a water for your trip. Once in Chiang Rai, you need to catch a bus to Chiang Khong.
Some people also cut out the middle man and head straight there from Chiang Mai. The total time to get there is about five and a half hours, but Chiang Rai is home to the famous White and Blacks Temples, so many travelers take a day or two before crossing.
• Your passport
• A passport photo. If you don’t have one, there are plenty of shops in Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong that will take one for you.
• Your departure card from entering Thailand
• Cash, in US dollars and in Thai baht. You’ll need usd to pay for your visa and the baht to pay for the bus to cross.
You might also need it to pay a late fee on your visa. For every extra day you stay in Thailand over your allotted 30 days, you will be charged 500 baht per day. So stay for an extra weekend and you could be looking at 60 bucks you hadn’t planned on spending!
Depending on the country that’s issued your passport, the cost of your visa can change. All but eight countries will be charged $30, the minority include:
The bus to Chiang Khong drops you at a pick up point, where you’ll need a songthaew or a tuktuk the rest of the way. The border crossing center is brand new. You used to be able to charter a rickety old boat, a sketchy-looking man in the middle would give you a stamp and you’d be on your way. Now, brand new twin buildings stand on opposite sides of a strip of highway. Hand your passport over and departure card to a man sitting at a table, and make your way to the bus booth. 20 baht pays for your passage to the other center. When the bus is full, a five minute trip will have you crossed to the other side.
Since the center is so new, it can be a bit tricky to find your way to where you need to be. Keep your eyes peeled for A4 paper signs that will hopefully soon be replaced by more noticeable, permanent ones. Beeline for the first window you see, marked with a small “VISA ARRIVAL” sign. You’ll be given an application and an arrival/departure card to fill out. Turn them back in with your picture and passport, and head over to the next window. It could take a few minutes, or up to an hour, depending on how many people are ahead of you in line. You’ll be passed back your passport in exchange for your US dollars, then herded off to the next corral. Flash your new visa at the security checkpoint, and congratulations: you’ve made it to Laos!
For some travelers, this experience is just a means to an end. If you need to extend your Thai visa, you can just turn around and head back to Chiang Khong. But for many, this is the gateway to the next adventure. From here, you can opt to take a seventeen hour bus ride, or a two day slow boat to the city of Luang Prabang.
Other still will plan treks around the dense forests and to tribal villages in the area. Whatever your plans may be, start figuring them out today on Trekeffect!
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