We crossed the Laos border twice by bus, once when travelling from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos, and then left via Pakse, Laos to Hué, Vietnam. You do not need to acquire a visa beforehand, but there is a fee to enter the country as a tourist. The most expensive, unfortunately, was for Canadians at $43 USD. The tourist visa lasts 30 days. Traversing borders is always something you should read up on when travelling between foreign countries, and here we share our experiences as well as some tips to make your travel go smoothly!
Chiang Rai, Thailand – Huay Xai, Laos
We took the local route from Chiang Rai to the Laos border. We jumped on a local bus that runs every hour to Chiang Khong, and asked the bus driver to drop us off the border. This cost 80 baht each. The bus dropped us off at the crossroad that leads to the border and from there we took a tuk-tuk for 100 baht (probably could’ve bartered that price down a bit, but we weren’t the most experienced hagglers at that time).
Crossing the border was easy and not busy for us at all. Alex had even lost his departure card, but the border crossing guy just kind of laughed and gave us a dirty look, then gave him a new one. We walked through, they took a picture of us, then we waited 5 mins and paid 20 baht for the shuttle bus to take us across the bridge to Laos. Once we were across we had to go over to the windows to the right of the building to fill out some forms for the visa and hand over two passport photos. It’s expensive to travel to Laos as a Canadian, it cost us $43 US, so make sure you bring enough with you! We then found some other travellers (two Dutch guys, an Aussie and another Canadian!) and managed to haggle the tuk-tuk driver down to 100 baht per person for the 20 min drive into Huay Xai.
In total the trip cost us 300 baht each, although we may have been able to haggle that down 10 or 20 baht if we’d tried. Though the local route was fun and a little more adventurous, we don’t think we saved any money doing it this way as we’d hoped to. We have heard of buses direct from Chiang Rai to the Huay Xai bus station (which is a little bit out of town) that waits for you to cross the border, which cost about 300 baht (if you include the tuk-tuk ride from the Huay Xai bus station to the center of town). Either way, the trip isn’t difficult, choose the way that works best for you!
We booked a bus from Pakse to Hué, Vietnam. Not the usual route to Vietnam, and we found out why pretty quickly. However it did save us money and time. The other optionwas to take the bus back up to Vientiane and bus from there or fly. The bus we took cost 230,000 kip ($38 CAD), which was steep, but again it’s not a usual trip. A flight between Vientiane and Hanoi costs about $150 CAD, and we would’ve had to pay for a bus back up to Vientiane on top of that. Our bus ticket included a tuk-tuk to the bus station at 5:30am, which was nice, but our route to the bus was odd. We were picked up at our hostel at 5:30am, then were transferred to a larger tuk-tuk with more people about 20 mins later, stayed there for about 20 mins, then spent another 20 mins driving and finally got on the bus at 6:30am. We were shown the back 5 person bed in the back with three other tourists and weren’t given blankets or pillows like everyone else. We stopped at a cafe at 11:30am and got to the border at 1:30pm.
As long as you have your visa done beforehand (see Crossing Vietnam Border for info on Vietnam visa), the crossing is relatively easy. We walked into the building, went through the checks and got our stamps, then left the building and walked down the road to a little cafe to wait for the bus to be checked before we went on again. You’ll be greeted (read: attacked) by Vietnamese women in hats and masks who offer to exchange your kip for dong. We didn’t do this, but make sure to research the exchange rate beforehand so that you know you’re getting a good deal.
Once we got back on the bus after about 45 mins we did a bizarre loop back across the border into Laos, the way we had just came from, then back into Vietnam about 100m from were we boarded and sat at a gas station. We were there for 45 mins while the bus driver and crew moved some stuff around, then proceeded to sit on the sidewalk and smoke. We weren’t told anything about this stop, so we were wary to leave the bus in fear we might be left behind. We finally took off at 3pm and made it to Hué at 7:15pm, almost two hours later than our ticket had advertised. We were dropped off on the side of a busy road along with one other tourist and the bus drove away. Two guys were waiting for us on motorcycles and offered to drive us to our hotels for a price, but we weren’t having anything to do with that, especially with our packs. So we walked about 3.5km to our hotel.
It sounds bad, but we managed to traverse it and get to our destination in tact, and with all of our belongings. If you end up taking this route, stay patient, make sure to stay near the bus at all stops, and keep an eye on your belongings. Everything will be fine if you just stay calm!
Now that you know how to get in and out, check out out Laos post for the best places to see!