crossing the border between Chiang rai and Luang Prabang by bus
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
If you're travelling around South East Asia you're likely to end up crossing the border from Thailand to Laos, or vice versa. The most popular way of doing this is via slow boat. Tickets range in price but if you're on a strict budget like I was, you might want to consider crossing the border by bus.
This was my first land crossing and boy was I nervous about it. There was no real information online about exactly what busses I'd need to take, apart from an article I read that detailed a sleeper bus that runs from Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai all the way to Luang Prabang - perfect!
The night before I wanted to cross I headed over to both bus stations to check for this sleeper bus, but when I asked the desk about the bus mentioned in the article, I was told several times that the bus wouldn't be running despite it being scheduled, and that they didn't know when the next time that bus would run would be. They advised me to get a bus to the border and go from there.
Luckily for me, a guy from my dorm was also planning on getting a bus to the border so I had someone to get to the border with at least.
GETTING FROM CHIANG RAI TO THE BORDER CROSSING
The first step is getting from the city to the border crossing - a pretty easy step! From Terminal 1 bus station (right by the night bazaar), you can grab the local bus for 65 baht (£1.70) that takes you to the town of Chiang Khong. Just ask around at the bus station if you can't find the bus! They're pretty regular with one roughly every half hour.
Whilst on the bus they offered to take those of us crossing to Laos directly to the border crossing for an extra 50 baht each, bringing the total to around £3.
GOING THROUGH IMMIGRATION - THAILAND SIDE
I expected this to be super busy, super stressful and hard to navigate - I couldn't have been more wrong. The immigration building is absolutely tiny and so easy to navigate! You hand over your passport, get your Thailand exit stamp and then make your way outside to get to the Laos side of immigration. It's literally that simple!
Here I bought a bus ticket that brings you to the Laos side for 25 baht (£0.65) but you have to wait around a while until the bus is pretty much full. You could definitely walk the distance but I wasn't sure that was allowed.
VISA ON ARRIVAL - LAOS SIDE
At the Laos side you head into the building that again is tiny and so easy to navigate. I needed a visa on arrival for 35 dollars. You fill out a visa on arrival form that are available at the number 1 desk, fill in an arrival card (and keep the corresponding departure card!!) and hand it over. If you don't have a passport photo you can pay a small fee.
You then pick your passport up again from the number 2 station and head outside to pay. You'll have a receipt inside your passport which you then hand over to the payment desk along with the fee and receive a ticket that allows you to pass through the barriers to get outside.
GETTING TO LUANG PRABANG
From this point on I was absolutely winging it. Needing to get to the main town of Huay Xai near the Laos border I took a shared tuktuk/songathew with around 8 others which dropped me off at the local bus station. From here, I simply had to look around and see which bus went to Luang Prabang.
There was a sleeper bus leaving around 6pm for around £13 and that was the only bus to Luang Prabang, so with no other options I went and bought a ticket. I then had a roughly five hour wait which was pretty damn boring - I did meet two lovely American girls though!
After that it was just a rocky, not too enjoyable 12 hour bus journey to Luang Prabang, but compared to the 2 days, £45-ish slow boat, I was glad I decided to overland it!