Crossing our first land border in Asia – Thailand to Laos
For New Zealanders like us, I think it blows our minds a little bit to experience land border crossings. To get to anywhere from New Zealand you have to be on a plane or a whopping great boat!
Despite that fact that I have crossed a bunch of land borders in Europe, Andrew has never done it before, so he was feeling a little nervous. It turns out he had no need to be, it was a very smooth process.
Working out what to do
The internet is a wonderful place, full of cat pictures, entertainment, and useful information. While we enjoyed the comfort of our friends home in Chiang Rai we explored our options for crossing the border. We could do it all ourselves; get a local bus to the border, do the crossing, find a bus to take us to the Laos immigration office, pick up a taxi or rickshaw to the pier, and buy our boat tickets from the journey to Luang Prabang. Or, get someone else to do it for us.
Picking a ‘tour’
Chiang Rai offered a handful of travel agents who would get you across the border safe and sound for a couple hundred more Thai Bhat than it would cost you to do it alone. For the first time, we decided this might be the way to go.
We entered the local travel agency we had explored online and within about ten seconds the lady guessed correctly that we wanted to cross the border. Within ten minutes we were all set up with tickets. The only spanner in the works was that we weren’t staying at a hotel. We agreed to meet our driver at the agency the following morning. He would take us to the border crossing and make sure we made it through. Then a colleague would collect us, take us to the Laos immigration, ensure our safe passage through, then get us on a boat.
Our driver did, in fact, meet us at the agency, around the time we agreed to meet (6 am!). We were part of a group of about 12 who were all crossing the border together and riding a slow boat to Luang Prabang. After proving that we had our passports, Thai departure cards, USD and additional photos, we drove towards the border. The drive is about 90 minutes and I think all 12 of us napped for most of the journey.
Getting across the border
The whole crossing border process was very smooth and straight forward. We were ready to queue at both the immigration stops, which didn’t happen. It had also crossed our minds that we may need to pay a bribe. We needn’t have worried. The only moment where we had a small panic was when our passports were not handed back to us at application. They get passed to another official in the same room who takes the passports away and stamps them, before bringing them back to you and back to your line of sight…
First, you exit Thailand at the immigration office. Then you’ll head to the Laos Immigration office on a bus that drives over the ‘Friendship Bridge’. Previously this was a boat ride across the river.
Once you’re at the Laos immigration office you’ll need to hand over your passport and lose sight of it for a couple minutes before paying your fee and getting your passport back.
You’re in Laos, now what?
Once we had our passports stamped and our Laos Kip in hand, we were bundled into the back of a ute and driven first to the tour operators shop, then to the pier. Tickets for the slow boat were handed out and away we went, for our 2-day boat ride down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.
What do you need to cross the border?
Make sure you have these things for a smooth crossing:
- Thai departure card – you should have received this when you entered Thailand
- Passport – it must be yours and it must be valid for 6 months
- Pen – none of these places ever have pens to fill out forms
- USD to pay for your Laos visa – Laos will only accept USD or THB
- A smile – useful in all situations
*Bonus tip – if you’re crossing with a tour company and they say things like “This is your only chance to buy food”, take it with a grain of salt. We were told that on two occasions, only to have more food available to us at the next stop.
Good luck for your crossing!