Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos over the Friendship Bridge requires a few steps and a bit of preparation. It is relatively straightforward, and everyone we met along the way was really helpful.
To give an idea of time required, we took the 12:30pm bus from Chiang Rai and arrived at our accommodation in Huay Xai at 4:30pm.
Step one: Bus from Chiang Rai
There are red buses that leave every half hour from the Chiang Rai bus station (near the Night Bazaar) going to Chiang Kong.
These are very well signed and the ticket vendor will stand near the bus calling “Laos, Chiang Kong!”
When you board the bus, tell the vendor or driver you are going to Huay Xai.
You buy the tickets on the bus (฿65) and the journey takes around 2 hours.
Step two: Tuk Tuk to the Border
The driver will call out “Huay Xai!” and will drop you along the main road to Chiang Kong, 1km from the border. There will be tuk tuk drivers waiting for you, and have set fares to the border (฿50 per person).
They’ll drop you right at the start of the Friendship Bridge, where you’ll need to go through passport control to exit Thailand.
Step three: Cross the Friendship Bridge
After receiving your exit stamp, you will be ushered to the bus stop at the start of the bridge. There’s a small office there which will sell you your bus ticket (฿20) and also exchange any last Baht you have (including coins!) into Kip. There is an ATM here too.
There is no set schedule for the bus, but we waited for a maximum of 10 minutes before everyone was ushered on. The bus crosses the bridge (1km) then drops you outside the Laos passport entry point, where you’ll unload and follow the signs to Visa On Arrival.
Step four: Enter Laos
There are two small windows at the Visa On Arrival area: Window 1 is where you’ll be given some paperwork to fill out (the usual details; passport number, days staying in Laos, address of accommodation etc) then hand over your passport, the forms, plus a printed passport photo of yourself. Then you’ll be ushered to window 2, where you pay the visa fee.
The cost of a Laos Visa is $30 - $40 USD depending on your country of origin - and yes, they prefer to be paid in US Dollars. It will also be more expensive if you pay in Laos Kip or Thai Baht.
However, it’s important to note that they will only accept crisp, unmarked USD. We had a $20 that was slightly folded, and a $1 which had a tiny pen mark, and both were declined meaning we had to pay half in USD and half in Kip (meaning it was more expensive!!)
There is an ATM here which will give you Laos Kips.
After paying, you’ll get your passport back with your Laos Visa on a page, plus your departure card, then you can continue through passport control.
Step five: Tuk Tuk from the border to Huay Xai
You’ll finally come out the other side, where there’ll be a few vendors selling slow boat and bus tickets to Luang Prabang. There’s also a tuk tuk vender, with set prices to Huay Xai (20,000 kip per person) however the way of most Laos tuk tuks is they won’t go until there is 5 or more passengers.
We waited for almost half an hour, before deciding we’d just pay for the other 3 tickets as well so we could just get to Huay Xai.
In summary, remember to bring:
Enough Baht to get your two bus and tuk tuk tickets (฿135)
Your Thai departure card
Crisp US dollars for the Visa ($30 - $40)
Printed copy of your passport photo (or newer version)
Laos Kips or your debit card to withdraw from the ATM