I’ve read many blog post and searched the internet for hours to get information about how to cross the Thai/Laos border. Some information is outdated so I wanted to provide all the information I found and our border crossing experience in one post. Hope this will help you!
We stayed in Chiang Rai only for one night in the Zan Pla Nade Guesthouse. We chose this because it is not far away from the main bus terminal (was under construction in April 2016). It took us only a 5 minute walk and we wanted to sleep as long as possible because our bus left at 6 am. We can recommend the Zan Pla Nade Guesthouse, the rooms are very clean and they have good sheets. The bed was comfy and there is even a coffee facility there with free coffee! There’s also fruit provided at no cost.
If you came from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai by bus, you will be dropped off at the same bus terminal the bus to Laos leaves. We double checked the times the day before and were assured that the first bus leaves at 6 am the next morning.
If you want to cross the border at the same day, you need to catch the 6 am bus, otherwise you might not be able to catch a long boat to Luang Prabang. The bus was pretty old and rusty and was crowded but we were only about 10 tourists that wanted to cross the border.
Now the important part: you buy your ticket directly in the bus. Tell the ticket lady that you want to be dropped off at the Laos border. Normally, the bus drives you to Chiang Khong which is about 10 km away from the checkpoint. There is a laminated piece of paper next to the driver. If the lady doesn’t understand you (which was the case) pick the paper and let her read it. It says that the driver is willing to let people off the bus if they pay 100 baht instead of the 60 baht. This is a good deal because you save time and money if you consider that you have to take a tuktuk back to the border from Chiang Khong.
Once at the border, everything was fairly easy. You clear the Thai immigration, pay 20 baht fee for the transport (a big bus) across the Thai Laos friendship bridge and then you are at the Laos border. We recommend you cash out some money immediately. There is only one ATM in front of the border. We were lucky and were the first ones there so we didn’t have to wait in line.
Please remember: you need money in US Dollars (30 USD for German Citizens, Swiss Citizens do not have to pay at all, Canadians more etc.) The fee depends which country you are from. There is also the opportunity to exchange money but the exchange rate is bad. You also need to have one passport photo. Be prepared to not see your passport for at least 15 minutes while you’re waiting to pay your fee. Once you name is called you pay the fee and you are handed back your passport with your Laos visa. Pass immigration and take another Tuktuk to the jetty for the long boats. We shared the tuktuk with other travellers but weren’t successful bargaining. They know that you’re dependend on them.
The driver will drop you off the pier, turn left and walk up some deep stairs to the ticket office. We bought our tickets immediately and stored our luggage on the boat. After that we bought some delicious Laos sandwiches and drinks and were ready for a 2 day Mekong adventure.