Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos over the Mekong Rver

The process from Chiang Khong, Thailand over the Mekong River to Hauy Xai, Laos including check out and check in to the other side can be easy but also easy to miss a step, so hopefully this post will give insight on the steps you need to go through.

Once you are in Chiang Khong, you will be excited or you should be. For me I was tired and warn down from the two months in Thailand, but was feeling the blood rush as I was embarking on a new country.Depending on the means of transportation you are traveling by, more than likely if you are coming from another region the driver will drop you off on the main soi/street short of the docks. If so, you can grab a tuk tuk taxi- or walk down to customs about half a kilometer from the main drop off. From the main road, walk down the hill, stop to the left of the boat ramp at a small blue building with an overhang where you will see people filling out papers on the left and people coming up from the Mekong River and singing in on the right. Not hard to miss. Grab a form, fill out the exit requirements give your passport through the small window to the person in the customs office. You won’t need any money to exit, so hold tight, the official will review your stay and if everything is ok, they will stamp you out of Thailand.

After you are stamped out you can walk down to get a boat taxi over the river.
Then proceed down till you see some steps down to the river bank. At the waters shore are a line of taxi boats, you will see some locals sitting under a tent charging a fixed 40 Baht charge to travel across the Mekong into Huay Xai Laos. Buy the ticket, no point in negotiating, they know you NEED to cross and are not lowering their price. It’s only a five minute boat ride.

From the top of Chiang Khong, looking over the Mekong River to Laos and taxi boats.

Leaving Thailand
After buying a ticket you walk to any boat that is open, sit down on the wobbling boat, try not to be that person who falls. It happens, I saw someone spill. and get comfortable, or at least try. The trip across is a quick 5 minutes, enjoy the breeze. Once  you pick which boat to get on to remember try not to over pack all your friends into one boat, as you and your luggage will weigh it down and heaps of water will splash up into the boat as you cross. It is not fun with the water gets into the boat, I’ve seen people bucketing water out, and travelers getting their gear soaked. Just keep your backpack on, and sit one person to a bench as they are only about one meter/yard wide.

my taxi boat pulling away from the river banks of Chiang Khong thailand0

That is Thailand. Behind me is Laos, under me is the Mekong river. above me is the universe. I am here to explore them all.

Then on the other side enjoy and smile as you take your first step off the boat onto Laotian soil.

My first step into Laos from the taxi boat.

Oh yes this happens everyday here at this location I was told by an offical. People in a hurry to cross the river from Thailand to Laos forget or simply just walk past the customs check point in Chiang Khong to board the 40 Baht water taxi across the Mekong River, waiting line and find out an hour later that they have to go back and check out of Thailand. From my experience it was couple from England standing in front of me on the Laos side, like everyone else they waited in line had their entrance paper work ready and visa on arrival forms but were turned to go back across the border to get signed/stamped out of Thailand.

This was inevitably not just a hassle for them to go back across the Mekong river, up the banks wait in line check out walk through the process all over again but they lost time and missed their slow boat. thus had to spend the night in the city they hadn’t planned on and taking an extra day off their thirty day visa plans.

Checking into Customs in Huay Xai, Laos
Once off the old narrow taxi boat, Walk up the cement boat ramp, head right up some stairs, walk to the window that says VISA ON ARRIVAL  It is hear that you will fill out two different pieces of paperwork one small, one large, hand over your passport, one small ID photo, Depending on what country you come from the fee varies a few dollars, for US citizens it is 35 US Dollars. Then wait for them to review your document. You are granted a thirty day Visa on arrival. laos visa

Welcome to Laos. Visa on Arrival

Once you are checked into Huay Xai, Laos, head further up the narrow road to a second checkpoint
Yes a second check point so keep your passport out. It is just a precaution for them to make sure everyone checked in so hand your passport to the guard. He will review the passport, they double check your documentation then waive you through. Make your way to the top of the street to a three way intersection. if you go any further you will be walking up over 100 steps to a temple.

if you have come to thses steps rejoice you are now checked fully into Laos.

 So stop there and breath, then turn around and look at Thailand across the mighty Mekong River.

Stand proud traveler, you made it! Pat yourself on the back or give your buddy and a local a high five.

That awkward moment when my driver stopped to have sex, take a shower and forget his watch with his lover. Mae Sai to Chiang Khong, Thailand.


Waiting to get filled up-Thailand’s Notorious Songthaew.

A true story from Thailand to how traveling short distances sometimes take longer than expected..

I started in Mae Sai northern Thailand traveled by (baht bus other known as a Songthaew) a truck with parallel benches in the back with a roof, used for local transport. A good source of local transportation when travelling Thailand.

Like any other day I waived down a Songthaew. I was the only one that jumped on so my driver waited, and waited, and waited. The expected time to leave had passed by 45 minutes. I was waiting. The man was just not wanting to go or he was waiting for some more people, or waiting on someone special. With  no other Songthaew heading in the direction that I needed to go, I waited too.

After a while he got a phone call and seemed eager to leave, I was excited. Ok we were off and I sang “on the road again” whistling the song to myself and on my way to Laos.

Previously the week before I made plans to meet up with other travelers from France and Finland today and we would take the slow boat down the Mekong River. So I was excited to meet up with those guys.

I was the only one in the Songthaew, and we screeched out of the parking spot and onto the open morning road. Sweet i thought he is hauling ass we will make up for some waited time.

I held on to the rail, not to sure about this guys driving record, and watched the landscape change from houses and concrete buildings to rice paddy’s and teak wood homes on stilts. The morning mist was still lingering over the fields as the sun was burning most of it away.

Farmers were up tending to their crops and water buffaloes were migrating from under the tree lines to nibble on some morning  grass. I saw many people travelling by bicycle passing, and we stopped to pick a woman and her little child up. They didn’t speak much to me even though I said my Thailand greetings. I kept to myself really and kept an eye out on the passing lands of Thailand as this was my last day here.

About ten minutes later the woman pushed the buzzer for the truck to stop, she stepped off with her little child’s hand in tow. Not a second after they were off  we speed out of the median and onto the open road again.  I looked into the cab at the guy, he seemed like he was having a good day. – Hey if hes happy so should I be?

Then about half way there, He stopped at a house. Got out of the truck opened a gate and said greetings to a woman coming out of a house.

By this time I was the only one on in the Songtaew. I guess there was no rush. I watched him go inside… I waited.. After waiting 5 minutes I got out and looked around this small village town, where were we and why did he stop, why did he disappear. Where did he go? I am looking at the clock thinking it is out of my control now, I may still be able to make it, but… we will see.

After waiting some more I looked in the yard of where he went,  I looked over the fence then back at my bag in the Songthaew, it was still early morning. But this sleepy town was just starting to get woken up… I heard some people talking and laughing. I looked ahead and saw a woman emerging from a door, she was in a towel, Timid and shy about respecting her privacy, I asked “Songtaew driver… Auto?” Awesome English skills i know!  S giggled and pointed at the door where she had emerged she told me that he was “in the bath”. Hmmm what?

So this is why he was so happy to be trail blazing out of Mae Sai, and down the freeway, He had a hot Thailand Girl waiting for him for an hour long shower and sex nookie.

So there it is folks my Songthaew driver stopped mid way through my time sensitive journey to Laos to take a meet up with a lady for god knows what but you can imagine.

I walked back to the Songtaew and waited. A man walked by and pointed at the house then at me, then at the car and laughed…Whatever that meant  He probably knew that I was waiting… And if i put some puzzle pieces together perhaps that this has happened more than once before.

I now knew it was out of my control and laughed thinking there is no way that I will make connections. I remember the words from a street vendor In India saying “Not possible” I laughed and stayed positive about the process.

After waiting another 15 minutes more, the driver emerged smiling at me, that jovial smile you see from your freshman dorm college roommate right after he got lucky. What better way to emerge than in fresh clothes too, He was wearing a bright red and pink Hawaiian flowered shirt and slicked jet black hair. “Great time to party…Oh wait you already did” I said. He smiled again and nodded.   

Granted he did smell fresh, but this set me back at least another hour. After this, I’m giving up on making  onto the slow boats into Laos today.

He slid into the driver seat with no worry about time, and then started up highway 1290 to the top of a winding mountain. I chilled in a Utopian bliss and looked out the back of the truck bed watching the time move as the road passed below us.

Then a loud screech and a stop, my bag and my body moved abruptly. MAN! What now i said. We now were stopped again. On the middle of the mountainous pass where there were no buss stops, where now one was around to pick up, and defiantly in harms way of blind spots coming around the bend. This was one of those “What the F” moments created from the sum of all the parts.

Brilliant! What now I thought. We sat there for what seemed like momentous moments in time.

Waiting waiting, waiting, I tapped on the window to the cab. He didn’t respond. Again I tapped this time feeling a bit frustrated, there was no stop as we were on a highway up in the mountain. Is this the part where I need to get out, or the part where I get rapped? I doubt he has it in him for another round of sex, so maybe I need to find a another ride, but we were in between here and there, called NOWHERE pass.

I stayed positive and at this moment I knew that I would not be making the connection and getting on that 11am Slow boat to Luang Prabang, Laos. I looked around, I know were we were as I was on this road not a week ago on a motor bike ride to the Golden Triangle.

No one was around. After the third knock on the window I could see him, pointing at his wrist, you know that “universal sign for watch/ check time. I sat back closed my eyes and started to meditate. For what seemed longer than ten minutes.  I opened my eyes to the first sound of an auto coming up the mountain behind us.

I looked back at the highway then forward, waiting, sitting, waiting. The bike was the woman from the house that we just stopped at. She rolled up on a scooter to hand the man something.

It was his Watch. She said some words kissed him and then she turned around crossing the median and back down the hill. I shook my head.

Taking his time of course, it slipped a few times and he was having trouble getting it on, then jostled some papers in the front seat, looked back at me, smiled and nodded.

Awesome I thought. Life goes on. He forgot his watch back during a hot shower and nookie. I can think of a time or two when I forgot something doing the same thing. I can’t blame the guy but he had a paying customer. Grrr. Talk about unexpected travel bumps though. These two events solely held me back from obtaining all the documents needed to exit Thailand and enter Laos all while buying a boat ticket and finding a decent seat to travel to Luang Prabang. Period.

After he slipped his watch on we took our time picking up a few locals on the sides of the road, and finally we arrived in Chiang Saen, where the cost was 40 Baht but he charged me 50. I laughed and let him have it. I couldn’t believe what has transpired. What would have been a 45 minute ride early morning ended up being 2 hours. Instead of racing to find the next Songthaew for a connection to Chiang Khong, I walked with a pace that soaked up all the elements around me in a state of relaxation knowing that I was no longer going to make the anticipated boat to Luang Prabang, Laos.


This is the second Songhtaew of the journey to the Lao boarder. I thought to document more from this point on.

Photos from my motorbike ride to the Southeast Asia Golden Triangle. thai stopsign

Golden Triangle sign, with awesome universal Red Stop sign.

Rice fields. Thailand

local homes along the back roads of northern thailand.

Pineapple fields

The Opium Museum, Thailand side of the Golden Triangle

Simple barbed wire fence, with random check posts. Myanmar on the left, Thailand on the right.

Cafe in Thailand overlooking the Mekong River and Laos.


Road side street meat. Lunch!

Mekong River

South Eastern Asia. The Golden Triangle of the Opium trade.

Chiang Saen, Thailand side of the Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle. three countries of opium trade/smuggling

Heading into the sunset, a smokey sunset that is.

Heading into the sunset, a smokey sunset that is.

Hitting a dead end, Myanmar on the left, Thailand on the right.

Sleepy Chinatown in Mae Sai at 4am

The border town of Mae Sai, in Thailand seems to always be moving, the transition of people coming and going and the local vendors selling everywhere you look, seems to never stop. This week I drank a little too much local brewed coffee and tonight my sleeping hours were off. So what else to do than wonder. So I ventured out to the streets where the hustle and bustle usually takes over the air, and found myself in a very interesting landscape. Chinatown and the main street where shop owners are always hawking goods was now a silent street of cold air.

Closed shops in China Town at 4 am.

Chinatown Mae Sai

Under the street lamp a quiet street awaits the busy morning.