If you want to catch the slow boat to Laos from Thailand, you will probably need to cross this border. This was the first land border crossing of our trip and we were not sure what to expect, and although we found some useful information online it did not cover everything that two travel newbies were anxious to read.
Alas, there is not much we can do to make this an overly exciting post but it is full of helpful information based on our own trip which we hope will make your own border crossing an easy one.
Getting to Chiang Khong:
We travelled from Pai to Chiang Khong by minibus for 650 baht each including accommodation along the river (there was no price difference for removing the accommodation). We booked the day before at the ‘Aya Services’ office in Pai town centre and there was no problem with this as they had two buses going the next day.
The travel options from Pai were limited with the only other options being:
- A minibus to Chiang Rai for 500 baht and then taking a local bus (65 baht) or mini bus to Chiang Khong.
- A private taxi for 5000 baht to Chiang Rai where you would then need to take other transport to get to Chiang Khong.
- Mini buses also went to Chiang Mai where you could get a local bus to Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong.
- Aya Services offered a package which included the slow boat ticket and accommodation in Pakbeng for 1750 baht. This was no more expensive than doing it independently but it added time to the process of getting across the border and on to the boat.
The last two options may have saved us a little bit of money but it would have added on a lot of extra time and hassle getting to the bus stations so we decided the extra money for the one journey was worth it.
We left at 7:00am and stopped at Chiang Mai where we swapped buses and picked up other passengers. We had read that all the twists and turns from Pai to the city would make us sick, but we must have had a good driver or hardcore stomaches as we were fine.
We then drove on to Chiang Rai where we picked up more people and also had a quick stop at White Temple which was an added bonus – it looked like an ice palace straight out of Narnia!
The buses had air-con and were comfortable so it made the long journey bearable and we reached Chiang Khong at 4:00pm. We were dropped off at a row of guest houses along the river.
- We went to Pai in March and it was cold in the morning, the aircon was also freezing in the minibus – make sure you wear a jumper.
- They stopped at a place for lunch but it wasn’t great and was quite expensive so we would advise bringing your own snacks.
- At Chiang Mai we needed to go in the office and get a different ticket (no one told us this we just went in to ask where we should go). Toilets are across the carpark to the left – they do exist!
- Take a sarong if you are wearing shorts so you can go into the White Temple. It was a 20 minute stop so there was just enough time for a whistle stop tour.
Staying in Chaing Khong:
We decided to stay in Chiang Khong rather than cross the border in the evening so that we didn’t use up a day of the Laos visa sleeping. However, another traveller needed to cross as her visa was expiring and she had no problem staying over in Huay Xai and getting the boat in the morning. We were told the border closed at 6pm.
We stayed in ‘Namkhong Guest House’ rather than use the accommodation included in the travel package as it was only 250 baht for a double fan room and it had a pool. It was clean and there was hot water but the walls were paper thin so our earplugs and sleep masks came in handy.
We went to a pub called The Hub which was recommended to us, the food was really good and they sold different beers and cider; even better the pool table was free and the staff were really relaxed and friendly.
The Border Crossing:
We wandered to the road at 7.30am and hoped there would be a Tuk-Tuk, and being in Thailand of course there was. It cost 150 baht and it took about 15 minutes to get to the Thai border. It opened at 7.50am and we were the first ones through. Before we knew it we were stamped out and were buying a shuttle bus ticket for 25 baht per person for the bus that left at 8.15am to head over to the Laos border.
As it was early there was no chaos on the Laos side which had been described in other blogs, so going early definitley paid off. There were two windows (on the right hand side of the entrance) and we filled out two forms attaching one passport photo (if you do not have one it is an extra dollar for them to photocopy your passport). We went to the second window and handed them in with our passport, and then moved on to the first window where we paid $35 each. As we were unsure of our plans, we had decided to risk it and not book a ticket to prove onward travel and we instead put ‘Cambodia land border crossing’ for the point of exit. We did not have any problems getting our visa but cannot say for certain whether this would be the case every time.
We went through a speedy passport control process and on the other side there was an ATM and an exchange desk which gave the going exchange rate and had no commission fee so we swapped our Baht for Kip. There were Tuk-Tuks waiting for us to go to the slow boat dock. We were ready to haggle having read that they overcharge but they offered us the price we had researched (25,000 kip each) so off we went to the boat dock which took about 25 minutes (we had a drop off on the way so cannot say if this is the usual time).
All of the guest houses were offering packages to take you to the border and provide your slow boat tickets from 1100 baht to 1250 baht. Even though it was roughly the same price we didn’t go for this as they didn’t leave until 8-8.30 and we wanted to get to the border for when it opened at 8.00am to get through without any hassle and secure good seats on the boat. Two other travellers in the same guesthouse took this option and arrived 2 hours after us having crossed the border with a large group of other passengers so we felt that getting up half an hour early was worth it.