Chiang Mai To Chiang Khong By Bus – Border Run To Laos
Taking the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, the northern Thailand border town, was one of the most memorable experiences for us in Thailand. In this article, we want to share all the details of this wonderful trip with those who may be interested in the journey, costs, and accommodations. Additionally, we explain how we obtained our Lao Visa On Arrival at this Chiang Khong border crossing.
I must admit, it didn’t feel like it was going to be so great when we first set out to plan the trip. There is very little information on the route from other bloggers and most of the information that does exists is a bit outdated. Most backpackers and those who need to do “Visa Runs,” typically, take the more southern route to Vientiane.
We decided to go through Chiang Khong to cross the border to Huay Xia, Laos. This seemed to be the quickest way to the to the border and back, which is exactly what we wanted.
Initially we talked about a longer trip to Laos so that we could visit Luang Prabang. Going to Luang Prabang would take two days to get to from the border and another two days to return by slow boat (with an overnight stop in the middle each trip). It would have been a fun experience to ride the slow boats (although, some say that after the first 8 hours it really starts to wear you down) and get to see some of the waterfalls near Luang Prabang. However, due to budget and other plans that were going to take place in May, we chose to do a quick, three day trip of it and it turned out pretty great!
Getting Greenbus Tickets To Chiang Khong
A couple of days before our planned departure day, we took a motorbike ride to the Chiang Mai bus terminal and purchased our tickets to Chiang Khong. The bus terminal in Chiang Mai is easy to get to from the Old City and takes between 10-15 minutes by motorbike.
We purchased VIP tickets on Greenbus. The VIP tickets are almost twice the cost of regular tickets, but still cheap compared to the US Dollar. Each VIP ticket to Chiang Khong cost 434THB (just under $13USD). The bus return VIP ticket was about the same from Chiang Khong back to Chiang Mai.
Our original plan was to take a tuk tuk or Songthaew to the bus terminal on our departure day, but since we still had the motorbike rented for those dates, we chose to drive ourselves. It was quite convenient since we only had two backpacks for the trip. There are lots of little parking lots around the bus terminal. They all charge 10THB ($0.30USD) per day for motorbike parking. We dropped off our motorbike with the attendant at the entrance of the lot and were given a ticket.
The lot is located right across the street from the bust station so we just walked over and waited at the terminal for our 8 am bus. There are lots of shops to purchase food and snacks. Rob took advantage of purchasing a Thai dish for breakfast ($1USD). I had eaten a PBJ sandwich before we left so I was good to go.
Departing To Chiang Khong From Chiang Mai Bus Terminal
The bus arrived at the terminal and we were given a chance to store our bags in the storage under the bus. They gave us a luggage tag for the bags we stored (stapled it to our bus tickets). We sat in our large comfy, reclining, VIP seats and were off.
A short while into our ride, they gave us a small bottled water, juice, and snack (the Thai version of Oreo’s). They had a movie on, but it was in Thai so we could not understand, but the scenery was quite nice out the window. The ride starts out a bit windy through some hills. It’s green and “foresty.” If you get motion sickness, you might want to take something beforehand as there are lots of turns on the road for about and hour or two.
The Bus Ride Through Chiang Rai
The ride to Chiang Khong took about 5 1/2 hours. They did make a stop at the Chiang Rai bus station, where you had the chance to purchase food and/or snacks and use the bathroom. The buses we took to and from Chiang Khong both had a toilet on board. The toilet is similar to those on an airplane, so it made the journey less stressful not having to worry about when the nest stop would be.
After our stop in Chiang Rai (15 minutes, they leave on the dot) we set off to the second leg of the journey to Chiang Khong. The bus made several other stops along this route. I am not sure if they were official stops or people could just request a stop.
Where To Stay In Chiang Khong
We arrived at the Chiang Khong bust stop a little after 1pm and took a 5 minute Tuk Tuk (30THB $1USD, per person) ride to our hotel, the Teak Garden Resort, which is right along the Mekong River. The resort is very well kept with beautiful landscaping, great breakfast (150THB, $5USD), and restaurant with amazing view of the Mekong River. The bed was super comfy. We had pre-booked the hotel a couple of days ahead of time (this is the low season) so our rate was 1250THB for a river view room versus the 3000THB rack rate.
Things To Do In Chiang Khong
Once we were settled in the hotel, we set out to find a good lunch. The town is basically one long street that would really just take half an hour to walk. There are side alleys with restaurants and guesthouses as well as the main street. We had heard of a good Mexican restaurant on the main street, but, sadly, they were closed when we walked by.
We had also heard of a British pub, The Hub Pub, so we walked down one of the alleys and saw the sign directing us to it. It turns out that this pub is owed by a British man, Alan Bate, who holds the Guinness World Record for fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle. We were the only customers as the town was pretty quiet overall. He welcomed us and treated us with his amazing stories of bicycling around the globe as we ate our delicious fish and chips.
Thai/Lao Border Crossing At Chiang Khong
The following day, we had our hotel arrange a tuk tuk to the immigration at the Thai border. It is about a 15 minute ride (it’s not really walkable) and costs 100THB/person. Once at the border, we went through and got our exit stamp and waited for the bus on the other side to take us to the Laos checkpoint. The bus waits to gather as many people as can fit before it leaves. This took about 10 minutes for us. There is a 25THB cost per person for the bus ride and it takes you over the Mekong River (I think in past years you had to take a slow boat across.)
To enter Laos, we had to get a Visa On Arrival. It was a quick process since there was only one family ahead of us. For US Citizens the cost is $35 and must be paid in US Dollars. In addition to the payment, you need a recent passport photo and passport that has at least 6 months on it before it expires. Each person needs to fill out a Visa form which is provided at the window, along with the entry/departure card. You will need to put an address down on this form to show where you will be going in Laos. Make sure to have the address of the hotel that you are going to stay (or may stay) at handy. We received our Visa withing 15 minutes and were off to see Huay Xai.
Visiting Huay Xai
The tuk tuk ride from the border takes about 20 minutes and costs 100THB/person (yes, you can pay with Thai Baht for most things in Laos). The town of Huay Xai really doesn’t have much. The street that runs up and down the town looks like the main street in Chiang Khong on the other side, but provides much less. If you are not planning on going any further in Laos, you can spend the day and go back to stay in Chiang Khong like we did. If you are moving on to other parts of Laos, I would still recommend staying in a hotel in Chiang Khong before you take the slow boat to Luang Prabang, or wherever you want to go.
The options on the Thailand side in Chiang Khong are much nicer in quality. There are better places to eat and stay. If you are looking for more upscale restaurants and hotels, your chances of finding one in Chiang Khong are better.
It is extremely hot during this time of year. Needless to say, we walked down the main street for no ore than a few minutes and found a place to eat lunch. We considered staying for the night, but after going online and looking at what our hotel options were, we decided to book our hotel in Chiang Khong for one more night.
It turned out to be a great idea since we really enjoyed our first night there. The town of Chiang Khong was pretty quiet during this time since it is the low season. We found a place for dinner called Rin Bar on the main road and had delicious Thai food at a very good price.
Returning From Chiang Khong To Chiang Mai By Bus
We had purchased a one way ticket to Chiang Khong so we bought or ticket back to Chiang Mai once we got back to Chiang Khong from Laos. The bus station was located at the same place we got dropped off when we first arrived. The ticket office is open until 6pm. Since we had enjoyed out VIP seats coming in, we purchased the same seats to go back to Chiang Mai the next day.
Our bus was scheduled to leave at 10am, so we checked out of the hotel after enjoying a wonderful breakfast with a view and arrived at the bust stop at 9am. The bus loaded us up exactly on time and we made the journey back to Chiang Mai. It took about another 5 1/2 hours to get back to the Chiang Mai terminal where we picked up our motorbike and made our way home.
Tell us about your bus riding experience in Thailand. Have you been to the Chiang Khong border crossing? What would you recommend for anyone looking into traveling to Lao from Chiang Mai?