Thailand / Laos Border Notes

Entering Laos


1. Friendship Bridge: can sometimes be problematic.

The official policy is that bikes less than 250cc are not allowed across on the bridges. This policy was not always enforced, but it seems as if the old rule book has be dusted off again, and in March 2017 smaller bikes less than 250cc are not allowed to enter Laos.  If we understand correctly bikes less than 250cc maybe able to cross where there is no bridge – Bun Kan / Pakxan, Chong Mek / Vang Tao, or any of the Xayaboury crossings (if they were open to bikes in Laos.)

Entering Laos at the Friendship Bridge

There are four Friendship Bridges:

1. Nong Khai (T) / Tha Dua (L) FB1
2. Nakon Phanom (T) / Tha Khek (L) FB3
3. Mukdahan (T) / Savannakhet (L). FB2
4. Chiang Khong (T) / Houei Xai (L). FB4

The bridges are all open 7 days a week.

Exiting Laos at Savannakhet across the bridge.

Friendship Bridge History: After several years open to motorcycles, Lao authorities in Vientiane “closed” the bridge to motorcycles without warning in Feb 2005. When the two other Friendship Bridges were built they were instructed to follow the official policy from Vientiane – no motorbikes into Laos across the Friendship Bridge.
The 1st Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai was again opened to bikes in late 2011, & remains open; but the other bridges downstream can still be problematic. Be polite, patient & but firm if you’re trying to enter Laos at either of these bridges.
The 4th Friendship Bridge at Chiang Khong / Houei Xai was opened on 11.12.13 & Thai immigration at first refused use of the bridge by motorcycles; however in March 2014 they started letting bikes across the bridge with an escort, for 1,000 baht. In 2016 the fee is now 500 baht. Exiting Laos across the bridge in February 2016 the fee on the Lao side was 200 baht = it goes up & down a bit, depending on the official.

Laos: the 4th Friendship bridge border crossing at Houei Xai.

Give the bridges a go if you want, & you should be ok, but if you can’t enter Laos across any of the bridges then you need to use one of the land border crossings at (1) Huay Khon (T) / Muang Ngern (L) if it is open,  (2) Chong Mek (T) / Vang Tao (L), (3) Thai Li (T) / Nam Heuang  (L)  if it is open, or the Mekong ferry crossing at Bun Kan (T) / Pakxan (L).
From Vientiane, the closest one is Bun Kan (120 kms downstream from Nong Khai) / Pakxan (150 kms from Vientiane) where it is still possible to enter Laos, on a boat across the river. Note that Pakxan does not have Lao visa on arrival.

The entrance to Pakxan immigration.

After Bun Kan / Pakxan the next one down is a land border crossing at Chong Mek (Ubon Rachathani ) / Vang Tao (Pakxe L). Upstream from Vientiane you can also use Tha Li -Nakraseng (T) / Nam Heuang – Kenthao (L.) if it is open.

Thailand: the Nakraseng border crossing

Note Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai:  gets extremely busy on weekends & public holidays with hundreds of vehicles crossing; & if possible it is better to avoid crossing at these times. If not it can sometimes take 2 hrs plus to cross, such are the queues for customs & immigration – on both sides, Thailand & Laos. Good luck & enjoy the wait with your riding kit on – it gets hot!

With the Friendship Bridges across the Mekong the problem appears to be the cross-border agreements managing the bridges, where the authorities don’t want to encourage hundreds of local riders on their scooters from going backwards & forwards every day. Once you understand this it is not so bad, but whatever, please don’t abuse the bridge authorities as they are only following the policy set by their government bosses.

Ready for a Mekong boat trip with the bikes on board.

2. The Mekong Boat Trip: The Mekong Boat Trip to  Huay Sai – Pak Beng, the Mekong river in this section is arguably the most beautiful of the ‘Khong between Jinhong in China & Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. It can be a perfect start / finish to any motorcycle trip in Northern Laos. Highly recommended, hire a boat & do the ‘Khong, you won’t regret it. Getting your bike on & off the boat is enormous fun too. See this 2nd Mekong Boat trip report.

Loading bikes onto a boat for a Mekong boat trip.

3. Muang Ngern (Hongsa), Laos / Huay Kon (T):  This land border crossing has been problematic entering Laos for years, with numerous hiccups along the way & the border being temporarily closed to bikes on several occasions. Currently (September 2016) it is closed to all motorbikes & bicycles. Exiting is ok. The border crossing was originally opened purely to facilitate construction of the Hongsa power plant, then the rules were relaxed, visa on arrival was available & bikes were let in. However frequent incidents occurred with groups of Thai bikers, such that the Muang Ngern officials got upset, & every now & again closed the border to bikes. The current 2016 closure seems more serious this time round. So your next options are Chiang Khong / Houi Xai or the 1st Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai / Vientiane. 

The problematic Muang Ngeun, Laos, border crossing.

4. Phou Doo / Dou: There is a new international land border crossing at goes from Uttaradit in Thailand / Pak Lay (Xayaboury) in Laos. However there is no visa on arrival entering Laos & you must have obtained a visa from a Lao embassy or consulate beforehand. Exiting from Laos is ok.  Read about a failed GTR entry into Laos via Phou Doo in 2015. BUT Closed to motorbikes – entry & departure – in September 2016. 

Laos: Phou Dou border crossing.

5. Nam Hueang – Kenthao (L) / Nakraseng – Tha Li (T). Entering Laos at the new Nam Hueang / Kenthao crossing is a relatively new crossing. Permits & visa were available on arrival. See this GT Rider forum report for more info & photos on this crossing. BUT Closed to motorbikes – entry & departure – in September 2016.

 

Riding the Mekong between Thailand & Laos in the dry season.

6. Pakxan (L) / Bun Kan (T). Downstream from Vientiane & Nong Khai. Use this crossing to enter Laos & go to Vientiane when you can’t enter Laos via the Friendship Bridge. Note that there is no visa on arrival for Laos at Pakxan, so you must have a visa in your passport first. Get one from the Lao consulate in Khon Kaen.

Laos: the Pakxan ferry crossing to Bun Kan, Thailand.

7. Note Mekong River Crossings by boat: The vehicle ferry normally only operates on regular work days Monday – Friday. Unless someone has booked & paid for the ferry service & customs to work on weekends or public holidays you cannot cross the Mekong by boat on non-working days. Border crossings with bridges – Nong Khai / Tha Dua & Mukdahan / Savannakhet  & Nakhon Phanom / Thakhek & Houei Xai / Chiang Khong – are open 7 days a week; usually from 7AM – 9 or 10PM.

A Mekong boat crossing

8. Note Laos Entry: You are normally granted 1-2 weeks bike entry permit. A maximum of 1 month is possible on arrival but not automatically given, however you should ask. The overstay fine is 200 baht a day, but this is not always collected when you leave.

The Lao Customs Import form

9. Entering at Houei Xai / Departing Thailand: Newly opened on 11.12.13 the 4th Friendship Bridge was problematic at the start, but but in March 2014 they started letting bikes use the bridge for 1,000 baht a bike. Ouch! The fee in 2016 is now 500 baht.

The official opening of the 4th Friendship Bridge at Houei Xai – Chiang Khong 11.12.13.

If you don’t like any of this then use the Huay Kon (T)  – Muang Ngeun (L) border crossing (if it is open).

Go here for info on the opening of the 4th Friendship Bridge, plus a report on the first crossing by GT Rider.

GTR first bike across the 4th Friendship Bridge in 2013.

Insurance is compulsory when entering Laos so make sure you get insurance from AGL Insurance. Skip out on the insurance & you could end up on the run & / or be in jail for awhile as Asian Motorcycle Adventures found out.

AGL is the recommended insurance company to use in Laos.

See the GT Rider Laos forum for the latest info on entering / leaving Laos.

Note: Departing Laos for Cambodia at Veung Kham is often problematic & the Cambodian Officials usually refuse motorcycle entry at that spot.  Other crossings into Cambodia are also tricky at times. See the GTR Cambodia forum for more information.

Entering Laos History

 

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