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(Find out how we obtained our visas here). We had a hard time finding detailed directions prior to our trip, so we would like to share our experience for those who will be making the same run in the near future, both to and from Chiang Mai to Vientiane to obtain our visas from the Thai Embassy.
Chiang Mai, Thailand to Vientiane, Laos
The adventure began at the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station (Terminal 2), which is located on Kaeo Narawat Road on the northeast outskirts of the Old City.
View Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station in a larger map
The day before our departure, we went to the Arcade Bus Station and purchased VIP tickets from the Chakrapong Tour Bus company, service to Udon Thani, Thailand from Kiosk 14. The twelve-hour bus ride departs from Platform 6 at 8:00pm daily and costs 666 baht a person ($21.50 USD as of June 2013). We were told to be at the bus station thirty minutes prior to departure. Although we did not use it, there is a parking area that charges a small fee to park your vehicle overnight. There are several vendors selling snacks and drinks at the terminal.
|NOTE: Tickets are non-refundable and can only be purchased with Thai cash.|
The bus departed promptly at 8:00pm. Bottled water, yogurt juice, and sweet bean paste filled buns were offered an hour into the ride. The seats were comfortable and reclined back for sleeping. The leg room easily accommodated passengers over six feet tall. Luggage was stored under the bus. The air conditioner was powerful and although passengers were provided blankets, we recommend socks and a light jacket to be comfortable. We did not confirm if there was a restroom on the bus but several stops were made throughout the night at various bus stations.
We arrived at 6:00am at the Udon Thani Bus Station 2, which is located on the western outskirts of the city. We declined rides from several tuk-tuk drivers and opted for bus ride to Nong Khai, Thailand, a small town near the Thai-Laos border. We purchased two 40 baht bus tickets from a lady sitting at a small table by Platform 16 where the Nong Khai bus was parked.
|NOTE: If you have questions, the Information Desk at the Udon Thani Bus Station 2 is open this early in the morning.|
The bus to Nong Khai was old, but it was quiet and only half full. It left at 6:50am, made several stops and by 8:30am we were within the Nong Khai city border. At one point, a tuk-tuk driver came aboard and asked if anyone was going to Laos. Several passengers, including ourselves, agreed to a ride to the Thai-Laos border for 50 baht a person. A five-minute ride later we were at the Friendship Bridge, a famous landmark that spans the Mekong River naturally separating Thailand and Laos.
|TIP: If you are dropped off at an official bus stop in Nong Khai (instead of on the side of the road like us), take a tuk-tuk or songthaew to Friendship Bridge. Be sure the tuk-tuk driver takes you directly to the Friendship Bridge and not to a side business promising to process your Thai visa!|
We were dropped off at the Thai-Laos border, but before we crossed the bridge we saw signs on booths that read “Immigration Checkpoint.” We stood in line, submitted our passports, completed departure cards, and received a departure stamp. Lost your departure card and need a replacement? There should be a person nearby handing out replacements.
After passing though the immigration checkpoints, we purchased two 20 baht tickets for a bus ride across bridge from a ticket counter to the immediate right. We waited a few minutes and packed ourselves tightly onto one of the frequently crossing buses.
Once off the bus, we approached the sign that said “Visa On Arrival,” that is positioned above three counters. At Counter 2, we obtained Laos Tourist Visa application forms and Laos arrival/departure cards. At Counter 1 (we don’t know why this is backwards) we submitted our completed Laos visa forms and arrival cards, a single passport photo each, our passports, and cash. At Counter 3, we picked up our passports with a new Laos visa and our change.
|NOTE: A 30 day Laos Tourist Visa costs $35 USD OR 1500 baht (about $45 USD equivalent). We read rumors that they charge an extra $1 if you do not have a photo, if it’s a weekend, or if it is during lunch. Exact change is not necessary; we paid using a $100 bill and were given change back in USD. Make sure to bring crisp bills!|
We passed through the final checkpoint booth, showed the official our visas, and then were bombarded by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. We bargained with them and accepted an air-conditioned van directly to the Royal Thai Consulate and split the cost with another passenger. It was a 30 minute drive, and we made it there at 10am.
Total Cost for Two From Chiang Mai to Vientiane
|Chiang Mai to Udon Thani+Layover||Bus||11 hr||$42.80||฿1,332|
|Udon Thani to Nong Khai||Bus||1.5 hrs||$2.60||฿80|
|Nong Khai to Friendship Bridge||Tuk Tuk||5 mins||$3.20||฿100|
|Friendship Bridge Crossing||Bus||30 mins||$1.00||฿30|
|Two On-Arrival Laos Tourist Visas||Crisp Bills||30 mins||$70||฿2,177|
|Laos Border to Royal Thai Consulate||Mini Van||30 mins||$4.00||฿125|
Find a Hotel in Vientiane, Laos
Return Trip: Vientiane, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our route from Vientiane to Chiang Mai was quite different from the route we took from Chiang Mai to Vientiane. After a long weekend at a relaxing hotel in Vientiane, but we were ready to go home and decided to take the shorter, more expensive route via airplane.
A direct flight from Vientiane to Chiang Mai is quick and easy, but also very expensive. At about $350 USD a ticket, we decided to forgo this time-saving route in search for a cheaper, but still speedy alternative.
After picking up our Visas at 1:45pm we bartered with the taxi drivers waiting outside the Royal Thai Consulate. We agreed to take an air-conditioned van ride directly to the Friendship Bridge at the Laos-Thai border for 25,000 kip (equivalent to 100 baht or $3.25 USD). We left the Thai Consulate at 2:00pm and within 30 minutes we were dropped off at the bridge.
After quickly going through the Lao Immigration Checkpoint we were approached by numerous taxi drivers (notice a pattern?) each willing to take us over the bridge and directly to Udon Thani’s International Airport for 300 baht per person. We crossed the bridge in a private taxi, got out, and walked over to the Thai Immigration Checkpoint on foot. We filled out arrival cards, handed them over with our passports and got our arrival stamps, double checking that it was for 90 days based on our new Non-Immigrant Visas. Our taxi driver was waiting for us on the other side of the checkpoint. From there, it was a straight drive to Udon Thani’s International Airport where we arrived at 3:30pm.
While in the taxi we booked a domestic flight (Nok Air) departing at 7:45pm from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai. We arrived at the airport at 4:00pm with plenty of time to grab an awesome Thai meal and reflect on our successful trip.
|ALTERNATIVE: After getting a Laos departure stamp, you can ignore the taxis and buy a 4000 kip bus ticket across bridge to the Thai side. After getting your arrival stamp you can then find a taxi to your next destination.|
Total Cost for Two From Vientiane to Chiang Mai
|Royal Thai Consulate to Laos Border||Mini Van||30 min||$3.20||฿100|
|Friendship Bridge Crossing||Taxi||30 min||$1.00||฿32|
|Friendship Bridge to Udon Thani Int’l||Taxi||45 min||$19.20||฿600|
|Udon Thani Int’l to Chiang Mai Int’l||Plane||1.5 hr||$180||฿5,620|
For those looking for the most affordable return route:
Go to Vientiane Central Bus Station, located across the street from the Morning Market, and buy tickets for a bus ride from Vientiane to Udon Thani’s Central Bus Station. The cost per ticket is 22,000 kip (equivalent to $2.85 USD or 88 baht as of June 2013). This ride should be approximately three hours long. It stops at Friendship Bridge to let everyone cross, and then the same passengers get back on and continue to Udon Thani’s Central Bus Station.
|NOTE: If someone has overstayed their Laos visa the bus will wait for them, and may take longer. We didn’t want to play that game.|
Once you arrive at Udon Thani’s Central Bus Station (located in the center of the city), take a tuk tuk ride to Udon Thani’s Bus Station 2, located on the western outskirts of the city. Here you can purchase tickets to westward cities such as Chiang Mai for around 660 baht.