Saturday 8 June 2013

Getting to Laos overland from Thailand

The easiest way to get to Laos is to hop on a plane to Vientaine. I honestly don't remember why I chose a longer, more complicated route. Maybe it was because I lacked a challenge. Who knows! Anyway, I decided to take a flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani (Northern Thailand) and a bus to Laos from there. The journey was exhausting and gave me a slight idea of what I can expect from Laotians.

Udon Thani

A morning flight to Udon Thani departs at 07:10 from Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. I was half conscious when I boarded the plane and fell asleep straight away. From time to time raised voices of the fellow passengers, consisting mostly of Thais and Laotian, woke me up.

Finding a mini bus at the airport took me a while. It turned out that it was advertised as a limousine service and every backpacker knows that such words as 'VIP' or 'limousine' means paying more for a ,very often, poor service.

After walking up and down the hall I realised that it was actually the bus I was looking for. I paid 200 Baht and was taken by a very nice gentleman to my posh vehicle, which turned out to be a mini van, packed already with people.
I was asleep straight away.

From Thai border to Lao border

We arrived at the Thai border, where officials checked my passport and with that famous smile of theirs waved me farewell. I boarded another bus (15 Baht), which looked like it was 100 years old. With screaming children and in an unbearable heat I was transported to the other side of the 'Friendship Bridge' to the Laotian border.

Lao border

The process of applying for a visa took forever.

The post was a brick building with 3 windows, out of which 2 were closed as the staff were taking their afternoon break. There were lots of people - some queueing to one of the windows, but mostly they were Laotian men running around like crazy, talking to each other, some were helping the tourists to fill in their applications, some trying to make a small talk with those waiting.

I was confused. Should I stand in the queue, sit down, wait for something? I asked a man in the queue. 'I don't know' - he said smiling - 'I don't even know why I'm queueing'. Suddenly a man appeared with a bunch of papers and gave them to me. He smiled and showed me to a sit. 'Write' - he said.

There were 3 sets of papers. They looked different, but asked exactly the same questions. Throughout the whole thing the smiling man was sitting next to me, showing me where I should sign and which boxes to fill. He then took me to the queue.

It took about 30 min before I reached the window. A very unfriendly woman took my papers, my passport, $30 and then shut the window in front of my nose.

'Now wait' - said the smiling man.

So I waited...and waited...and waited. First, someone from the window number 3 came back from lunch. I could see him from where I was standing. He had a whole stash of passports of people, who waited with me. With a speed of a snail he was taking the documents one by one, checking them, writing something in a book, registering the money for a visa.

The smiling man was still next to me. 'You taxi?' - he asked suddenly and broaden his smile. Oh, now I understood who all those men were.
'How much?' - I asked.
We started bargaining. I was tough, but he was tougher. We agreed on 300 Baht for a ride to Vientiane city centre.
I finally got my passport back with a beautifully looking visa inside.
The driver took me to the city in 40 min and after a while I could finally lay down in a clean and comfortable bed in a hostel.

Useful information:

  • The easiest way to get to Laos is flying. Air Asia operates flights from Bangkok to Vientiane. You can get a visa on arrival at the airport. 
  • The land crossing is a whole day trip, so if you are planning to fly to Udon Thani and get a bus from there, plan to leave Bangkok early in the morning. 
  • As mentioned, visa application costs $30, so have it ready. If you don't have dollars, there is a currency exchange point at the border.
  • The taxi drivers accept Bahts.
  • Hostels in Vientiane accept American dollars, so you don't need to have Laotian currency with you, but exchange your money as soon as you have a chance in the city.


  1. We crossed into Laos from Thailand before doing a 3-day Mekong Cruise at Houei Say/Huay Xai and it was actually a breeze. We're planning to get Vientiane soon. Loved Luang Prabang and would return there in a heartbeat.

    1. I liked Luang Prabang, but Vientaine is a city where I could easily live.