Sunday, March 23, 2014

Travel Tip: crossing the border overland

This is mainly for those travelling on two passports, and this is based on my experience crossing Laos to Thailand. Crossing the border overland is different to entering via an airport. In an airport, customs do not care what passport you use so long as you can legally enter their country. Overland, they want to put the entry stamp next to the current exit stamp. So there is no way to interchange passports.

While this might not effect you, just keep this in mind if you are ever trying to get a visa (I.e. Chinese visa) within  that country. For example, I entered Thailand with my Laos visa and was expecting to enter Thailand with my NZ passport. However, as I crossed the border overland, my entry stamp remained on my Philippine passport. This caused me a lot of trouble trying to get a Chinese visa on my NZ passport while in Chiang Mai.

If this is not the case for all overland border crossing , or visa issuance, please let me know!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

TIP: Booking Buses to Chiang Mai

Even though there are a lot of buses running between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, I recommend booking your bus ticket in advance if you can. Especially if you are looking to leave at a specific time. The buses do tend to sell out pretty fast, especially for the VIP and first class buses.

The differences:
*A Class (second class): 2 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Should take 3 to 4 hours with a 15 minute break during. Costs 144 baht.

*X Class (first class): 2 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Bottle of water. This should take 3 to 4 hours as well with a 15 minute break. Costs about 190 baht.

*VIP: 1 / 2 bus seating. Air con. Bottle of water and a snack. To my understanding this should also take 3 to 4 hours but with no stops. This costs about 288 baht.

They do tend to blast the air-con so best to carry a sweater with you to keep you warm during the ride.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Laos to Thailand border crossing

This has got to be one of the easiest ways to cross two countries. We started in Laos and made our way to Thailand via the Mekong. We were told that going the opposite way, Thailand to Laos, is much busier. During our two day travel, the boats coming from Thailand were very full so we're glad that we went the way we did.

We started in Luang Prabang. There are two options to get to Huay Xia, the town at the border of Laos and Thailand:

- Slowboat
To take the slowboat, it will take 2 days. Your first trip is to Pak Beng and then onwards to Huay Xia. There are travel agencies that will sell slow boat tickets, however, they will charge a commission and it is much cheaper to buy when you get to the port. As you are going against the strong current of the Mekong, each journey does take 8 - 10 hours. It is a comfortably ride, though, with some beautiful scenery. The newer boats they use now have car seats added in, rather than just wooden benches. There are four seats around a table. First in, first served.

- Luang Prabang to Pak Beng: 110,000 KIP (14USD / 16NZD)
- Pak Beng to Huay Xia: 110,000 KIP

- Fastboat
There is an option to take the fastboat from Luang Prabang straight to Huay Xia. This will take roughly 7 to 8 hours. The prices here are slightly more expensive. Will this will save you a day, please note that the speedboats are not as comfortable as the slowboat. There is no roof, which means you will be sitting in the sun for those hours. As the boat cuts through the water there is a lot of spray so you will want to waterproof your bags if you are worried about them getting wet. Also, in the dry season the water levels of the river are much lower so you will have to trust your driver to navigate very safely and quickly through all the rocky parts as they speed through. From what I saw, only the driver has a helmet and there were no life jackets.

- Luang Prabang to Huay Xia: 320,000 KIP (40USD / 47NZD)
- Luang Prabang to Pak Beng: 190,000 KIP (24USD / 28NZD)

You will need to stay one night at each stop as you get in around 5pm - 6pm. You can just walk around and find the best guesthouse for you. No need to prebook. You can also request to see the room first before paying. A couple of great guesthouse recommendations are Mansavanh Guesthouse in Pak Beng and Sabaydee Guesthouse in Huay Xia.

Originally, you would take a ferry across to the Thailand border. However, in December 2013 they opened a new Friendship Bridge between Laos and Thailand. This is Friendship Bridge 4. As of January 2014, the ferry option was no longer available to foreigners and you know cross the border via this bridge.

Here are the simple steps:
1) Take a tuk tuk in Huay Xia to the Laos immigration. Generally this should cost around 15, 000 - 25, 000 KIP pp in a shared tuk tuk.
2) Go through immigration and get stamped out of Laos.
3) On the other side, there is a shuttle bus waiting to take people across to the Thailand immigration. There will be a guy selling tickets, which will cost 25 baht or 7,000 KIP.
4) On the Thailand side, on arrival you will get given your arrival form to fill in. Go through immigration. There was no customs so you just go on through.
5) There are tuk tuks waiting to take people into Chiang Khong, the closest town to the border. This costed us 50,000 baht per person for a 10 - 15 minute ride. They asked us where we were going and we said to the bus station for Chiang Rai, which is where they dropped us off.

Easy as pie! A lot more simple than I expected. Also, as the bridge is new, the immigration areas of both countries are very clean and easy to navigate.

For those carrying on, there are regular buses both to Chiang Mai (3 to 4 hours away) and to Chiang Rai (about 2 to 3 hours away). A bus to Chiang Rai costs only 65 baht and takes you to the Chiang Rai terminal.

I hope this helps any one planning on making the same journey. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend traveling to Thailand from Laos (or vice versa) as this was a lot less hectic than flying. I have a couple of photos to put up, but when I have better internet service I'll put them up then.

Happy travels!

All the slow boats 

Wild elephants on the Mekong

The fast boat