Chiang Rai to Houay Xay, Bokeo
The well-trod Chiang Rai – Houay Xay route to the historic Lao Mekong port town of Houay Xay and boats to Luang Prabang boils down to busses. It’s simply a question of your budget and expected comfort level.
Bus & Van
You can find travel agents in Chiang Rai that offer minivan services to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge IV for ฿600-plus. Chiang Rai’s Terminal 2 Bus Station near the Night Market targets travellers on a budget. The station launches a pair of daily international busses that take you directly to the Phetaloun Bus Station in Bokeo near Houay Xay. The ride costs about ฿220, departs at 10:00 and 16:30, and waits at both border checkpoints before the short ride to the bus station. The trip, including stops at immigration, takes around 3 hours.
Public and private busses leave Chiang Rai’s Terminal 2 for the100-km trip (approx. 2 hours) to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong throughout the day. Simple public busses run like a shuttle system, with departures almost every hour from 06.00-17.00. A seat, though not the most comfy, costs about ฿60, while VIP busses with toilets, cushiony seats with leg room, and snacks fall in the ฿250-400 range. Busses terminate at the Chiang Khong Bus Station, from where you take a tuk tuk to the bridge for around ฿30, depending on the number of passengers.
After passing through Thai immigration, a shuttle bus takes you to the Lao side for ฿25. Bringing a bicycle adds ฿100 to the tariff, as you are not permitted to walk or pedal across the bridge. Regular shuttle bus service ends at 18:00. After passing through Lao immigration, take a tuk tuk with other passengers to the Phetaloun Bus Station near Houay Xay for about LAK10,000-15,000, or directly to your hotel or guesthouse for LAK20,000-25,000.
Fly & Ride
For those, who want to fly to Chiang Rai, and take a taxi to Chiang Khong from the airport, expect to pay ฿2,000-2,500. However, with some 20 flights from Bangkok throughout each day, and arrivals starting at 08:40, you have plenty of time to catch a bus or find a minivan to Chiang Khong and reach immigration with time to catch the bridge shuttle.
Editor’s suggestion: Catch the 10:00 international bus in Chiang Rai and go directly to Laos, take a tuk tuk into town, get accommodation, and enjoy the tourist sites around town.
Nan to Muang Ngeun, Sayabouly
Take an authentic Last Frontier path to Northern Laos by travelling from remote Nan, Thailand, to tiny Muang Ngeun hidden in Sayabouly.
The 140-km drive on the windy mountain road from Nan Town to the border at Houay Kon takes about 3 hours. Minibuses depart at 07:25, 08:25, 09:25 and 12.00 and cost about ฿100. The schedule may vary.
After exiting Thai immigration, you can walk through No Man’s Land for about 10-15 minutes, or take a motorbike taxi for about ฿20. Lao immigration is open from 09:00-17:00, and once passing through the checkpoint, grab a sawng taew to Muang Ngeun. If you arrive early enough, you can catch onward transportation to Sayabouly Town, Hongsa, and Pak Beng in Oudomxay for a Luang Prabang-bound boat. Late arrivals will find a couple of simple guesthouses in Ngeun Town.
Fly & Ride
Six daily 75-minute flights depart from Bangkok for Nan, with the first landing at 08:45. A half dozen busses leave Morchit Bus Terminal every day, with three morning departures starting at 06:00 for a scenic 10-11-hour drive to Nan. The terminal also offers three overnight busses. Prices for 2nd class air-con busses range from ฿400 to ฿575. A ticket for the 1st Class bus departing at 20:00 costs about ฿900.
Editor’s suggestion: Take the early morning minibus from Nan to the border, and head to your targeted Sayabouly destination, or check out the nearby sites and spend the night before moving on.
Loei to Khentao, Sayabouly
Travellers venturing to Loei now have an easy trip to Sayabouly and on to Luang Prabang via a daily VIP International Express Bus.
The 08:00 departure on the 38-seat coach to Sayabouly Town costs ฿500, and arrives between 15:00-16:00. Those staying on the bus to Luang Prabang pay ฿700 for a seat that reaches the UNESCO city around 19:00. The bus waits at both Nam Heuang Bridge border checkpoints for all passengers to pass through immigration.
Sawng taews depart hourly until 16:00 for the 55-km ride (approx. 1 hour) from the Loei Bus Station to Tha Li Town and the bridge. Adventurers seeking a shortcut from historic Chiang Khan on the Nam Heuang River, can reach the bridge by sawng taew. You can find sawng taews at the bus stop at the western end of town just off Sri Chiang Kan Road on Highway 201. You may have to negotiate the fee for the 65-km/90-minute trip to the bridge, or backtrack to Loei Town.
After clearing Thai immigration, you can cross the bridge on a shared tuk tuk for ฿20-45, depending on if you are alone or the time of day. After passing through the Lao checkpoint, catch another tuk tuk to the bus stop. From here, tuk tuks head to the Khentao bus station. You can overnight in Khentao or continue to Pak Lay on sawng taews that tend to leave early in the morning, unless you want to negotiate for personal passage.
Fly & Ride
Three daily 90-minute flights depart Bangkok in the morning and early afternoon for Loei. A day-bus leaves Bangkok’s Morchit Bus Terminal for Loei Town at 07:00, and four busses depart between 20:00 and 21:30, with seats costing ฿325-515, depending on the class of bus. A 1st Class VIP sleeper for ฿700 departs at 22:00 and arrives at 09:00. An express coach from Morchit to Chiang Khan costs less than ฿500. It leaves at 08:30 and arrives at 20:00. Some Bangkok travel agents offer minibus service to Chiang Khan for between ฿250 and ฿500.
Editor’s suggestion: If your target destination is Sayabouly Town or Luang Prabang, take the International Express VIP bus from Loei.
Bangkok/Nong Khai to Vientiane
All direct overland travel between Thailand and Vientiane funnels through Nong Khai and the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 1.
The sleeper train has long been a favourite to the border. The new modern train departs Bangkok at 20:00, with brief stops at Khon Kaen and Udon Thani, before arriving at Nong Khai at 08:25. A berth in a private twin-share cabin costs ฿1,217, and the popular 2nd-class cars offer bunks for between ฿498 and ฿778, depending on air-con or fan and upper or lower beds. Seats in 2nd and 3rd class cost ฿200-500.
The older overnight train departs at 18:40 and arrives at 07:35 for slightly lower prices. The day train, departing at 08:20 and arriving at 17:45, offers 2nd-class seats for ฿325. Be aware that the “ordinary” day train can arrive after the bridge shuttle bus closes, especially during the rainy season. However, taxis and tuk tuks await to take you across the bridge to Laos, or you’ll have to spend a night in Nong Khai.
Upon arrival at the Nong Khai Train Station, passengers have two choices for crossing to Vientiane. A Lao-bound train at the end of the platform crosses the bridge for the 15-minute ride to the Thanaleng Station checkpoint for ฿20. The train departs at around 09:00, depending on the arrival time of the overnight trains from Bangkok, and again at 14:45. From Thanaleng, tuk tuks and vans are available for the 20-km ride to Vientiane. Negotiate for the price, and expect to pay ฿350-600.
The second option is to take a tuk tuk for ฿20-40 to the Friendship Bridge. After going through Thai immigration, a shuttle bus crosses the bridge for ฿20. The ticket booth is on the right after exiting the checkpoint building. On the Lao side, tuk tuks, taxis, and vans are available for the ride to the city. The going rate is usually around ฿300-500, depending on the time of day and number of people in the vehicle.
The green coach to Vientiane’s Talat Sao Bus Station, which parks to the right of the immigration exit, makes the trip for LAK8,000 with ongoing departures throughout the day, though the last bus leaves before 18:00.
International bus service from Bangkok to Vientiane is limited to one a day and costs about ฿1,000. The VIP coach departs Morchit at 20:00 every evening and reaches the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai at about 07:00. After immigration stops on both sides of the bridge, the bus continues to Vientiane’s downtown Talat Sao Bus Terminal.
A handful of public busses depart from Morchit, mostly between 19:00 and 21:45, with seats ranging from ฿350 to ฿450, while a 1st Class bus departs at 20:30 for ฿700. More popular are private VIP coaches, with more than 10 departing from Morchit from 07:00 to 21:00, though most leave in the evening for the 11-hour overnight drive to the Nong Khai Bus Station. From here, you can catch the Nong Khai-Vientiane International Bus to Talat Sao for ฿55. These busses leave at 07:30, 09:30, 12.40, 14:30, 15:30, and 18:00, and wait at the border checkpoints for you to pass through immigration.
Fly & Ride
The hot new ticket from Bangkok to Laos is on a low-cost flight to Udon Thani and a minivan ride to the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge and immigration. Some 15 flights depart daily from both Bangkok airports for the 1-hour flight. Thai Lion, Nok Air, Thai Smile, and Thai AirAsia kick off flights at 05:15, with the last plane leaving at 20:30. All carriers offer special deals throughout the year, with ticket prices as low as ฿1,000.
A variety of transportation choices greet you at the airport. If your airline doesn’t offer a shuttle service, the airport limousine service sells seats in its transfer minivan at the taxi counter for ฿150 for the 60-km (approx. 1 hour) drive to the bridge. You can also take a private taxi for ฿600. Taxis are available to take you all the way to Vientiane, but the price approaches ฿2,500. Once at the bridge, follow the train and bus crowd through immigration, and bridge and city transport.
Editor’s suggestion: Take the overnight train from Bangkok in a 2nd-class sleeper. From the Nong Khai station, grab a shared tuk tuk to the bridge, and once through immigration catch the green bus to Talat Sao and a tuk tuk to your hotel or guesthouse…though the Udon flight and transfer is a close runner up.
Nakhon Phanom to Thakaek
Looking for a direct link from Thailand to “The Loop” in Khammouane? Head to Nakhon Phanom and the 3rd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to Thakaek Town, the launch pad for The Loop and beyond.
A shuttle bus crossing the Thai-Lao Bridge departs from the Mukdahan Bus Station eight times a day for ฿70 (08:00, 09:30, 10:30, 11:30, 13:00, 14:30, 16:00, 17:30). The trip, including immigration stops on both sides of the Mekong, takes about 90 minutes, and terminates at the Thakaek Bus Station. From here, a tuk tuk to your accommodation in town costs LAK25,000-50,000, depending on the number of passengers.
To get to Nakhon Phanom, Thai AirAsia and Nok Air offer four daily flights, with the first taking off at 08:40, and the last leaving at 17:40 for the 75-minute flight. Ticket prices start at around $45, with specials being found for $25, Taxis and tuk tuks are available at the Nakhon Phanom Airport for the 20-km drive to the bus station and shuttle to Thakaek.
Though no trains travel to Nakhon Phanom, more than a dozen busses depart daily from Bangkok’s Morchit Terminal for the 740-km, 11-hour journey. Four 2nd Class air-con busses leave between 06:00-07:30 for ฿415-460, 1st Class VIP coaches depart at 13:30 and 20:10 for about ฿825, while there are eight 2nd Class evening busses leaving from 16:30-18:30 for between ฿415-570 depending on level of comfort.
Editor’s suggestion: If you’re not on a tight budget, take a morning flight from Bangkok and a taxi to the bus station for the bridge shuttle. This gives you an unrushed mid-afternoon start to your Khammouane stay. Otherwise, pick the bus that meets your budget.
Mukdahan to Savannakhet
Mukdahan doesn’t have an airport or train station, but AirAsia and Nok Air both offer “Fly & Ride” deals from Bangkok to airports in neighbouring provinces, before taking the shuttle across the 2nd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to Savannakhet.
Those arriving by bus can catch the international shuttle at the the Mukdahan Bus Station. Shuttle departures leave almost on the hour from 07:30-19:00 for ฿45 and wait for passengers to clear immigration on both sides. Tuk tuks from the Savannakhet side of the bridge to town cost about LAK50,000 or less for shares.
Fly & Ride
You can find at least eight Fly & Ride deals from Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom, Sakhon Nakhon and Ubon Ratchathani, and on to Mukdahan. But, the question is more about time than money. Flight times to all are a bit over an hour, and Fly & Rides are priced about the same, with regular deals for $30-60. However, the minivan drive from Ubon Ratchathani takes 2.5 hours, while the other two rides are 90 minutes. You also have to consider departure times for the bridge shuttle at the Mukdahan Bus Station, as the last one departs at 19:00. Many flights depart Bangkok in the morning, leaving plenty of time to catch the shuttle to Savannakhet and settle in. However, the evening flights require a night in Mukdahan.
Some 1 dozen busses departing Bangkok’s Morchit Terminal for the 660-km, 11-hour ride to Mukdahan. You can leave as early as 07:15-08:00, but your arrival at Mukdahan is too late to catch the shuttle to Savannakhet. Private 1st Class (฿550-630) and VIP (฿850) busses offer frequent evening departures from 18:30-21:30.
Editor’s suggestion: Experienced Thai expats recommend crossing into Laos at Thakaek, and then taking the bus on the 130-km, 2-hour-us drive to Savannakhet.
Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse
Want to save money getting to Pakse without wasting time? Go to or through Ubon Rathchathani. You can get there on one of some 15 daily low-cost flights from Bangkok, hop aboard a train, or pick from a huge choice of bus departures, with a couple taking you all the way to Pakse.
For those heading to “Ubon” first, plan your trip from Bangkok around the International Pakse Shuttle times. You’ll find just two departures at 09:30 and 15:30 for the 140-km, 3-hour drive (including immigration clearance) to Pakse.
Fly & Ride
Flights depart from both Bangkok airports to Ubon, starting at 07:00, and leave almost every hour with the last flight at 19:30. Prices for the 1-hour flight can be found for as low as $25-35 departing Don Muang Airport, while full-service airlines that fly from the Suvarnabhumi Airport charge closer to $55. You can find a tuk tuk at the Ubon airport for the 3-km ride to the bus station and Pakse shuttle. Be sure to coincide your arrival with shuttle departures.
Seven daily trains leave Bangkok for the 9-11-hour run to Ubon, but only a few are practical for catching the Pakse shuttle. The popular 20:30 Express Train that arrives at 07:30 offers 1st Class berth bedding for ฿1,180, with 2nd Class sleeper coaches offering bunks for ฿470-760, depending on fan or air-con and upper or lower bedding. At similar ticket prices, and earlier “Rapid” overnight train without 1st Class departs at 18:55 and arrives 06:15. Both leave time for the morning Pakse transfer. A pair of Rapid overnight trains leave at 22:25 and 23:50 with late morning arrivals. A 06:40 departures offers 2nd Class seats for ฿370-550, depending on air or fan. The train arrives at 18:20, which is tight for the Pakse connection.
Public busses and several private bus companies offer Express and VIP service from Morchit to Ubon throughout the day. A few departures for the 10-hour trip leave Bangkok in the morning at 07:00. One bus takes off at 16:30, while more than a dozen depart between 18:45 and 22:00. Express busses are ฿377-450, VIP seats range between ฿500 and ฿550, and the more comfortable 32-seat VIP coach costs ฿736 and departs at 18:30. Though many terminate at Ubon Town, five go all the way to Chong Mek and the border. After clearing immigration, walk to the Lao side and Vang Tao. From here, you can get a tuk tuk to the local bus station for a sawng taew that heads off on the 45-km ride to the Pakse bus station. Direct sawng taews are sometimes available at the immigration checkpoint.
Editor’s suggestion: Catch a flight from Bangkok before 13:00, and transfer directly to Pakse on the international bus.
Note: Prices and schedules are subject to change.