Motorbiking from Thailand to Laos

It’s hard to believe we have already been living in Thailand for 3 months, but sure enough it was time for a visa run to Laos. Instead of the typical bus trip into Vientiane, we decided we wanted to see as much of Laos as possible, and what better way than on motorbike? We started doing our research to see how much of a hassle it would be to take our Honda Forza across the border. While there isn’t much information out there, one common complaint was just not knowing which building you need to go to. After experiencing this ourselves, we decided it was worth doing a post!

Our Thailand/Laos Road Trip Route

We clocked 2700 kilos over the course of 2.5 weeks. Starting in Khon Kaen, we made overnight stops in Phitsanulok, Lampang, Chiang Mai, Chiang Khong, Luang Namtha, Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane, ending the trip back in Khon Kaen.

motorbiking thailand to laos route

Crossing the Thailand/Laos Border with a Motorbike

Chiang Khong Thailand

Since we planned on being in Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng festival, we decided to skip on over to Chiang Khong and cross the Mekong there into Huay Xai, Laos. The night prior to crossing, we stayed in Chiang Khong at a really nice hotel we recommend, Namkhong Riverside, that overlooked the Mekong. We awoke first thing in the morning ready to play the game.

First stop is the immigration office in town (near the police station). This is a different immigration office from the one at the port and you must start here! Note: you cannot complete your paperwork the day prior. It all must be completed on the same day you are crossing. We found this out when we tried to show up at Immigration the night before and they told us we had to come back the next day. It says the office opens at 8:30 am, but the gentleman working told us 8 am so that’s when we showed up. We were the first ones there, got in and out in 15 minutes. Here we needed our green book and copy of Charlie’s passport (since its in his name). We received our Information of Conveyance (TM.2) and Passenger List (TM.3) forms. They gave us an outbound and inbound copy, costing us 200 THB.

We headed to the Port and went straight to the last building on the right to purchase our ferry ticket. We picked the first departure time, 10 am. The ticket cost 500 THB. And the help here was not very friendly at all….

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

 Then we headed to the customs office directly across the street in the white building and up the stairs. Here we needed a copy of the green book and another copy of passport for the Simplified Customs Declaration form. No fees here…

Customs Chiang Khong

For the last stop we headed to immigration, which is the blue building to the left of customs. Fill out your departure card, get stamped out of Thailand, and get the documents for your motorbike stamped!! When we originally asked if they needed to do anything with those papers they told us no. We got all the way to Laos and did not have a stamp, so had to turn around and go back to Thailand for it. This was very annoying and added another 2 hours to the process…

Immigration Chiang Khong

Finally…you are ready to cross on the ferry, but the ferry might not be ready to cross. We were supposed to depart at 10 am, but it ended up being closer to 11 am before we actually did. We had to wait for about 15 cars to load up on the ferry with us.

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

Huay Xai Laos

When you arrive on the other side, drive off the ferry, up the ramp and park immediately to the left. Walk up the stairs to the right.

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

At the top of the stairs, go all the way to the right to the customs building. Here you will need another copy of your passport and your green book and a fee of 100 THB.

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

Then walk to the left of that building to get your insurance. When we tried they were closed so we had to find an office in town. We paid 250 THB for 15 days, but we were told by others that was a bit high.

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

Then head to the top of the stairs to immigration to get your final stamps.

thailand laos border crossing chiang khong huay xai

Finally, your motorbike is in but you aren’t! You are at the car ferry port, so you have to drive to the other port where the longboats drop off passengers. Here you will fill out your arrival card, turn in 1 passport photo, fill out your application and pay approx $35 USD to get your visa on arrival. This took us about 30 minutes.

Now you are free to go – just be sure to hang on to your papers for the return!

Side note: We were told prior to leaving Chiang Mai that another document was required to cross, which is a translation of your green book. We first attempted to acquire this at the Provincial Transport office in Chiang Mai. However, they told us it would take 1 week. Since we were leaving in three days that would not work for us so they told us to try the office in Chiang Rai because they could do it in the same day. We stopped in Chiang Rai and spent half a day to get this document – paid 25 THB, and needed copy of green book and passport. In the end, nobody ever asked us for this document. Per the Thai way, it seems to be hit or miss so you can take a chance not getting it, but it might be good to have just in case…”up to you”..

The Road Situation: Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

Our drive from Khon Kaen to Chiang Mai was a breeze. The roads were great and the views were even better! Trouble started when we left Chiang Rai. Google maps gave us 3 suggested routes from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong. They estimated to be right around the same length of time, so we chose the northern route that took us through the Chiang Saen district. Unfortunately, Google did not warn us that a large chunk of this route is not paved! While we saw some stunning views, the Forza was not really cut out for this type of work. She pulled through though, and we arrived in Chiang Khong much later than expected.

The road from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha was just as we heard – like a race track. It was a really neat ride, which we probably would have really enjoyed had it not been pouring rain when we did it. Oh well…next time.

The trouble really began while en route to Luang Prabang. After passing through Oudom Xai it got really sketchy. We were told the road was full of potholes and we would need to drive slow, but we were not told it was completely unpaved and muddy and nowhere near suitable for a motorbike…for 80 kilometers (Oudom Xai to Pak Mong)! We were driving in a cloud on winding roads and no civilization in sight. If we had known, we probably never would have taken the risk but once we were in it, there was no going back. We were averaging 20 kilometers/hour and it took us nearly the entire day to get through it. We knew there was no way we’d be able to make it to Luang Prabang as planned, so we stopped for one night in Nong Khiaw as recommended by some fellow bikers. I must say it was completely worth the stop and this was possibly the most stunning part of the trip, however we were then only left with 2 days in Luang Prabang and one night in Vang Vieng.

After leaving Nong Khiaw, the roads were pretty decent the rest of the way to Vientiane so you should be smooth sailing!

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  1. Excellent with details. Thank you for sharing. We plan to ride Laos – China end of November. This was good for guidance.

    • Trading Traveler October 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm · ·

      Zeff, That sounds like an awesome ride. Northern Laos is beautiful….. but the roads…. not so much. The good news is if you plan to cross at Chiang Khong, there is now a bridge there so it should be much easier than the nonsense we went through. Please shoot me a message after your trip. We’d love to hear about it, especially how crossing into China goes!

      Good Luck, Ride Safe!

      Charlie

  2. Are you still living in Thailand? We are traveling on our bikes RTW. Just finished 1 month in Laos, crossing over via CK tomorrow, to Thailand and then Myanmar!. Thanks for the info.

    • Charlie and Brittany May 19, 2015 at 2:25 am · ·

      Wow – biking RTW?! That’s fantastic! Its the best way to travel. We loved riding through Laos and we only had a week or so. I can only imagine 1 month! We actually just sold our bike last week. We have one week left in Chiang Mai and then we are back to the States for a month and then onto Europe for a bit!

  3. Graham Collar June 16, 2015 at 7:46 am · ·

    Great to read your Tale and a thank you for all the information on crossing with a motorbike.
    I and some friends from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand are planning a trip into Laos and testing the crossing into Vietnam.

    All the best

    G

    • Charlie and Brittany June 18, 2015 at 11:49 am · ·

      That sounds awesome. We are still hoping to make it to Vietnam one of these days. Hope the crossing goes smooth for you! Good luck and stay safe!

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