While in Udon Thani, the Isaan region of Thailand and few days to spare I was making a plan to visit Laos, wanted to do something without prior planning. Yes, Nong Khai Thai – Lao border is only about 60km so why not travel through Laos, one of the least known countries of Southeast Asia. After a brief research, my plan was final. Vientiane the capital of Laos, then to the caves of Vang Vieng, to the amazing town of Luang Prabang, I was already feeling the excitement. As a traveler, it excites me with a great feeling when I cross the international border and put my first step to the other side of the border to a country that I have never been before, absolutely something different than flying.
If you are in Thailand then Laos is a destination that is worth visiting, there are different ways of getting there from Bangkok. for me since I was already in Udon Thani so the best option was to take a tuk-tuk back to the Udon Thani airport (home of former U.S Air Force base) and start my road trip from there.
- A flight to Udon Thani Airport from Don Muang Bangkok Airport (about 60 minutes flight)
- From the airport to the Thai border Nong Khai by road (about 60km)
- Shuttle bus to cross the Friendship Bridge over the mighty Mekong river ( about 1km)
- Lao Visa on Arrival at Lao side of the border
- From the border to Vientiane by road (only 20km journey)
Flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani:
There are daily flights from Bangkok to Udon Thani, the northeastern part of Thailand (Isaan region). I took Air Asia flight from Bangkok Don Muang airport, and you could get the real bargain if you buy the ticket in advance. Flight time is only about 60 minutes. I paid US$ 55 one way.
From Udon Thani Airport to Nong Khai Thai side of the border:
Nong Khai Thai side of the international border is about 60 km from the airport. There are many options to get there from the airport. I bought a Limousine Service bus ticket from the ticket counter for 200 baths (Udon Thani – Nong Khai). The bus journey was comfortable and in about an hour we were in a terminal close to the Thai border.
Purchase a bus ticket to transfer to another shuttle bus to cross the Friendship Bridge. This ticket costs 20 Bath.
Crossing the Border:
The shuttle bus takes about five minutes from the shuttle bus station to the Thai immigration and customs at the west end of the bridge. All passengers needed to get off the shuttle bus for immigration passport control. once the passport is stamped get on the shuttle and cross the 1.17 km friendship Bridge over famous Mekong River (it is forbidden to cross the friendship bridge on foot or by bicycle). Once the shuttle crosses the bridge in about 5 – 10 minutes you will be dropped off at the Lao side of the Friendship Bridge at the Low Immigration and customs office.
Visa On Arrival:
Visa on arrival is smooth, fill up the application and submit it then depending on a number of applicants lined up for the visa you will be called from another window once the visa is ready. For US citizens visa fee is US$ 35. In case you need to change currency there are few counters at the crossing, note that you can use US$ and Thai Bath in addition to Lao currency ‘kip’ (US$ 1 = 8000 kip or 1 Thai Bath = 230 kips), but don’t expect they can change your 100/50 $ bills or even 500 Bath note.
Getting to Vientiane from the Border:
Once your passport is stamped and cleared by the immigration you will see there are many options to get to Vientiane which is only 20 km away. There are minivans that could be shared with other passengers. The cost will vary based on how many passengers are sharing the minivan. I was with a relatively small group so had to pay about 200 Bath all the way to my hotel Leuxay.