Want to get from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Chiang Kong to scenic northern Laos as fast and comfortably as possible?
Well now instead of the tiring routine of taking clunky buses, spluttering tuk tuks and then hauling all your belongings onto a longtail boat across the Mekong, then hiking them up a steep hill on the Lao side….the Lao/Thai “Friendship Bridge 4” has just been opened!
The brand new bridge spans the Mekong river from Chiang Kong (Chiang Rai province) in Thailand to Huay Xai (Bokeo province) in Laos. The bridge is connected to Laos’ best sealed highway that goes through Luang Namtha to Boten (the Chinese border crossing) then down part of the way to Luang Prabang before the road gets less sealed (i.e. more bumpy) 3 hours south of Luang Namtha.
The best features of the new bridge border crossing for the traveller are:
- The many immigration offices on the Lao and Thai side (instead of just one each at the old river crossing), streamlining entry and exit; meaning you will spend a LOT less time queueing for stamps in your passport.
- The nice new VIP buses transporting people from the Lao side (Bokeo province) after you have been stamped out, straight to Chiang Kong and Chiang Rai quickly, regularly and comfortably. When we last crossed there was a bus to Chiang Rai every 10 minutes or so for 220 Baht each!
- The new VIP buses from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to the border crossing (the buses wait for you to get stamped in and out on the Thai and Lao side) to Bokeo provinces international bus station. There are 2 companies; Green bus and the Transport Company. Now you can get tickets all the way to Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang from Thailand.
- The ability to now drive across the Mekong for people with their own transport (many rental places in Thailand will give you the documents to take a car or motorbike to Laos) or on guided tours.
- The much more regular bus connections on new buses, less waiting and now the trip to Chiang Rai takes about 2 hours from the bridge border crossing, instead of up to 3 hours plus on the old shaky red buses from Chiang Kong.
So, for people travelling from Chiang Rai to Laos via the bridge, simply catch a bus from Chiang Rai bus station 2, (the new one, outside of town – you can catch a shuttle there from the old bus station in the centre of town for 15 Baht). There are VIP buses that leave at 6am, 9am, 12pm (I was told this time, but didnt see it written on the sign), 3pm and 4.30pm for 22o Baht. These buses all go directly to Bokeo international bus station, where you get off and get connections to Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, China etc
To get directly to Luang Namtha, you get the 9am bus from Chiang rai and get transferred to a Bokeo 2.30pm bus that will get you to Luang Namtha by 6pm; all for 590 Baht!
For Lao-bound buses departing Chiang Mai, there are also numerous buses, but as of yet I dont know the times, s0 watch this space…I know there is a Green bus that goes to Chiang Kong every day at 9am, but I will write more info, as it comes to hand!
Thanks Lao and Thailand, for making it so much easier, faster and safer to traverse the Mekong!