Easy Border Run Chiang Khong (Thailand) – Huay Xai (Laos) DIY Step-By-Step

credit: Tim / goeverycorner.com

It’s a well known phenomena for those spending extended amounts of time in Thailand. The border run. It’s one of the options you have when your visa or visa exemption is running out. I recently did a border run from the northern town of Chiang Khong, Thailand, to Huay Xai, Laos, and back the same day. This is the process for those considering doing the same.

As I alluded to earlier, there are several options at your disposal when it’s time to extend your stay in the Kingdom of Thailand. They depend on your nationality, the visa that you’re on, the state of your finances, and perhaps a few other things.

For those of us staying in northern Thai cities such as Chiang Mai and seeking a new visa-exempt stamp in their passport, the Chiang Khong – Huay Xai border run is a cost-effective, efficient option.

You will not be able to acquire a proper tourist visa here, as there is no embassy or consulate in the Lao town of Huay Xai. For that, you will have to go to Vientiane. However, if you’re after a new 30 day (now 45 days) visa-exempt stamp in your passport, this is a very good option.

There are several ways of traveling to Chiang Khong. Personally, I rode a motorbike and combined it with a scenic trip around northern Thailand, which was great. You can also ride your motorbike directly from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, which will take you about 5 hours. Alternatively, stop overnight in Chiang Rai and continue on fresh the next morning.

For those not comfortable riding motorbikes, there are public transport buses available from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. There are also minivan services available taking you back and forth from Chiang Mai the same day.

This article will focus on doing it all independently by motorbike, since that’s what I did. I will describe the process from arriving at the Thai border parking lot onward, as you can travel to the border in a variety of ways, whatever suits you best.

I did not stay in Laos overnight, I went back straight away, in fact I was out and back into Thailand in about 1 hour. More on this later. Let’s get into the process step by step with photos.

1. Parking at the Thai Border

Parking lot at Chiang Khong border
Tim / goeverycorner.com Parking lot at Chiang Khong border

Driving on road 1020 either from the north or from the south, turn off into road 1356 heading east toward the border. Keep driving until you reach the border checkpoint. Go through the main gate, and directly to the left where there is a parking lot and public toilets.

Chiang Khong
Tim / goeverycorner.com Drive to the “Chiang Khong Border Checkpoint (Departure)”. There is a parking lot where you can safely leave your car or motorbike.

You can park your car or motorbike here. Personally I only left it there for about an hour, but I would feel comfortable leaving the bike overnight as well, especially assuming the gates will be closed after 10 pm.

From here, walk toward the border which is only about a 3-minute walk. Walk toward the center of the big building, not toward the left which is for vehicles. It’s quite clear, you can’t miss it.

2. Leaving Thailand

Chiang Khong immigration departure
Tim / goeverycorner.com Chiang Khong immigration departure

Approach one of the immigration officers sitting in the booths at departure passport control. At the time of my departure, I was the only one there and none of the booths had anyone in them. I walked around, and an officer turned up from the back, taking his place in the booth and stamping me out. No worries at all. You can now make your way to the bus, which is right behind the departure point.

3. The bus across the Bridge

Waiting for the bus across the bridge
Tim / goeverycorner.com Waiting for the bus across the bridge

There is a mandatory bus service across the bridge into Laos (and back). It runs every 20 minutes or so, so you may have to wait a short while. First though, walk up to the window on your right and purchase a ticket for 25 baht. Then take a seat and wait patiently until the bus driver signals it’s time to go.

The bus ride only takes a few minutes, and will drop you off right in front of Laos immigration and passport control.

4. Laos Visa on Arrival

Huay Xai Laos immigration 1
Tim / goeverycorner.com Huay Xai, Laos immigration – visa on arrival windows are at the right-hand side

After you get off the bus, walk up to the visa on arrival window on the far right-hand side. The officer asked me how long I was going to be staying in Laos. I said just today, and that I was heading back straight away. If that’s your plan as well, I suggest mentioning that you are heading straight back, as the immigration official will stamp your passport with both entry and departure stamps right away, saving you the hassle of going through immigration and entering the country.

Another benefit is, you won’t be asked to fill out any long and tedious forms, which others entering the country did have to do.

Huay Xai Laos immigration visa on arrival windows
Tim / goeverycorner.com Huay Xai Laos immigration visa on arrival windows

You will be asked for the visa on arrival fee of 1,800 Thai Baht. Apparently you can pay this in USD as well, but when I was there in February 2023, they seemed to prefer Thai Baht. Which was fine with me, as I couldn’t be bothered getting USD beforehand.

After a short wait of about 5 minutes, you will get your passport back with the Lao visa on arrival and both entry and exit stamps. You are now ready to go back to Thailand!

5. Get on the Bus Again

The border bus
Tim / goeverycorner.com The border bus

Make your way back to where you came off the bus earlier and purchase another bus ticket for the way back. You can still pay in Thai Baht here. If you want to buy some drinks here, you can use Baht as well. I like that, since it saved me from having to exchange to Lao Kip.

Again, you will have to wait for the bus to gather enough people. In my case, it took about 20 minutes before it was time to get on the bus again and make our way across the river to the Thai side of the border.

6. Back into Thailand

Chiang Khong immigration arrival
Tim / goeverycorner.com Chiang Khong immigration arrival

When you get off the bus, make your way to Thai immigration arrivals. Before walking up to one of the immigration windows, fill out an arrival/departure card which are located on the right-hand side. If you don’t, you might waste time waiting in line if there is any.

Assuming everything with your passport and person is hunky-dory, you will be stamped back into the land of smiles with a 45-day visa-exemption stamped in your passport.

Welcome to Thailand
Tim / goeverycorner.com Welcome to Thailand

Make your way back to your motorbike or car, and drive back into Thailand. I recommend staying for a night in the town of Chiang Khong at one of the riverside hotels. It’s a great place. There are plenty of nice places to eat, I had dinner at Bamboo Mexican Restaurant owned by a hardworking Thai lady with great English, and a few beers after at Rin bar on the main road, which is owned by a Belgian man and his Thai wife.

How many times can I do this?

It is unclear as there are no hard and fast rules around this. From what I’ve heard, you can do two land border runs in a row without any issue. Don’t forget you can also extend your visa or visa-exemption with 30 days at your local immigration office.

After having done two land border runs, but you still want to stay longer in Thailand, it might be a good idea to catch a flight somewhere and stay in another country for at least a few days.