Travelling overland from Thailand to Laos is quite easy, especially if your country is a member of the ASEAN. Filipinos for example get to enter Laos visa-free, granted that the trip won’t exceed the 30 days.
One of the major factors that make the mentioned overland border crossing relatively easy is the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. It connects Thailand’s northernmost province, Nong Khai, to Laos’ Vientiane Prefecture, which are separated by the Mekong River.
So basically, what you need to do is to travel to Nong Khai, then cross the bridge to reach Laos (either by bus or by train). But we all know it isn’t as easy that, so below is a step-by-step guide to make your Thailand-Laos border crossing hassle-free:
THAI-LAO FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE BORDER CROSSING VIA TRAIN
On our first transit from Thailand to Laos, we chose to cross the border via express train because we thought that it was the simplest way to do it.
1. Book your train tickets and head to Nong Khai.
We booked our train tickets via 12go.asia a few weeks ahead of our trip, to ensure that we get the schedule and seats that we liked. We were hesitant to use it at first so we made sure to do a bit of research about the website, and we found out that it is actually well-recommended by fellow travelers.
We didn’t really mind the additional handling fee, as we knew we were paying for convenience and peace of mind. On the day of our trip to Laos, we just showed up at their office conveniently located in front of the Bangkok Railway Station, picked up our tickets, and waited for our train to arrive.
There are three train schedules and four different seats to choose from. We chose to book 2nd Class Sleeper AC tickets on Train #25, because the schedule and set-up was perfect. We not only saved on one night accommodation cost, but we also got to transit while comfortably sleeping. It was an obvious winner.
At first, we were torn between booking 1st class or 2nd class AC sleeper tickets, and we’re glad that we chose the latter. The beds were comfy enough for us, and we got to save more than a thousand pesos (round trip).
Important Note: DO NOT LOSE YOUR TICKETS. We say this with emphasis because Joy *almost* misplaced our physical tickets, and everyone panicked when the inspection officers came. Good thing the tickets were simply inserted into one of our snack bags, else hell would’ve broken lose. Charot, OA lang. But just save yourself from the unnecessary stress and. Freaking. Keep. Your. Ticket. Or make sure you store a photo of it on your phone, because according to the officers, they honor softcopies.
Other than our little mishap, the train ride was surprisingly pleasant. Each bed had a designated power outlet, a set of clean blanket and pillow, and complimentary bottled water. The lower bunk is initially made up of two fronting seats as seen in our group photo above, but will also eventually be converted into a bed by the attendant, once the trip starts.
The next morning, the attendant woke us up by announcing that we were about to arrive in Nong Khai. He also made his way to the aisles and one by one, converted all the lower bunks back to regular seats again.
2. Cross the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge via Express Train 913.
Upon alighting our overnight train, we purchased train tickets to Thanaleng (THB 20) at the ticket booth, then went through the Thai Immigration for exit stamps. After that, we proceeded to wait for the express train that crosses the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
Quick Tip: Do not buy the THB 300 train and minivan combo ticket that is being offered at the ticket counter. You can save THB 130 by buying the tickets separately, for THB 20 (train to Thanalaneg) and THB 150 (minivan to Vientiane) each.
The train ride to Thanaleng was short, around 15 minutes to be exact. It was quite relaxing, but things rolled out quite differently upon alighting.
We lined up at the immigration window to get arrival cards, filled them up, then lined up again to have our passports stamped. We were surprised when we were asked to pay THB 50 each, when we clearly know that Filipinos can visit Laos visa-free. We asked what it is for, and the official just said “For the stamp.” Now how can we argue with that? We didn’t want to risk causing delays or heighten the possibility of not being able to enter Laos, so of course we didn’t.
3. Travel from Thanaleng to Central Vientiane via minivan.
After we got our stamps, we were directed to the other side of the platform where there should be a small terminal for vans going to Ventiane’s city center, except there wasn’t. What was there was a couple of old vans parked in the corner. And no buses (or any other vehicles) in sight.
For a moment we thought we might be stuck there, but a guy approached us and started asking where we’re going. He was offering us a ride to the center via his van, for THB 200 each; when we said we weren’t interested, the price went down to THB 150. He kept offering other people his van as well, but would always look at their wallets first before giving his price. So we decided to ask around first and approached the guy with a desk on the platform — he had a receipt pad with him and figured he might be more reliable. He wrote us a receipt for THB 150 each and instructed us to wait at the end of the platform. “We leave in 10 minutes”, he said. A couple joined us, then a family of backpackers.
#SharingLang: Everyone in our group became extra vigilant during the whole Thanaleng experience, that no one even bothered to take photos. Nashokot lang ng slight guys. Sorry na!
THAI-LAO FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE BORDER CROSSING VIA BUS
We definitely didn’t want to travel through the Thanaleng Railway Station again, so on our way back, we made sure to get bus tickets straight to Nong Khai from Vientiane.
1. Head to Khua Din Bus Terminal and purchase tickets to Nong Khai Bus Station.
The Khua Din Bus Terminal is right behind the Talat Sao Mall. You can easily locate it via Google Maps:
We bought tickets (LAK 15,000) at the counter and boarded right after. It was pretty straight-forward and fuss-free.We were able to catch the 3:30PM bus ride to Nong Khai, which is the most efficient schedule if you’re taking the sleeper train to Bangkok. And as with any bus station, there were quite a lot of food stalls around so you definitely won’t go hungry.
2. Get Exit and Entry Stamps from Laos and Thailand respectively.
About halfway into the ride, we were asked to get down for exit stamps at the Lao Immigration. It was quick but we got confused because right after getting our exit stamps, we were asked to line up for a card that we were supposed to pay for THB 50. We asked the guy manning the turnstile gates and asked what we needed to pay for, and he simply said “Customs.” Okay, we thought there was no leaving the border without paying so we complied. It seemed legit anyway because there were collection booths.
Fortunately, it was a different experience at the Thai Immigration. The place was packed but the lines were moving fast and we didn’t pay for any unnecessary fees. It was a short 15-minute ride to the Nong Khai Bus Station after the immigration stop.
3. Ride the tuktuk to Nong Khai Railway Station.
We arrived at the bus station at around 5:30pm. There, we had our extra LAK exchanged to THB, which we used for our tuktuk ride to the Nong Khai Railway Station, priced at THB 30/pax or THB 120 for 4pax.
4. Board the sleeper train headed to Bangkok Railway Station.
We had an hour to spare when we arrived at the Nong Khai Railway Station, so we decided to freshen up and buy snacks in preparation for the long trip. We found the bathrooms clean, so some of us paid a little more than the standard toilet fee (THB 3), to enjoy a quick shower (THB 10).
We arrived at the Bangkok Railway Station before 7am the next morning.
A roundup of all our Indochina guides can be found here.