Saturday, August 1, 2015

Chiang Mai to Huay Xai – VIP bus, local bus, tuktuk

Following a month in Chiang Mai, our next destination would be Luang Prabang in Laos. After researching some options, I decided that it would be best to take it slow, and enjoy many stopovers, rather than book some ungodly-long bus ride or take a plane. I would make my own way to the border then take the slow boat on the Mekong to get to Luang Prabang. 

The plan: 
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: by bus, 3 hours
Chaing Rai to Chiang Khong: bus 2 hours
Chiang Khong to Huay Xai: uncertain
Huay Xai to Pakbeng: slow boat, Shompoo Cruise, 8 hours
Pakneg to Luang Prabang: slow boat, Shompoo Cruise, 8 hours

Getting to Chiang Rai was the easiest part. I wanted to book a Green Bus and to do so, I simply walked into a travel agency near the Tha Pae gate and made reservations. They charge about 100 baht for issuing the ticket. Otherwise, you have to take a tuktuk to the bus station, which is pretty far, then wait in line and by it yourself. I decided to just pay the 100 baht to have the agency issue the ticket, since it would cost me more to get a tuktuk to the station anyway.

I  spent one night in Chiang Rai to explore the city and see the White Temple. It was worth it, but I wouldn’t stay longer. Chiang Rai is basically like a smaller, less-charming version of Chiang Mai.

The process of crossing the Lao border form Chiang Rai was both extremely difficult and stupidly simple.

Once I was in Chiang Rai, I wrongly assumed that we could purchase a ticket to Huay Xai on the VIP bus from any travel agency. There were dozens of places selling package tours which included a bus across the border, then two days on the slow boat for about 1,500 baht. Unfortunately, no agency was able to sell me only a VIP bus ticket. I would need to go directly to Bus Terminal 2 for that, which was far out of town, costing about 100 baht on a tuktuk to get there. I was also told that only 2 buses went to the border each day. It would be much simpler to just board one of the many public buses going to Chiang Khong and figure it out from there.

So that’s what I did. Buses to Chiang Khong leave every hour, one on the hour, and one on the half-hour. We bordered the bus at 12:30, which was piloted by a old-married couple. I paid 65 baht in cash on the bus. There was no bathroom on board, but we did make a short rest stop where I got out to use the bathroom. There was also no AC, but a nice breeze from the open windows took care of that. The couple was very kind, and when we arrived in Chiang Khong they dropped us off at the entrance to the Friendship Bridge, instead of driving all the way to the Bus Terminal, which was further away than the Bridge.
Public bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

At the Friendship Bridge, I met an Italian man who spoke Thai and haggled for a tuktuk to the border for 50 baht each. I read that the price is usually 100 baht, but I think 50 is fair since we were three people. After receiving my departure stamp from Thailand, I paid 25 baht to ride another bus to the Lao Immigration side. Once getting my Lao visa and arrival stamp, I had to take a tuktuk to Huay Xai pier. I read that they charge a flat 100 baht per person, and I was prepared to pay that, but the driver did not want to take off with only two people. He said we had to wait until 5 or 6 people got on. Well, after waiting for nearly 40 minutes, only one other person came through the border, so reluctantly, he drove us three people into town.

Tuktuk to the border in Chiang Khong

Beautiful view of Laos from the border crossing

View after clearing immigration on the Lao side

Immigration bus, to be taken internally from the Thai side to the Lao side

Tuktuk in Huay Xai

The summary:
Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai:
Green bus, 170 baht/person + 100 baht fee for issuing it at a ticket agency, 3 hours

Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong:
65 baht/ person, pay on board, no reservation deccessary, 2 hours

Chiang Khong to Huay Xai:

To Thai Immigration: Tuktuk, 50 baht/ person, 15 minutes
To Lao Immigration: Bus, 25 baht/person, 5 minutes
To Huay Xai: Tuktuk, 100 baht/person, 30 minutes

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