Chiang Khong is the gateway to Laos and the starting point for the slow boat journey to Luang Prabang that takes travellers along the Mekong River. The neighbouring town on the Laos side of the border is Huay Xai. Many travellers chose to visit Chiang Rai, Pai or Chiang Mai before traveling to the border but it is possible to travel directly to the border in Chiang Khong from Bangkok. The distance between Bangkok and Chiang Khong is 850 km and if you want to travel to Chiang Khong directly from Bangkok there are a number of options available including flights, trains, and buses.
Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Khong
Fly-n-ride from Bangkok to Chiang Khong with Nok Air
If you want to fly to Chiang Khong, there is no direct service. Chiang Khong is a tiny border town with no airport. The closest airport is Chiang Rai. However, Nok Air provides ‘fly and drive’ service from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport to Chiang Rai. At the airport in Chiang Rai you will be greeted by Nok Air ground crew who will transfer you to a minivan. The minivan will drive you to either your guesthouse in Chiang Khong or to the Laos border. The minivan journey is 1 hour 30 minutes.
Flights depart daily at 1.10pm, arriving at 2.30pm. The minivan departs Chiang Rai Airport at 3.00pm and arrives in Chiang Khong at 4.30pm. If you are traveling between 30th October and 25th March there is one additional service each day departing Bangkok DMK at 11.25am, arriving to Chiang Rai at 12.35pm. The minivan departs at 1.00pm and arrives to Chiang Khong at 2.30pm.
Note It is important to note that when booking you should select your destination as ‘Chiang Rai’ (Chiang Khong). You will see this option under the ‘fly-n-drive’ section of the Nok Air website. Ticket prices start at THB1,100.
Flights from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and bus to Chiang Khong
It is also possible to travel independently and make a stopover in Chiang Rai. There are over two dozens of flights each day connecting Bangkok with Chiang Rai. The majority of flights depart from Bangkok Don Mueang Airport, though a pricier service from Suvarnabhumi airport with Bangkok Airways is also available. The flight time is 1 hour 15 minutes and tickets cost from THB885.
From Chiang Rai, you can reach Chiang Khong by bus. There are buses leaving every half an hour between 5.00am and 3.40pm. They depart from Chiang Rai Central Bus Station. Tickets cost THB65 and the journey takes approximately 2 hours.
From Bangkok to Chiang Khong by bus
Bus is the easiest way to travel directly between Bangkok and Chiang Khong. Buses leave Morchit Bus Terminal and travel directly to Chiang Khong. Tickets can be booked online – and we recommend you to do it in advance, at least a couple of days prior to your trip. Check Siam First for reliable VIP service. Their buses depart from Bangkok at 7.00pm each night arriving to Chiang Khong by 8.00am the next morning. There is also a morning service at 8.00am but remember that it steals you a whole day as the trip takes 13 hours approximately. Tickets cost between THB750 and THB1,020.
From Bangkok to Chiang Khong by train
There is no direct rail link between Bangkok and Chiang Khong. If you wish to travel by train you will need to get to Chiang Mai first and then take a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. The train journey to Chiang Mai is a quintessentially Thai experience and with new carriages serving the route it is quite comfy, too. There are daily trains departing at 8.30am, 1.35pm, 6.10pm, 7.35pm and 10.00pm. The journey takes approximately 12 hours. Second class sleepers start at THB700 and go up to THB1200. First class tickets start at THB1,300. Trains arrive to Chiang Mai train station located 2km from the old town. A taxi to the old town will cost THB150.
To get to Chiang Khong from Chiang Mai you will need to travel to Arcade Bus Station where you will find buses and minivans to Chiang Khong. The best option here is Green Bus as their buses are comfortable and reliable. You will find a VIP service departing at 8.00am, 9.30am, and 1.30pm bringing you to Chiang Khong in about 6 hours. Tickets cost THB300 and can be booked in advance online.
There are also minivans that will take you from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. Book them in advance, too, through a travel agent or your hotel. They depart daily at 9.00am and 9.30am and will collect you from your hotel or specified pickup point. Tickets cost THB450 and the journey takes around 5 hours with a break along the way.
Crossing the border between Thailand and Laos
The Chiang Khong border crossing to Huay Xai has changed. If you are traveling to Chiang Khong to enjoy the atmospheric boat ride over the border you will be disappointed here as a new Friendship bridge opened a couple of years ago is now the only way for foreigners to get to the other side of the border.
Note The boat crossing is no longer available for foreigners.
If you are taking the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong you will be dropped on the side of the road roughly 1km away from the border. Don't worry as you are sure to find tuk-tuk drivers hanging around ready to bring you to the border. Expect to pay between THB50 and THB100 to get to the border. You can also walk to the border. It should take about ten to fifteen minutes.
Once you reach the border you will be stamped out of Thailand and should take a bus over the Friendship Bridge for THB20. The boat ride was more fun, but things have change since then.
Depending on your passport, you may need or need not a visa to Lao. Visas on arrival are available at Chiang Khong–Huay Xai border crossing. It is advised to have USD ($) to cover the visa fee. Visas cost between USD30 and USD40, depending on your nationality. You can also pay in THB, too, but the price will be slightly higher due to a hefty exchange rate (between THB1,500 and THB2,000). Do have two visa sized passport photos, as well. Regarless the fact whether you need or need not a Lao visa, you should fill in the arrival-departure form distributed by the officers.
Obtaining VOA is simple. Collect the visa application form from the officer in the designated window and complete it. Hand over the filled form with your photos, money, and passport to the same officer. Wait for a few minutes until your name is called. Collect your passport with you Lao visa.
On arriving in Lao you will find yourself a 10 to 15-minute drive from Huay Xai. There will be a small army of tuk-tuk drivers waiting for you. They will try and get as much money as they can from you. The asking price for a ride into town is LAK50,000. This is a high price and we would recommend starting to walk. You will not walk far as a tuk-tuk will soon approach you and the driver will most probably accept the figure close to half the original price quoted.
Onward travel from Huay Xai
From Huay Xai, the most popular onward travel option is the slow boat along the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. This journey takes 2 days and 1 night. This is an experience many of the travellers rave about. You will see wonderful nature and hill tribe villages. Boats depart daily at 11.00am and tickets cost LAK240,000.
There is also a speedboat that covers the same route. This takes between 6 and 7 hours with a stop at Pakbeng for a lunch break. The cost is LAK365,000, with boats departing at 8.00am and 10.00am. Boats leave when full (6 pax) or when you are ready to pay for the whole by yourself. Normally there is no problem to get the whole boat filled up – just hang around the ferry port and wait for other travellers. Private boats can also be chartered. There is no fixed price for a private charter boat. Prices will depend on your negotiating abilities.
If you want to take a short break in either Chiang Khong or Huay Xai you will find a decent number of accommodation options at reasonable prices. Note that there is not much to do in either of these towns other than checking daily markets and a couple of simple wats. Both destinations, however, do offer the opportunity to rest and enjoy local food. Both towns are also quite safe.