Travelling from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai is one of the most common routes for those who want to cross the border from Thailand into Laos. Nong Khai is the capital of the namesake province in Thailand sitting right by the border between the two countries and serving as a gateway in and out of Laos, just 25 kilometres away from Vientiane, Laos’ capital city.
The road distance between Chiang Mai and Nong Khai is around 630 kilometres, however depending on the means of transportation, it may vary. The two most common means of transport to move from one place to the other are bus and airplane.
The routes to Nong Khai are pretty much three, by either direct night bus departing from Chiang Mai with the journey taking approximately twelve hours. The second one is also by bus from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai with a layover en route, what makes the whole trip longer – between fifteen to seventeen hours, or by plane flying into Udon Thani and then going to Nong Khai by bus, van or taxi which takes approximately three or four hours in total.
Flights from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani
There is no such thing as direct flights from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai, that is why if you want to fly, you have to use the nearest airport, which is Udon Thani.
Of course there are multiple ways of flying into Udon Thani from Chiang Mai, like stopping in Bangkok, but with two direct daily flights operated by Nok Air it does not make much sense to connect elsewhere. Flying from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani takes one hour, and there is one flight at 12.15pm and the other one at 4.10pm.
The prices vary depending on when you book, but tickets normally cost between THB1350 or USD40 and THB4000 or USD120.
From Udon Thani to Nong Khai
Once in Udon Thani, leave the airport and look for a taxi or a minibus to Nong Khai. A minivan will take approximately fifty minutes to get to Nong Khai, and cost THB150/USD4.
Otherwise, the minibuses at the airport will take you to one of the two Udon Thani’s bus stations where you can use the white minivans to Nong Khai, which cost THB50/USD1.5 and depart as soon as they’re full. A minibus from the airport to both bus stations in Udon Thani costs THB80/USD2.4 per person.
From Udon Thani to Vientiane
If Vientiane is your final destination, then take an International bus from Udon Thani directly to the Morning Market in Vientiane, Laos. This bus departs eight times a day, starting at 8am and the last one is at 6pm. The journey takes two hours and costs THB80/USD2.4 per person.
Note The tricky part of this is that everyone must get out of the bus at the border first at the Thai Immigration before the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos to be stamped out of Thailand, then board the same bus again, cross the Friendship Bridge and get off for the second time to pass through the Lao Immigration. If you manage to get your Lao visa on arrival quickly or do not need one, then it is completely ok. If by some reason, the process takes longer due to queues, the bus won’t wait for you and you’ll have to pay for another means of transportation or wait for the next international bus to pick you up.
Other means of transport you can consider to get to Vientiane include bus #14, an air-conditioned bus that will take you from the border to Vientiane central bus station called Talat Sao (Morning Market) for THB150 or USD4.4 or 45,000 Kip or a tuk-tuk which will take you anywhere in Vientiane for around THB200.
It is also possible to travel from Udon Thani to Nong Khai and Vientiane by train. Take a train from the station in Udon Thani to Nong Khai and eventually from Nong Khai to Thanaleng in Laos. The Thanaleng Station sits approximately 20 kilometres away from Vientiane. The train takes around 45 minutes and costs THB100 or USD3 or 25,000 Kip.
The trains depart daily and five times a day from Udon Thani to Nong Khai from 3.36am till 5.10pm. Tickets cost from mere THB11 for the third class to THB48 for the first class seats. The journey takes one hour and fifteen minutes.
Note On the Lao side there is limited transport from the train station to Vientiane and you will be left to the mercy of the tuk-tuk drivers who are usually not very modest with their rates – expect to shell out THB400 or USD11.8 or 100,000 Kip – normally for the whole vehicle, not per person but do be specific about that!
From Chiang Mai to Nong Khai by bus
If you decide to travel from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai by bus, then there are two different options, direct night bus and a combination of bus+bus.
Direct buses depart from the Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2, which is approximately 3.5 kilometres away from the Old Town, and it costs around THB100/USD3 and THB150/USD4 to get to the station by tuk-tuk.
The only company with direct buses departing from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai is Sueksa, and the journey is around twelve hours long with buses departing daily at 8.30pm and arriving to Nong Khai more or less at 9.30am.
Tickets cost between THB820/USD24 and THB900/USD26.5. This bus is considered a VIP bus meaning it has air-con, a TV screen, they serve a drink and a snack, and it has a toilet. The tickets can be booked at the station or online.
The bus will leave you at the Nong Khai Bus Terminal, which is right in the town centre. There is a choice of accommodation near the bus station if you need one; if you are heading to Laos, read ‘From Nong Khai to Vientiane’ section below.
From Chiang Mai to Nong Khai by bus+bus
Though a direct bus is a more convenient option, connecting via Udon Thani, Khon Kaen or Phitsanulok gives you more choices to reach Nong Khai.
One of the most scenic routes passes via Phitsanulok. To get from Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok, use either by bus or train. This is a longer ride, which takes between fifteen and seventeen hours depending on traffic and the time schedules of the buses, as you have to change your bus/train.
The buses towards Phitsanulok depart from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1, also known as Chang Phueak. The main operator serving the route is Phet Prasert. Buses depart roughly every hour starting at 8.30am until 8 pm and cost THB350/USD10 and the journey takes approximately 6 hours as the distance between both places is 350 kilometres. The bus will drop you at Phitsanulok Bus Terminal 2, from where you will have to catch another bus towards either Nong Khai or Udon Thani. Check Greenbus for direct options.
If you decide to travel via Udon Thani, there are multiple options to make it to Nong Khai, as explained above.
If you prefer to cover a part of the route by train, there are 6 departures from Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok between 6.30am and 6pm. All trains depart from Chiang Mai Train station. The station is 2.5 kilometres away from the Old Town, and a tuk-tuk costs approximately THB100/USD3. The tickets for the train cost between THB175/USD6 and THB1000/USD30 depending on the class of the carriage. In total, the journey takes approximately seven hours, a slightly more than the bus.
From Phitsanulok you can get to Nong Khai by bus as described above.
From Nong Khai to Vientiane
The border with Laos is 5 kilometres away from the bus terminal in Nong Khai, and a tuk-tuk ride costs around THB80/USD2.4. Be aware that a lot of tuk-tuk drivers will say they can sort out the Lao visa for your – don’t rely on them and do it yourself, as the process is straightforward and not comlicated.
The easiest way to get to Vientiane is to take an International bus from the same bus terminal in Nong Khai. There are 6 buses a day with the first one departing at 7.30am and the last one at 6pm and costs THB55 or USD1.6 or 15,00 Kip. No need to book in advance – buy tickets on the spot. Be reminded that if you have no Lao visa, the bus may leave from the Lao immigration without you and you’ll have to find another transportation.
Note that if you want to submit the documents for your Thai visa at the Thai Consulate General in Vientiane the same day, you need to leave Nong Khai with the 7.30 or 9.30 international bus.