At the time of this trip, crossing Myanmar borders overland remains quite challenging. Thus, the independent, budget traveler wishing to combine this country with Laos must cross through a piece of Thailand, following these steps:
- Fly to Tachileik; Several airlines cover this route from Heho (Inle Lake), though not every day. The cheapest option is Golden Myanmar, at $55, significantly less than Air Bagan’s $130. From Yangon and Mandalay there are more alternatives.
- Take a taxi or similar to the border Tachileik (Myanmar) – Mae Sai (Thailand): After a passport check (this area remains tightly controlled to foreign transit, thus the need to fly and the lack of buses or trains), exit the airport and you’ll see several taxis, tuk-tuks and motorbikes. They all request the same fee of kyat 3,500 ($3.5) to the border. Alternative, walk 5 min outside the airport, to the main road, and hail the local truck. It will cost you about kyat 1,000 ($1) for the same route (~15 min)
- Walk across the bridge into Thailand: Stop at the beginning of the bridge to complete the paperwork with Myanmar border authorities, continue walking and do the same at the end of the bridge with Thai authorities. In most cases, no visa is needed to get into Thailand, so this takes less than a minute; but check the requirements for your nationality. Also, remember that Thailand and Laos are 30 min ahead of Myanmar time.
- Get from the border to the Mae Sai bus station: At the end of the bridge, take one of the red trucks to the bus station (~15 min). It costs baht 15 (~$0.5), you can ask the tourist police about where to find the truck stop and change currency in several shops around. We had gotten to the border rather late and wanted to make it to the bus station as soon as possible, so we jumped on a truck that was leaving without any local currency, and some super nice locals offer to cover our ride; we gave them our last kyats in return.
- Take a bus or similar from Mae Sai to Chiang Khong: The cheapest way to get to the Thai side of the border with Laos is taking a bus to Chiang Rai for bhat 39 (~$1) and from there another one to Chiang Khong for bhat 65 (~$2). Each ride is 2-3 hours and if you arrive late to Mae Sai, it might mean you have to spend the night in Chiang Rai and, in low season, risk missing the slow boat on the Laos side. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi or truck to take you directly to Chiang Khong in less than 2 hours for ~$40 (to be divided by up to 6 people). If you have to spend the night there, because you arrive after the border closes at 6pm, there are several decent guesthouses and restaurants.
- Take a taxi or similar to the border Chiang Khong (Thailand) – Huay Xai (Laos): We simply walked out of our hotel in Chiang Khong and hailed a tuk-tuk truck, which drove us ~15 min to the border for bhat 100 (~$3 each, after negotiation). I imagine it would be similar if you are coming via bus from Chiang Rai.
- Cross the border into Laos: At the Thai side of the border, after getting the exit stamp on your passport, take the mandatory bus to cross the long bridge – make sure you have bhat 30 or $1 cash to pay for it. On the other side, complete your paperwork with the Laos authorities; for most people this means paying $35 for visa on arrival and $1 for not bringing photos
- If you’re continuing to Luang Prabang on a boat, take a tuk-tuk truck to the harbor: Walk out to where numerous tuk-tuks are waiting and take a seat for kip 20,000 (~$2.5 per person, no negotiation). Slow boats cost kip 220,000 (~$25) and depart around 11am, once the tourists arrive form the boarder. They take two days to reach Luang Prabang, with an overnight stop in Pak Beng, so about 7 hours travelling each day. Despite it being a long trip, the comfort of the boat seats and the stunning Mekong scenery make it worthwhile… lush mountains, fishermen, bathing children and even some working elephants!
In theory, this route can also be followed in reverse order. Myanmar border conditions change very frequently, and there is rumor of a direct crossing to Laos opening soon. So check this info with the authorities before departing.