This is the route we drove in Laos. If you are interested, you can click on this image below and it will take you to the actual Google Map online. You can then zoom in (or out) to have a more detailed look.
We might show our campsite locations on here too at some point if we have time to get that organised.
Visa for Lao was extremely quick. We didn’t use express mail, just registered envelopes and they were back on Monday 29 Oct (after mailing them on Monday 22 Oct) – our first visa ready in our passports!!!
Unfortunately we will have to re-apply for our Laos visa as our dates there have changed (after John and Ann had to pull out of the China section we had to change dates to accommodate for other travelers we will be driving with through China). We’ll do this in January or February.
To apply for an Entry Visa to Laos, whether by mail or in person, you are requested to submit to the Consular section of the Embassy the following documents:
1. Your Passport with at least two blank pages, and valid for 6 months.
2. Duly filled Visa Application Form with one photograph attached.
3. A copy of the itinerary.
4. A pre-paid, self-addressed return envelope. EXPRESS MAIL, REGISTERED MAIL or DHL, TNT is acceptable.
5. Pay Visa fee:
* AU$ 45 for one entry, processing time is 5 working days from the date of receiving (including Handling fee).
* AU$ 60 for urgent visa, processing time is 1 day (including Handling fee).
Visa fee can be paid by money order or cash payable to: “LAO EMBASSY’.
Visa is valid for 1 month after entry. Normally a visa is only valid for 2 months after issue, but if we tell them at the application form when we would like the 2 months validity to start they can set the date to start further into the future.
We can leave blank on the application form where they ask for name, address and contact phone number of contact in Laos.
You can also buy your visa on arrival at the border crossing. Depending on what nationality you are you pay slightly more or less than $35 (seems to be the most common price). You fill in a form, pay the fee and a few minutes later you have your visa.
We’ve bought a Unitel SIM card for 25.000 kip and then bought a 40.000 kip top-up card which gave us 1Gb of data (apparently worth 50.000 kip). Again they were very helpful in cutting the card down to iphone 4 size and dialing the right numbers to activate the card and data. If we understood the guy correctly the card is valid for a month – fingers crossed. Our phone number is 020-97390842 and the country code for Laos is+856 in case you want to send us a text message!
Thai – Laos border crossing
Not so easy this time… hardest bit? Finding the actual immigration office and ferry terminal!
We arrived in Chiang Khong from Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle and weren’t sure where to go. When asking people (tuk tuk drivers and police officers) for the crossing to Laos we were given mixed directions (completely opposite sides of the town!).
After a few wrong dead end streets, we finally found the terminal. Then, as usual, it is fairly straightforward. There is an immigration booth on the left hand side (when you enter the street) where we get our exit stamps in our passports in a few minutes. Jon in the mean time has found the office where they will process our car papers, it’s in the next building.
As I go back to the car to grab the camera (so we can take a copy of the papers we hand in with the signature and the stamp as proof that we actually left the country with the car) I get called over by immigration who want to see the car papers.
They want to have the other papers (the immigration paper for the car and the copy of the car registration paper, plus a copy of Jon’s passport and international driver’s licence) and 200 Baht (for processing?). We argued we had never paid money to leave Thailand before, and asked why we had to pay it. After 2 minutes they already gave up and waved us out of the office saying ok, ok…
Next ‘problem’: the ferry lady doesn’t accept dollars and we need to pay 1000 Baht, so Jon hops on the bike and braves the water throwing Thai people to cycle 2km to the nearest ATM. The ferry leaves at 5pm, so we have nearly an hour to spare, but at least she doesn’t charge us the 1500 Baht as listed in the Lonely Planet for the last ferry of the day.
We can see little passenger ferries go back and forth across regularly, but the big barge is empty until 2 massive trucks arrive. We’re also crossing together with a German / French couple (Julian and Leah) on a motor bike on their way to Australia.
On the other side we drive off and now have to remember to drive on the right hand side of the road again. We won’t be driving on the left any more until we get to the UK in 8 months!
Another problem on the other side: customs is closed because of Lao New Year… the guy from the car immigration is there, but not customs. And we need a bit of paper from customs before this guy can do his work…
Immigration for us is just over 1km down the road, so we quickly drive there as they also close at 6pm. We’re charged an extra dollar each for overtime (after 4pm)! Should have done this tomorrow as well…
The next day we need to do customs and immigration for the car and find some third party insurance. The tricky bit is that we also want to go on the gibbon experience today and all open at the same time in the morning: 8AM.
We decide to go to the gibbon experience office first and we’re in luck! We get the last 2 spots on the 2 day – 1 night gibbon experience. That leaves us with half an hour to pack our packs for the trip and get the car through customs and immigration. We’ll worry about insurance when we get back.
Jon goes to customs first and is charged $6 (50.000 kip) for a green bit of paper. At immigration they enter some details into the computer and ask for the Thai paperwork (the first page of our wad of papers we handed in at the Thai side). They’re not too happy we haven’t got it, but we get away with it. No charge at immigration.
After we come back from the gibbon experience, we arrange our Lao third party insurance at a little office on the main street close to the ‘port’ (where the ferry lands). There are also a few signs next to immigration and customs for insurance so you can arrange it all in one go if you get there early enough.
We pay about 110.000 kip for 3 weeks (around $12). As we get the customs form out so she can fill in the details for the insurance we notice it only gives us 7 days in the country. Not good! So we go back to customs again to change it. This seems to be a non-issue and without any extra charge she changes 7 into 30 and changes the date. A couple of stamps will hopefully tell the customs officer at the other end that we didn’t make those changes ourselves. We didn’t know they gave you a limited period for importing the car, but we’ll be checking for this at future border crossings.
Even though it took us a few days to finish all the paperwork, it was an easy crossing and if you get there early enough and not on a public holiday you could easily do it all in a much shorter time frame.
Lao – China border crossing
We had agreed to meet at the little town of Boten in Lao on 8 May 2013 as we were crossing into China as a group on 9 May. Five cars with equal number of couples would all make the crossing together to save money. As Jon and I wanted to maximize our time in Laos, we had booked a one-day trek and kayak in Luang Namtha which is near the border on the day we had to be at the border.
This meant we arrived around 6.30pm at the border town. 5km before it is the customs house which had its gate closed. It turned out we could drive through on the left hand side, so we had no problem meeting the others who had parked up closer to the town for the night.
The next morning we drove back to the customs house to hand in our green customs form. We didn’t get a receipt, no stamps were added and it was a process of 1 minute.
Next was the actual border. First up was the Laos immigration for our exit stamps. They checked our departure card and passport and again only minutes later we were stamped out. There was no queue. The building is on the left hand side and there is a parking right before it. Once you have your passport stamped you can drive your car through, but you must show the stamps to the guy sitting at the end of the ‘drive’ before you are allowed through.
We’ve left yet another country and are about to enter a new one for me. Jon has been to China before, but I haven’t. When we get to the Chinese section, you can see the Chinese like impressing with big buildings. A huge complex with not a lot of people and we meet our guide Andy there.
He has a lot of paperwork prepared, including a list with our names on it and we have to memorise the order as that is the exact order we need to go through immigration. But first we have to fill in our arrivals and departure card. They scan your passport page and it fills in all the details automatically! We have never seen anything like it anywhere before.
We still have to fill in a few details it can’t automatically fill, like the number of our visa, type of visa and car licence number, but the automated filling makes it a very fast and streamlined process.
After waiting a few minutes we are allowed to queue up, in order of course, and again it is an extremely fast process. One by one we get our stamps and the boys are allowed to go back to the cars with an extra bit of paper so they can drive it to customs.
At customs it was a pretty straightforward process. Get out of your truck when you get to the front and the customs officer has a look inside. There wasn’t a lot of checking and soon all 5 cars had passed customs too. We were done with everything within 2 hours or so. The girls walk to the customs area and can hop in the car as soon as it is done. The only other thing they want to see is the original registration paper for the car. All other paperwork is taken care of by Andy.
We’re in another country again!
Food and Shopping
What we write about food is of course utterly subjective, but we just want to give you our impression of Lao food and shopping. We’ll try to do this for every country we go to. As Jude is a vegetarian who does eat fish we’ll try to comment on the availability of vegetarian options or fishy dishes in restaurants too.
Laos was a country where we ate out as much as we could as the food is good and cheap, but we did cook more evenings in Laos as we were often not camping near a town or other area with restaurants.
We also enjoyed the ‘friendship’ restaurants in Laos. These restaurants are set up to provide opportunities for street kids to get a job in hospitality. They learn on the job as they rotate through kitchen, waiting tables and reservations. They are slightly more expensive to eat at, but the restaurants serves fantastic local dishes and you really help out the kids as they can practice their English with the foreign guests. Oh, and the food is excellent, usually local food but some western dishes too.
Shopping for food in Laos is a bit harder and we struggled to find things like milk especially. They don’t seem to drink it much and all we could find usually were small tetra packs, but not litre packs. We did find some in Vientiane and stocked up big time. The ‘problem’ is they don’t have supermarkets. They have some mini markets and we saw one shop in Vientiane labeled supermarket, but it was just a minimarket. They do cater for westerners a bit in those shops, so you can find most things, but not outside Vientiane.
To not put us off rice and noodles we prepare our own breakfast and lunch (muesli, porridge, sandwiches…).
We didn’t see that many animals in Laos, but here is what we did see 🙂 Enjoy!