Entering Laos - Some History

DavidFL

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An attempt to summarize the history & issues that have cropped up over the years entering Laos.

Friendship Bridge History:
The 1st Mekong Friendship was opened on April 8, 1994, it was the first bridge across the lower Mekong, and the second on the full course of the Mekong. Funded by the Australian government, construction cost A$42million.

Chronology of the 1st Friendship Bridge
1956 – The idea of building the bridge across the Mekong River to connect Thailand with Laos began.
1988 - General Chartchai Chunhavan, the then Prime Minister of Thailand, visited Laos. A joint leaders’ communiqué was released which agreed in principle to construct a bridge over the Mekong River linking Nong Khai province with Vientiane.
1989 – HE Bob Hawke, the then Australian Prime Minister, visited Thailand and announced that the Australian Government would offer funding for the construction of the bridge through cooperation between representatives from Thailand and Laos.
January 1990 - Memorandum of Understanding was signed at Government House in Thailand. Feasibility studies were carried out by Australian engineering firms Maunsell and Partners and Sinclair Knight and Partners.
October 1991- The Australian Government selected John Holland Construction Pty Ltd and Kin Sun (Thai) to construct the bridge.
November 1991- Foundation stone laying ceremony took place. The construction took approximately two and a half years to complete.
8 April 1994 - His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand presided over the opening ceremony of the bridge, together with HE Nuhak Phumsawan, the then President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and HE Paul Keating, Australian Prime Minister at that time.
23 April 1994 - The first Thai - Laos Friendship Bridge opened for use.
5 March 2009 - A Lao-Thai railway link was opened on the bridge, further enhancing accessibility between Thailand and Laos.
29 April 2009 – Australia joined Laos and Thailand to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Lao -Thai Friendship Bridge.

Construction Details 1st Friendship Bridge
With a length of 1170 metres, the bridge has two 3.5 metre wide road lanes, two 1.5 metre wide footpaths and a single metre gauge railway line running down the centre. The bridge is supported by six foundations in the river bed, each 105 metres apart. Two additional foundations support the bridge at either end. Fifteen columns provide support along the edge of both sides of the bridge, eight on the Thai side and seven on the Lao side.
The official name of the bridge was changed by the addition of "First" after the Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge further south at Savannakhet opened in January 2007.

Crossing the bridge(s)
There are four Friendship Bridges:
1. Nong Khai (T) / Tha Dua (L) FB1
2. Nakon Phanom (T) / Tha Khek (L) FB3
3. Mukdahan (T) / Savannakhet (L). FB2
4. Chiang Khong (T) / Houei Xai (L). FB4
The bridges are all open 7 days a week.
5. A 5th Thai-Lao Friendship bridge has been proposed for Bun Kan (T) & Pakxan (L).

When the bridge at Nong Khai was first opened the official policy was no motorbikes on the bridge. To get round this you had to truck your bike over the bridge, or get an official escort if you were a tour group. Eventually common sense prevailed & bikes were able to ride across the bridge.

However after several years open to motorcycles, the rule book was dusted down & Lao authorities in Vientiane “closed” the bridge to motorcycles without warning in Feb 2005.

When the three other Friendship Bridges – Mukdahan (December 2006), Nakhon Phanom (11 November 2011), & Chiang Khong (11 December 2013) were opened they were instructed to follow the official policy from Vientiane – no motorbikes into Laos across the Friendship Bridge.

In late 2011 the 1st Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai was again opened to bikes & remains open; but the other bridges downstream can still be problematic. Usually you cannot cross from Thailand, however the Lao often let you exit, (but not always).

The 4th Friendship Bridge at Chiang Khong / Houei Xai was opened on 11.12.13 & Thai immigration at first refused use of the bridge by motorcycles; however in March 2014 they started letting bikes across the bridge with an escort, for 1,000 baht. In 2016 the fee is now 500 baht. Exiting Laos across the bridge in February 2016 the fee on the Lao side was 200 baht = it goes up & down a bit, depending on the official.

GT Rider was the first bike across the 4th Friendship bridge on 12.12.13, exiting from Laos much to the surprise of Thai immigration.
GTR-IMG_8693.jpg


Entering Laos
In August 2015 the Ministry of Security issued a rule for motorbike tours.
Motorbike tours must travel with a tour agency, & a police escort for the tour.
"Officially" any foreigners who want to travel with a motorbike through Laos must comply with the above (go via a tour agency)
1. The bike must be registered in the owner’s name. The original bike rego is required.
2. All rental bikes from Thailand must have a tour agency process their paperwork with an approved itinerary (no private riders on a rental bike).
The rules are not always strictly enforced, usually in the case of private riders, & in practice it generally seems as if up to 4 private bikes may not be considered a tour - you can come & go as you please. It varies,
Private riders on rental bikes with the correct documentation are able to cross "freely" at Chiang Khong.

However, every now & again it seems some incident causes the rule book to be dusted down.

Incidents causing problems entering Laos
Incidents that I have been aware of
• Accidents with tour groups & disputes about compensation
• Accidents & culprits doing a runner.
• A couple of Thai riders entering at Pakxan once, coming off the ferry from Thailand, not stopping for both Lao immigration or customs, continuing their ride through Laos; & finally running the border at Muang Ngeun to exit Laos. They were stopped by Thai immigration & returned to the police in Muang Ngeun
• Modified, noisy exhausts – not popular at all entering Laos at Muang Ngeun
Any stupid disputes &/or misbehaviour only antagonizes the Lao authorities & causes them to become anti bike friendly = everyone suffers.
Xayabury September 2016. Motorbikes & bicycles are banned from entering Laos in Xayaboury province at Muang Ngeun, Kenthao & Phu Doo. This ban was introduced by the head of the Xayaboury police. Discussions were held between the Xayaboury tourist office, governor & police to no avail. No motorbikes! I believe this problem arose from a group of Thai bikers taking photos at the Xayaboury dam site. They were asked to stop & leave the area, but refused. The head of the police was called & an argument ensued. The police won = get out, no more motorbikes in Xayaboury province, in or out. Too much trouble!

Accidents 2013
• A KLX 250 ridden by a Thai was written off in a head on collision near Luang Namtha very recently. The rider was a Thai & is ok. He was very lucky - forgetting what side of the road he should be riding on.
• A bike caravan coming back from Vietnam was involved in a collision & the compensation negotiations were not at all satisfactory according to the Lao.
• December 2013 the most embarrassing of accidents occurred in the far North of Laos between 2 different Harley groups - one going & one coming from China - & yep you guessed a collision between bikes from the two different caravans.

October 2016 – Chiang Khong
On the 17th October 2016 - via the 4th Friendship Bridge at Houei Xai / Chiang Khong I was able to ride out of Laos with no escort vehicle or fee paid. Whether this is going to be permanent I don't know - I didn't ask. Just got on my bike & left.
However entering 3 days earlier coming across from Chiang Khong, Thailand I was still hit up for the 500 baht escort vehicle.
The 6PM deadline: Chiang Khong immigration claim that at 6pm the escort vehicle goes home & you cannot exit Thailand after 6PM. I have personal experience of this in October 2016 & was told to hurry up doing my export permits at 5.45PM because at 6PM the car was going home & they would not let me cross without the car. Never mind I thought I would just pay the escort fee the same & ride over unescorted, but no we won’t let you go without the car! Does this really happen in practice - I don't know, but you've been warned it may be true.

March 2017
The old rule book was dusted off & no motorcycles less than 250cc across the border.
Even the local agents are unable to help!
Also in the works supposedly is the planned re-introduction of bike passports for Thai registered motorbikes. This however may still be a way off.

Consult these older GTR threads if you like
Muang Ngern & Entering Laos - Xayaboury Province

Laos Border Crossings

Laos Friendship Bridge No Entry

Laos Bike Entry Difficulties. Chiang Khong - Houei Xai.

Border Crossings

Thailand / Laos Border Notes

There's been a lot going on over the years but I hope this summary above helps provide a clearer picture overall.
 
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DavidFL

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In 2005 when the bridge was again closed, the Director of the bridge on the Lao side was an extremely nice guy & ex Lao ambassador to Canberra in Australia.

Extremely sympathetic to our plight, he actually wrote a letter to the relevant authorities in Vientiane asking them to reconsider the "No Bikes" policy.
i-bB9Vxkk-XL.jpg



The reply from the Ministry of Transport was negative
i-RKmQ8gH-XL.jpg
 
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DavidFL

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Vang Tao Laos / Chong Mek Thailand

March 2018

There appears to have been a policy change on the Laos side.
Riders have been refused exit from Thailand because of a new policy on the Laos side - tour groups only!
  • 1-2 bikes cannot enter
  • 3 bikes up need travel with agent / need tour permit riding in Laos
At the moment this appears to be a local Vang Tao policy only.
My guess is you could probably pay for a one man tour permit.

Of note too at Vang Tao too is that a small group of Thai riders recently entered, rode to Luang Prabang & then tried to exit from Nam Heuang in Xayaboury province. At first they were refused & told to exit at Vang Tao; however after 4 hours at the border & with some help from an agent they were able to exit.

Look here for more info: Laos Border Crossings
 
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DavidFL

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Vang Tao Laos / Chong Mek Thailand

March 2018

There appears to have been a policy change on the Laos side.
Riders have been refused exit from Thailand because of a new policy on the Laos side - tour groups only!
  • 1-2 bikes cannot enter
  • 3 bikes up need travel with agent / need tour permit riding in Laos
At the moment this appears to be a local Vang Tao policy only.
My guess is you could probably pay for a one man tour permit.

Of note too at Vang Tao too is that a small group of Thai riders recently entered, rode to Luang Prabang & then tried to exit from Nam Heuang in Xayaboury province. At first they were refused & told to exit at Vang Tao; however after 4 hours at the border & with some help from an agent they were able to exit.

Look here for more info: Laos Border Crossings

Re the problem entering Laos at Vang Tao, with a bit of checking it would appears as if the problem has come from single riders (Thai) coming in with bikes & not returning with the bike = they are being sold; & / or there have been accidents with deaths & the bike not being returned. Single entry pick ups are also being denied entry at the moment because of the same problem? Vehicles not leaving. But with a tour group then there is a legal local guarantor whom is responsible & if the bikes / vehicles are not re-exported then they are responsible. With single / private entry there is no local guarantor & this is where the problem has come from in Pakxe / Champasak - bikes vehicles not being re-exported because they have been sold of or crashed, hence the current ban. The customs at Vang Tao are most unhappy with this.

It should be noted that when you cross the border with a vehicle, the customs & immigration computers are not linked; so it is quite easy to cross with a bike, & exit with out it as a normal passenger by plane or bus. It is only later on when the re-export in the customs computer is not cleared that it becomes a problem & questions are asked. And if you don't try to take another vehicle across the border it will probably never show up as black mark against you = you can only do it once.

Hopefully the situation at Vang Tao, may eventually return to normal as this border crossings has always been one of the easiest crossings to use entering Laos.

See also
Laos Border Crossings

Xayaboury Province Entry & Departure
 
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DavidFL

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June 2018
The 1st Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai has also become problematic with no private entry THAI registered bikes allowed in. Unless you are a motorcycle tour caravan of 5 bikes and up. Less than 5 bikes you cannot come in.

So the only remaining "normal bike entry" port is Houei Xai / Chiang Khong .
If you get in at houei Xai you can exit Laos at most places, except Khentao / Tha Li.
 
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Jimenator

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Re the problem entering Laos at Vang Tao, with a bit of checking it would appears as if the problem has come from single riders (Thai) coming in with bikes & not returning with the bike = they are being sold; & / or there have been accidents with deaths & the bike not being returned. Single entry pick ups are also being denied entry at the moment because of the same problem? Vehicles not leaving. But with a tour group then there is a legal local guarantor whom is responsible & if the bikes / vehicles are not re-exported then they are responsible. With single / private entry there is no local guarantor & this is where the problem has come from in Pakxe / Champasak - bikes vehicles not being re-exported because they have been sold of or crashed, hence the current ban. The customs at Vang Tao are most unhappy with this.

It should be noted that when you cross the border with a vehicle, the customs & immigration computers are not linked; so it is quite easy to cross with a bike, & exit with out it as a normal passenger by plane or bus. It is only later on when the re-export in the customs computer is not cleared that it becomes a problem & questions are asked. And if you don't try to take another vehicle across the border it will probably never show up as black mark against you = you can only do it once.

Hopefully the situation at Vang Tao, may eventually return to normal as this border crossings has always been one of the easiest crossings to use entering Laos.

See also
Laos Border Crossings

Xayaboury Province Entry & Departure

Hi David,

What do you mean by "single entry pick ups" i.e. pickup trucks? Surely they can't be denied entry because the Thai-Lao transport agreement covers this vehicle type. By doing so, they would be breaking the agreement and the Thai side could (should) retaliate by banning Lao trucks from entering at this checkpoint. I have heard the same being mentioned at the Huay Kon crossing in the immediate aftermath of them banning motorcycles and bicycles there, but later on I think it became clear only 2 wheelers were affected.
 

DavidFL

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Jimenator
That is what I was told by Lao customs at Vang Tao when I was there. Whether it was being strictly enforced or is still valid I don't know. You could test it out for the definitive answer if you like. Whatever, it is part of the history of Laos border crossings.
 

Jimenator

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Thanks for your prompt reply David. Sounds a bit odd (and very worrying) if this turns out to be the case. However, i did a search in Thai and nothing shows up suggesting things have changed for cars (pickups) entering Laos at Vang Tau from Chong Mek. I also watched a YouTube video posted on May 8 of a Thai guy who drove his Thai pickup in to Laos at this checkpoint so it seems that perhaps there was a midunderstanding. Still, things like this are worrying. Its bad enough motorcycles are banned but breaking an agreement made between the Thai and Lao governments is another thing. I have crossed the Chong Mek-Vang To border in my truck and was planning on entering there later this year. Back in February i exited there and saw 2 Singaporean motorcycles entering - probably among the last before the tour requirements were introduced in March.
 

DavidFL

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There was a bridge built across the Mekong linking Laos & Myanmar at Xieng Kok / Kenglap.
The first Lao-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, it was officially inaugurated on 9 May 2015, however due to demarcation issues of the exact border line in the Mekong it was not fully functional.
5nk_2823-jpg.jpg


These issues were resolved sometime in mid 2018 & then on 8 November 2018 Myanmar officials announced that the border crossing was full international.
5NK_2867.jpg


However on the Lao side there is no visa on arrival available; and supposedly there is an E-Visa available for Myanmar at Kenglap.
Exiting either of the countries but should be easy, but entering the other side should be problematic. Laos you need a visa in advance & Myanmar you will need a pre-approved tour package to enter from wherever you ride in.

More info
Chiang Kok and the Lao Myanmar Bridge

Myanmar-Laos border gate receives international status
 

DavidFL

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At Ban Huak in Thailand there is an "international" border crossing to Laos. The crossing has been a local one for many years & there is a bi-monthly market "Talad Nut" for people from Laos at Huak that has featured on GTR here: Weekly Markets - Talad Nut - In North Thailand

The Huak border crossing was slated to be open on 8.8.2018 but it did not happen, then in December 2018 it was declared full international on the Thai side with a official opening on 18.12.2018. However the Lao were not ready & there is zero foreign passport service on the Laos side - no visa on arrival, no entry even with a prior visa & no exit. It is open for a border pass only - and restricted to locals of Phayao province.
How the border looks on the Thai side 2 January 2018.
gtr-img_9695-jpg.jpg


gtr-img_9701-jpg.jpg
 

DavidFL

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On the 18th October 2019 Vientiane announced a new Visa on Arrival policy for 9 border crossings - no more VoA - Visa on Arrival.

Supposedly this is to be effective from 1 January 2020.

The border crossings effected are
  1. Pang Hok (Phongsaly Province) bordering Vietnam
  2. Nam Soy (Hua Phan Province) bordering Vietnam
  3. Nam Kan (Xieng Khouang Province) bordering Vietnam
  4. Nam Ngeun (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  5. Nam Heuang (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  6. Nam Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  7. Na Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  8. Savannakhet International Airport, odd because you flew in via Pakxe & got a visa there first anyway.
  9. Phou Keua (Attapeu Province) bordering Vietnam
To enter these borders you should need an E-visa or a visa from a Lao embassy.
For Thai riders the most serious one is the Huay Kon (T) / Muang Neun (L) crossing which is anchors one end of the new Hongsa - Luang Prabang road.
This border crossing has been problematic for awhile now, with an entry permit required via a Laos tour company.
Now having to get a visa before makes it even more of a nuisance.

Why do this?
Well there are two theories:
1. Not all the visa money collected was being remitted to Vientiane. Some was being diverted elsewhere.
2. The volume of traffic is so low that it was not covering the cost of stationing Foreign Affairs staff at the border to issue the visas. It should be noted that at the border crossings entering Laos it is a two-step immigration process. One step is staff from the Foreign Affairs department issue the visa, & then step two, the immigration police stamp your passport entry in once you have a visa to enter.

Lets see what happens 31 December 2019 / 1 January 2020.
 

DavidFL

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On the 18th October 2019 Vientiane announced a new Visa on Arrival policy for 9 border crossings - no more VoA - Visa on Arrival.

Supposedly this is to be effective from 1 January 2020.

The border crossings effected are
  1. Pang Hok (Phongsaly Province) bordering Vietnam
  2. Nam Soy (Hua Phan Province) bordering Vietnam
  3. Nam Kan (Xieng Khouang Province) bordering Vietnam
  4. Nam Ngeun (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  5. Nam Heuang (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  6. Nam Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  7. Na Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  8. Savannakhet International Airport, odd because you flew in via Pakxe & got a visa there first anyway.
  9. Phou Keua (Attapeu Province) bordering Vietnam
To enter these borders you should need an E-visa or a visa from a Lao embassy.
For Thai riders the most serious one is the Huay Kon (T) / Muang Neun (L) crossing which is anchors one end of the new Hongsa - Luang Prabang road.
This border crossing has been problematic for awhile now, with an entry permit required via a Laos tour company.
Now having to get a visa before makes it even more of a nuisance.

Why do this?
Well there are two theories:
1. Not all the visa money collected was being remitted to Vientiane. Some was being diverted elsewhere.
2. The volume of traffic is so low that it was not covering the cost of stationing Foreign Affairs staff at the border to issue the visas. It should be noted that at the border crossings entering Laos it is a two-step immigration process. One step is staff from the Foreign Affairs department issue the visa, & then step two, the immigration police stamp your passport entry in once you have a visa to enter.

Lets see what happens 31 December 2019 / 1 January 2020.

1st January there is no VoA, no Visa on Arrival, at Muang Ngern coming from Huay Kon in Thailand.
People are getting turned back, because they don't have a visa in advance.

This new policy is probably in affect at all the border crossings listed earlier
  1. Pang Hok (Phongsaly Province) bordering Vietnam
  2. Nam Soy (Hua Phan Province) bordering Vietnam
  3. Nam Kan (Xieng Khouang Province) bordering Vietnam
  4. Nam Ngeun (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  5. Nam Heuang (Xayaboury Province) bordering Thailand
  6. Nam Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  7. Na Phao (Khammouane Province) bordering Vietnam
  8. Savannakhet International Airport, odd because you flew in via Pakxe & got a visa there first anyway.
  9. Phou Keua (Attapeu Province) bordering Vietnam
Good luck getting into Laos. It is getting more difficult.
 
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Eoin Christie

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There was a bridge built across the Mekong linking Laos & Myanmar at Xieng Kok / Kenglap.
The first Lao-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, it was officially inaugurated on 9 May 2015, however due to demarcation issues of the exact border line in the Mekong it was not fully functional.
View attachment 126281

These issues were resolved sometime in mid 2018 & then on 8 November 2018 Myanmar officials announced that the border crossing was full international.
View attachment 126280

However on the Lao side there is no visa on arrival available; and supposedly there is an E-Visa available for Myanmar at Kenglap.
Exiting either of the countries but should be easy, but entering the other side should be problematic. Laos you need a visa in advance & Myanmar you will need a pre-approved tour package to enter from wherever you ride in.

More info
Chiang Kok and the Lao Myanmar Bridge

Myanmar-Laos border gate receives international status
When I was there in Oct 19, the officials were fairly agro (perhaps they just woke up), and gave me the Laos Xiengkok gesture of %$#@-off when I first entered the compound area. As I wanted to get back to Muang Long before dark, I didn’t engage in any witty rapport, and complied with the essence of their messaging.
There was no local traffic using the bridge while I was there.
 

DavidFL

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At Ban Huak in Thailand there is an "international" border crossing to Laos. The crossing has been a local one for many years & there is a bi-monthly market "Talad Nut" for people from Laos at Huak that has featured on GTR here: Weekly Markets - Talad Nut - In North Thailand

The Huak border crossing was slated to be open on 8.8.2018 but it did not happen, then in December 2018 it was declared full international on the Thai side with a official opening on 18.12.2018. However the Lao were not ready & there is zero foreign passport service on the Laos side - no visa on arrival, no entry even with a prior visa & no exit. It is open for a border pass only - and restricted to locals of Phayao province.
How the border looks on the Thai side 2 January 2018.
View attachment 127263

View attachment 127264

Update 1st February 2020 - Pangmone / Huak
The border at Huak is now fully open on the Laos side.
The crossing on the Laos side is called Pangmone

Some pics from the official opening on the Laos side

upload_2020-2-4_17-27-23.png


upload_2020-2-4_17-30-16.png


upload_2020-2-4_17-27-50.png


upload_2020-2-4_17-28-2.png


Supposedly a Laos Visa on Arrival is available.
Entry with a bike, without a tour permit is probably in force; because it is Xayaboury province.

The officials on the Thai side for the opening
upload_2020-2-4_17-29-56.png
 

DavidFL

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2 December 2021

Bump for those who've been asking about the border crossings again..
Exactly what happens post covid-19 when the land borders reopen will be real interesting.
More than likely more confusion with different with policies and fees at different crossings, according to the local officials.

In February 2020 I battled the Lao policeman @ Houei Xai trying to enter Laos across the bridge.

Houei Xai 15 February 2020.

Exiting Thailand
upload_2020-2-20_0-11-44.png


The Lao Tourist Police Touch-up
Yes indeed the super friendly Lao tourist police delight in asking private riders for a tour permit & then a fee of 2,000 baht to be allowed to go on your merry way.
He tried it with but failed.
I stood my ground. I am not on a tour or a tour group. I don't pay. Read on.....

Riding across the bridge towards HX
upload_2020-2-20_0-18-31.png


The efficient policeman repeatedly advised me I should have a tour permit, because it was the law. And if you break the law, the fine is US$2,000 for not having a tour permit.
I refused to budge & said I'm not a tour & I'm not paying.
They try to tie you up for hours if possible & hope that eventually you will weaken and assist his personal welfare fund by 2,000 baht.

Good luck to any riders encountering this.
3 other riders I met on the bridge paid the 2,000 baht each = 6,000 baht in his pocket!
But not me, not one baht. I was prepared to ask him help me get my visa money back. 55
In my favour was the fact I was only staying in Houei Xai for 3 night, but this was not mentioned at the start, only at the finish of the negotiations.

My police interview experience was 16 minutes & I have a sound recording of the conversation. One policeman noticed I was recording and asked to look at my phone He told him this is my phone, leave it alone & continued to record.
A copy of the recording has been sent to Vientiane, along with a copy of the receipt for the 3 other guys who paid.
He is being reported again.
Eventually we hope their little game may stop & riders maybe welcomed properly into Laos & spend their money as they go, helping the rural people.

New QR Code Process
There is a new two fold QR Code system in place at the bridge on the Laos side.
One is for the visa fee and two is for the vehicle permit.
For the visa fee you need to apply for your visa the same, then walk through immigration & pay the money at the Lao Development Bank, get a QR code & then walk through the barrier using your QR code.Then walk over to the other side where your bike is parked, show your QR Code receipt & get stamped by immigration & start the vehicle import process. This involves tapping all your vehicle info onto a computer screen.
upload_2020-2-20_0-25-32.png

If your engine & frame numbers are long, it takes time & you don't want to make a mistake. I had trouble getting the right Suzuki Vstrom 650 model to come up on the screen, but eventually we got it right V strom 650 XT Adventure!
Next time I hope your record & the info just pops up on the screen automatically.

Once you've done this it is onto Laos customs for them to print out another form. and then the super star police pull you aside & invite you into their office for a private chat.
But before the police chat I got another 2 months AGL Insurance for 1600 baht. The AGL guy was slow & this caused the policeman to show his impatience at trying to collect a fee, because he came into the AGL office you check what was happening & how long it wold be. Slime bag I thought.
Welcome to Laos.
 
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DavidFL

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Concerned about the annoying issues with different policies & fee entering Laos I sent off a proposal to the authorities in Vientiane.
The proposal was received at the top level in the tourism industry & ministry, but not long after this all the borders were closed because of covid-19 & no final decisions. Everything remains in limbo as before.

The GTR proposal 20th February 2020.

Thailand – Laos Border crossings by David Unkovich @ GT Rider www.thegtrider.com

With the opening of the new international Thai – Laos border crossing at Huak / Pangmone on the 1st February 2020, there are now 10 international border crossings between Thailand & Laos – 5 Mekong River crossings & 5 land border crossings

The Mekong River crossings are
1. FB1 Friendship Bridge 1. Nong Khai (T)/ Tha Deua (Vientiane).
2. FB2 Friendship Bridge 2. Mukdahan (T) / Savannakhet (L).
3. FB3 Friendship Bridge 3. Nakhon Phanom (T) / Tha Khek (L).
4. FB4 Friendship Bridge 4. Chiang Khong (T) / Houei Xai (L).
5. Bun Kan (T) / Pakxan (L). A Mekong ferry crossing. (To be FB5).

The land border crossings
1. Huak (Phayao – Thailand) / Pangmone ( Muang Khop – Xayaboury – Laos)
2. Huay Kon (Nan – Thailand) / Muang Ngeun (Hongsa – Xayaboury – Laos)
3. Phu Du (Uttaradit – Thailand) / Phu Dou (Pak Lay – Laos)
4. Nakraseng (Tha Li – Loei – Thailand) / Kenthao (Xayaboury -Laos)
5. Chong Mek (Ubon – Thailand) / Vang Tao (Pakxe – Champassak – Laos)

Why is it so difficult to enter?
One would think that each border crossing would have the same standard policy for motorcycles crossing the border, but the reality is that they all have different interpretations of a policy. Conflicting policies cause confusion & ill feeling to officials on both sides of the border, especially Laos.
It should not be like this & there should be a standard policy, one set of rules & fees that apply exactly the same at every border crossing. Laos should be encouraging riders to come, both private non-tour riders & tour groups.
Tour groups have a system that works, but the police fees often vary between border crossings. Private non-tour group riders get a different set of rules & fees at every border crossing; and this system needs to be sorted out properly for all parties. Then everyone is happy & more friendly.
I understand on a technical level motorcycles are banned from using the bridge, officials don't want scores of scooters going backwards & forwards across the bridge.
The Agreement for Management of the Bridge Cross Border traffic specifically excludes motorcycle = the rules do not apply to motorbikes; so there needs to be another separate policy and agreement for big bikes over 250cc, rather than multiple conflicting ideas.

GTR has ridden across multiple border crossings multiple times and has a feel of what is going on.
Here is a rough guide to the situation.

All border crossings: bikes under 250cc are generally not permitted to enter Laos, unless you have a tour permit arranged.

The Mekong River Crossings

1. FB1 Friendship Bridge 1
. Nong Khai (T)/ Tha Deua (Vientiane). Entry / exit from both sides is possible. You may ride across the bridge both ways. Tour groups need a permit to enter Laos. Note: sometimes changes in policy at FB1 mean you cannot enter unless you have a tour permit, requested by the police. (They need money!)

2. FB2 Friendship Bridge 2. Mukdahan (T) / Savannakhet (L). Riding across the bridge is an issue. Exit from Thailand is difficult & you need written approval from the Mukdahan provincial governor = you need a tour company to arrange for you. Entry into Laos with a motorbike is an issue without a tour permit in advance. Solo riding across the bridge may not be permitted. Exit from Savannakhet is tricky, although GTR has exited from Savannakhet 3 times, riding across the bridge after some lengthy negotiations. If you don’t want to put your bike in a pick-up for your bike to be carried across the bridge, simply ride from Savannakhet to Tha Khek & exit across the bridge at Tha Khek.

3. FB3 Friendship Bridge 3. Nakhon Phanom (T) / Tha Khek (L). Exit / entry works some of the time. The Thai side will discourage you from going, but it is possible with some patience. Once on the Laos side entry is easy. Exit from Laos is not an issue, you ride out across the bridge.

4. FB4 Friendship Bridge 4. Chiang Khong (T) / Houei Xai (L). Tour groups need a permit. No police escort vehicle for 500 baht is required to cross the bridge anymore, however entry to Laos has become a problem in late 2019 /2020.
The Lao tourist police at the bridge have a new policy harassing private non-tour riders for a tour permit, and requesting a payment of 2,000 baht per bike. The police claim that everyone must have a tour permit & no tour permit = US$2000 fine. You should decline this if you are not a tour group. If you have time, don’t be intimidated, stand your ground, & negotiate a fee lesser than 2,000 baht a bike with the police. Zero payment is possible. All money goes in the corrupt policeman’s pocket.

5. Bun Kan (T) / Pakxan (L). Mekong ferry crossing. (To be FB5). Entry / exit is OK both ways. You need to take a ferry across the river here. There is no Lao Visa on Arrival at Pakxan. Entry into Laos with a bike should still be OK, no tour permit required.


The land border crossings

1. Huak (Phayao – Thailand) / Pangmone (Muang Khop – Xayaboury – Laos).
Opened on 1 st February 2020. Exit is OK. Supposedly there is visa on arrival at Pangmone. Entry into Laos with a motorbike is an issue without a tour permit in advance.

2. Huay Kon (Nan – Thailand) / Muang Ngeun (Hongsa – Xayaboury – Laos). Exit is OK. No Laos Visa on Arrival. Entry into Laos is an issue without a tour permit in advance.

3. Phu Du (Uttaradit – Thailand) / Phu Dou (Pak Lay – Laos). Exit is OK. No Laos Visa on Arrival. Entry with a motorbike maybe an issue without a tour permit in advance.

4. Nakraseng (Tha Li – Loei – Thailand) / Kenthao (Xayaboury -Laos). The worst border crossing in Laos. Exit from Thailand is OK. Exit with a bike from Laos is not permitted, even if you have a permit in advance, the local officials will not allow you to exit. No Laos Visa on Arrival. Entry into Laos is an issue without a tour permit in advance.

5. Chong Mek (Ubon – Thailand) / Vang Tao (Pakxe – Champassak – Laos). Exit is OK. Laos has Visa on Arrival. Entry into Laos with a bike is an issue. You need an approved tour permit for a minimum of 6 bikes, no less. GTR has entered Laos at Vang Tao multiple times without issue, but in 2018 was refused entry because he was on a tour. I even had a one-man tour permit arranged in advance but was flat refused entry because a one-man tour did not meet the minimum 6-bike tour requirement. Absolute rubbish, my records were even in the computer for multiple trips in & out. Why do this?

Tour Groups

The “official policy”, if you’re a tour group is you need to enter via a tour company, with a Lao guide & police escort. Is it a genuine law or only a policy? In practice the police may not actually go with the group, but accept a fee for their service.

The definition of a tour group is not clearly defined & is open to interpretation. Generally less than 5 or 6 bikes is not considered a tour group & you could be allowed to enter without a guide or tour permit. However this is often at the discretion of the duty policeman at the time & he may insist on offering his services, for a negotiable fee. What is a tour group? This is where the problem lays – the police looking for pocket money to assist you. None of this money goes to the government, but into the policeman’s personal welfare fund.

Private non-tour riders should not be penalised entering Laos. If there was a simple standardised set of rules & fees, there would be no corruption, riders would be more happy to go. Riders happy to go would be spending money in all the little towns & places as they go, supporting the local rural population, in the small towns where it is most needed.


What could be done – a suggestion for Laos

Laos Tourism & Bikers.

A suggestion from David Unkovich @ GT Rider www.thegtrider.com
How to make it all easier, facilitate entry, promote tourism in Laos & still make money for Laos.

Free one month visa on arrival.
• More people will enter & spend money.
• Collecting visa fees from border crossings costs money, is problematic and money is being misappropriated.
• No Foreign affairs staff need to be employed at the border = save money.

Visa Extensions
• Maximum 2 x 1 month extensions, available only in provincial capitals. • Price US$100 per month per extension.
• Maximum 3 months stay then you must exit (& come back again?)
• Visa extensions are only available in the provincial capitals. Less chance of money misappropriated.
• In the end the price will be the same as with a paid visa on arrival. No money will be lost.
• It is important to facilitate entry & not put up barriers.
• More people will come & stay longer, because it was free to come in.
• More people will spend more money, more than the visa fee collected.

Motorcycle Entry
• One month on arrival cost 500 baht
• After one month extend for one month @ 1,000 baht.
• After two months extend for another one month @ 1,000 baht.
• Maximum 3 months then go out.

Tour Groups
• Define a tour group number. Don’t let the police do it at their own discretion!
• Up to 5 bikes is considered a private entry, unless a paid tour.
• 6 bikes and over you must use a tour company for permits.
• Cut the corrupt police out of lining their pockets with money that the government could be getting.

Insurance
• Have a minimum one month policy, maximum 3rd party policy, that all riders are required to take out.
• No one or two week policies.

Summary
GT Rider loves Laos, the Lao people & wants to promote Laos & help everyone.
Please standardise the system & fees to encourage more riders to come. They will be happy to travel in Laos & spend throughout the country in all the small places that need it most.
Make it easy to come in & if they want to stay longer, they pay for extensions & Laos – the government & the local economies – make more money. That is a win win for everyone.



Let's see what happens when the borders re-open.
Will it still all be the same with different policies & local fees at all the border crossings = continued confusion?
 
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DavidFL

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Some light at the far end of the tunnel. Laos is opening up for package tours from January 1st, to designated safe destinations.



More detailed info


Laos Announces Travel Conditions for 2022 Reopening
According to the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, the reopening will be implemented in three phases.

The first phase will be from 1 January to 30 March 2022, the second phase from 1 April 2022 to 30 June 2022, and the third phase from 1 July 2022 onward.

According to the ministry, tourists from an initial list of countries will be allowed to travel to the country during the first phase.

The list of countries includes China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, France, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, United States, Canada, and Australia.

Tourism will be restricted to group tours at first, with tours arranged by authorized tour operators under the Lao Travel Green Zone Plan.

Tourists will be required to have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no less than 14 days prior to arrival. Other conditions include a health insurance policy with coverage no less than USD 50,000 and a negative RT-PCR test taken within the last 72 hours.

Arrivals will be tested for Covid-19 and placed in a 24-hour quarantine in their hotel until a negative result is found.

Tourists will be required to download and register via the LaoKYC and the LaoStaySafe mobile applications prior to arriving in the country, as well as uploading their relevant vaccination certification and Covid-19 test results.

Travel Zones & Travel Trails

Under the reopening scheme, tourists will be authorized to travel within two zones, namely Green Travel Zones and Green Travel Trails.

Green Travel Zones include provinces that have at least a 70% vaccination rate among the eligible adult population, while Green Travel Trails have not yet achieved this level of vaccine coverage.

During Phase 1, tourists may visit Vientiane Capital, Luang Prabang Province, and Vang Vieng District in Vientiane Province.

Meanwhile, five provinces will be authorized for Green Travel Trails, including Oudomxay, Xayaboury, Xieng Khouang, Khammouane, and Champasack.

During Phase 2, the Green Travel Zones will consist of 9 provinces: Vientiane Capital, Vientiane Province, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Xayaboury, Xieng Khouang, Khammouane, Savannakhet, and Champasack.

Four provinces will be authorized for Green Travel Trails during Phase 2, including Houay Xay District in Bokeo Province, Luang Namtha Province, Sekong Province, and Salavanh Province.

According to the Ministry of Health, tourism-related establishments such as tourism sites, hotels, and restaurants in the zones must ensure that at least 95% of their staff are fully vaccinated. All tour guides and drivers must be completely vaccinated. At least 95% of the population within the travel zones must be fully vaccinated.

The Ministry of Health has stated that it will improve the quality of quarantine centers, treatment centers, and field hospitals in the event of hospitalization or seriously symptomatic cases for tourists. Asymptomatic and mild cases will be allowed to be quarantined and treated at their designated hotel.

International Borders

Phase 1:
tourists will be able to enter Laos by air via Wattay International Airport and by land across the First Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge in Vientiane Capital.

Phase 2: including Luang Prabang International Airport, Boten-Bohan border with China in Luang Namtha Province, the Third Friendship Bridge in Thakhek, the Second Friendship Bridge in Savannakhet, the Chongmek border in Pakse, the Lao Bao border with Vietnam in Savannakhet Province, and Nam Phao border (Luk Xao) with Vietnam in Bolikhamxay Province. (Sadly no mention of Houei Xai Bokeo)

Safe and Clean

All tourism establishments in the zones must be certified with the LaoSafe certification.

LaoSafe, a health and hygiene program for the tourism and hospitality sector, has received official approval from the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (MICT).

The LaoSafe program comprises a series of health and hygiene standards for different subsectors of the tourism and hospitality industry, including accommodation providers, food and beverage outlets, airlines, tourist attractions, tour guides, and drivers.

Procedures for Tour Companies

Tour companies and relevant businesses who wish to participate in the Green Travel Zones and Green Travel Trails must register with the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI).

Tour companies in Laos must prepare the following documentation in order to request permission for tourists to enter: a proposal from the company, a tour itinerary, hotel reservations, and copies of tourists’ passports, vaccination certificates, and tourists’ insurance policies.

These documents must be presented to the Tourism Management Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. After approval, the documents are sent to the Immigration Police Department to process entry authorization.

Returnees and Foreign Nationals in Laos

The Ministry has not yet provided information on requirements for Lao nationals or foreign residents returning to Laos, or if the issuance of visitor visas would resume.
 
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Ughetto

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I fell sad about all this kind of procedure for visiting Laos.
Fell sad because we live very closed to the border was samething different for travel and in many trip I do there I start to know very well the country the street and dirty street too.
The elephant trek dirty road connect Nan province with Luang Prabang was my favorite street many village where I always think one day I will sleep with them with my tend.
If samething will not change in the future I must to forget about this country beacuaseI don’t have all what they required.....
Will be a barrier in most of our life.
I know the country by boat motorbike and car and I rent also bicycle in Luang Prabang
Here a short video I do in 2015 for a friend have travel agency in north Thailand.
My favourite place was Luang Prabang
last decade I see invasion of Chinese people there and deforestation.


 

Eoin Christie

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I am not too worried about the Laos side.
Just what will happen on this side while I would be in Laos - think lockdown, quarantine, all that crap.
That's the problem with travel now - Who knows what rules will change while you step out the door. I'm organising to fly over to Namibia in the next 2 weeks, which is achievable. At the moment, though, there is no way for me to get back into Malaysia (where I live).

I guess the 'adventure' part is now built in.
 

Fatmama

rider of the dinosaurs
Mar 16, 2021
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...it's becoming more attractive to reduce any border crossings / extend the trip times within the destination country.
definitely more concerns with rule changes at the time of return to home than trying to enter another country.

Lao is definitely on my bucket list to go visiting again if anyhow possible.