Entering Laos - Some History

Discussion in 'Laos - General Discussion Forum' started by DavidFL, Oct 9, 2017.

  1. #1 DavidFL, Oct 9, 2017
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
    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.

    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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  2. Good history - TIA. Thank you.
  3. #3 DavidFL, Oct 9, 2017
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
    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.

    The reply from the Ministry of Transport was negative
  4. #4 DavidFL, Mar 21, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2018
    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
  5. #5 DavidFL, Apr 23, 2018
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2018
    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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