Laos Border Crossing - Chong Mek > Vang Thao

The Gateway to Southern Laos, Champasak Province & The Bolaven Plateau

There has been lots of talk on social media of all bikes ( motor and pedal ) being banned from Laos. At Chong Mek this is clearly not the case.

Situated in Ubon Ratchathani province, the Chong Mek – Vang Thao border crossing is one of the most convenient entry points for motorbikes wishing to access Southern Laos – The Bolavan plateau, Salavan and Champasak Provinces.

Before this trip, I spent a bit of time preparing my documentation in advance. It’s well worth preparing your papers in beforehand, as the border posts, especially in Laos can be hot and dusty and having forms already complete saves a lot of time.

 

Before You Leave


You will need:

  • 2x TM2 Form (PDF and instructions HERE)
  • 2x Copies of the copies of your vehicle registration – The page where the current holder is detailed
  • 2x Copies of the vehicle tax payment page from the back of the green book
  • 2x Copies of the data/photo page of your passport
  • 1x Copy of Laos visa application form (PDF HERE)
  • 1x Passport Photo

If you have a copy of your vehicle translation document from the Thai DLT, then make two copies – it’s never been asked from me, but it’s in the rule book, so, it doesn’t hurt to keep a copy. While you are at the copy shop – get a couple of your driver’s license to, front and rear on the same sheet .. Just in case.

In theory, if you have a pillion passenger you should have a TM3 crew list. (PDF HERE)

A TM4 is no longer required

 

Currency at the Border


The Laos visa fee for European citizens is US $35 or 1500THB. If you have a currency exchange in your town then its a good idea to pay for the visa in USD. As the US$ rate always works out around 1200 THB which is better than using Thai Baht.

Make sure all bills are new(ish) – all unmarked and with no tears or “chinks”. Keep them folded neatly until your arrival. Any defects in the notes will ensure that they are refused.

On the Way to the Border


There is no petrol station at Chong Mek, but a few stations on the road to the border. Although still a fair way to travel, I always fill up at the PTT station in Hua Saphan.

The cost of fuel in Laos is more expensive than in Thailand, you won’t find Gasohol 91, they sell fuel simply lablelled diesel or petrol – Petrol is Benzene (95?). A 19L fuel tank will cost 450 THB in Laos, instead of 350 THB in Thailand at current prices.

There is an ATM and some banking service at the border, however, I would make sure I had enough funds before leaving Hua Saphan. If the ATM isn’t functioning at the border it will be a long trip back to withdraw funds. A couple of new 7-11’s have sprung up around the immigration complex, if you are need of some last minute supplies.

 

At the Border


As you approach the border you will see the Thai immigration complex from a distabce, a modern angular building. Unless you need photocopies, there is no need to enter the building, all the vehicle movements are handled outside at the booths to the left of the building.

If you forget copies, there is a copy shop inside the immigration complex at the border which will charge you a whopping 2 THB per copy.

 

Step 1: Thai Immigration


Motorized traffic isn’t that heavy, so there’s no problem to pull up in front of the white immigration booth’s, maybe not a good idea to block the road.

You will need:

  • Original passport
  • Original vehicle registration document
  • 2x Completed TM2 forms
  • 1x Copy of each of your pages from the vehicle registration (Owner and tax payment pages)
  • 1x Copy passport data page

Cost: 200 THB

Hand all the papers over, and let the officer process everything for you. First, he will stamp your passport out of Thailand then stamp/complete the TM2 after checking the details against your green book.

Your vehicle registration book, passport and inbound TM2 will be returned and you hand over the fee.

There is no need to be so detailed on the inbound TM2 (to Thailand), just ensure it has your vehicle details completed. One copy will stamped and returned to you, keep this safe, you will need it when re-entering Thailand.

 

Step 2: Thai Customs


The customs kiosk is next to the immigration booth. If you haven’t entered Laos before then this may take some time to enter your details in the customs computer, but once entered onto the system. A returning rider will be able to pass this stage a bit quicker, as your details will already be stored on the computer.

You will need:

  • Original vehicle registration document
  • 1x Copy of each of your pages from the vehicle registration (Owner and tax payment)
  • 1x Copy passport data page

Customs will ask you where you intend to depart Laos/re-enter Thailand. Sign all the copies of your photocopied documents and after the customs officer has printed off your document sign in three places where directed.

The final signature is an understanding that – should you lose the temporary import license then there is a 1000B charge and a similar charge should you exceed 30 days out of the kingdom.

You are now good to leave Thailand.

 

Step 3: Enter Laos


Proceed along the tarmac road for 500m and enter through some rolling metal gates. On entry, you will be required to sign in with customs.

To do this, ride through the gate and stop at the round red stop sign just inside the entrance.

This sign has an arrow pointing to a small building on a muddy hill. Walk to the back of the building and hand over your documents.

You will need:

  • Original passport
  • Original vehicle registration document

Cost: 40 THB (Make sure you have the exact amount; these guys don’t give change)

An immigration officer will ask some questions and complete a big handwritten book.

The sign is in Thai and Laos languages, there is nothing in English, and there is no evidence to say you have completed this book and no one will ever ask if you have completed this step. Is it necessary? Up to you to decide.

The old immigration complex sits high on your right-hand side, 200m of the gate. A new Laos immigration complex is being built, it’s been over two years ago the making, when asking about about a completion date, the Laos immigration officers just laugh.

 

Step 4: Laos Immigration


You can leave your bike on the side of the road, by the first set of stairs leading up to the immigration building, but you would be advised to lockup your helmet and gloves as this step can take time. Also, take a bottle of water with you, it’s always hot and dusty.

You will need:

  • Original passport
  • 1x Laos visa application form
  • 1x passport photo

Cost: $30- $45 (Depending on nationality – UK Passport holders pay $35)

Climb up the stairs and look to the right of the building. You will see some wooden benches in front of window 5. Request an arrivals form and complete before handing back with the rest of your paperwork and the fee.

Completing a Laos visa application form is rather irritating, the questions seem irrelevant, the boxes always too small for the information, so print off a copy and complete prior to arrival.

The clerk at window 5 always seem to speak good English. After accepting your documents and fee he will send you around the corner to windows 6/7.

Just sit on the plastic chairs and wait to be called. It’s a rather disconcerting process, with the heavily tinted windows and the immigration officers sitting below your line of sight, don’t worry, when it’s time, you see your passport waved through the semi-circular hole, then approach the window.

 

Step 5: Champasak Tourist Fee


When your visa is ready, you will be asked to pay this tourist charge. This is a new charge introduced for 2016.

Before returning your passport the officer at window 6/7 will pass you a slip which you must take to counter 9 and pay this tourist tax.

Counter 9 is behind you, the booth next to the LVI insurance booth.

What you will need: 

  • A payment slip from window 6/7

Cost: 100 THB

After payment you will be given a green printed ticket which you need to show at window 6/7. Once you have completed this step your passport will be returned.

** Update: I think I walked into this payment. I used Pakse as the destination on my visa application. Another couple were heading to Wat Pu, Champasak and they were also charged – Maybe to avoid this tax, complete your application with Salavan or another neighbouring province.

 

Step 6: Laos Customs


Laos customs is situated to the right of windows 6/7.

You will need:

  • Original Passport
  • Original vehicle registration document
  • The temporary import document from Thai customs

Cost: 200B or 25,000 kip

The officer may ask for vehicle passport, however, there is no such thing as a vehicle passport (purple book) for Thai bikes any longer. You may want to pass over your translation document, if not explain that the green book is just the same as a purple book.

Once the staff complete the customs form for you, sign it twice and hand over 200THB.

 

Step 7: Laos Insurance


After you have completed your customs papers, turn around and you will see two or three small booths, all are different companies selling the same insurance, for the same price – Why? It’s SE Asia, don’t ask.

You will need:

  • Laos customs form (Green)
  • Original vehicle registration document

Cost: Variable – Dependent on CC of bike and coverage required.

The price asked is always inflated. If you can speak Thai it’s best to negotiate down. Just asking why it’s so expensive or that a friend came last month and paid less is good enough to ensure the price comes down.

3rd party compulsory insurance is available for 7 days, 10 days, 1 month or one year, and cover is on two levels.

On this occasion, I paid the weekly rate of 170THB for my 650cc bike, I was informed a 250cc was 150 THB.

After payment, the insurance cover note will be stapled onto the customs form.

The price for a year cover is 1380THB for the Versys 650.

You are almost good to go .. But not quite.

After returning to your bike, ride about 500m to the metal barrier and stop.

 

Step 8: Customs Checkout


Your paper work needs to be checked just one more time. Jump off the bike and walk to the window.

You will need:

  • Green Laos customs form
  • Insurance cover note (Stapled to the customs form)

The official will check everything and rubber stamp it.

Be careful when parking up, there is a steep camber on the road, one day a bike will drop.

You are now good to go! Welcome to Laos.

Proceed on the new road over the bridge to Pakse. Be aware, although the road is completed now, there are still sections of rougher road, loose covering – the better sections are marked with white lines. it’s OK but nothing like a Thai road and remember to ride on the right.

 

Getting There and Away


Chong Mek and, it’s Laos counterpart Vang Thao, are situated to the lower north East of Thailand in Ubon Ratchathani province about 600km from Bangkok. The border is 40 min-1 hour away from Ubon town center.

It’s a bit tricky to make the border from Bangkok in a day, the road is slowly being upgraded but at Buriram the road turns into a tired single lane trunk road. The border is said to be open until late (?) but if you arrive to the border around 5.00 PM you may well be traveling on the road to Pakse in the dark. Not a great idea.

You may want to spend a night in Ubon, where you can find some good hotels and a great variety of food and entertainment. I have posted some hotel info here.

 

After you have crossed over into Laos, the first settlement is the town of Pakse is 40km from the border, where you will find hotels, western restaurants and currency exchanges.

My usual routine, is to complete my paperwork and hustle into town calling at Dao Coffee, they will accept Thai Baht, then after a decent sandwich pick up some Lao currency from a little further down the road at the Langkham Hotel before heading off on my trip.

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