The border between Thailand’s Chiang Khong and Laos’ Huay Xai was the most relaxed border I have ever seen. It’s actually harder to get out of Thailand than it is to get into Laos. Chiang Khong itself is a ways from the nearest decent-sized city of Chiang Rai, but the ride is quite a nice one through the northern countryside.
Once in Chiang Khong, it was a short tuk-tuk ride to a small hill descending to the Mekong River. Along the way, you are encouraged to exchange Thai baht for US$ because the exchange rate for the Laos visa fee will be cheaper. This is true, and though the money changers may not give the best possible rate, it was a fair one.
Further down the hill, you are stamped out of Thailand at a small blue building, and then proceed down the hill to the river, where I needed to hire a boat to ferry you across the Mekong for 40 baht (US$1.20). However, I read now that this is an outdated method, as there is a new bridge crossing 10km south of both the towns.
On the Laos side was a small concrete alley heading straight up the incline to the main street of Huay Xai. It looked like you could just walk into the country without anyone noticing. Still, the official immigration booth is just to the right. A small amount of paperwork the $30 fee for U.S. citizens, and I was through into Laos for the first time.
The main street is just up the hill, as is the staircase further up to the town’s main temple and noteworthy sight. Only a few buildings down was the Friendship Guesthouse, where I checked into on the word of another from Chiang Rai.
South of the border post is a series of local stands along the riverside hill selling everything from cheap noodles to cocktails. Further north I found a restaurant still open and got to chatting with some people there. Apparently most everyone there was only coming for The Gibbon Experience, a zipline resort dedicated to eco-preservation and tourism.
Not being in the Gibbon Experience crowd due mainly to price (about $200-300) and other places to go in my limited time, I was back to sleep early after a few late nights in Chiang Rai and awake for an early van ride to the town of Luang Namtha in the morning.