Most border crossings open for foreigners, with an indication where visas on arrival can be issued, are listed on the web site of the National Tourism Administration www.tourismlaos.gov.la. This list is unfortunately incomplete.
Visa on arrival for Laos is now available (as of Feb 2010) when entering from Cambodia overland (previously was not available), with an official "Visa on Arrival" office incorporated into the checkpoint. The nearest Cambodian town is Stung Treng, and the border is a 90-minute speedboat or bus ride away. Note that the border is lightly used, with almost no onward public transport available at the border (therefore book through transport from Stung Treng to Ban Nakasang for Si Phan Don/Don Det) and both customs officers and transport providers have a reputation of gouging foreigners, although this seems to have improved recently (currently both Cambodian and Laos border officials request US$1 stamp fee per country). Crossing the border (Oct 2010) the Cambodia officers will ask for US$1 for exit stamp.You can tell them you don't have any and they will still stamp it. On the Laos side they will demand $2 for entry stamp, if you refuse they will not stamp it, (you will need the stamp to get out), so you have no choice than to pay the bribe. Note if you cross the border by boat, you will have to return by road to the border checkpoint to officiate your arrival (ie. get your passport stamped) in Laos.
The land crossing between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible ($37 for UK citizens) or you can get in advance at the Lao consulate in Kunming. Daily bus service operates from Mengla to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. Buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha leave from the North bus station. The first bus leaves around 8am and costs about 40 RMB.
Generally speaking, it is not possible for independent travellers to cross from China to Laos via the Mekong River, not least because there's a chunk of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at Xieng Kok does not issue visas on arrival. Travel agents in China, including Panda Travel www.chinadam.com, run irregular cruises from Jinghong (China) via Chiang Saen (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos), but schedules are erratic and prices expensive.
Foreigners cannot legally cross the Laos/Myanmar border.
There are seven border crossings open to all between Thailand and Laos. From north to south:
- Huay Xai/Chiang Khong: Fourth bridge under construction. Usual route to/from Luang Prabang, easy bus connections to Chiang Rai and points beyond on the Thai side.
- Nam Hueng/Tha Li: Easily reached via Loei on the Thai side, but 378 km of dirt road away from Luang Prabang. No visa on arrival.
- Vientiane/Nong Khai: The first Friendship Bridge and the busiest of crossing of them all. Direct trains from Bangkok now available.
- Paksan/Bueng Kan: No visa on arrival.
- Tha Khaek/Nakhon Phanom: Third bridge under construction.
- Savannakhet/Mukdahan: The Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
- Vang Tao/Chong Mek: On the route from Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani
There are at least six border crossings that can be used by foreigners. These include:
- Donsavanh - Lao Bao - to/from Savannakhet
- Keo Nua Pass
- Lak Sao - to/from Khammouan Province
- Nam Can - to/from Plain of Jars
- Na Meo - to/from Sam Neua
- Tay Trang - to/from Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw
- Bo Y (nearest town on Vietnamese side being Ngoc Hoi and on Lao side Attapeu)