I had chosen a “difficult” border crossing both out of curiosity and as a challenge. It was not in the maps and people I talked to did not know of it.
My border crossing day started in Pak Beng, a lovely town in Laos that is worth a nights stay if you are comfortable with doing nothing. I had asked several locals about a bus to Muang Ngeun where I had heard that the border to Thailand should be. They had told me different departure times but most of them said 9 o’clock so I decided to be there at 8 just in case. Because of walking from the bus station the previous day I knew that the bus station is 30-40 minutes away by walk but this morning I had the luck to hitch hike with a policeman instead. After managing to explain where I was going to the ticket guy at the bus station he tells me I probably have to wait 3-4 hours for a bus (well, at least there IS a bus). In Laos it is common in Laos that the buses leaves after a minimum amount of people have arrived to take it, and in this case there was a bus from Muang Xay (Oudomxay) later that day that probably would bring some people who wanted to go the same direction.
After a coffee and some free rice that I get for free for teaching a lady a few words in English I decide to hitch hike to Muang Ngeun. But without cars passing by and the rain starting, I give up after a while and decide to walk back into Pak Beng instead.
Ok, time to exchange some money to Thai Baht, send a postcard and visit a temple. 3 hours later (11 am) I am back at the bus station, thinking there is no bus because some people told me it leaves at 2 or 3 pm, but the timing is perfect and 10 minutes later I am sitting in a small open-roof-truck that sometimes are used as buses in some countries.
The drive takes 1,5 hours including some time to wait for a ferry to take us across a river. The cost for the bus was 35 000 LAK (4 euro) which is pretty expensive for being in Laos, so I am happy to hear that the driver is also going to Thailand and drives me all the way to the border (1+ km outside of Muang Ngeun).
The border crossing is fast and easy and after passing it I ask a mini bus driver if he is driving to Nan, having heard that name before somewhere. He tells me 100 Thai baht (3 euro) which I think is a bit expensive, thinking the city is only a short distance away and being a bit confused with the new currency. I start walking in the direction which somebody tells me there is a bus station, still not having an idea of which city is most near or where I am. After a short distance a man stops me and when he hears where I want to go he takes my hand and walks with me downhill again to the same mini bus man. After checking his map I realize that Nan is around 2 hours drive away and suddenly his 3 euro option is totally OK. Even more so after noticing that I have the 12 seat air conditioned mini bus for myself. What a difference to Laos, where people sometimes are sitting on top of each other!
On the way to Nan we pass the bus station, which was 20 minutes driving (in the mountains) away from the border. Sitting in the high class mini bus it is difficult not to enjoy the sudden luxury. Even more so when the driver calls a translator which asks me where I want to be dropped off. I tell him “Nan guesthouse” – meaning a guesthouse in Nan – but when arriving realizing that there actually is a guesthouse with that name.
After spending the night eating my missed Pad Thais and the next day walking around in Nan I really enjoy this charming city!
Here is a summary on how to cross the Huai Kon border from Laos to Thailand:
- Take a bus from Pak Beng (with unknown departure time) to Muang Ngeun
- From Muang Ngeun walk or hitch hike 1+ km to the border
- Pass the Laos border with your Laos departure card (you can get a new one if you lost it)
- Walk about 1 km more to the Thai border, or pay a woman on motorbike 20 Thai baht (50 euro cent) to take you there
- Fill in an arrival form and pass the Thai border
- From here it is up to you, but an option is the mini bus (van) to Nan 2 hours away. There is also a ton of small villages on the way to Nan as well as some bigger cities (20-30 000 inhabitants) like Thung Chang and Chiang Klang.