How to Travel Overland from China to Laos

Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos | © Jessica Larson
Jessica Larson-Wang

China’s Yunnan province borders several southeast Asian countries and among these, Laos is one of the most easily accessible. Follow this guide for a step by step walk-through for traveling overland to Laos.

Getting to the Border

You have several options for getting to the border. The most direct route is to take the long distance bus from Kunming, departing from the south bus station, to Vientiane or Luang Prabang directly. The tickets are cheap, roughly 500 RMB (73 USD) at the time of writing, but the trip is long, exhausting, and not particularly pleasant. If you’re not pressed for time, a much more enjoyable option is to travel more leisurely to get to and cross the border, while enjoying some of the sights and scenery along the way. From Kunming take a bus to Mengla, a city about 40km from the border crossing at Mohan/Boten. From Mengla, minibuses depart to Mohan regularly, and there are also buses departing from Mengla to Luang Namtha in the interior of Laos and a good first stop on your Laotian journey. If you’re lucky enough to have your own vehicle, or access to a vehicle, it is permissible for Chinese vehicles to enter Laos and the vehicle does not have to be registered to your name to cross the border.

Chinese Border at Boten

Crossing the Border

New Lao Customs Checkpoint Near Boten

Visa on Arrival

If you do not already have a Laotian visa, no worries, the border crossing offers visas upon arrival. Your first step is to hand your passport to a man at a window inside the building, the first window on your right. He will look at your passport and then hand you a visa application form. Fill out the form completely, and if you have a picture with you, attach it to the form. If you don’t have a picture, not to worry, the visa officer will accept your form without one. The cost for most passports is roughly 242 RMB (35 USD), though there is a schedule of fees posted next to the window. Depending upon how many people are waiting in line, your visa may take between 5-20 minutes to process. An officer at the second window will call your name, and that’s it, you’ve got your Laotian visa. The whole process is very straightforward and easy and, probably in the end, less of a hassle than making a trip to the embassy in Kunming and then back again to pick up your visa two days later. Whether you’re traveling overland or by air, visa upon arrival is definitely recommended over visa in advance.

Laos Visa

Arrival in Laos

Upon receiving your visa, remember to pick up a white arrival card and fill it out before getting in line for entry to Laos. Upon getting your visa stamped and exiting the building, you will find minibuses available to take passengers onward. It is possible to catch buses to Udom Xai and to Luang Namtha, both of which are good for a stopover. Luang Namtha is the jumping off point for many treks to ethnic minority villages, and has all of the infrastructure to make these treks happen – local guides for hire, as well as motorbikes and cars. Udom Xai is a provincial capital with buses to many different destinations all over Laos. Laotian roads from Luang Namtha and Udom Xai to Luang Prabang are windy and narrow, but paved and not treacherous. Certain parts of the road have recently been repaved, and so they are not nearly as bumpy and pot-holed as they once were, but how long they stay this way depends on how strictly overloaded trucks are monitored. Travelers prone to motion sickness should definitely plan ahead however because, bumpy or not, the winding switchbacks through the Laotian mountains in a hot bus can be uncomfortable.





landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article