Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Some tips and Personal Observations
I started writing this for a fellow Malaysian who is planning to drive into Laos, then thought maybe it could be useful for others too. So here goes! :)
I crossed into Laos on 8.10.2022 on land, after leaving home in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia almost 5 months ago.
Border checkpoint used
Thailand: Huai Kon Border Checkpoint
Laos: Namngeun border immigration office
Closest border checkpoint to reach the new mountain highway 4B to Luang Prabang, which starts in the small village of Napoung: https://goo.gl/maps/R4tbB337MDG6aXQb7
Documents required at the border
1. Original and photocopy of the car registration card in the driver’s name
2. Original and photocopy of International Passport
3. Original and photocopy of Driver’s license
4. Original and photocopy of ID Card
5. Original and photocopy of International Driver’s License (apply from JPJ)
6. Letter of authorization from the Embassy of Laos in Malaysia.
Items 4 & 5 may not be required, but it’s good to have photocopies just in case.
For item 6, it is recommended to get the letter even though I have read in some cases people managed to drive through without it, after a lot of convincing at the border.
Note that unlike entry into Thailand, insurance for the car is not required.
I initially tried driving through Ban Huak, a new international border crossing (it was previously only opened for travel by Thai and Lao cars and people) but they didn’t let me through because they asked for a “car passport” which I didn't have, and they couldn’t check with their superiors as it was a Sunday. I turned back into Thailand, even though official regulations-wise Malaysian cars are supposedly allowed into Laos without it.
I think Thai and Lao cars have special car passports to cross the borders, and it was asked again at the Namngeun border immigration office. But once I showed them the letter from the Laos Embassy in Malaysia, they processed my entry and let me drive in without much hassle. So yeah, I highly recommend getting this letter in advance.
The process at the border
1. Park your car before the border crossing on the Thai side, and head into the Thai immigration office to get your exit stamp.
2. Head to the Thai Customs counter to sign and submit the Simplified Customs Declaration Form (ie your Temporary Import Permit or TIP) for your car that you would ahve received when you first drove into Thailand.
3. Take a photo of the signed TIP just in case, as it will be kept by the Customs Office.
4. Drive past the border checkpoint and into Laos.
5. Switch from left side to right side of the road.
6. Park your car in front of the Lao passport control.
7. Submit your passport and arrival/departure card (payment may be required for “overtime” of 10,000 Kip or 20 Baht – small baht notes are useful unless you changed Lao Kips in advance – I didn’t. Most places accept seem to accept Thai baht in addition to Lao Kip and USD. (As of 16 Oct 2022, 1 US Dollar = 16,889 Lao Kips | 10.00 Thai Baht = 4,406 Lao Kips).
8. Head to the Laos Customs counter and submit photocopies of your documents, including the Laos Embassy letter. Have the originals with you in case they need to verify your photocopies. You will need to make a “Transit Fee” payment (depending on your car type) for getting your D53 “sticker” for your car – which allows you to drive in Laos. Anytime there are questions about a “Car Passport”, show the Laos Embassy letter.
9. Get your D53 sticker, and the Customs officer will check your car’s engine and chassis numbers against your registration card details.
10. Drive towards the exit. They will check your documents one last time. The officer asked for my “car passport” again and when I showed the car sticker and the Laos Embassy letter, he let me pass.
11. You’re in Laos!
Photos of documents etc.
Applying for the letter from the Laos Embassy in Malaysia
You need to submit a letter with the following details, with a photocopy of your car registration and passport (if I remember correctly!)
You will need to pay RMXX (RM150-RM200, I'll check and update here) to issue the letter, and it may take 3 – 5 days (or even longer) before you can go and collect it..
This is what the letter looks like. Scan and keep copies in your phone and make extra copies. Somehow I feel that apart from the passport and D53 sticker, this might be the most important document to have with you while you’re in Laos.
Other notes and tips
1. The border closes at 6pm. Get there latest by 5pm.
2. Perform your border crossing in the morning or early afternoon at the latest because you will need to drive into Hong Sa (the next town) on rather rough roads without streetlights, which is about 38km away. It is not a smooth drive, I drove in the dark and it wasn’t a good idea!
3. Fill up your tank in Thailand before heading towards the border – the price of petrol/diesel is about 1.3 – 1.5 times compared to Thailand, and about 3 times compared to Malaysia.
4. When you drive into Hong Sa, the first recommended stop is to get a Lao SIM Card here - https://goo.gl/maps/PH3djoJHAFbyrX7S7 - Unitel seems to be the best overall in terms of coverage from what I read, but I’m not sure. I got a prepaid for 60,000 Kip for 5GB (RM18). If you are a heavy data user like me, when you get to Luang Prabang visit the Unitel store and top up there – you can get up to 80GB for 30 days for 99,000 Kip – which is less than RM30.
5. There are ATMs in Hong Sa but I’m not sure whether you can withdraw money as it depends on the connection for international cash withdrawals. Best bet is to have smaller denominations of Thai Baht (several 20, 50, 100 Bath notes, less than the 1,000 Baht as getting change would be a challenge).
6. Spend a night in Hong Sa to rest and refresh if time is not a constraint – it’s better to drive from Hong Sa early in the morning to reach LP by noon.
7. There are two routes to Luang Prabang (LP) from Napoung – 4A (the old road via Xayaboury where you head south on perhaps not-so-good roads and then north to LP, which takes 6-7 hours) and the new 4B Mountain highway (which the signs in Napoung will show, takes around 3-3.5 hours). Take the 4B – it’s a gorgeous drive through the mountains, valleys and clouds – but there are no rest stops. You can stop in some towns along the way but plan accordingly. The best thing to do is to get all things sorted in Hong Sa. Don’t speed as even though the highway is “new”, the weather and rain were starting to wash out certain parts. Just enjoy the drive and the views.
This is what the 4B looks like:
8. When you reach LP, there will be roads where you can park on the street, but be aware of the signs and markings just in case.
9. In old town LP, where the peninsular is and also the best place to stay, (walking distance to the riverbanks, Phousi Hill, the restaurants and bars on Sakkaline Road, the Night Market and also the Night Market open-air food court) keep in mind that even though the centre street (Sakkaline Road) is 2 ways, the road on the Nam Khan riverside (Kingkitsarath Road) and the Mekong riverside (Khem Kong Road) are one way.
Hope this helps, and have a great trip!