Travelling from Chiang Rai and crossing the Thai-Lao border to go to the town of Huay Xai is fairly easy.
There are buses that leave to Chiang Khong (a small town close to Thai border) almost every hour at the Terminal 2 Bus Station in Chiang Rai (I wish I took a picture of the bus schedule but don’t worry, buses are frequent). The Terminal 2 Bus Station is close to the night market in the center of the city so it should be easy to get to. The trip will take about 2-3 hours and costs 65 baht. Make sure you consider bus delays and the business hours of the immigration controls for both Thailand and Laos. From what we understood, the Immigration Checkpoints close at 8pm daily but you have to also consider the schedule of the shuttle buses to get to and from the checkpoints.
You do not have to go to the center of Chiang Khong if you plan to cross the border directly to Laos. Before boarding the bus in Chiang Rai, you can just tell the bus driver that you want to go to Laos and ask to be dropped off at the intersection with the road to the Friendship Bridge (they will know where it is). Try to remind them once in a while, while you are inside the bus because they might forget about you, miss the intersection and drive you all the way to Chiang Khong. If that is the case, it should not be a problem to take a tuktuk from Chiang Khong to the Thailand Immigration Control (where you need to get your exit stamp first out of Thailand). You might just have to pay a bit more to the tuktuk driver as Chiang Khong is a bit further away.
At the intersection of the road that goes to the Friendship Bridge, there will be tuk tuks waiting to take you to the Thailand Immigration Control which is about 4-5 kilometers away. The tuktuk should not cost you more than 50 baht. There were 3 of us and we managed to negotiate for 30 baht each. You can also walk it if you want. It is about 4-5 kms which should be about an hour of walking.
At the Thailand Immigration Control, you will have to present your departure paper together with your passport so that they can give you an exit stamp. The departure paper is the other piece that you get wheb you entered Thailand (you should have filled up 2 slips – arrival and departure slips) Once you get the exit stamp, you will go over to the other side of the building where shuttle buses are waiting to take you to the Lao Immigration Control which is about 10 kilometers away. The 15 minute ride will cost you 25 baht.
When you get to the Lao Immigration Control, the immigration officials there will ask for your passport and have you fill up a form to apply for a Lao visa. The cost of the visa will depend on what passport you hold. We found out that it is cheaper to pay in US$ than in Thai Baht or Laotian Kip. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a passport picture. They asked us for a piece which they attached to our application.
The visa process wasn’t very complicated. We just filled up the form, submitted our passports to the officer in one window who told us to go pay in another window and after a few minutes of waiting, they handed us our Lao visas.
From the Laotian Immigration control, we agreed that we’ve had enough bus transfers and neotiating with tutktuk drivers. We decided to hitchhike to Huay Xai which was fairly easy. We didn’t wait more than a couple of minutes when we had someone stop to offer us a ride. He didn’t speak much English but we managed to understand that he will drive us to the intersection to the road towards Huay Xai, drop us off and then, he will drive to his village which is in the opposite direction.
It was already almost sunset when we arrived in Lao and so after the driver dropped us, we tried to hitchhike a little bit more but then a tuktuk driver quickly stopped and offered to drive us to Huay Xai for 15 baht each (x 2 people for 30+ minutes).
We thought it wasn’t a bad deal so we took the offer and rode the tuktuk to Huay Xai where we spent a night before going to Luang Namptha.
Accomodation and food (Huay Xai): There are a bunch of guesthouses and restaurants on the main road close to the Mekong River. We stayed at a guesthouse (sorry, forgot the name!) for 80, 000 kip and had dinner for 15, 000 kip/dish.