I recently got my Chinese DL, and we purchased a van. So, our family is considering embarking on a road trip to Chiang Mai. Has anyone here ever driven to Chiang Mai? What are the roads like? How difficult is it crossing Laos? Is there anything I need to know about driving in Laos and Thailand with a Chinese DL? Any information would be appreciated.
At the checkpoints at the Laos and Thailand borders, everything is pretty easy. You will need to pay for local insurance and change out registrations. Would be helpful to speak decent Chinese at the Loas border to make things easier. Coming back from Thailand, the Laos checkpoint was a bit more complicated. You'll need to ask around the town to find the right offices. Try to arrange everything according to office times (avoid 12-2 and after 530). The hardest part is driving on the left in Thailand with a right oriented car. All the roads are excellent.
Thanks Colin for the information. My Chinese is far from stellar, but I can probably call a friend to help me when I get ready to cross the border. When you say "change out registrations" what do you mean? Will I be given something to place in the window? over the license plate?
Also, how long does it take to drive from KMG to Chiang Mai, and is there anything special to do and see in Laos? Should I plan a few extra days to do and see something there?
When I cross into Thailand, is there anything special that needs to be done? And is it difficult to find the office when coming from Thailand back into Laos? Finally, would you advise against driving to Thailand, or did you enjoy driving?
It is worth the drive. If you don't make it down to the border before 5:30 PM (I think) then you might consider staying in Mengla. A nice little town with amazing Dai food. Otherwise stay in Luang Nam Tha in Laos. A cool town and worth staying an extra day to explore around the waterfalls and villages with your car. The town also has a great night market. Chiang Rai on the way down to Chiang Mai also has plenty worth hanging around for. After Chiang Rai I recommmend stopping for an hour or two at the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Perhaps the most interesting temple in the world.
Registrations are exchanged for local registrations at every border. You do not need to change the license plate but need to hold onto the temporary registrations. You will also pay fees for having the car sterilized. Not sure if the bridge is done between Laos and Thailand, but when I went you had to take the ferry.
If you are thinking of getting a convoy together, I may be interested in tagging along. More vehicles is safer and there is backup of sorts if a breakdown. There are others on this forum who have cars.
For me, it would depend on time of year, if I can find people willing to share cost of gas, and other commitments.
I wouldn't mind a convoy at all. The problem is it will probably be next June before we go. My wife & I were talking about it the other day, so I decided to ask some questions so we could begin budgeting the money to do it. So, if you are still interested in convoying in 11 months, I would certainly be game for you to follow along. Sorry if you thought I was going sooner. As a family, we need to plan ahead.
Just back from a trip to kunming to luang prabang! crossing at china is super easy, took 15 min and was free....same on the Laos side..cost was 50,000kip ... most of the roads in Laos are nice and traffic is very light..there is about 100k of roads that really suck, so watch out for that...(if you go that south).. In thailand REMEMBER to drive on the left!!! hahah
I am a firm beliver in planning. Next year could work well.
I have seen numerous convoys of Chinese cars heading into Thailand at Chiang Khong (typically 3-5 cars, sometimes up to 10 cars at once). This is not the best crossing as a ferry has to be used, which drives up the cost and time needed to cross (each vehicle is charged 1,000 Baht per way per crossing). All of this will soon change once the bridge opens later this month (apparently). Until then, why not consider driving further south to Huay Kon (near Hongsa) and crossing there? Sure the officials there may have never seen a Chinese car before but they would certainly allow you to cross and it wouldn't take more than a few mins being a very small crossing with little traffic.
@seahorse, I only have experience driving a Lao registered vehicle into neighboring countries, including Thailand and Vietnam, not Chinese registered (although I may also consider driving my new Chinese car into Laos and Thailand in the near future) but finding the place to get your exit stamp for your paperwork in Chiang Khong wasn't easy. It was easy enough to go to passport control, hand over my passport and get a stamp (and then get an exit stamp for my car passport from the nearby customs building), but another exit stamp, the same triangular one you get in your normal passport also has to be stamped into your car passport in addition to the normal customs stamp. Without it, the Lao officials will direct you back to Thailand to get it done there before stamping your documents on the Lao side.
Note that until the bridge in Huay Xai is completed, customs and passport control are located about 5km apart. Yes, this means your car documents will be examined at the port you enter with your car but in order to get your legal permission to stay in the form of an entry stamp/visa (if required) you'll need to drive almost 5km along the Mekong River road (turn right immediately after the customs house) and then search for immigration.
For all of these reasons I believe it is too frustrating to deal with the Chiang Khong/Huay Xai crossing as you'll probably spend the better part of 1-2 hours crossing in each direction and that's if you have all your stamps and documents in order. However, as mentioned this is likely to change very soon once the bridge opens, by which time everything can be done very quickly and smoothly like at all other Thai-Lao crossings I have been to.
As far as Chinese drivers licenses are concerned, they are technically valid for use in Laos or at least, the Lao authorities won't be able to read them anyway and will essentially turn a blind eye to their use. If you are caught for any driving offenses (rare, since police are a rarity on Lao roads though you may see some near Huay Xai and other built up areas) they are almost always more interested in some money than your license and if you can't speak Thai or Lao, communication will be very difficult anyway.
In Thailand, there is nothing official I have read that suggests that Chinese licenses are not valid for use there and although you would be driving your own car into Thailand, it would still be better to obtain an international license and/or use your national license from a developed country as Chinese licenses only have the front in English, while the reverse explaining vehicle types is only in Chinese. Based on my experience with car rental agencies and the police in Thailand, they are not particularly keen on recognizing licenses from countries such as China and Cambodia, although this won't prevent you from driving there on a Chinese license. At the customs checkpoint, nobody will be interested in your license or ask for one, the car is much more important.
Although this was not mentioned, my understanding is that Chinese cars are forbidden from crossing between Laos and Vietnam.
Nice to read this thread as we're considering doing this soon. Does anyone have experience in the last year or so? I've heard it's possible they do not allow Chinese cars into Thailand anymore. Could this be accurate? If that is the case, has anybody who's taken this route have an opinion if there would be a safe place to park a car and then take a bus for the Thailand portion?