In this travel guide, I explain how you can easily cross the China-Laos border between the cities of Mohan(磨憨) and Boten.
In a previous article, I explained how can you cross the border between China and Vietnam, specifically between the cities of Hekou in Yunnan and Lao Cai in Vietnam. Yunnan also borders Laos and since January 2023 there is a really convenient train that connects the two countries. So if you are thinking of traveling between these two beautiful countries, this is the right article for you.
There are two daily trains leaving from Kunming to Mohan (磨憨), one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You can easily book the ticket using Trip.com (be sure to change the destination to Mohan if you use the link). If the tickets are sold out you can alternatively arrive in Mengla(勐腊), which is a city located about one hour from Mohan, and head there by taxi. Mengla is not too far away from another interesting place I wrote about: Xishuangbanna (here is my travel guide).
The China-Laos railway is the first part of a bigger project that is supposed to connect Yunnan to Singapore. As of now, only the Yunnan-Laos part is completed and you can travel from Boten to Vientiane. The second part of the project should connect Vientiane to Bangkok and then Bangkok to Singapore.
Unfortunately at the moment, it’s not possible to go directly from China to Laos, but you have to get off the train in Mohan, cross the border on foot, and then get on a different train in Boten. In the near future things should change and supposedly you should be able to get from Kunming all the way down to Vientiane.
Things to consider when planning your China-Laos trip
The main challenges at the moment, until it will be possible to cross the border directly on the train, are that the time between the arrival of the train in Mohan and the departure of the train in Boten is very short and it’s basically impossible to buy a train ticket at the Boten train station for the same day because the tickets are all almost immediately sold out. Everyone on your train will most likely cross the border with you and this means hundreds of people queueing at the custom and waiting to get a visa. It’s quite possible that you’ll miss the train in Laos if it’s a busy day and there is some issue at customs.
This is the current timetable for the trains in Laos (credit to hobomaps.com):
Remember that Laos is one hour behind China and the timetable above is using the Laos timezone.
This is why, at the moment, unless you already have a train ticket from Boten to your next destination in Laos, the best option is to arrive in Mohan, or Boten, a day earlier. That’s what I did. This is especially important if you have already booked all of your hotels. You can only find a couple of hotels to stay in Mohan (I stayed here).
I took the second train, the one that arrives in Mohan at 19:33, stayed in the city for one night, and then crossed the border as soon as it opened, way before the first train from Kunming arrived. This gave me enough time to complete all the paperwork at customs, buy a Laos sim card, and finally buy a ticket at the train station (and I barely made it in time: there were only 11 tickets left for the day).
While inside the Mohan train station, I noticed an International Exit, which suggests that soon enough it will be possible to complete the immigration process right inside the train station without needing to physically leave the building. At the moment this is not possible though.
You can take a taxi from the train station to the border (口岸) and enter the building where you’ll have to complete a form and have your passport checked.
There is both a paper slip and a WeChat mini-app that you need to fill in with your personal info. Unfortunately, the mini-app is only in Chinese and so are the instructions on how to complete it. Hopefully, as international tourism will resume, they’ll add an English version.
Leaving China is usually easier than getting in, but in my experience, there isn’t really any issue besides a few routine questions (when entering China). Nothing really too intimidating.
You’ll have to pass your bags through the X-ray machine and soon enough you’ll be on the other side of the building.
Just keep walking for a couple of hundreds meter and you’ll see the Boten checkpoint
When inside the building, fill out the immigration paper slip, head to counter 1, hand over your passport, and pay the 40$ fee for the visa. Then get to counter 2 to take your passport with your Laos visa and complete the customs check. That’s all.
Right after the checkpoint, you’ll see a lot of minivans that can take you to the train station, which looks exactly like any Chinese train station. There even is the same public announcement voice that you hear in China at every train station.
It’s important to keep in mind that at the moment it’s not possible to buy a Laos train ticket online (although it should be possible soon). On top of that, the tickets are sold only two days before departure. Buying a ticket at the train station in Laos is a very long process because there are agencies that buy tens of tickets at a time. It took me one hour to get mine even if I only had about 30 people in front of me (and there are 4 counters selling tickets in Boten).
Tips for crossing the China-Laos border
- The opening times for the border are from 8:30 to 17:30 on the Chinese side and from 7:30 to 16:30 on the Laos side
- Bring one picture of yourself for the Visa
- Bring a pen to complete the immigration forms, because most likely there won’t be any available and you’ll have to ask around wasting a lot of time
- To get the Laos Visa you first have to go to counter 1 and then counter 2
- I’ve received reports of scammers right inside the Laos customs building. Apparently, they take advantage of the confusion when hundreds of people arrive from the Kunming-Mohan train. If people ask you for money to speed up the Visa process, that’s a scam. You should only give the money to the people behind the counters
- The Laos Visa should cost 40$ or 300RMB for most nationalities. You can pay in RMB or USD
- If you arrive from China, you most likely have RMB. Keep in mind that you can pay everything in RMB even in Boten. So my suggestion, if you have to exchange RMB to KIP, is to exchange only a small about in Boten, and then exchange the rest of your money in your next destination. This is because the money changers in Boten will give you a very bad exchange rate
All the info above is valid also if you are planning a trip to China. The only difference is that it’s way easier to get a train ticket from Mohan. You can buy it up to two weeks in advance using Trip.com. Here you can find my detailed China travel guide.
If you are planning to visit Vang Vieng don’t miss my travel guide. If you are heading straight to Luang Prabang check out my travel guide.
Here you can read my other articles about Laos.
Thanks Fabio, it is great to find some up to date info and great tips for this crossing.
Hopefully the through train will be running soon and we won’t have to do the frustrating foot journey across the border.
Keep up the good work!!
Hi Roy, thanks. It was very frustrating finding this info online, so I decided to write the article 🙂
Keep up your professional work. Exposing the colourful world of China is what helps us to appreciate the varied lifestyles in that country.
Thanks Tony 🙂