Lao tax: Everyone who travels pays

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CHIANG RAI, 4 October 2018: Foreign travellers including Thai border pass holders are already paying the USD1 travel tax to cross the border between the Thai riverside town of Chiang Khong and Houay Xai in Laos.

Reliable police sources in the province said Lao PDR’s immigration bureau at the Thai Laos Friendship Bridge started collecting the tax on Monday.

It clears up a confusion over whether Thai border pass holders, who can travel to Laos for a day trip, would be required to pay the US dollar tax.

Initial reports by Vientiane online news channels suggested Thai traders and tourists, using a border pass rather than passport, might be exempted from the dollar tax.

Sources at the bridge said there were no exceptions and the tax applied to all foreigners regardless of their travel documents, include foreigners who are resident in Laos.

The Thai Laos Friendship Bridge spans the Mekong River that marks the border between the two countries.

Chiang Khong is a popular destination on the Thai side of the river usually for overnight stops before travellers board a boat at Huoay Xai in Laos for the trip downstream to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang.

Laos introduced the dollar tax to raise funds for tourism promotions that the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism estimates could reach USD3.8 million, based on arrivals recorded in 2017.

A well-known motorcycle tour specialist and cartographer, David Unkovich, claims motorcycle tourists have faced multiple taxes and fees to enter Laos including even a version of the US dollar tax in recent years.

“Some places have been collecting this kind of tax for a while targeting motorcyclists,” he said adding there was often multiple fees to pay at the Lao PDR’s international land checkpoints bordering Thailand.

“I wasn’t impressed after processing immigration … a three-stop process for the rider and motorcycle … only to be then dragged off to another office to a pay a dollar,” explained Unkovich, who manages theGTrider.com a successful motorbike touring website.

He called the latest dollar tax a joke.

“Think of the wasted time and paperwork…The cost involved in collecting a single dollar and then remitting it to the Treasury.”

Unkovich points out that promoting adventure tourism is clearly a priority on the Visit Laos Year agenda, but rules are making it more difficult for motorcyclists.

North Thailand is a popular region for motorcycle tours and the more adventurous riders head for the border to drive to Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos particularly during the cool season November through to February.

“We’re lucky here in Chiang Kong that we can still cross to Laos for a private motorcycle trip…  All the other border entry points now require a minimum of five bikes, plus the trip itinerary must use a licenced tour company from Laos… its killing motorcycle adventure tourism for hundreds of riders. For this to happen during Visit Laos Year is a dumb move!”

There are 10 international checkpoints on the border between Thailand and Laos some with bridges over the Mekong River. However, regulations force motorcyclists to hire a pick-up for around THB500 to transfer the bike across the bridges.  At the Lao border checkpoint they will need to show evidence of a paid-up tour itinerary including a fee to tourist police to provide an escort service for the duration of the motorbike tour.

There other conditions such as having bike insurance, export and import documentation and valid driving permits.

For full details of how to bike through the Mekong Region visit:
https://www.thegtrider.com/

International checkpoints Thailand-Laos border:
Details on 10  border crossings

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