Laos Thailand

How To Travel From Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

How to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang so you can figure out the best transport options to get between these popular cities!

Travelling between Thailand and Laos is a common route for backpackers in South East Asia. Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is a popular departure and arrival point, being they are both equally amazing places not to be missed.

Though, getting from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang can take quite a lot of time unless you are willing to fork out a money for a flight; something which us backpackers often can’t afford. There’s also the famous slow boat ride and a bus between these two cities, though these options can take along time. So let’s break these down to figure out what is best for you:

 

Plane

So, taking a flight is probably the easiest and quickest option when traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Though, currently it is not possible to get a direct flight between these two cities, rather a stopover in Bangkok is necessary.

Air Asia, my personal favorite budget airline, regularly flies between Chiang Mai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Luang Prabang multiple times each day. As well as Air Asia, Bangkok Airways also flies this route, though it is more expensive. Budget between $100-$200 on flights from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang depending on who you fly with, what season it is and how far in advance you book. I recommend checking out Skyscanner to find the ideal flight for you.

To get to the airport in Chiang Mai is pretty simple. All you need to do is flag down a tuktuk driver and let them know you are going to the departures terminal. A ride to the airport cost me $4.50.

Once you have arrived in Luang Prabang the airport is a mere 5km from the city center. Though, even with this small distance taxis still charge $6 for a car load. Laos is a country which is still building up its facilities to cater for tourism. So get prepared for lots of construction, dusty roads and of course beautiful scenery.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

Getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong

For the next options you will need to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong which is the Thai border town.  You can easily book a minivan at your guesthouse or at one of the many travel agencies in town. These will pick you pick from your accommodation. Though be warned, you will be squished in like sardines. Alternatively you can get a bus which will be a lot more roomy, though your journey will likely take longer. Check out bus times on 12Go Asia where you can compare prices and check reviews.

Once in Chiang Khong you have the option of either staying a night there or crossing the border to Huay Xai. I actually stayed two nights at Namkhong Guesthouse and Resort for $5.70 per night for a twin room (That’s $2.85 per person!). There’s a pool to use, its located in the lush tropical garden, a seven eleven a is a two minute walk away and an amazing restaurant called PadThai Baan Yim Restaurant just down the road. Everything in the photo below cost $8.60 including the drinks!

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

Crossing the border and getting to Huay Xai

You can catch a tuk tuk for $4.50 to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. This is where the border is located. I recommend doing this when it opens to avoid the crowds and tour groups. Its a fairly simple crossing to do; just get processed on the Thai side, jump on a bus which will drop you off at the Lao side and get processed there. Though, make sure you have enough money for visas and fill out your paperwork correctly to avoid delays (An ATM is available there as well if you need).

Once you have you visa there are plenty of tuk tuks to take you to Huay Xai. They usually take multiple groups, though in the morning when there aren’t that many people you may have to wait a while to fill it up. Alternatively, you can pay for it to leave early, which is what we did for a total of $11.00.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

Slow Boat

Taking a slow boat from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is definitely one of the more popular options. It is a two day trip where everyone stuffed into a boat. I have heard numerous horror stories about this journey. Alas, I still built up the courage to do it.

At the port is a office where tickets can be purchased. I paid $25.40 for mine. Everyone is then piled onto the boat and sat in old car chairs. They do have padding and are surprisingly comfortable; also the seats are not bolted to the ground so some have more room than others. Seat numbers are assigned, but no one ever sticks to this. On board is one toilet and a stall selling noodles and drinks. The toilet on board can get quite flooded so remember to wear shoes!

The views are quite similar throughout the entire trip until you get a couple hours from Luang Prabang with lime karsts towering over the river. A big surprise for me was the amount of rubbish in the water which is quite sad to think about. It basically just follows you the whole trip.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

One night of the journey will be spent in Pakbeng. There is no need to book accommodation in advance, no matter what the sales people on the boat say. Just turn up at the wharf that night and there will be plenty of locals there advertising their rooms. It is their livelihood. In all honesty I did not find the trip that bad and we always arrived in less time than expected. I also traveled during the dry season when the river was considered low and slow moving.

Lastly, the boat doesn’t stop directly in Luang Prabang, but rather a few kilometers out. I had previously read nightmare posts about people being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and having to pay ridiculous tuk tuk fees. Times have changed from this. There is now a large building where people organize tuk tuks for $2.40 per person into the very center of Luang Prabang. It is totally organised, though the prices are fixed so don’t be stubborn and try to haggle.

Luxury Cruise

If you don’t mind the idea of spending two days on a boat, but are more concerned about comfort, a luxury cruise could be the best option for you. The cruises can cost anywhere between $150 to $350 depending on the company. This amount also includes meals and one night accommodation in Pakbeng. These are certainly, as the name implies, luxurious, well compared with the slow boats. There are less people on board giving you plenty of room to spread out and enjoy. These boats, from what I have seen, appear to be in a lot better condition as well and with much more amenities than the slow boats.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

Speed Boat

Do I dare put this option in here? Its bad, but if you are weighing up all options from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang then you cant forgot the infamous speed boats. Do I recommend them? No. Will you have an enjoyable trip on them? No. These boats are quite dangerous; especially in the dry season when water levels are low. Though, you can read about all the dangers online, just google it! There is a reason you need to wear life jackets and helmets.

It is eight hours of constant motor whirl and the countryside wizzing by in a blur. On the plus side a trip only takes 6 hours, much quicker than the two day slow boat. Also pray that it doesn’t rain on the trip as drops will fall from the sky hard on you like bullets. A speedboat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang will cost about $45.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

Bus

Bus rides in South East Asia can be long due to the constant stopping and starting picking up locals; and those which service the route between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang are no exception. The roads are for sure windy and the bus will constantly be speeding up and slowing down. Also do not expect luxuries like air conditioning, space and comfortable seat as these are rare to come by.

There are two public buses serving this route, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. A VIP bus leaves in the afternoon; though this will cost more. Generally the drive takes somewhere between 12-15 hours depending on how often you stop. Consider this option carefully to avoid be dropped off at a ridiculous hour in the morning. A trip between Huay Xai to Luang Prabang on a public bus costs $15.

How To Travel Between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang | Budget travel | Chiang Mai | Thailand | Backpack Thailand | Travel South East Asia | Backpacking | Luang Prabang | Laos | Border Crossing | Thailand to Laos | Speed boat | Slow boat | Luxury cruise | Bus | Plane | Backpackers Wanderlust |

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  • I used to live in Bangkok and I can attest that these routes are accurate. Thanks for sharing with people!

  • Great post. We have been to Luang Prabang – we flew in from Hanoi. We were really impressed by the airport and the speed of processing there. Chiang Mai is on the list so this post will be saved for future reference!

    • Thats good to hear! I flew Vientiane from Hanoi, I was so surprised with the temperature difference between the two cities. Laos was 35 degrees and Vietnam 16 degrees. We got quite the shock

  • The luxury cruise looks fancy (and I must say very photogenic, haha!) Definitely no for me for the speedboat option, especially when the safety level is questionable! Great information here! Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Super fancy and very instagramable! Haha hell no to the speed boat, you would have to be crazy to do that! No worries

  • Kavita

    I think one of the boat transfers would be my choice, probably the luxury one or the speed boat, I would say. Very handy reference guide!

  • Perri

    Oh wow does this bring back memories… we traveled from Thailand to Vientianne and took the bus all the way up to Luang Prabang.. would not recommend this to my worst enemy haha! However after reading this I am sooo jealous I never made it to Chiang Mai! Great resources here!

    • WOW! That would have been an intense journey! That would have taken so long, and buses in SE Asia are not the best either. Thanks!

  • I loved visiting Luang Prabang, and I did it overland by car from the north of Thailand then by boat cruise when we arrived in Laos. It was such a great experience and I hope to visit Luang Prabang again one day!

  • Kristine AARSHEIM

    I would definitely go for the luxury cruise. I like the idea of a 2 day boat ride but I also love my comfort 🙂 I like that you listed all the different options for transportation. Great post !

  • That luxury travel cruz looks lovely. The price isn’t bad considering if for two days. I would do that!

  • Vicki Viaja

    We just left Chiang Mai to the other border (with Myanmar). But this is so practical to know. We were thinking a long time whether we should go to Laos or Myanmar next. I’ve heard both are amazing countries. If we go back we will definitely go to see Laos. Saving your page for that time. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Oh did you have to get a special visa/permission to get into Myanmar. I was there before Thailand though flew between the two instead as reading about crossing the border seemed super complicated! Laos is amazing, one of my favourite countries in SE Asia

      • Vicki Viaja

        No special visa needed. If you enter from Mae Sot it’s super easy 🙂

  • Such an adventure just getting there. And you get to see so much of the local area while doing so. Great info on the expenses, too!

  • I wanted to do this too but never had enough time to explore both places. I can barely cover one country in a trip – I need to travel long term 🙂

    • Its an amazing trip! Haha I am not the best long term traveller, though if you have done the research the border crossing and finding transport is super easy

  • Yay, we did this two years ago! Did you enjoy both countries? We had a little problem in Luang Prabang, but definitely, Laos is a very interesting country to travel to.

    • Loved both countries! How did you travel between the two? I absolutely loved Laos, hope the problem didnt dampen your experience

  • This is so thorough! Thank you for this guide!

  • Zoe Naylor

    Great post! It brings back memories from when I travelled this route by bus a few years ago 🙂 such a fun adventure

  • I love posts like this, they take all the anxiety of travel away for me – I think the scary part is often not knowing what on earth to do on journeys like this. I’ll be in Chiang Mai in November and can’t wait 🙂

    • Thanks! Yeah totally I spent so many hours researching when I was traveling! Oh thats awesome that you are visiting. Let me know if you want any recommendations as to what to do there 🙂

  • Saidy Flores

    This is such an awesome guide/post girl! Good job ❤️❤️

  • Sarah Poitras

    I visited both cities but not one after another. They are both awesome so it’s good to know you can hit both in one trip.

  • I feel like I’m the last travel blogger on earth to visit Thailand! I’ve seen a lot of Asia, but for some reason Thailand has evaded me—probably because I want to give myself a full 3-4 weeks to explore and that’s a tough amount of time to carve out in your schedule! Thanks for the virtual journey =)

    • Thats amazing that you still haven’t visited! Yeah you do need a decent amount of time to do it properly though and not rush it 🙂

  • CarrieEMann

    Luang Prabang is such a great city! Super helpful to see all the different options for getting there. That 12Go Asia site is really handy — it didn’t exist back when I was in SE Asia, so you pretty much just had to turn up at the bus station and hope something was leaving soon. Times have changed!

    • I love it there! Yeah I wanted to do a roundup to make it easy for people to find the best option for them. Love 12GO asia as well, super helpful especially checking out who to book with and reviews!

  • The view from the plane looks so spectacular. I would love to take a luxury cruise and enjoy all the scenes 😀

  • Wandering Darlings

    Such a great and informative post. Pinned for when I finally get my butt to Asia! Your photographs are stunning!!!

  • What an informative post. It’s good that you have written all the options, from cheap to luxurious. The speed boat really sounds like something I would never want to try.

    • Thanks! Yeah I tried to do a decent round up! Argh no defiantly dont, we saw so many of them drive past and each time we cringed!

  • Susan

    Really helpful post! I had no idea there were so many options!

  • Really helpful info! The luxury cruise sounds amazing, I didn’t know that was an option in Thailand. Thanks for sharing!

  • Great tips! I’d love to try the cruise the most, it looks like a great way to slow travel and see more of the countries. 🙂

  • Yag Dalal

    The luxury cruise sounds like a fun and photogenic way to do it. But more realistically I would probably pick the slow boat 😀

    • It certainly would be! I did the slow boat and enjoyed it, I read horror stories previously but it honestly wasnt that bad

  • Life of Gibbers ✈️

    Great and informative post. I loved my time in Asia but never got the chance to visit Chiang Mai 🙁 Looks fab though!

  • Ashfina Charania

    Very informative post! I wouldn’t mind spending on the Luxury cruise its pretty reasonable.

  • Allison Green

    Saving this for when I go to Laos! Super informative.

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