Find out exactly how to travel between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Comparing taking a plane, minivan, bus, or boat I will go through everything you need to know, including crossing the border between Chiang Khong to Huay Xai.
Traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is a common route for backpackers in South East Asia. Though, getting between them is not always the easiest especially with so many choices of whether to go by plane, boat, or bus.
Getting from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang can take quite a lot of time unless you are willing to fork out 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 a long time. Plus there are numerous horror stories regarding the slow boat, which can definitely have you thinking twice.
Nevertheless don’t prevent this from stopping you from visiting Laos. I will go through all our options of traveling between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang to make the journey as easy as possible for you. Laos is an incredible country full of incredible nature and scenery, as well as beautiful people. If you are traveling Southeast Asia I highly recommend adding a backpacking Laos portion to your itinerary!
How To Get From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang?
- Flight From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
- Getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong For Bus And Boat
- Slow Boat From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
- Luxury Boat Cruise From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
- Speed Boat From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
- Bus From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
Flight From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
So, taking a flight is probably the easiest and quickest option when traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Though, currently, there are not daily flights between these two cities. Lao Airlines does fly four times per week, but depending on how far in advance you book their flights can be quite pricey. Check out Skyscanner and be flexible with your dates to find the ideal flight.
Unfortunately, if your dates don’t match up with the Lao Airlines flights, a stopover in Bangkok will be necessary. Though, this could be the perfect excuse to head south to experience the beautiful towns and islands on the Andaman Coast. 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.
How To Get To Chiang Mai International Airport
To get to the airport in Chiang Mai is pretty simple. All you need to do is flag down a tuk-tuk driver and let them know you are going to the departure terminal. A ride to the airport cost me $4.50. There is also a public bus which you can take. If you are keen to look at how to get to Chiang Mai International Airport make sure to read my post.
Taxi: The taxi is the most common option for getting to Chiang Mai airport from the city center. It’s a quick and convenient way to travel between the two locations.
Songthaew: All you need to do is find a Songthaew and advise the driver as to where you are going. If he is not going that direction he may say no, though there are plenty more to choose from. The standard rate for the journey is 40 THB / $1.30.
Tuk-Tuk: There is also plenty of tuk-tuks to choose from around Chiang Mai. The one downside is that tuk-tuks are not the most spacious means of transport. So if you have quite a few bags this won’t be the best option. The standard rate for tuk-tuks is between 100 THB to 120 THB / $3.30 to $4.00. Though the majority of drivers will happily tell you there is a fixed rate of 150 THB / $5.00.
Bus: Like most places, taking the bus is definitely the cheapest option. There are two different bus routes to choose from, both of which start in central Chiang Mai, just travel in different directions. The first bus is the R3 Red bus which goes to Nimman Road first before Tha Pae Gate. The second bus, R3 Yellow, goes in the opposite direction heading to Tha Pae first before Nimman Road. The cost of the bus is 20 THB / $0.70 and they run every 30 minutes from 6.30 am to 11.30 pm.
How To Get From Luang Prabang International Airport To City Centre
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 carload. There is no public transportation which can be annoying if you are a solo traveler. Laos is a country that is still building up its facilities to cater to tourism. So get prepared for lots of construction, dusty roads and of course beautiful scenery.
Prepaid Taxi: The prepaid taxi is the most common option for getting from Luang Prabang airport to the city center. You will need to visit one of the prepaid taxi counters in the arrivals hall. The price is fixed at $7.00, so even if you are traveling with one person or with three, you will still need to pay that price.
Pre-Arranged Hotel Transfer: No doubt one of the easiest options between getting from an airport to your hotel is to prebook a transfer from your accommodation prior to arriving. There will be someone waiting for you at the airport with a sign resulting in a hassle-free experience. It is likely that your hotel will charge the same price as the prepaid taxis of $7.00, which is an excellent option if you are traveling in a group.
Tuk-Tuk: You will not find any tuk-tuks within the airport grounds itself so this means you will need to go outside the main gates to find one. This could be a bit problematic if you are lugging around a suitcase. For this journey, you should expect to pay about $3.00 for a tuk-tuk. Though just be aware you may need to haggle to receive a recent price, so be ready to negotiate.
Getting from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong For Bus And Boat
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 up from your hostel in Chiang Mai. Though be warned, you will be squished in like sardines. These minivans often will include a stop at the famous white temple in Chiang Rai. Though, there are plenty of other Chiang Rai attractions if you decide to spend a couple of days there.
Alternatively, you can get a bus which will be a lot roomier, 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, it’s 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 $5.20 including the drinks!
Crossing the border and getting to Huay Xai
You can catch a tuk-tuk from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai 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. It’s a fairly simple crossing to do; just get processed on the Thai side, jump on a bus that 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 it).
Once you have your visa there is 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.
Slow Boat From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang
Once you have traveled from Chiang Mai To Chiang Khong per the above, you can then take a slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. 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 an 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. Onboard is a toilet and a stall selling noodles and drinks. The toilet can get quite flooded so remember to wear shoes!
The views are quite similar throughout the entire trip until you get a couple of 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.
One night of the journey will be spent in Pakbeng. There is no need to book accommodation in advance, no matter what the salespeople 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.
Arriving At The Slow Boat Pier In Luang Prabang
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 organized, though the prices are fixed so don’t be stubborn and try to haggle.
Luxury Cruise From Huay Xai To Luang Prabang
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 fewer 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.
Speed Boat From Huay Xai To Luang Prabang
Do I dare put this option in here? It’s bad, but if you are weighing up all options from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang then you can’t forget 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 the constant motor whirl and the countryside whizzing 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.
Bus From Huay Xai To Luang Prabang
Bus rides in South East Asia can be long due to the constant stopping and starting picking up locals, and those which serve 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 being dropped off at a ridiculous hour in the morning. A trip between Huay Xai to Luang Prabang on a public bus costs $15.
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