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!

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. 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.

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 $5.20 including the drinks!

Powered by 12Go Asia system

 

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 Huay Xai 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.

Taking The Slow Boat To Laos | Slow Boat Experience | Luang Prabang | Laos | Backpack South East Asia | Travel | Backpacking | Must Visit | Do Not Miss | Thailand | Huay Xi | Chiang Khong | Photography | Backpackers Wanderlust | #slowboat #laos #luangprabang #travel

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 |

LIKE IT? PIN IT!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.

Photo credit: “First look at Laos” (CC BY 2.0) by PrinceRoy . “Chiang Khong, Thailand 22” (CC BY 2.0) by JamesAntrobus . “Bus” (CC BY 2.0) by GaryCycles . “Day 1 From Luang Prabang to Pakbeng” (CC BY 2.0) by GaryGilliland . 

61 Comments

  • Reply
    James
    April 4, 2018 at 12:18 am

    Thank you Tash, fantastic post! I live in Bangkok and have never taken the opportunity to travel to Laos, but after hearing good things about Luang Prabang and reading your post, I think we will take a few days extension of our Chiang Mai Songkran holiday and head there on the boat. Keep up the great writing

  • Reply
    Allison Green
    September 12, 2017 at 9:20 pm

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

  • Reply
    Ashfina Charania
    September 6, 2017 at 12:20 am

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

  • Reply
    Life of Gibbers ✈️
    September 5, 2017 at 6:45 am

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

  • Reply
    Yag Dalal
    September 5, 2017 at 2:10 am

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

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:14 pm

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

  • Reply
    Natasha
    September 4, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    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. 🙂

  • Reply
    CHRISTIE ✈︎travel photographer
    September 4, 2017 at 5:21 am

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

  • Reply
    Susan
    September 4, 2017 at 4:46 am

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

  • Reply
    Eva Grosso
    September 4, 2017 at 3:25 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:16 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Wandering Darlings
    September 3, 2017 at 8:19 pm

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

  • Reply
    Rajlakshmi
    September 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm

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

  • Reply
    CarrieEMann
    September 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

    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!

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate
    September 3, 2017 at 9:47 am

    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 =)

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      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 🙂

  • Reply
    Sarah Poitras
    September 3, 2017 at 7:54 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Saidy Flores
    September 3, 2017 at 5:25 am

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

  • Reply
    Jen Horsfall
    September 3, 2017 at 5:05 am

    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 🙂

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      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 🙂

      • Reply
        Katie Jozwiak
        December 24, 2017 at 3:45 am

        I do! MY hub and I will be doing a 3 month SEA trip – we’re thinking 3 weeks in Thailand, 3 weeks in Vietnam, 3 weeks in Indonesia, with 1 week in Laos, 1 week in Cambodia, and 1 week in Malaysia (order depicted by geographic route obv). It is SOOO much research and work to do haha ugh. Do you have any tips or pointers on best way to take it all in and sort it all out? Also, we know very little about Laos – what should we do and where should we visit? Also, I think getting to and from each country is the biggest problem to solve. Any tips would be great!

        • Reply
          Tasha Amy
          December 25, 2017 at 11:48 am

          Hey Katie!
          Sounds like an awesome trip, I am dying to visit Indonesia!
          I feel you on the so much research part, I usually make a word document, build a list of which countries I am visiting, from there separate each country into a different page and figure out what highlights I must see in each country! My favorite website to building an itinerary is My Funky Travel. They have some awesome backpacking routes, http://myfunkytravel.com/backpacking-route-south-east-asia.html and http://myfunkytravel.com/backpacking-route-indonesia.html . If I were you I would start in Bangkok, head north to Chiang Mai, slow boat it to Laung Prabang Laos, go to Vang Vieng then to Vietanne. Catch a flight to Hanoi and travel south through Vietnam. Cross the border and visit Phomn Penh, In Cambodia I recommend visiting the beaches in Sihnoukville (stay in Otres Beach) and if you have enough time head to Koh Rong Sanoleom. Then Siem Reap and back across to Bangkok. From there head south exploring the beaches and cross over into Malaysia.
          In Laos Luang Prabang was a favorite, though it is expensive by South East Asian standards, but totally worth it. Vang Vieng has stunning nature and scenery. I have also heard Don Det (four thousand islands) is amazing, but I have not made it that south in Laos yet.
          Border crossings are fairly easy though, just make sure to research what company you book with to avoid getting scammed 🙂

  • Reply
    Zoe Naylor
    September 3, 2017 at 3:20 am

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

  • Reply
    saaamohhh
    September 3, 2017 at 3:14 am

    This is so thorough! Thank you for this guide!

  • Reply
    Jona | Backpacking with a Book
    September 3, 2017 at 3:08 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:21 pm

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

  • Reply
    Wander With Jo
    September 3, 2017 at 2:02 am

    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 🙂

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      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

  • Reply
    Corinne
    September 2, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Vicki Viaja
    September 2, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      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

      • Reply
        Vicki Viaja
        September 10, 2017 at 10:41 pm

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

  • Reply
    Lindsey Nicole
    September 2, 2017 at 10:25 pm

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

  • Reply
    Kristine AARSHEIM
    September 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    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 !

  • Reply
    Soraya @ Hello Raya
    September 2, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Perri
    September 2, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Kavita
    September 2, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Kristine Li
    September 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:27 pm

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

  • Reply
    CJ Nesi
    September 2, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    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!

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      September 10, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      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

  • Reply
    Meet The Wards
    September 2, 2017 at 4:35 pm

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

  • Leave a Reply