Traveling From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang: All You Need To Know

chiang mai to luang prabang

Find out exactly how to travel between Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Comparing taking a plane, mini van, 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.

Though, 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. So let’s break these down to figure out what is best for you:

How To Get From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang?

slow boat on the mekong river

Plane 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 departures terminal. A ride to the airport cost me $4.50.

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. Laos is a country which is still building up its facilities to cater to tourism. So get prepared for lots of construction, dusty roads and of course beautiful scenery.

view from plane flying over the mekong river and a village

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 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!

lunch in chiang khong thailand

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 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.

border from chiang khong to huay xai

Slow Boat From Huay Xai To Luang Prabang

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 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. On board is a 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 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 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.

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.

slow boat pier in huay xai with boats lined up

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.

luxury cruise along the mekong river

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 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 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.

speed boat on the mekong river

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.

catch the bus from huay xai to luang prabang

Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!


Find out how exactly to travel between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang. Whether you are wanting to go by bus, plane or boat I will break down all opitions for you.

Want more Thailand Inspiration? Check out….

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 . “Day 1 From Luang Prabang to Pakbeng” (CC BY 2.0) by GaryGilliland

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    Your typical New Zealander, now discovering the world one country at a time. With a high-end backpacking style I prefer to glampack across the globe by embracing the best of each destination. All of which I share right here on Backpackers Wanderlust. 




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  • 63 Responses

    1. 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

    2. Hi , are they offer the trip from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in daily basis ? Or it only on selected day per week . I’m traveling to Chiang Mai in another 2 weeks time and wish to cross the border by slow boat via Mekong river .

      1. You will need to take a mini van from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. I recommend staying the night at Chiang Khong then crossing the border in the morning and making your way to the slow boat pier. I am not sure of the frequency of the minivans but if you check the 12.go asia website it will give you some indication.

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

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

    5. 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. 🙂

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

    7. 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.

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

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

    10. 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!

    11. 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 =)

    12. 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.

    13. 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 🙂

        1. 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!

          1. 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, and . 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 🙂

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

    15. 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.

    16. 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 🙂

    17. 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!

    18. 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.

      1. 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

    19. 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 !

    20. 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!

    21. 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!

    22. 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!

    23. 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!

    24. 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!

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