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

slow boat on mekong river from chiang mai to luang prabang

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 we 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

 

Time Cost Highlight
Plane 4 hours from $100 Simple, comfortable journey
Slow Boat 2 days from $40 Riverside views
Speed Boat 6 hours from $55 Fast journey
Luxury Boat 2 days from $55 Enjoy luxury for a couple of days
Bus 12 hours from $25 An affordable option
enjoying the views on the mekong river
enjoying the views along the mekong river on my journey from chiang mai to luang prabang

Fly 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!

eating thai food in chiang khong
enjoying dinner in chiang khong

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 Thailand 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.

arriving on the slow boat chiang mai to luang prabang
arriving on the slow boat on our journey from chiang mai to luang prabang

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
a typical luxury cruise boat which will transport you down 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 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.

speed boat on the mekong river
a speed boat zooming along the mekong river – notice how everyone is wearing helmets!

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
a typical bus which will carry you from huay xai to luang prabang

Where To Stay In Luang Prabang?

There are plenty of choices when it comes to choosing accommodation in Luang Prabang. From the impressive 5 star resort, historic hotels, simple hostels, and locally owned guesthouses, you will find something to fit your budget and needs.

During our recent visit, we stayed on a quaint little side street minutes from the center and Mekong River. I fell in love with this little spot. There are a few budget guesthouses and nicer hotel-style accommodations available down this street. Check out Mylaohome Hotel & Spa for comfortable rooms, awesome spa, and delicious cafe onsite from $23.00 per night. There is also Villa Pumalin which has an indoor pool and beautiful wooden rooms starting at $30.00 per night.

Find the best hotels in the area

Little Friendlys Freedom Place

Plenty of common areas, a great vibe, and breakfast, it is well worth $6.00 per night.

BOOK NOW

Chill Riverside Hostel

A relaxing location near the party, from $7.00 per night including breakfast.

BOOK NOW

MyLaoHome Hotel & Spa

Beautiful private rooms from $23.00 per night and in the heart of the city.

BOOK NOW

Villa Pumalin

A walk from the city attractions, starting from $26.00 per night with breakfast.

BOOK NOW

Things To Do In Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is full of amazing activities and attractions which will keep you busy for days. For additional things to do check out my 3-day itinerary to Luang Prabang.


Kuang Si Falls

No doubt Kuang Si Falls is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang. Nowadays the easiest way to get there is taking an organized minivan. These can be booked basically everywhere in the city. Prices start around $5.70 / 50,000 LAK, though you will need to check how long how will actually be spending at the falls.

main waterfall at kuang si falls
the main waterfall at kuang si falls in luang prabang

Pak Ou Caves

A top day trip from Luang Prabang is the Pak Ou Caves, allowing you to experience this sacred site as well as life on the water. You can either organize your trip advance from a tour agency or just turn up at the dock opposite Saffron Coffee. Joining a shared boat at the dock in the morning will cost $7.50 / 65,000LAK. The entry to the cave is not included and is an extra $2.30 / 20,000LAK.

view of the slow boats waiting at pak ou caves
the incredible views out of pak ou caves over the mekong river

Night Market

The Luang Prabang Night Market is not just for food. It is also great to do some souvenir shopping! There are so many items being sold here, from toys, jewelry, clothing and so much more no doubt you will find something to bring home. Just be aware that you are expected to barter for prices.

fruit shakes for sale at the luang prabang night market
delicious glasses of fruit waiting to be made into smoothies / sunset down the main walking street

Mount Phousi

A top sunset watching spot is Mount Phousi. Though it is very popular so you will want to head up at least an hour before the sun goes down. There is an entry fee of $2.30 / 20,000LAK which you will need to pay. The climb consists of over 300 stairs and there are two access points on each side of the mountain. Apart from the impressive view at the top, there is also a temple called Wat Chom Si.


Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!


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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.


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59 thoughts on “Traveling From Chiang Mai To Luang Prabang: All You Need To Know

  1. James says:

    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. Gary Choong says:

    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 .

    • Tasha Amy says:

      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. Life of Gibbers ✈️ says:

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

  4. Yag Dalal says:

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

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

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

  5. Natasha says:

    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. CHRISTIE ✈︎travel photographer says:

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

  7. Eva Grosso says:

    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.

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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!

  8. Wandering Darlings says:

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

  9. CarrieEMann says:

    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!

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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!

  10. Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate says:

    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 =)

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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 :)

  11. Sarah Poitras says:

    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.

  12. Jen Horsfall says:

    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 :)

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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 :)

      • Katie Jozwiak says:

        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!

        • Tasha Amy says:

          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 :)

  13. Jona | Backpacking with a Book says:

    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.

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

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

  14. Wander With Jo says:

    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 :)

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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

  15. Corinne says:

    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!

  16. Vicki Viaja says:

    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.

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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

  17. Kristine AARSHEIM says:

    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 !

  18. Soraya @ Hello Raya says:

    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!

  19. Perri says:

    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!

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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!

  20. Kavita says:

    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!

  21. Kristine Li says:

    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!

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

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

  22. CJ Nesi says:

    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!

    • Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust says:

      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

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