Getting from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang is quite an easy and straight forward affair. There are dozens of travel agents in Chiang Rai offering this service in a package for you to choose from. Depending on how much time you can afford and your budget, there are a few ways to cross between this two countries.
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There is no direct flight from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang. You can either take a 4-hours bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai and then fly to Luang Prabang, or there will be a stopover in Bangkok if you take a flight from Chiang Rai.
There is a direct bus that leaves Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 2 (8-kilometers from the city) to Luang Prabang. It is an 18-hour ride – most likely in a non-air-conditioned bus – over bumpy, neglected roads for 950 Baht (US$29).
This option involved a slow boat to Luang Prabang floating down the Mekong River on a wooden boat. Although the journey takes two days, but it’s the most fun way of having all the hassles being planned out!
This post will guide you step-by-step on how to go about getting through this 2-days unforgettable experience.
#1: Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong
Catch the 6 a.m. big red bus from Bus Terminal 1 (near Chiang Rai Night Bazaar) to the border town of Chiang Khong. This journey will take about 2-hours on a straight road.
Note: Try to change some Baht for Laos Kip before you leave Chiang Rai. If not, border crossing expenses can generally be paid in small USD notes or Baht but the exchange rates might not be favorable.
#2: Chiang Khong – Thai Border
The nearest stop the red bus will drop you is 5-kilometers to the Thai Immigration. From here, you can either choose to walk, or catch a tuk-tuk. Wait or join other backpackers to bargain for a lower rate. It shouldn’t be more than 50 Baht per person if you have 2 or more people sharing the same tuk-tuk.
#3: Thai Border – Laos Border
After clearing the immigration from Thailand, you need to get on-board a mandatory shuttle bus to cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos. This 3-minutes ride costs 20 Baht.
#4: Laos Border – Huay Xai
Holding on to an ASEAN passport, it took me 2-minutes to clear Laos immigration. For most European nationals, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, you can apply single entry tourist visa-on-arrival for between US$30 – US$45. Check here if you’re not sure.
From the immigration, you can take a tuk-tuk to Huay Xai main town or to the pier, depending how early you are. I waited for other backpackers to clear immigration and went to the pier straight.
Note: There will be agencies offering “discounted” tickets to the slow boat with a tuk-tuk ride included. Don’t fall for this scam. It is cheaper to buy your own ticket at the pier instead.
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#5: Huay Xai – Pak Beng
Once you get your ferry ticket, I’d recommend grabbing some food and drinks at the market near the river before you get on. There will be locals selling snacks and beers on the boat, but be prepared to pay double the average the price. Even though the ticket state the departure time at 11 a.m., my boat did not leave til 1 p.m.
From Huay Xai to Pak Beng is about 8-hours journey. Upon reaching the village, you will be bombarded by the villagers promoting their guesthouses. Most guesthouses offer twin bed-room inclusive a return transfer service to the pier for 50,000 Kip. If you are travelling solo like me, it will be wise to make friends on the boat so you have someone to share a room with.
Note: Most guesthouses had cheap options for dinner and breakfast, they also provide packed lunch for your next day’s journey.
#6: Pak Bang – Luang Prabang
The staff sent us to the pier by 8 a.m., after breakfast. It will be a 7-hours ride for this leg of the journey. It will be hard to sleep due to the noise, heat and humidity. It’s always good to prepare your own entertainment such as a book, Netflix series or podcasts.
The boat drops off close to the city, but you will still need to take a tuk-tuk to get to the center of the city. The drivers start at 20,000 kip, but if you start walking down the road, they will catch up with you and offer a ride for 15,000 kip.
Note: Do check your change as the locals might shortchange you, knowing that you are unfamiliar with the currency with so many zeros.
Here are the costs breakdown for the whole journey (excluding food):
- Bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong: 65 Baht (US$2)
- Tuk-tuk from Chiang Khong to Thai Border: 50 Baht (US$1.50)
- Shuttle from Thai border to Laos border: 20 Baht (US$0.60)
- Visa on arrival: Free (for ASEAN passport)
- Tuk-tuk from Laos border to Huay Xai pier: 15,000 Kip (US$1.60)
- Slow boat ticket (at pier): 210,000 Kip (US$24)
- Accommodation in Pak Beng: 25,000 Kip per pax (US$2.80)
- Tuk-tuk into Luang Prabang: 15,000 Kip (US$1.70)
Total cost: US$34.20
Welcome to one of the most chilled spots in Southeast Asia: Luang Prabang!
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