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Thailand to Laos: Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

A thin line on the map separates the tourist hotspot that is Thailand from the landlocked hidden gem known as Laos. Laos is an adventurer’s dream, featuring untouched landscapes, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and some of the friendliest people you will ever encounter. So, what are you waiting for to cross from Thailand to Laos? Don’t know how? If you are in for an adventure and time is not a restraint, the slow boat to Luang Prabang is the way to go.

In this guide, we will show you step-by-step how to travel from northern Thailand to Laos safely and on a budget. Embark on a magnificent (and sometimes bumpy) journey with us, down the Mekong River, aboard a slow boat to Luang Prabang.

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Northern Thailand to Laos Step-by-Step

Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

The two cities in northern Thailand that are most frequently part of travelers’s plans are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, so let’s start from here. You can perfectly have your itinerary be from Chiang Mai to Laos, but we strongly suggest you make a stop in Chiang Rai. The main advantage of doing your trip from Chiang Rai to Laos is that you have a great excuse to visit one of the most amazing cities in northern Thailand, while cutting down on the amount of hours on the road.

How to get from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong:

  • Local bus: Cheapest option, with tickets costing 70 baht, €1,80 (to Chiang Khong center, but there is also the option to be dropped off at the border), which you pay directly inside the bus. Departures hourly from 7.30am to 4.30pm, and the journey takes around 2 hours.

You can catch this bus at Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1. It is properly identified and usually stops at lane 9.

Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong bus terminal
  • Taxi or Transfer Service: Quickest and most comfortable option, taking around 1 hour and 40 minutes. The taxi prices vary, but via app (Grab or Bolt) you might get one around 1400 baht. If you are looking for a transfer, click here to book the one that suits you the best*.

Chiang Khong

Tomorrow, your official journey from Thailand to Laos begins. Therefore, find yourself a nice accommodation for the night and have a good rest. Here are some of the best accommodation options in Chiang Khong for every budget:

Sleeping Well Chiangkhong one of the best budget hotels in Chiang Khong
Baan Sakuna Hotel one of the best hotels in Chiang Khong
Teak Garden Riverfront best luxury Hotel in Chiang khong

You will need to wake up early tomorrow, so grab an early bite in the city center and call it a day. If you are looking for something nice and easy, head to Padthai Baan Yim.

You can either spend the night in Chiang Khong or cross the border immediately to Huay Xai. So, why stay on Thailand’s side of the border for the night? To put it simple: price. Accommodations on the Thailand side tend to be significantly cheaper. However, if you find a great accommodation in Huay Xai, go ahead, it doesn’t impact your Mekong River slow boat plans.

Chiang Khong to Laos: Thailand Border

Time to head from Chiang Khong to Laos! Well, to the Thailand border, to be exact. To get there, go by either tuk tuk or van transfer, which we suggest you arrange the night before to avoid a stressful start to the day. Most accommodations can arrange these transportation options for you, but you will also find tuk tuks offering their services around Chiang Khong. A private tuk tuk should be somewhere around 150 baht (€4).

You'll want to start your Thailand to Laos border crossing as soon as immigration opens. So, make sure to be at the Friendship Bridge (Chiang Khong/Huay Xai) immigration control at 8am. Upon arrival, queue up, there's no need to fill in any paperwork. They will ask you a couple of questions, stamp your passport, and that is it. You are ready to leave Thailand!

Chiang Khong immigration office for crossing border thailand to laos
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No Man’s Land from Thailand to Laos

There is a bridge connecting Thailand to Laos, but the only means of crossing it is by bus. The fare for this bus ride is 40 baht (€1), and the bus departs when it reaches full capacity.

The ticket counter where you purchase the bus tickets, also offers currency exchange services.If you have any Thailand currency left, you can exchange it here for Kip. Generally, this counter adheres to the day’s prevailing exchange rates.

Laos Border

At the Laos border, you will find several ATM machines for your convenience. If needed, withdraw money and then proceed to window number 1 to fill out the available form for your Laos Visa on Arrival (in case you didn’t arrange an e-visa beforehand). At this window, you will pay for your visa and provide them with 1 passport size photo, along with your passport, which must have at least 2 empty pages.

woman doing visa on arrival to cross thailand to laos border in Chiang Khong

After a while, your name will be called, and you can approach window number 2 to pick up your passport and proceed to immigration control.

At this border you have the option of paying for your Laos Visa on Arrival with Dollars, Euros, Kips or Bahts. Nevertheless, to pay in either Dollars or Euros, the bills need to be immaculate, as if they came out of the printer 2 seconds ago, or they will be denied.

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Songthaew to Huay Xai Pier

Welcome to Laos! Next step: get a ticket to the boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.

But first: Dodge the scammers! As soon as you cross the border control, you will be approached by people telling you that the boat is about to leave, offering special price packages, and so on. It is not true, don’t panic. Smile and keep walking up to the songthaews (converted pickup trucks that function as taxis).

Negotiate your price to Huay Xai Pier, a reasonable value is usually around €2 per person. As soon as they have about 4 people, the songthaew leaves.

Ticket for the Luang Prabang Slow Boat

The songthaew will stop right in front of the Huay Xai Pier ticket office. It is finally time to secure your ticket for the famous Laos slow boat to Luang Prabang.

Purchase the slow boat 2-day ticket, which has a night stopover in Pak Beng. The price is 300000 Kip (€16), and there is one departure a day at 11.30am.

slow boat ticket office to go from Huay Xai Pier to Luang Prabang

Your ticket comes with an assigned seat, but usually there are more tickets sold than there are actual seats on the boat, so make sure you don’t leave boarding the boat for the last second.

At the pier, you will find a mini market and some sandwich stands offering reasonably priced options. Get yourself some snacks and lunch, as you will only arrive at Pak Beng in the evening.

buying food at Huay Xai Pier for the slow boat journey to luang prabang

Mekong River Slow Boat

Some important things to keep in mind regarding the slow boat to Luang Prabang:

2 Boats: There are two types of slow boats. Which one you get is a matter of luck and the number of tickets sold. One has power plugs, tables, and wood seats, the other has loose car seats with little to no legroom. Guess which one we got!

Where to Sit: If you have a choice, try to sit in the front part of the boat. The motor is in the back and not only is it extremely loud, but it also shakes the floor of the surrounding area (an immersive experience you might call it).

F&B: Cold beer and small snacks are sold on board. Nevertheless, expect slightly inflated prices.

Toilet: There is one, but, friendly advice – if you need to use it, do it at the start of the trip or hold on until you arrive.

Schedule: Chances are the slow boat will depart later than scheduled, so be flexible.

Environment: Your journey will highly depend on the crowd on board, but usually, there is a very chill environment where people start to talk to each other right away, share experiences, sing and even dance. If you are looking for 2 days of zen meditation down the Mekong River, you will probably be disappointed. But think positive, you might find some fantastic people with whom to share stories with, and time will fly by.

slow boat to luang prabang full of people

Please be respectful to people on board. This is not exclusively a touristic boat to Luang Prabang, and many Laos locals might be on board. Your fun doesn’t have to enter other people's personal space, and you are a guest in this beautiful country, so behave as such💛

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Slow boat to Luang Prabang: Day 1

The journey on the Mekong River slow boat on day one will take around 5-6 hours, with no stops until arriving at Pak Beng. Enjoy the diverse landscapes and observe local communities going about their days along the riverside.

Pak Beng is a small riverside town located in northern Laos. It offers limited accommodation options, but there are several nice local restaurants for your short stay. You can book a room online or upon arrival. At the pier, several people holding signs will be willing to negotiate a good rate, the price will probably be better, but you will need quite a bit of patience. If you book online, there will probably be someone at the pier to pick you up, which will be appreciated after a long trip.

people waiting departure of the slow boat to luang prabang
people boarding a slow boat to luang prabang in pak beng

If you are wondering where to stay in Pak Beng, here are some accommodation suggestions:

Monsavanh Guesthouse Pakbeng best budget hotel in pak beng
Mekong Riverside Lodge best hotel in pak beng
Le Grand Pakbeng Pakbeng best luxury hotel in pak beng

Before going to bed, ensure you arrange some breakfast and lunch for the next day, either at the hotel or somewhere around town.

Slow boat to Luang Prabang: Day 2

On day two, expect around 7 to 8 hours on the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The boat is usually scheduled for 9.30am, but may vary due to the tides, so check on day 1 with the crew.

Boarding on this day tends to be more chaotic, as people who had bad seats the day before try to arrive early to guarantee front seats. If your seat number didn’t matter much on the first day, it means absolutely nothing now. It is common for the crew to show up with extra car seats last minute to fit more people near the engine. Keep this in mind, and don’t leave boarding for the last second.

people boarding a slow boat to luang prabang in Huay Xai Pier

Another beautiful journey awaits, with muddy water buffalos staring at the passing boat, kids frantically waving and smiling, and magical landscapes surrounded by a beautiful morning mist.

slow boat views in mekong river of a laos family
slow boat views in mekong river of a laos monks
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Luang Prabang Pier

The two-day Laos slow boat journey has finally come to an end! Well, maybe the boat part, but the pier to which you arrive is not exactly in Luang Prabang, but about 2 km from the city.

As soon as you go up the pier stairs with your luggage and get to the main road, you will see dozens of songthaews waiting for you. Stop your urge to run to one of them and negotiate a price. On the right side of the stairs you just climbed, you will see a building. Go inside and buy yourself a songthaew ticket to your hotel. If you negotiate with the driver, he will always charge you more.

slow boat crossing mekong river during sunset in Luang Prabang

Tell the driver the name of your hotel (sometimes it needs some insisting or they just drop everyone in the center and call it a day), and as soon as the vehicle is full, off you go! If you still don’t have a hotel in Luang Prabang, here are some recommendations for you:

La Casa Hostel best budget friendly hotel in luang prabang
Baan Pila best hotel in Luang Prabang Laos
Rosewood Luang Prabang best luxury hotel

Laos Visa Types

You need a Laos visa to enter the country, unless you have a passport from one of the 16 exempt countries. Most European countries are not on this list. The visa is valid for a stay of up to 30 days.

Kid monk in a Laos temple in Luang Prabang

To enter Laos your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended stay.

Laos Visa on arrival

Passport holders from most countries can obtain a visa on arrival, but this service is not available in all the border crossing points. The border mentioned in this guide is the Friendship Bridge (Chiang Khong/Huay Xai), where this option is available.

Cost: $40

Laos Electronic visa

Citizens of about 160 countries can apply for a Laos eVisa online prior to their trip. The process might take more than a week to be approved. Once you receive the approval letter, you have a maximum of 60 days to enter the country, or it expires.

The official Laos e-visa website: https://laoevisa.gov.la/

Cost: $50

Always double-check this information prior to your trip, as visa requirements change often.

Laos Slow Boat: Solo or Tour

You can do the Thailand to Laos border crossing solo or with the support of a tour operator. The latter option is more expensive, but they arrange every step of the way for you. Some packages even include meals, accommodation, and activities along the way.

Make sure to double check in detail what your tour includes. Some tours provide access to private slow boats, while others require sharing boats with independent travelers. In the latter case, if the tour group arrives when the boat is already full, there is the chance you won’t have a proper seat.

So, you might ask, why go solo? We could play the “adventure card”, but the main reason is cost. If cost is not a decisive factor for you, then travel comfortably with an all-inclusive Huay Xai to Luang Prabang cruise*.

The entire journey solo is approximately €23

The tours range from €60 to €800

(Visa not included in any of them)

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Best Time for the Laos Slow Boat Journey

While the best time to visit Laos will depend on your preferences and the activities you have in mind, crossing the border from Thailand to Laos by land and reaching Luang Prabang by slow boat is generally more pleasant between November and February. This is the dry season, and there is little to no rainfall or humidity.

March to May is also doable, provided you can cope well with high temperatures.

Mekong river surroundings views from a slow boat to Luang Prabang

This is a 2 day land and river journey, so good weather is essential for a smooth experience.

Planning Time

If you are ready to start planning your next trip, here you have all the usefull links you need to make it happen! By using them you are supporting our work as we might get a small fee from it. But hey! You pay the same (or might even get a discount), so is a win-win situation!

This applies to all the links in this website marked with a *

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