When we think of Southeast Asia’s many crowning jewels, the Thai city of Chiang Mai and the Lao town of Luang Prabang are definitely near the top of that list. Though they differ in scale and size, both places are known for their beautiful temples, gorgeous greenery, and that spark of old-world charm that’s rarely found in modern day. The routes between these two hot-spot destinations are frequently traveled, so there are a few different ways to get from A to B. Consider your budget, time allowances, and comfort needs – and choose what works best for you. Read on for your transportation guide from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang.
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang: Ground Travel
There are plenty of reasons to choose ground transport over air travel. You’re not looking at the scenery from afar; you’re immersed in it. It’s not merely the interlude between destinations, it is its own unique travel experience. You’ll encounter new people, sights, and sounds along the way that you’d completely miss out on if you traveled by plane. And don’t they say you should enjoy the journey and not just the destination?
Ground travel is also kinder to your budget and let’s not forget, kinder to the planet. To stay green and keep your carbon footprint minimal, bus or boat is unarguably the best way to go.
If you’re considering this option, keep in mind that there is no direct trip from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. The second half of the trip can be made by either boat or bus, but the first half must be made by bus. Before traveling to Luang Prabang, you must first cross the border from Thailand to Laos, and make your way to the Laos border town of Huay Xai, also known as Bokeo. Most buses and boats heading for Luang Prabang depart from Huay Xai.
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang: Day 1
On your first day of travel, your goal is simple: get to Chiang Khong, the Thai border town. The trip will take 5.5 – 6.5 hours by bus, and will cost you between $10–$20, depending on what type of bus you take. The Express buses are cheaper, but the VIP buses are far more comfortable, offering food, snacks, and in-vehicle bathrooms. Book your tickets for this trip on 12go.asia.
Once you arrive at Chiang Khong, we advise staying a night. There’s still a long journey ahead of you, and there are plenty of hostels and guesthouses in the area. You also have the option to go ahead to Huay Xai and stay overnight there, but Chiang Khong is well-known to offer better accommodation. We recommend Baan Tammila or Namkhong Guesthouse.
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang: Day 2
Your goals on Day 2 are to cross the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge into Laos (easily done by bus or tuk-tuk), get to Huay Xai, and continue on with your chosen method of transport.
Since you’re crossing the Thai-Laos border, it is important that you have everything you need to apply for a visa, if passport holders from your country need one. Check this page to see if you need a visa for Laos. If you do, make sure to bring $30-40 in cash and a 2 x 2 visa photo.
Once you arrive in Huay Xai, congratulations! You can now choose how you’d like to continue on to Luang Prabang.
Bus from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
Buses for Luang Prabang depart from the Keo Champa bus terminal in Huay Xai. We recommend getting your tickets through a guesthouse or at the bus terminal. The bus departs at 10 AM at 4 PM, and one ticket costs $15. Expect to be on the bus for 12 hours or more. The duration of the journey is highly dependent on how many stops are made.
Boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
A popular way to travel to Luang Prabang is by boat. Travelers have the option of taking a luxury cruise for extra comfort or the more cost-effective but equally efficient slow-boat.
To break up the long trip, a stopover in Pakbeng will be made before travel is resumed the next day. Most boat services will arrange accommodation in Pakbeng for you but always double-check.
This method of travel can be a great experience, so all backpackers who are willing to add more time to their journey should absolutely give it a go.
Slow Boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
This is by far the most popular method of transport to Luang Prabang. Boats depart at 11:00 but travelers should try to get there a half-hour or full hour early to reserve the best seat.
The most trusted and inexpensive place to purchase your ticket is at the official ticket office by the boat landing in Huay Xai. On your way to Huay Xai, you’ll likely encounter many people offering to sell you a boat ticket, but they’ll often be overpriced and on rare occasions, a scam. At the ticket office, you can expect to pay $25 for one ticket.
Luxury Cruise from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
If your budget is more flexible than most, then the luxury cruise is an irresistible option. These reservations are easily made online. For more affordable luxury, Shompoo Cruise offers a two-day cruise and accommodation for one-night (including breakfast) in Pakbeng for $245 per traveler.
If you’re looking for a little more glitz on your luxury cruise, Luang Say Lodges & Cruises offers the same journey for $443–$634, depending on the season. When two reservations are made at the same time, a discount is available.
Air Travel from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
The most stress-free way to travel between the two cities is by plane. There is one direct flight every day, either with Lao Airlines or Bangkok Airways. The flight is easy, breezy, taking approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. The cost of a single ticket varies seasonally, but you can expect to pay between $77 – $191. Fortunately for travelers, tickets do not need to be booked in advance; tickets booked only a few days before travel are still very affordable.
Mad Monkey Insider Tips:
- It is also possible to travel to Luang Prabang by speedboat, but we do not recommend this method of transport due to the dangers and inevitable discomfort of passengers.
- If you’re traveling by bus, we do not advise accepting help with booking accommodation or boat tickets at the Thai-Laos border. There are known scams that occur at this crossing.
More information about how to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
Did you find this article about how to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang useful? Are you looking for other travel routes to get from Thailand to Laos? Then check out these other articles we’ve rounded up for your reading pleasure!
- How to Travel to Laos from Laos Adventures
- Getting From Chiang Mai to Laos by Greg Rodgers from TripSavvy
- Crossing the Border from Thailand to Laos by Carly Asia from Travelographie
- Bangkok to Laos by Bus: Routes, Timetable, Pricing & Visa Information from The Thailand Life
- Navigating the Friendship Bridge from Thailand to Laos from TravelFish
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