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Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang

July 15, 2012

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Getting from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang is not that difficult, although no source I found on the internet describes the route that I took. There is a lot of conflicting information at Lonely Planet, Travelfish, and Wikitravel, so I’m writing this post to help anyone who is looking to get from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang.

A lot of people head to Laos from Chiang Mai. A number of transit packages are available, but from my research they seem to be overpriced. I recommend taking one of the frequent buses from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, which takes about three hours. Chiang Rai is a nice town in its own right, with plenty to see and do. Cheap accommodation is abundant near the old bus terminal.

From Chiang Rai’s old bus terminal (Bus Terminal 1, the one downtown), there are frequent buses leaving for the border at Chiang Khong. In fact, they leave every half hour from 6 a.m. until around 4 p.m. Bus terminal workers will automatically assume that all foreign travelers are looking for this bus, so it’s easy to find. No need to buy tickets in advance, you can buy them on the bus, and they cost 65 baht. I took the 2:30 bus, but if you want to get to Luang Prabang the quickest and cheapest way, you should probably leave Chiang Rai at 1:00 or 1:30.

Once in Chiang Khong, the pier is quite far from then bus station, so you will need to take a tuk-tuk. These have a fixed rate of 30 baht, so the drivers shouldn’t try to rip you off.

Next up, clear Thai immigration, which took no time at all. From here, walk to a nearby boat (40 baht) which crosses the Mekong to the Lao border at Huay Xai.

Getting through Lao immigration took me about an hour. There are forms to fill out, and you will need one passport sized picture (yep, just one) and American dollars to pay for a visa. Americans pay $35, Canadians $42 (hah!) and most European nationalities payed $30 or $35.

From the Lao border, there are a few choices to get to Luang Prabang. Most common is the two-day long slow boat, which was what I planned to take. The slow boat leaves at 11 a.m. from what I was told, so it would be possible to wake up early in Chiang Rai and catch it. There are also speedboats that take 6 hours to get to Luang Prabang, but they are quite expensive. I happened to get into town shortly before an overnight bus left, so I decided to take this bus on the fly. The bus ticket cost 700 baht, and it included a transfer to the bus station. It was hardly a luxury bus, so if you can get ahold of some sleeping pills life will be easier.

The reason I suggested leaving Chiang Rai at 1 or 1:30 is that the overnight bus usually leaves at 5. It was running late the day I was there, so it left a bit after 6. The bus takes 12-14 hours.

Overall, I made it from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in around 19 hours, and it cost a total of 835 baht. Lots of travel agents in Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong sell a transit package for 1100-1500 baht, but as you can see this is quite a rip-off.

To recap:
-Bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong – 65 baht, two hours, leaving every half hour.
-Tuk tuk taxi from the bus to the border – 30 baht, 5 minutes, on demand.
-Boat across the Mekong – 40 baht, 5 minutes, on demand but closes at 5 p.m.
-VIP overnight bus from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang – 700 baht, 12-14 hours, 5 p.m but may leave late.
-From the Luang Prabang bus terminal, there are plenty of tuk tuks into town, and the bus station is quite far from the city center so this is really the only option. I split with three other people, and it cost us 40,000 kip, which is roughly five U.S. dollars.

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From → Laos, Thailand

39 Comments
  1. Michelle L. permalink

    Oh my god, thank you SO MUCH!

    I am now working near Chiang Rai and looking to visit Laos and I found the travel information quite complicated… not anymore!! I’m planning on leaving Chiang Rai Saturday morning, hope it’s going to be as easy as you made it sound!

    Do you have any suggestions as to hotels, activities, etc?

    Thanks again for this post, it’s exactly what I was looking for ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hey Michelle, thanks for reading. In Luang Prabang, I stayed at a place called Inthasak, right by Wat Manorom (all the drivers know the wat). It was nice, cheap, had wifi, but it’s a little far from the center of town, 10-15 minutes on foot. Definitely check out the waterfall near LP. Everybody and their brother sells tours to it. I paid 50,000 kip (200 baht) for a minivan out and back. In Laos, I loved Luang Prabang, and I liked Vientiane a lot more than I thought I would. Plain of Jars was cool too, but about 7 hours off the usual LP-VV-Vientiane circuit. There were a few other northern places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. Southern Laos was cool too, but probably only worth venturing to if you’re on your way to Cambodia.

      • Michelle L. permalink

        Great, thanks for the suggestions ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thank you so much for writing the post! It’s been so hard to find this info! Were you happy with the overnight bus to LP – Or do you recommend taking the slow boat? Do you know anything about safety on the slowboat?

    • Hey, thanks for commenting. The overnight bus was definitely not comfortable. It’s not a sleeper, just a normal bus. The main advantage was that the bus got me to LP 2 days sooner than the boat would have. I haven’t heard anything about the slow boat being unsafe, just potentially hot and crowded.

  3. Tim permalink

    thanks this was helpful. i also did notice that it’s 700 baht or 180,000 kip from Huay Xui including transfer if you book at one of the agencies, but a tuk-tuk to the bus station is 10,000 and i think if you buy the ticket there it is 145,000 kip. so one could save a little if they did it on their own, but just a few bucks.

    overall, this was definitely helpful. the LP seems to assume everyone will take the boat, and the internet was short on info, so thanks.

  4. erwin wijaya permalink

    i am erwin..is that trus from chiang rai to LP need 2 days? i have a plan go to LP from chiang rai by bus..need some information about that..thx

    • it’s a hike. I went from CR to the border in a couple hours as described, then took an overnight bus to LP. all told, about 17 hours on the road. good luck!

  5. Yzabellune permalink

    Wow!!! That’s what I need!!
    I’m dying of preparing a good cross from Thailand to Laos!! But you do help me out!!
    I’m leaving from chiang mai to chiang rai and will do like what you advised!

    Thank you soo much!!!
    I hope I could do it easily like you ๐Ÿ™‚

    But I think I’ll leave early and wait ha ha better than the bus left me ๐Ÿ™‚

    Again, thank you!

  6. Egle permalink

    Hey, what about day bus from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang? Thanks!

  7. Mefo-bill permalink

    Good posting. But my concern is that is it possible to make booking for a VIP or Slow boat trip from Chiang mai to Luang Prabang online and use it as on going ticket when comign to Thailand with 30 days stamp?

    As you may know the immigration/Airline may ask passenger to present ongoing ticket before boarding. That rule is very annoying as if I want to use over land routes and not flying.

    Do AYA services make such booking you can use as on going ticket?

    • I have no idea if you can book online. I have flown into BKK without on ongoing ticket a couple of times and never had any trouble. Worst case scenario – the airline will make you buy a ticket online before issuing a boarding pass. Just buy the cheapest refundable ticket available and cancel it after you get to Thailand. This has only happened to me once, flying out of Hanoi. Details of that are in my Hanoi post.

  8. Thank you thank you thank you for detailed description. Hope this route still works in 2013!!

  9. Thank you SO MUCH! I have been googling how to get from Chang Mai to Luang Prabang for over an hour now. Finally some good advice! So if I leave Change Mai early in the day and then get the 1pm bus from Chang Rai, I should be able to get on the overnight sleeper bus to Luang Prabang?

  10. Hey Jaehak,
    this is awesome! Thanks so much for putting all these details online. My boyfriend and I are doing this trip in a couple of days and while people have put lots of helpful stuff on blogs and forums, there are often a few gaps. We Brits really appreciate you putting up the cost of stuff for Europeans and the specific bus times etc.

    Happy travels,
    Alice

  11. Julie Starc permalink

    Great info Jaehak. could you tell me what the bus trip from LP to Vienienne was like. I hear the bus’s bottom hangs out over cliffs and is really scary?

    • I didn’t go straight to Vientiane on the bus. I took a minivin from LP to Phonsavan, then another van to VV, then a bus to Vientiane. The roads are definitely precarious, even in a van.

  12. Thanks mate, this was exactly what I was looking for ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. jenn permalink

    Thanks so much for this valuable info. I love how you present the details with great organization. How many days do you recommend in LP?

    • Whoops, just saw this comment. Thanks for the props. I spent 4 days in LP, which felt about right. I spent a lot of time writing at riverside cafรฉs though, most people probably stay 3.

  14. This is exactly what I planned to do, but instead of the bus I was gonna take the slow boat.
    Was the bus ride too terrible? I’m traveling with a friend that suffers from motion sickness, she has her medicine and all but doesn’t want to be knocked out (which is what happens when you take it) And I should add that I changed my schedule a little so I could really use the extra day in Luang Prabang if I arrive in the morning of the next day rather than the evening.

    • It’s definitely a pretty rough bus. It’s overnight and it is not a sleeper, just regular seats. Anywhere you travel in Northern Laos will involve twisty mountain roads. Honestly, if I had full knock-out meds on me at the time, I would have definitely used them. It’s a long ride.

      • Michael permalink

        Hey Jaehak,
        Brilliant stuff! I’ve leave Chiang Mai for Chiang Rai in a couple of days before heading into Laos.
        Your description is just what I was looking for! 👍
        You don’t have to book the bus ticket before hand or anything? Just show up and buy it at the station?
        Take care buddy.

  15. atul kulkarni permalink

    Thanks for your blog,, it really has helped us in planning the trip even though we plan to go from LP to CR..

  16. Kate permalink

    This post (though 3 years old already) couldn’t have come at a better time so thanks for this! was the bus from the border to LP air-conditioned? just to prepare myself if i need a mask or not and maybe a handful of facial wipes. thanks in advance!

    • I don’t remember. I think it was because I don’t recall heat being an issue.

  17. Nicole Lightfoot permalink

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! This is exactly the info I’ve been looking for ((: Any suggestions on how to get to Siem Reap from Vientiane?

  18. Patrick KL permalink

    We took the overland VIP bus from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Nov 2014 and it costs us 950baht. There were not many passengers, I noticed only 7 of us, mostly are tourists. The locals are not keen to use this bus maybe it’s more expensive.

    The bus waited us at the Huoy Sai immigration office to clear the custom. Itโ€™s rather relaxed as I didn’t see them checking our luggage or begs whatsoever.
    http://YouthToEarn.com/?ref=34980

    The bus stopped over at Luang Namtha bus station for dinner at about 6:30pm. There weren’t many choices there but that was the only stop for foods, it’s better to get some bite here.

    We arrived at Oudomxay about 10pm. From Oudomxay onwards the road conditions were really bad, mostly unpaved, bus can only go slowly on the bumpy road. I donโ€™t think one can really sleep on this bumpy journey. The distance between Oudomxay and Luang Prabang is just about 200km but it took us another 6 hours! We finally arrived at the Naluang Station next to the Southern Bus Station, Luang Prabang at about 4am.

    No many tuk tuks around as the whole town was still under curfew at this hour. We bargained with the driver and settled with 15k kip per person. There are 7 of us on one tuk tuk heading to the town center.

    http://YouthToEarn.com/?ref=34980

    • Brenfd permalink

      Hello, I’ll be having a trip from Chiang Rai To Luang Prabang 2 weeks from now. Just a few queries, How long will it take a VIP bus to get to LP from CR? Where do you buy the bus ticket ? Will u purchase the ticket at least a day before your travel date? What time will the bus depart from CR? Thank you.

      • Hey. I answered most of your questions in the post, but it’s totally outdated. There’s a bridge over the Mekong now, so I imagine it’s possible to take a single bus from CR to LP, whereas it wasn’t in 2012. No idea what the schedule is nowadays though. Thanks for the comment. Have a great trip!

  19. Rodrigo permalink

    Man, I am on Chiang Rai now and your informations were really useful, thank you for sharing!

  20. laura permalink

    All I need! Thanks, great post.

  21. Brenfd permalink

    This is very informative, thank you for posting. I’ll be going to Laos from Chiang Rai this Oct 1, hopefully your information will be of great help since I’m traveling alone. Justa few queries though: 1. How far does the bus station of Chiang Rai from Wat Rong Khun? (White Temple)?. 2. Does the overnight bus going to LP have sleeper? Or just a regular bus?. And 3. Does the overnight bus always leave at 5+pm? Do they have other schedule?
    Thank you so much.

    • Brenfd permalink

      Sorry, i missed to read your reply from my previous comment above. But anyway, thank you, really appreciate it. I guess i have to check that single bus from CR to LP then.. Many thanks..

  22. Sam a permalink

    This helped me out heaps, thanks. Just did this yesterday (Jan 2017) and it is a little dated now that the friendship bridge 4 has been built, itinerary I took below.

    -13:00 Bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong โ€“ 65 baht, two hours, leaving every half hour.
    -Tuk tuk taxi from the bus to the border โ€“ 50 baht, 5 minutes, on demand.
    -Bus across the Mekong friendship bridge โ€“ 25 baht, 5 minutes, on demand but closes at 5 p.m.
    -Tuk tuk taxi from the Laos immigration to bus station, 100 baht, 5 minutes, on demand.
    -16: 00 VIP overnight bus from Huay Xai to Louang Prabang โ€“ 600 baht, 12-14 hours, 4 p.m but may leave late.
    -04:00 From the Luang Prabang bus terminal, tuk tuks 250baht, 10 minutes, on demand.

    Hope this helps, safe travels!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Bag Packed 2 « Jaehak's Megatrip
  2. Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang | AliceAdventurez
  3. Day 93-94: Getting to Laos | 195days0fsummer

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