While you could easily book an hour flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai for less than $200, there’s something romantic about traveling the same distance over land and water. Although a slow boat in combination with a bus will take you close to three days to get from Laos to Thailand, you will save a third of the cost AND witness the true beauty of Laos by boat on the Mekong River.
In August 2019, I made the journey from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai via slow boat and bus ride. The boat ride will get you to the Thai border, and a bus will take you the rest of the way to Chang Rai, Chiang Mai, Pai, or beyond. Below, find a complete step-by-step guide on how to travel from Laos to Thailand by slow boat including a complete itinerary, prices, and recommendations.
Right off the bat, you can expect to pay around $60 USD total to travel from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Rai, Thailand. This price estimate includes the cost of slow boat tickets, tuk tuks, border crossing fees, lodging, and bus tickets for a solo traveller. This does not include food.
|Expense||Local Currency||US Dollars|
|Tuk tuk to Luang Prabang Slow Boat Terminal||50,000 kip||$5.75|
|Slow boat to Pak Beng||100,000 kip||$11.51|
|One night at Pak Beng hotel||90,000 kip||$10.36|
|Slow boat to Huay Xai||110,000 kip||$12.66|
|Tuk tuk to Laos Immigration Office||20,000 kip||$2.30|
|Overtime fee at Laos Immigration Office||10,000 kip||$1.15|
|Bus across Chiang Khong-Huay Xai Friendship Bridge||10,000 kip||$1.15|
|Tuk tuk to Huay Xai hotel||100 baht||$3.24|
|One night at Huay Xai hotel||200 baht||$6.49|
|Bus to Chiang Rai||65 baht||$2.11|
Note: While the route below is for travel from Laos to Thailand, this itinerary in reverse will also work from Thailand to Laos.
1. Slow Boat from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng
The slow boat terminal is inconveniently located 20 minutes outside of central Luang Prabang, just north of the airport along the Mekong River. While your mileage may vary depending on the size of your travel group, I paid 50,000 kip for a private tuk tuk from Luang Prabang to the slow boat terminal.
You’ll find the boat ticket office prominently located next the the riverbank. In my experience, all staff working in the boat office spoke good English. Before buying my slow boat ticket to Pak Beng, I asked if it was possible to also buy the slow boat ticket from Pak Beng to the Thailand border. I was told this is not possible, so I just bought the ticket to Pak Beng for 100,000 kip.
As of 2019, the slow boat departs daily at 8:30 AM. The slow boat I took in August left 15 minutes after scheduled departure at 8:45 AM and arrived around 5:45 PM. In total, the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng took 9 hours.
The slow boat from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng had two rows of wooden tables surrounded by very comfortable seats on either side. The seats appear to be taken right out of a car or bus.
There is a no shoes policy on board the slow boat. Bags are provided for you to put your shoes in. Because of this, I recommend you wear shoes and socks.
At the rear of the slow boat are two private bathrooms with sit-down toilets and paper. In front of that is a sink with soap.
While I recommend you bring a sandwich, fresh fruit, and water on board with you, you do have the option of purchasing food and drinks on board. You’ll be on the boat for around 9 hours, so you’re sure to get hungry. Options for food are limited to noodle soup or potato chips. Drinks include Beerlao, soda, water, tea, and coffee.
Spend the Night in Pak Beng
Once you get off the boat in Pak Beng, locals will try to get you to stay at their hotel. I found that prices for guesthouses tend to decrease the further you walk into town. In either case, you’ll have plenty of lodging options to choose from in Pak Beng.
Prices for a standard room with no air-conditioning cost as low as 40,000 kip. I got my ice-cold A/C room for 90,000 kip at the Thip Phavan Guesthouse which included decent Wi-Fi and free drinking water.
2. Slow Boat from Pak Beng to Huay Xai
Continue your slow boat journey from Laos to Thailand the next morning.
According to my host, the slow boat from Pak Beng to Huay Xai departs daily at 8 AM. There’s no need to buy your slow boat ticket the night before.
Simply show up to the riverbank by 7:45 AM and buy your ticket on board. There will probably be other tourists doing the same as you. Just tell the locals that you want to got to Hauy Xai or the Thailand border, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
The price of a slow boat ticket is 110,000 kip from Pak Beng to Huay Xai.
While the second slow boat was bigger than the first, I preferred the first slow boat. The second slow boat had higher walls which meant you couldn’t sit in your seat and enjoy the views. In order to do this, you had to stand up and look around. Additionally, there were no tables on this slow boat, just similar comfortable chairs.
The same food was available for purchase. Again, what I did was pack a sandwich from the Ounhouan Restaurant and bought some fresh cut pineapple, mangosteen, and rambutan from a fruit lady on my way to the boat.
This leg of the journey took nearly 10 hours as we didn’t arrive in Hauy Xai until 6:45 PM. Although the boat was scheduled to depart at 8 AM, it didn’t leave until around 8:45.
3. Immigration at the Thai–Laos Border
Once you’re off the boat in Hauy Xai, a border town near Thailand, hire a tuk tuk to take you to the Laos Border Control and Immigration Office. This 12 km journey will take around 20 minutes. In a group, it should cost you no more than 20,000 kip per person.
Proceed to the immigration office where you’ll get your passport stamped to exit Laos. Since it’s probably around 7 PM by now, you have to pay a 10,000 kip overtime fee.
Next, you must pay for a 10,000 kip bus ticket to take you across the Chiang Khong-Huay Xai Friendship Bridge. There is no option to cross the bridge by foot. We had to wait a good half hour for the bus to arrive.
Please note that there are a couple of ATMs here that dispense Laos kip. In addition, you can exchange your leftover kip for a fair exchange rate when you buy your bus ticket.
While it was short, I found the bus trip fascinating. Since Laos drives on the right side and Thailand on the left side of the road, there is an interchange on the other side of the bridge where the road switches sides. Keep your eyes peeled—very cool!
The bus will drive a short distance and drop you off at the Chiang Khong Immigration Office. Here, you’ll get your Thailand visa on arrival. I was pleasantly surprised that many countries including the US don’t pay a Thailand visa fee. It’s free for up to 30 days. All you have to do is fill out a tourist immigration form and get your passport stamped.
At this point, you’re officially in Thailand!
Spend the Night in Chiang Khong
Finally, hire yet another tuk tuk to take you into Chiang Khong. An official tuk tuk hire station is positioned as you exit border control. Because it is after hours, a tuk tuk into Chiang Khong costs a flat rate of 100 baht per person. Normally, the rate is 60 baht.
Again, there are ATMs available that dispense Thai baht.
I stayed at Nam Khong Guest House and Resort which has blazing fast internet, a nice pool, and clean facilities. While the standard rate for a room for two without air-conditioning is 200 baht, apparently the rate is only 180 baht on Booking.com. Split the cost of your room with someone from the boat and you’re looking at a 90 baht bungalow.
4. Bus to Chiang Rai
The final step in this journey is to take a bus from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai. The lady running the Nam Khong Resort told me that busses to Chiang Rai depart pretty much every half hour from the local bus station.
Only a 10 minute walk from the Nam Khong Resort, the bus station is located 20 meters off the main road behind some shops. The cost of a bus ticket to Chiang Rai is 65 baht. While the trip should take 2 hours, it ends up taking close to 3 hours because of stops along the way to drop off and pick up.
In Chiang Rai, the bus will drop you off at either Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1 or 2. My bus dropped me off at terminal 1 which was within walking distance of Mercy Hostel, a modern hostel with fast internet, a gym, and shallow pool. A bed in an 8 person dorm costs 200 baht per night.
What About the Fast Boat?
You also have the option of taking a fast boat either to Pak Beng for 175,000 kip or all to way to Huay Xai for 290,000 kip. While you’ll arrive in a fraction of the time, this method of travel is known to be risky. Apparently the captain of the fast boat wears a helmet in case of crashes. For that reason, I recommend taking the slow boat.
I have plenty more Laos travel blog posts here, so check them out. On the other hand, if you’re leaving Laos, read about Thailand here.
Let me know below if you have any questions about the slow boat, Laos, or Thailand travel in general.