Slow Boat to Laos: Travel Tips & Planning Guide
Have some time to kill? Don’t want to spend money flying to Laos? Or hell, just like the idea of enjoying the journey? Well then this is your read! We’re here to tell you all about the slow boat to Laos from Thailand.
From ticket prices to boat times, we have a comprehensive travel guide to make sure your slow boat trip to Luang Prabang goes off without a hitch! So, without further ado, all aboard!! (corny line absolutely had to be be inserted).
Slow Boat to Laos: Travel Tips & Planning Guide
How Long is the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
In order to get to Luang Prabang, you’ll start from your journey from Huay Xai, Laos. The slow boat journey takes 2 days in total.
One night is spent in Pakbeng and the actual time you’ll spend on the boat is about 15 hours or so, broken up between two days.
What’s The Slow Boat to Laos Schedule Like
The slow boat leaves from Huay Xai pier, daily at 11 am and arrives in the village of Pakbeng around 6pm in the evening. Pakbeng is where you will have dinner and stay the night.
The next morning, you’ll depart Pakbeng around 9:00am and cruise the remaining leg of your journey until you reach Luang Prabang. The slow boat will dock and let you unload just outside of the Luang Prabang’s city center around 5:30 pm / 6pm.
From here, you will need to pay for a tuk-tuk to reach the city center of Luang Prabang.
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How Much is The Slow Boat to Laos?
The prices for the 2-day slow boat to Laos will differ depending on where you are coming from in Thailand. If you are in Thailand, please understand you’ll need to be coming from northern Thailand to make the slow boat journey to Luang Prabang.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang – $45.00 USD
The closest of the three options is Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is about 100kms / 62 miles from the border crossing towns of Chiang Khong, Thailand and Huay Xai, Laos.
The ride takes around 2 hours to reach the Thai / Laos border.
Between 6:30 am – 7 am you will get picked up from your accommodation in Chiang Rai. Once in the mini-van, you’ll cruise 2-hours to Chiang Khong, which is the closest Thai town to Laos.
From Chiang Khong, you’ll cross the border into Laos where you’ll be shuttled across Friendship Bridge to Huay Xai. This is where the slow boat leaves from.
Around 10:30am, you should make your way to the slow boat to grab your seats. Seats are not assigned so it’s first come first serve.
Around 11am, the slow boat will leave Huay Xai and so begins the 2-day journey to Luang Prabang.
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang – $52.00 USD
Leaving from Chiang Mai will add a day onto your 2-day slow boat journey – a total of three days to reach Luang Prabang.
From Chiang Mai, you’ll get picked up around 10am from your Chiang Mai accommodation. Once in the mini-van, you’ll drive 4 hours to Chiang Khong. It is here, in Chiang Khong, where you will spend the rest of your day and the night.
The next morning, you will be picked up around 8:00am – 8:30am where you’ll be taken to the Thai / Laos border. You’ll get stamped out of Thailand and be shuttled across the border into Huay Xai, Laos.
Once in Huay Xai, you’ll board the 2-day slow boat to Luang Prabang, which leaves at 11am.
7 Things You Must Experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Pai to Luang Prabang – $55.00 USD
This is a long journey and if possible, we recommend breaking up your journey from Pai to Luang Prabang. If you can spend a few days in Chiang Mai and then leave for Luang Prabang, that is the ideal way to do it.
However, if that’s not possible, your journey from Pai to Luang Prabang will go a little something like this.
Your transfer will pick you up from your Pai accommodation around 6pm and from here, you’ll drive the 8 hours to the border town of Chiang Khong where you’ll arrive around 2am.
You’ll sleep for a few hours before your transfer picks you up around 8am – 8:30am to begin your 2-day slow boat journey to Laos.
Just like the above, you’ll get stamped out of Thailand, shuttled across the Thai/Laos border and end up in Huay Xai where you’ll board the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
Laos Itinerary: The Best Places to Visit in Laos
Booking Your Slow Boat Ride from Thailand to Laos
Booking With a Tour Agency:
Regardless where you decide to start your journey, you can book your ticket for the slow boat to Laos through your accommodation or tour agency in town.
We started our journey from Chiang Rai and booked the 2-day slow boat to Laos through our accommodation, Mercy Hostel. We booked our trip 2 days prior to our desired departure date and had no issues securing a spot.
Doing The Trip Solo:
For those of you looking to not book through an agency or your accommodation, that is totally fine and doable. Our only tip is to make sure you have an extra two days allotted for this trip.
For instance, you’ll need to coordinate your own way (via local bus) to Chiang Khong a day or two before your desired departure date and allow yourself enough time to cross the border yourself.
Once in Laos, head to the Huay Xai Pier where you can haggle and book directly with boat operators.
Doing it yourself will take more effort on your part but will end up being a bit cheaper than booking with your accommodation or a tour agency.
Backpacking Laos: Budget, Travel Tips & Planning Guide
What Does my Slow Boat to Laos Ticket Include
When booking your slow boat ticket through your accommodation or tour agency, be sure the below is included in the ticket price….
- Transfer from your accommodation to Thailand / Laos Border (Thai Immigration Office)
- Transfer from Thai Immigration Office to Laos Immigration Office
- Transfer from Laos Immigration Office to Huay Xai Pier
- 2-day slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang
- Overnight accommodation in Pakbeng
If you need to stay in Chiang Khong the night before your slow boat departure, make sure you have a clear understanding if that accommodation is included in your ticket price or not.
Also, the accommodations you will be stay at are basic. If you are looking for something a little more “not-basic” ask the tour operator to set you up in a nicer accommodation but understand, nicer accommodations will add more to your ticket price.
Food, drink and Laos visa fee are not included in ticket prices for the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
Check out “9 Amazing Things To Do In Laos”
Border Crossing From Thailand Into Huay Xai, Laos
We’re going to give you a play by play on what the process and morning looks like once you arrive in Chiang Khong.
As a reminder, Chiang Khong is the Thai side of the Thai / Laos border crossing and the first part of your journey in getting to Luang Prabang from Thailand.
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Chiang Khong, Thailand Border Crossing
After you’ve made it to Chiang Khong, you’ll get stamped out of Thailand at the Thai Immigration office. From here, you’ll board a waiting bus that will drive you over “Friendship Bridge.”
Once you across the bridge, give yourself a big pat on the back, because you are officially in Laos – Welcome to Laos!
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR BAGS! We had a few friends get into a little argument with the locals. A few local guys offered to carry our friends bags – and by carrying them we mean carrying them a mere 15 feet – and expected money for “their hard work”. In all the chaos of bordering crossings, just be mindful of your things and know that if anyone offers help, they are looking for money.
Huay Xai, Laos Border Crossing
Once across Friendship Bridge, the bus will stop and let you out and the Laos Immigration Office. You’ll be handed some visa paperwork where you will fill out on the spot.
Once the paperwork is complete, get in line and wait for your turn.
The Immigration Officer will summon you up to the window where you will hand over your paperwork, your visa fee ($35 Dollars – Must be Paid in US Dollars) and your passport.
The process takes around 15 – 20 minutes and is a fairly seamless process, if we do say so ourselves. From here, you are officially stamped into Laos and will be taken via songthaew (Laos tuk-tuk truck) to Huay Xai Pier.
Border Crossing Tips
BOARDER TIP 1: Border officials may give you a hard time about taking and using Thai Bhat to pay for your Laos Vida. To avoid any hassle at the border, be sure to have your US Dollars ready to go ahead of time!
BORDER TIP 2: The ATMs at the border are sketchy and when we crossed, we’re out of order. Also, try and have the exact amount needed for your Laos Visa. You’d be surprised that people seem to miraculously run out of change 🙂 We got screwed out of a few dollars when we crossed the border, so happily learn from our mistakes!
Boarding The Slow Boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang
Once at the From Huay Xai pier, you’ll wait to board the 2-day slow boat to Luang Prabang. While you are waiting, if you need a refill on snacks, water and beer, this is your time to do so!
YOU SHOULD buy snacks, water and beer for your slow boat journey in Huay Xai. Why? Prices on the boat for these items cost twice as much as they do in the Laos border town of Huay Xai.
After you’ve stocked up, it’s time to board the slow boat! The slow boat to Laos is basic – no AC or fans and the seats themselves are old seats that have been yanked from cars. There is not much leg room but all in all, a comfortable fit.
If you really needed more room, the seats aren’t bolted down so you can adjust accordingly 🙂
SEATING TIP: By no circumstances should you willing sit by the engine. You will get smoked out and fumigated to death. Get to the boats as early as you can and claim your seat. Fight to the death if you must – but do not sit by the engine room.
Slow Boat to Laos – Day 1
Our first day, we sailed along the Mekong with awesome views for about 7 hours. The ride is pretty but boring. You have loads of time to take a nap, catch up on journaling or do whatever you damn well please.
After 7 hours and as the sun began to set, we reached our destination for the night, Pakbeng, at about 6:00pm that evening. Pakbeng is a small Laos village that caters to the overnighters from the Mekong River slow boat cruise.
We settled into our accommodation and had an awesome meal alongside the river.
Slow Boat to Laos – Day 2
Set your alarm to give you plenty of time to eat breakfast and get to the docks early to again, get your seat as far away from the engine as possible.
Day two is pretty much just like day one. You sail for about 8 hours and are offered great views of the river.
It’s super chill and can get boring at times. Make sure you have your podcasts up to date, a good book ready or a group of friends who like to drink and play cards to help you pass the time.
You see a lot of stunning views like these…
Arriving in Luang Prabang
Around 5:30pm, you’ll arrive and dock on the outskirts of Luang Prabang.
You’ll quickly learn the port is far from the city center and a tuk-tuk ride is really your only option unless you want to walk a good walk (an hour, if not more).
Everyone will get off the boat, grab their bags and climb a bit of a hill to reach the road. Once at the road, you’ll need to get in the queue to book a tuk-tuk.
FYI – you must go through the tuk-tuk queue to get a ride into Luang Prabang. The tuk-tuk driver won’t take you to the city center of Luang Prabang unless you have a ticket or are willing to pay them more.
These tickets are non-negotiable, believe us we tried.
You are assigned a tuk-tuk and will wait for it to fill up with passengers before you head off to Luang Prabang. It’s about a 20-25-minute ride till the tuk-tuk drops you off in the city center, not at your own hotel.
Try to plan your accommodation as close to the city center as possible so you can walk versus having to get another tuk-tuk to take you to your Luang Prabang accommodation.
Is The Slow Boat to Laos Worth It
So, here’s the thing, we always feel weird giving you an answer to questions like these solely for the fact that we are not you and we have no idea what you like or what your tolerance level is when it comes to travel.
For us, we loved the slow boat to Laos. We loved sitting back, chilling and watching the views of rural Laos life go by from the boat. We were in no hurry nor were we under any time constraints to get to Luang Prabang from Thailand.
If you are in a hurry or realized the slow boat is not for you, there are other ways to get to Laos from Thailand. Consider flying or taking a bus from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang.
The days are long and do get a bit boring but all in all, we loved the 2-day journey on the Mekong River.
Where To Stay in Luang Prabang Laos
For The Budget Conscious: From a pool to shared and private rooms and epic location, Little Freedom Friendlys Place is a a great spot to stay while in Luang Prabang.
For The Luxury Inclined: Maison Dalabua is surrounded by lotus ponds, has amazing Laotian-styled modern rooms and an exceptional staff. It’s impossible to not have an amazing stay while at Maison Dalabua.
For Something In Between: Location, location, location. Mekong Sunset View Hotel is walkable to all of Luang Prabang’s must see attractions. Also, not to mentions the rooms are great and some have balconies that overlook the river.
For more places to stay in Luang Prabang, you can check out the latest places and prices here.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)