How to travel from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang? You have a few options to choose: direct flight, buses, and slow/ speed boats. Let’s discover the best way that fits for your travel interest, your timeframe, and your budget.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang flight
If you want to save time and can afford a flight ticket, choosing to travel by airplane is the fastest way. There is a daily direct flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang for 1 hour & 10 minutes so you can get to Chiang Mai after 3-hour drive only.
The flight is operated by Laos Airlines and Bangkok Airways and it may cost from US$90 to 150/ticket depending on your travel dates.
As the flight may take off in the mid-afternoon in Chiang Mai, you can leave Chiang Rai in the early morning by bus and reach the airport before 13:00 for check-in before taking the flight to Luang Prabang Laos. The landing time is around 16:30 that allows sufficient time for resting and dinner after a busy day with long transfer.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang bus
Getting to Luang Prabang by bus is the cheapest and most comfortable way. The approximate duration is either 2 days or 3 days depending on your choice of sleeper option or direct bus.
The direct bus is highly recommended as you do not need to change the buses and have comfortable sleeper berths and spacious leg space. Price is US$30/ticket with a duration of 18 hours.
To purchase the ticket, you should arrive at the Terminal 2 bus station of Chiang Rai a day before departure to ensure the bus ticket is still available for you, especially in high season from November to March.
There is another way for border crossing from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang but inquires a lot more hop on hop offs. You may experience a few routes as follows:
- Chiang Rai Bus Station Terminal 1 to Chiang Khong for 2 hours
- Chiang Khong to Thai Border by tuk-tuk for 5 minutes
- Thai Immigrations to Laos Immigration by a shuttle bus across the 2 countries
- Laos Border to Bokeo Bus Station in Huay Xai
- From Huay Xai to Luang Prabang for 10-12 hours
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang by boat
Choosing to travel by boat can be a great way to enjoy the amazing river view. There are two options: slow boats and speedboat. Whatever way you choose, the journey may start from Huay Xai side at the speedboat/ slow boat docks. The ways to get from Chiang Rai to Huay Xai is clearly stated above.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang by speedboat
It may take up to 6 hours from Huay Xai slow boat docks to Luang Prabang. You are required to show up at the docks before 11:00 as this boat may depart in the morning and there is no afternoon boat for your schedule.
In the peak season, the slow boat can be overloaded for more than 100 people so many complaints about the unpleasant seatings and the noise for a long hour. To overcome the boat trips, you should bring a pillow and wear life jackets and helmet all the time for a good sleep.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang by slow boat
The trip will last for 2 days and is divided into 2 parts: Day 1 lasts for 8 hours from Huay Xai to Pak Beng, Day 2 is followed by the trip to Luang Prabang for another 6 hours.
Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang by luxury Mekong river cruise
You can absolutely enjoy a pleasant journey by booking an all-inclusive package by travel agents in Chiang Rai or Luang Prabang, from the accommodation, meals, cruises, tour guides and stops along the way. The expected cost for a 2 or 3-day trip is between US$200 to 500/person.
Here is one of the tour samples for joining this luxury option
Day 1: from Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong – Pakbeng
Early in the morning at 6:15 am, private car to pick up from your hotel at the lobe, by road 135 kilometers, it takes about 1.5 – 2 hours. You will get to Chiang Khong border about 8 am. Then check out from Thailand, our driver will pay a shuttle bus ticket for you. It takes a couple of minutes to cross the bridge to Huay Xai border. The Cruise teams wait on the Laos side to prepare the arrival card and visa form for you, so you have to prepare a photo for the visa. It will cost 40 baht if you don’t have one. There are two banks and ATM at the Laos border, you can exchange your money to kip, we have a van to pick you up to the boat.
After that, we take Mekong Cruise down the mighty Mekong River to Luang Prabang. The boat will depart at the slow boat pier, the passenger will enjoy both sides of Mekong River. It takes 1.5 hours to pass Laos and Thai border, calling Phadai mountain, then the river which comes to Laos for about 30 minutes. The boat has to stop Pak Tha, the border checkpoint. It take 45 minutes to Mekong village to learn the local’s culture and relax. In the end, you come back to the cruise and a buffet lunch will be served on board.
After lunch is your free time to relax and enjoy the Mekong River. The cruise arrives at Pakbeng before sunset for an overnight stay at your hotel.
Day 02: Cruise downstream from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang
Departure time: 8 am.
Early in the morning, you can visit the Pakbeng market (optional). After breakfast, we depart at 8 am to journey down the Mekong River. The first stop is at Ban Baw where you will observe the traditional whiskey village, weaving village, handicrafts, and textiles. A buffet lunch is served on board. The boat stops again to visit Pak Ou caves. There are two caves, ‘Tham Ting’ and ‘Tham Phoum.’ The caves contain thousands of Buddha images. The Mekong cruise arrives at Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage city, before sunset; and we have the van to pick you up at the main pier to Luang Prabang. Trip ends.
Suggested Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang tours
I believe you may find an overview of the border crossing that matches your budget and timing before leaving Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang. Or simply contact us, Indochina Voyages for more detail about your Laos tours.
Linh Chu – Travel Specialist