For a mode of transport used by many tourists, there seems to be little information online for those wanting to take the slow, leisurely boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang (Laos). It's quite a popular route for backpackers, even traveling families, and it's well off the beaten path.
However, for those looking to tour Laos on their own, it can seem a bit intimidating or confusing as there are a few steps to follow. But don't worry, it's easier than it sounds and you'll be relaxing on the Laos Slow Boat cruising the Mekong and making new friends in no time. It's the perfect mode of transportation to add to yours.Thailand itinerarythe Laos.
Most travelers can be found with stickers on their shirts as they are pushed across the borders in tuk-tuks and then on the boats. There are many organized tours from Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai. In Chiang Rai they told me that there were no organized tours because it was low season. Actually, there were a lot of races if I had only watched myself.
Lesson learned:Never trust information from just one person, especially in Southeast Asia. You will always hear a million different answers.
Getting to Laos from Thailand is easy. For this post, I will focus on how to get from Chiang Rai (the closest of the three cities above) to Luang Prabang in Laos. The most popular route is from Chiang Mai to Laos.
I highly recommend spending a night in Chiang Rai as the famous White Temple is worth a quick stop and you need to catch an early bus for the 2 day trip the next morning.
Slow ship Luang Prabang: step by step
Bus from Chiang Rai to the Thai border:In the morning (6am), take the first available bus from the city center bus station. These are local buses, they are big and red and clearly marked from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong. They run every hour, but if you want to leave later, you can't take the slow boat that day.
It costs 100 baht and you will be asked to pay on the bus. There is no air conditioning but fans. Even in summer when you catch an early bus, the air outside is cool and refreshing. This bus will take you directly to the Thai border.AndFor some reason (as things tend to change in Thailand for no reason) you don't take a tuk tuk to the border as the bus will drop you off on the side of the road and the tuk tuks will be waiting for you.
KEEP READING:53 Travel Tips For Backpacking Southeast Asia
Thai border:Leaving Thailand will be fast. Once you have your exit stamp, there is another booth just to the right after the officers' booths where you can purchase a bus ticket. It costs 20 baht and takes you the short distance to the Lao immigration point. I do not recommend walking, the bus is faster.
Immigration to Laos:After getting off the shuttle bus, there is an ATM and a currency exchange office. I would be careful with money there if you haven't already as you need money for a tuk tuk and the slow boat.
You will then be given immigration papers to fill out and you must provide a photo. They had specific dimensions but didn't care that mine was different. You then need to queue to drop off your documents and passport (this is on the right) and then wait for your passport to be held at the counter on the left. You pay the visa fee and then you are in Laos!
Directions to the boat:Hop on a tuk-tuk and wait for it to fill up. They charge you 100,000 kip each if it's not full or 20,000 kip if it's full. Even during the off season we found people joining me and my boyfriend. The tuk-tuk ride takes about 20 minutes to the slow boat dock and you may make additional stops along the way to drop off others.
Tickets for kaufen slow boats:At the Laos immigration office people tried to sell us tour packages that included taking a tuk tuk to the pier and then the cost of the boat. Don't buy these, they are more expensive and you are already so close that there is no point in getting a tour package.
They offered us 300,000 kip for the tour. At the pier we paid 210,000 kip for the boat ticket and 20,000 kip each for the tuk tuk ride. Tickets are available at the office located in front of the boats and up the stairs. If you don't see it, a local can show you the way, their English is very good in the area.
Find accommodation:The first day on the boat takes you to the small town of Pakbeng. The locals await your arrival and shout prices at you to stay in their guest house. They will start around 50,000 kip but will eventually go down. For 50,000 kip you can get a room with a private bathroom and air conditioning, or for 25,000 kip you can share a room (each pays 25,000 kip) with some fans. Don't expect much but it's cheap and it's only for one night. With the fans it was warm but welcoming.
The next day, get on the boat again, and then arrive in Luang Prabang!
It seems complicated, but when you do it it's really quite simple, since there are usually a lot of people doing the same route for you to move.
KEEP READING:32 Tips for Backpacking Thailand You Need to Know
Tips for slow boats
How is:There may or may not be tables depending on the ship. The one I was sitting in didn't have one, the seats were literally car seats and it was pretty cramped. It was hot and only got hotter as the day progressed so dress appropriately. However, it can be cooler in the high season, so do your research accordingly. I was traveling at the beginning of August.
Visa:Have USD ready to pay for your visa upon arrival. CAN$42, UK$35, US$35, AUS$30 (all in USD). Please check the visa prices for your country as they may have changed.
Arrest:The ship stops several times. Locals get on and off, you get off in a small town.
Meet others:If you're on your own, don't worry, you'll meet a lot of people on the boat who you'll most likely have a beer with the first night.
KEEP READING:How to create a backpacking budget for a trip to Southeast Asia
Grocery Cost:Food and beer are expensive on the ship, so stock up ahead of time! There are some shops right next to the boats to get what you need. Sandwiches cost between 15,000 and 20,000 kip and a large bottle of water between 5,000 and 7,000. Many people were ripped off at some stores and paid double or triple the price.
Where to sit:Get to the ship early. You will want seats closer to the front as there is a better breeze.
Timed Coordination:Pay attention what time the boat leaves on the second day. If you don't know, it's better to arrive early. I would recommend being there no later than 8:30 am. m., since the boat leaves at 9 a.m. m. Don't be the person everyone hates for being late!
Tuk Tuk to the city:Once in Luang Prabang, take a tuk-tuk as the boat stops 10 km from the city. The tuk tuks stop at multiple accommodations if you wish to share one with others. Expect everyone to pay 20,000 kip.
Cost Breakdown of the Slow Boat to Laos
Lao Border Shuttle Bus:20 baht
Visa fee for Laos:Canadian$42, British$35, US$35, Australian$30 (all US$)
Tuk-Tuk to the pier:Jewelry 25,000 Kip
Slow Boat Ticket:210.000 Kip
I highly recommend taking the slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang. It's a relaxing two days, it's cheap travel days and you'll meet a lot of people you'll see again and again all over Laos. You can also take the bus or speedboat, but these boats are notoriously dangerous and not recommended.
If you have time, take the slow boat!
KEEP READING:11 Common Southeast Asia Travel Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)
Southeast Asia travel insurance
- Choosing travel insurance is an essential part of planning a trip for everyone, including your trip to Southeast Asia.
- If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford a trip
- nomads of the worldIt is an economical option that I personally recommend
- I have made 2 requests to World Nomads for doctor appointments and antibiotics in the Philippines and Australia.
- Don't know where to start? Look minetravel insurance guideto help you choose the best option for you
- Don't think you need travel insurance?Read These Travel Horror Stories
Are you going to travel to Southeast Asia? You will love these posts.
- Resources for planning trips to Thailand
- Southeast Asian Packing List for Women