The Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang route is quite a journey and a whole new adventure on its own if you decide to go by ferry.
There are 3 ways to travel the 715km distance from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang: a 1.5-hour flight; a 19-hour bus; or a 3-day ferry. Fares start from 1,500 THB ($42.50).
We recommend to either take a 1.5 hr flight or go off the beaten track and travel this journey by ferry. Taking the 19hr bus ride is the best option if you are on a budget and don’t want to travel for 2 days.
Note: When travelling by bus and ferry, you have to go through the border immigration in order to get to Laos. For those that require a visa to enter Laos, make sure that you’ve secured your visa in advance or have the appropriate documents needed for a visa on arrival. It’s also noteworthy to know that the border immigration opens only from 6:00 to 22:00.
Flying from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is obviously the fastest way to travel, but comes at a price.
Airlines such as AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Thai Smile, Thai Airways and Lao Airlines offer flights through this route. Most of the flights are non-direct and it takes at least 5 hours of travel, usually with a layover in Bangkok. There are only about 2-3 flights which offer direct travel. The price for a direct flight starts at 5,200 THB ($145).
Traveling by bus from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang takes almost a day of travel. But, it is also cheaper than booking a flight and faster than when travelling by ferry.
Naga Travel and Naluang are the 2 most popular bus companies that offer trips from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. They both have one trip departing daily. We’ve provided the schedules in the table below.
We advise to travel with Naga Travel as they have good service and their buses are in good condition.
The meeting point in Chiang Mai is in front of McDonald’s Imm Hotel branch in the city center. A sleeper bus takes you to the border in Chiang Khong which takes about 6 hours.
You go through the immigration and cross the border into Laos by shuttle bus which costs 25. Taking the shuttle bus to cross costs 25 THB ($0.70). Then another sleeper bus takes you to Luang Prabang and this takes about 13 hours. The drop-off point is at the Northern Bus Station, near Luang Prabang Airport.
Naga Travel does not pick up passengers along the way but they do make 2-3 stops for toilet or meal breaks. The cost is 1,650 THB ($47).
When you book with Naluang, you do not have to worry about getting to another bus at the border. You will ride the same bus all throughout the journey. Be informed that you still have to go through the immigration on both countries once at the border which means you may have to get off the bus.
The bus does not stop to pick up passengers along the way but they stop for breaks in between the trip. The cost of the ticket is 1,550 THB ($44) for a one-way journey.
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang by Ferry
Duration: 3 days Cost: 1,500 THB ($42.50)
This is for sure the most adventurous option when travelling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. You cannot travel through the entire route by ferry as this requires an overland transfer, but we can assure you that you will be rewarded with magnificent views and a very unique experience.
Step 1: Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong/Huay Xai by Van/Bus + Tuk-Tuk
Duration: 5 hours Cost: 500 THB ($14)
You can book with a van ride or bus from Chiang Mai to the border in Chiang Khong. If you prefer to book a van, you can arrange this with your hotel or any travel agency in the city. It costs about 400 THB ($11) per person and the trip takes about 5 hours. The vans pick you up from your hotel.
You can also book a bus ride with Green Bus. They have trips leaving at 08:00, 09:30 and 13:15. The cost is 300 THB ($8.50) – 500 THB ($14), depending on whether you book the regular or VIP bus. By bus, it takes at least 6 hours. You can book your bus ride through 12go.asia.
Go through Thai immigration and get your passport stamped. Then take the shuttle bus that takes you across to Laos for 25 THB ($0.70). Go through immigration again on the Laotian side.
Once outside, take a tuk-tuk to Huay Xai for 70 THB ($2) per person. Sometimes, drivers may charge higher. Huay Xai is where the ferry departs from. You may also have to stay for 1 night as ferries leave in the morning and by the time you reach Huay Xai, it would be at least early in the afternoon.
Step 2: Huay Xai to Pakbeng to Luang Prabang by Ferry
Duration: 12 hours excl. transfer time Cost: 900 THB ($25.50)
It’s best to buy the slow boat ticket at the dock since it’s cheaper. It costs about 800 THB ($22.50) for the ferry ride to Luang Prabang. The ferry leaves the port in Huay Xai at 11:00
First, the ferry will cruise through the river for 5 hours. Then you arrive at the town of Pakbeng. You have to stay in Pakbeng for one night. There will be many locals offering rooms to stay in. The key is to negotiate a good deal. Don’t expect much from the rooms but know that most are decent enough.
The next day, you board the ferry again bound for Luang Prabang. The second leg of the ferry trip takes about 7 hours. From the port, you have to take a tuk-tuk to the city center. The cost is 70 THB ($2) per person.
Booking Through a Travel Agency
Before you make the trip, you can also try to book the entire trip from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang through a travel agency. It will be more expensive but you forego the hassle of having to coordinate transfers on your own.
Located just 600 meters from the amazing Night Market, this guesthouse is in the perfect spot. On-site you will find an ATM, guest terrace, shared lounge, and tour desk. Within walking distance are countless sights, restaurants, bars, and amenities. All rooms are fitted with a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning and a desk. The rooms are spacious and the beds are comfortable. A delicious breakfast is included with your stay.
The Manichan Guesthouse is the perfect location, just a 5-minute walk from the Night Market, National Museum and plenty of other sights. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and clean and come with your choice of fan or air conditioning. A delicious breakfast is included daily with your stay and there is a restaurant on location for your convenience.
Enjoy the luxury of this hotel, centrally located in Luang Prabang. This hotel provides a bar, shared lounge, garden area, and room service. You have a choice of a la carte or continental breakfasty with your stay. There is a currency exchange on location for your convenience and a shared kitchen for the guests to utilize. Within walking distance to many sights.