One of the craziest adventures I’ve had in Southeast Asia was taking the Laos slow boat to Luang Prabang from Northern Thailand. Imagine 2 full days on a cramped, local Laos slow boat floating down the Mekong River.

By far one of the most unique ways to travel around this part of the world is on the slow boat from Laos to Thailand. The views are epic, you’ll get to stay in a local village half way on the journey, and it beats the bus.

In this article, I’ll go over exactly what to expect on slow boat Thailand to Laos journey. add all useful tips that will only increase enjoyment on this adventure, and at the end of the post I’ll add some travel guides that will help you on your travels to this part of Southeast Asia.

Laos Slow Boat to Luang Prabang Guide

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If you’re traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang there are a few different ways to get there.

Option A: You can fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang Airport (LPQ). This is the most expensive option when choosing how to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang but it is also the quickest.

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Option B: Take a bus to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai. A Chiang Mai to Laos bus is the cheapest way to get there but it’s also a bit exhausting and cramped.

Option C: Take a Chiang Mai to Laos fast boat.

Option D:  Adventure on a 2 day Laos slow boat from Thailand to Laos.

After much research, the 2 day slow boat to Luang Prabang down the mighty Mekong River was the obvious choice. An experience that everyone should try once on their visit to Laos.

Below is a detailed layout of exactly what to do and what to expect of the Laos slow boat if you want to book it independently.

Book 2 Day Slow Boat to Luang Prabang →

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Step 1 Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong

Chiang Khong is the border town in Thailand where you will most likely be spending one night before you start the slow boat to Luang Prabang journey. You can catch a mini van from Pai or Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai for about 350-500 BAHT. From Chiang Rai you will catch a different bus for 200 BAHT more that will take you to Chiang Khong.

I traveled from Pai and found it much easier to book through a shuttle service to take me directly to the border town of Chiang Khong, it was a couple hundred BAHT more expensive but more convenient.

Once in Chiang Khong, there are handful of hotels and guesthouses in the town that you can book a stay at. Enjoy one last Thai food meal before you cross over the border into Laos.

Book Accommodation in Chiang Khong →

Step 2 Slow Boat to Luang Prabang | Thailand to Laos Border

Next, you’ll catch a tuk-tuk from Chiang Khong to the Thailand Laos border. Wake up early to start the border crossing process, I’d recommend starting around 7:30 am.

It was a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride to the border and should cost you 150 BAHT. You will get dropped off at the Thailand border. There will be departure cards for you to fill if you don’t have one and an ATM that dispenses USD’S at the Laos border.

💡 Travel Tip: Before you get to the border make sure you have a your passport, a passport photo, your Thailand departure card filled out and USD for your visa fee.

Step 3 Laos Slow Boat | Thailand Passport Control

Walk through the Thailand border and give them your passport and filled out departure card. They will give you your departure stamp and just walk on through, a very relaxed and easy process. Do Not give them passport photo or visa money as they do this at the Laos border.

Step 4 Bus Across Friendship Bridge

As soon as you walk through Passport control you will see a booth selling tickets for the bus across Friendship Bridge to the Laos side of the border.

This bus will cost you 20 BAHT per person and will drop you off at the Laos border. It is about a five minute bus ride.

Step 5 Get Laos Visa

Once you step off the bus you’ll see two ATM’s, a currency exchange, and the Visa on arrival window. The ATM by the currency exchange will dispense USD’s which you need cash for your Laos visa and the ATM by the visa on a arrival windows will dispense KIP if you need to pull out Laos currency.

Before approaching the Visa on arrival windows you must fill out the Laos visa form and the arrival/departure cards for Laos. Both cards will be placed right by the window for you to pick up and fill out.

Once you have both forms filled out, hand your passport, passport photo, and the $35 USD visa processing fee to the person behind the window. Note that the $35 fee is for United States passports, other prices may vary by $8 give or take.

Then go to the next window and and wait a couple minutes until they hand you back your passport with your new Laos visa inside! Hooray!

Next walk through Laos passport control, they will inspect your visa and passport to make sure everything is correct and voila you’ve made it to Huay Xi, Laos. You can also apply for a e-visa online which will save you time and effort at the border.

Get a Laos Visa →

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Step 6 Grab a Songthaew to the Laos Slow Boat to Luang Prabang Pier

Next, you have to put your name and passport number on yet another piece of paper, pay 25,000 KIP for a Songthaew (basically a pickup truck with benches in the back) and get driven to the Laos slow boat pier.

If you still need to purchase the Mekong slow boat tickets you can do this here. Tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang cost about 210,000 KIP for both days. Roughly $22 USD.

From here you will take the Laos slow boat Huay Xai to Luang Prabang with a nights stop over in Pakbeng, Laos.

The whole process of obtaining a Laos visa, getting across the border, and getting to the pier of the slow boat was a quick and seamless process. I just wanted to lay it out step by step to serve as a guide for others in the future.

Taking the slow boat journey down the Mekong River, Laos

Day 1 on the Slow Boat Thailand to Laos

The slow boat to Luang Prabang will be scheduled to leave at 10:30 am but you’re on Laos time so don’t count on it to be punctual. There is a small store by the boat pier that sells beer, snacks, and sandwiches made to order that you can take with you for lunch as the boat does not sell food, except for overpriced cups of ramen noodles.

The boat does sell beer, sodas, water, and cigarettes, so plan accordingly. The large Lao beer sold at the store was 15,000 Kip ($1.79) and they’ll double bag the beer and put ice in it to keep it cold.

Get to the boat as early as you can to grab a seat. Even though you’ll have a seat number on your ticket, no one will abide by the numbers and it’s a first come, first free for all.

The first days journey will last 7 hours. You’ll be excited when you reach Pakbeng which is the halfway point of the Mekong slow boat journey and where you will be staying overnight.

We did not book accommodations ahead of time as we traveled in off season and ended up staying at the DP guesthouse walkable from the pier for $6. The place was clean, had hot showers, and was surprisingly comfortable.

By this time you’ll have definitely made some friends so let loose and go paint the town red at one of the only two bars there!

Book Accommodation in Pakebeng →

Day 2 on the Slow Boat Thailand to Luang Prabang

If you value personal space and enjoy sitting in a chair rather than the floor get to the boat early. The waters of the Mekong River are more shallow on the second half of the journey compared to the first, so on the second day the boats that you take are smaller in size.

I was informed that we would be on smaller boats but quickly realized that they meant a smaller boat, singular! There was physically not enough seats for everyone so you just have to sit wherever you can.

Of course the small group I was traveling with arrived last and we ended up sitting in the engine room with about 20 other locals. It was cramped, it was hot, it was loud and I can’t say that it was the most comfortable traveling arrangements I’ve ever had, but it is definitely one of the most memorable.

Book Accommodation in Luang Prabang →

Slow Boat Laos FAQ’s

Slow Boat from Thailand to Laos FAQ's

Laos Slow Boat Cost

Tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang cost about 210,000 KIP for both days. Roughly $22 USD. You can buy tickets at the pier if you are booking as you go and not as a package.

How Long to Take a Boat from Thailand to Laos

You may be wondering how long the slow boat from Thailand to Laos takes. From my personal experience, the Laos slow boat journey took 2 full days, not including the day or half day of travel to get to the border town of Chiang Khong.

You will be riding on the slow boat for a minimum of 7 hours a day. Seating is cramped especially on the second day. Get to the boat early to get an actual seat.

Where to Catch the Slow Boat Thailand to Laos

The slow boat starts in the border town of Huay Xai in Northern Laos. You can catch the slow boat to Luang Prabang from the slow boat pier.

How Often Does the Slow Boat to Laos Run

The slow boat from Thailand to Laos runs every day. In high season, there may be multiple morning departures.

What to Bring on the 2 Day Slow Boat to Luang Prabang Journey

The slow boat to Laos is all about the journey. Don’t embark on this adventure without these items.

  • Sunscreen – This is my go-to sunscreen for the beach. Not only is it reef safe but you won’t need foundation.
  • Lifestraw Water Bottle – helps me save a little money on buying water and stay healthy with clean drinking water when in a pinch traveling through Southeast Asia.
  • Sunglasses – These are polarized, extremely affordable and come in many colors. I’ve been rocking them for a while now and love them.
  • Light Jacket – Mornings can be chilly and I’d much rather take a layer off than be cold.
  • Snacks – There won’t be many options to buy snacks on the boat.
  • Entertainment – a battery pack, kindle, and/or headphones would not be a bad idea.
  • Sense of adventure 🛶.

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    Travel tips for taking the slow boat to laos

    Slow Boat to Luang Prabang Tips

    • The toilets on the Thailand Laos slow boat are exactly what you would expect. Not the nicest, it’s guaranteed to flood by the end of the day but it gets the job done.
    • BYOTP – Bring your own toilet paper.
    • Buy your snacks at the store near the pier in Huay Xai.
    • A Thailand SIM will work for most of your trip.
    • Get to the slow boat early if you want a seat near the front. Especially on the second day as the boat gets smaller.
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    Chiang Mai Travel Guides

    Chiang Mai is the culture capital of Thailand and the second biggest city next to Bangkok. Check out the guides below for inspiration and tips about traveling to Northern Thailand.

    3 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary – How to spend 3 days exploring Chiang Mai.

    Best Places to Stay in Chiang Mai – Top places to stay in Chiang Mai for all budgets.

    Top 10 Reasons I Love Chiang Mai – My personal top 10 reasons I love Chiang Mai.

    Chiang Mai to Pai Day Trip – How to Get there, what to do, see, eat, & where to stay.

    Where to Stay in Pai – Find out the best places to stay in Pai for all budgets.

    10 Day Thailand Itinerary – 2 different itineraries that take you to the best of Thailand.

    The Ultimate Guide to Thailand – The big guide with everything to see, do, eat, stay, how to get around and tips to prepare you for a trip to Thailand.

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    Luang Prabang Travel Guides

    Luang Prabang is one of the most popular destinations in Laos. Check out the guides below to help plan your trip to this Southeast Asia destination.

    Top Things to do in Luang PrabangFind out the best things to do in Luang Prabang including participating in the giving alms to the monks ceremony.

    Unique Things to do in Luang Prabang – These are the most unique things to do in Luang Prabang.

    Where to Stay in Luang Prabang – Find out the best places to stay in Luang Prabang for every budget. 

    The Ultimate Guide to Laos – The big guide with everything to see, do, eat, stay, how to get around and tips to prepare you for a trip to Laos.

    2 Week Laos Itinerary – How to spend 2 weeks in Laos – Stunning waterfalls, motorbike adventures, and live the Lao saying of ‘PDR’ Please Don’t Rush.

    7 Incredible Places to Visit in Laos – 7 dreamy place to inspire you to travel to Laos.

    Final Thoughts about Taking the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang

    Would I do this 2 day slow boat journey to Luang Prabang again? Probably not as I can say I’ve been there done that.

    Would I recommend that you catch the slow boat from Thailand to Laos? Absolutely, an experience in itself, I guarantee you’ll meet some awesome new friends, create memories that you’ll never forget and get to experience what true Laos has to offer.

    Laos Travel Guides ↓

    📍 Planning a trip to Laos? Check out the guides below for inspiration and tips to plan your trip.

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