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Thailand to Laos by Slow Boat

Updated: Mar 30

An authentic trip from Thailand to Laos by slow boat.

The Banana Pancake Trail is a well-known route among backpackers in Southeast Asia.

The journey starts in Thailand and goes to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, all the way without using air transport. For this reason, borders are always crossed at land checkpoints.

The first is between Thailand and Laos, and that's what we're going to talk about in this article.

There are several ways to get to Laos from Thailand, but the most famous is by boat, using the Slow Boat, and that's what we did. It was 2 full days on a boat enjoying the banks of the Mekong River.

In this article, we'll share everything you need to know, from how to get from Chiang Rai in Thailand to the capital of Laos, Luang Prabang.

Slow Boat that took us to Luang Prabang
Slow Boat that took us to Luang Prabang
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Preparations for the Trip

Before starting this journey, it is essential to be prepared. Make sure you have the necessary documents and the recommended vaccinations taken.

Having travel insurance is also very important to prevent any unforeseen events that may arise.

Don't forget to have enough cash (bahts and/or dollars) with you before crossing the border.

You will also need one or two passport photos to hand in at the border.

Bring plenty of snacks and food for the trip; The boat leaves in the morning, and only 6/7 hours later does it arrive at the place where you will spend the night. On the boat, there are some snacks for sale, such as noodles and cookies, but the price is always higher.

How to get from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang via slow boat

Step 1: Chiang Rai - Chiang Khong

This adventure begins in Chiang Rai. The first step is to reach Chiang Khong. To do this, just go to the Chiang Rai bus station and look for the bus that goes to Chiang Khong; Normally, this information is written on the bus itself.

The bus that took us from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong
The bus that took us from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

The ticket costs 70 baht per person and is paid inside the bus. The journey takes around 2.5 hours, and the bus carries many people and even more packages!

We warned you that the bus does not have air conditioning, so it went the entire way with the windows and doors open. Of course, with so many packages, some boxes happened to go out the door on curves and we had to stop there to pick them up... It's quite an adventure!

The bus carries as many goods as people
The bus carries as many goods as people

Having arrived in Chiang Khong, we went to do some necessary shopping for some snacks to take to the boat.

We took advantage and had dinner at “Padthai Baan Yim”; the space is really cool and the food is good and cheap, we recommend it.

We spent the night at Namkhong Guesthouse, which was €8 per night.

Step 2: Chiang Khong - Thai Border

The next day, we woke up very early to follow this adventure. The accommodation arranged a van for us that took us to the Thai border for 120 baht.

We arrived at the border at around 7:20 am, where they stamped our passports and informed us that we had to wait for the bus. To go from the Thai border to the Laos border, we have to cross the Friendship Bridge, which is mandatory to cross by bus. It cost 35 baht per person.

You can take advantage and exchange some money here; We exchanged baht (Thai currency) for kip (Laos currency).

Step 3: Laos Border - Xuay Xai Pier

We were then on the border of Laos, and it was all very strange.

The first thing to do is fill out a form with our details and some information, such as where we are going and how long we will stay in the country.

We need one or two passport photos to submit along with this form. Then, we have to go to the counter to have our passport stamped and we pay a fee (around €2); They give us back our passport with a piece of paper to pay for the visa.

Entry into Laos by land
This is where we paid for the visa to Laos

To pay for the visa, someone comes to us to receive the money. We recommend that you have dollars ($40) with you; We didn't have any and we ended up paying in bahts and it was more expensive (1600 baht - $45).

During this entire process, we were approached by several people who asked if we already had a ticket for the boat and insisted that we had to buy it there. However, we had read several blogs about this crossing and we knew that we could buy a ticket for the boat at the pier and that it would be cheaper. But all the tourists who were at the border at that moment seemed to have bought their tickets in advance through an agency, and we were the only ones without a ticket.

We remained confident in what we had read and did not buy tickets.

The next step was to look for a tuk-tuk that would take us to the pier, but as we didn't have an agency, they were asking absurd prices. However, another couple showed up who didn't have a ticket, and the four of us took a tuk-tuk (100 baht per person).

We arrived at the pier, and bought the boat ticket for both days (400,000 kip per person). We had read on the internet that the boat left at 11:30 am, but our ticket had a departure time of 9 am; however, he left at 10 am…

In total, we saved €20 compared to the amount they asked us for at the border.

Step 4: Xuay Xai - Pakbeng

After all this adventure, we had made it and were on the boat!

The first thing to do when getting on the boat is to take off your shoes; They give you a plastic bag to put your shoes in.

On the boat, no one wears shoes
On the boat, no one wears shoes

There are no assigned seats, so it's a good idea to arrive as early as possible to get the best seats. The front seats have a table, so they end up having more legroom. The further back, the worse, because the boat's engine makes a lot of noise and, as it's a long trip, it ends up being uncomfortable.

From here on, we didn't have mobile data on our cell phone because the SIM card we had was from Thailand. You can choose to purchase an eSIM card in advance so you never lose access to the Internet.

Now it was time to rest, enjoy the trip, and observe the scenery along the Mekong River.

This first day's journey took 7 hours. We recommend that you bring snacks, things to keep you entertained, and toilet paper.

The famous slow boat
The famous slow boat

We arrived in Pakbeng and had another adventure ahead of us - we still didn't have accommodation for that night…

When we arrived at the pier, there were lots of people with signs trying to attract guests to their hotel and others looking for guests who had already booked in advance. We went with the first man who approached us, without looking too much at the photos, because in reality we just wanted a place to spend the night.

We took a short walk around the village and had dinner at a local restaurant.

Step 5: Pakbeng - Luang Prabang

We started the day with an incredible breakfast: chocolate croissant and hot chocolate in a small cafe. Laos has a lot of French influence, so you can find many typical French sweets there. We bought food for lunch, and some snacks and headed towards the boat. We recommend again that you go early to avoid getting the worst seats.

A beautiful breakfast with a French influence in Laos
A beautiful breakfast with a French influence in Laos

The second day on the boat is more tiring because the landscape ends up being the same as the first day.

We did a bit of everything, we watched films, edited photos, played cards, and talked to other backpackers, we had time for everything... 8 hours later, we arrived in Luang Prabang.

Step 6: Luang Prabang Cais - Luang Prabang Centro

The pier in Luang Prabang is still quite far from the city center. To get there, you have to take a "Took-Took" at the pier.

When you arrive, you will immediately see information with prices: if there are 1 to 3 people, it costs 150,000 kip; if there are 4 people or more, it is 35,000 kip per person. There's no shortage of people to get together with to share the “Took-Took” and thus make it cheaper. We shared it with two other couples.

"Took-Took" prices
"Took-Took" prices

Almost three days later, we finally arrived in Luang Prabang.

Now it's time to stay and discover the charms of this city. You can't miss the round of souls, the Kuang Si waterfall, the sunset at Mount Phousi, and the night market.

Finally, we can say that this was an adventure that we will never forget.

There are several ways to get to Laos from Thailand, some of them more practical than the slow boat, but this ends up offering a more authentic experience. We highly recommend that you do so.

During these days, we met lots of backpackers from different countries who were also traveling through Southeast Asia. Many of these people we met along our trip in other countries in Asia.

See you soon and have a good trip!

One of the waterfalls from Kuang Si
One of the waterfalls from Kuang Si

Staying Connected

If you plan to visit Vietnam, don't forget that mobile data does not work outside the European Union!

The best solution to stay connected to the Internet is to buy an eSIM or a local SIM. This time we used a Local SIM, but in other travels, we bought an eSIM at Airalo, and it always worked well. Just have a phone compatible with eSIM and buy the card through the Airalo app. It's very easy!

Get Travel Insurance

It is essential to be prepared for any trip you take, especially outside of Europe. Unexpected events happen, and no one wants to come back from vacation with a huge hospital bill to pay. That's where travel insurance comes in, an indispensable ally to ensure tranquility and safety for your holidays.

IATI offers numerous types of travel insurance depending on your type of trip and various coverages. Moreover, by purchasing insurance through our link, you get a special 5% discount.

Don't let unforeseen events ruin your adventure!

Click here to get your discount.


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