Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

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Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang Schedule

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang Schedule
Transport NameRoute TimePrice
Thai AirAsia Economy #FD343808:30 - 09:40$ 146.85
Thai AirAsia Economy #FD343611:00 - 12:15$ 146.85
Thai Smile Economy #WE12120:50 - 22:10$ 369.71

How to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is an easy 45-minutes to one-hour flight from Chiang Mai. Even though we are enthusiasts of overland travel, we still have to admit that in this very case it may prove wiser to fly than to go by bus. Flying saves you a good deal of time. Going overland you have to cover the double distance compared to flying as you have to make a huge detour via Huay Xai or Vientiane and then embark on a tiring serpentine journey to reach Luang Prabang. That said, travelling by bus always remains a good option to have a look at the country as when you fly you miss all those bright green rice paddies with farmers wearing pointed hats; water buffalos bathing in the mud with their little shepherds; elaborate countryside wats with golden leaves of the finials jingling in the wind; and many other things which combined together give you the real taste of the country.

Flights from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Flying from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang takes just one hour. The route is served by only one operator, Lao Airlines, and the rates are nowhere close to be low: expect to pay from USD120 (THB4.200) one-way.

Chiang Mai International Airport is located a couple of kilometres southwest of the old city and is easily reached by tuk-tuks, songthaews and taxis. You can get from almost any location within the city to the airport just for THB100. One of the four busiest airports in Thailand, Chiang Mai Airport has ATMs, post office, medical service, restaurants and all other services a traveller may fancy.

In Luang Prabang, all the flights land in the Luang Prabang International airport, which sits 4 km northeast of the centre of the city. The new airport building was opened in 2013 and still feels too quiet for its international status though besides flights from Thailand it accepts flights from Vietnam and Cambodia as well. Getting from the airport to the city the price for a seat in a shared van is fixed (LAK50,000/USD6), but you can save a couple of bucks flagging down a tuk-tuk on the main road just outside the terminal gates (LAK20,000/USD2.5).

From Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang by bus

If you put in Chiang Mai–Luang Prabang route into your GPS navigator, it will probably suggest that the distance between the two cities you have to cover is about 600 km. Do not be mislead: the shortest routes include ferry crossings and cannot be used by tourist buses. Some of the ferry crossings between Thailand and Laos are not open for foreigners at all. That means that buses from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang have to make a huge detour via Nong Khai-Vientiane border crossing getting to Laos over the First Thai-Lao Friendship bridge or via Chiang Khong–Huay Xai border crossing (The Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship bridge). Either way, the total distance from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang is between 900 km and 1000 km and a part of the route passes through quite a mountainous area (on the stretch around Vang Vieng if you pass via Vientiane or in Nam Ha National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area in case of passing through Huay Xai. The latter is a very picturesque zone indeed; but the former route is more common. Expect your bus journey last from 18 hours to 22 hours – virtually the whole day.

The international bus leaves Chiang Mai in the morning (9am) and normally reaches Luang Prabang early the next day (5am). The bus itself in an ordinary air-conditioned VIP bus with soft reclining seats, organised four per row with relatively limited leg and elbow space by Western standards. There are toilets on board and blankets are distributed, too, but sometimes they are not enough, as it tends to get freezing cold in the bus – so pack some warm clothes. Water and sometimes snacks are served and the bus makes three rest stops during the trip for meals and stretching your legs. Tickets cost THB1.500 per person, which is almost three times less than you pay for a flight. If you buy a ticket with Naga Travel, they normally provide free pick-up from your hotel or guesthouse in Chiang Mai. In Luang Prabang tourist buses arrive to a separate bus station close to the Southern bus terminal (Naluang bus station), 3 km south of the centre.

From the bus station, walk or take a tuk-tuk to get to the city centre. The rate is flat (LAK10,000 per – well, person, not per ‘seat’), but tuk-tuk drivers tend to insist on LAK20,000.

Taking a boat to Luang Prabang

If you have decided to get from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang overland, probably a better idea is to make a combination journey, which will include a bus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong (6 hours; THB400), a border town on the Thai side of Mekong, and a boat to Luang Prabang which you will board on the Lao side.

In this case, though, you will have to spend a night either in Chiang Khong or in Huay Xai as buses and vans from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong leave in the morning in order to travel quite a serpentine road to their destination during the day time. There are nice places to stay on either side of the border, but probably it is better to cross the river immediately after you arrive to Chiang Khong and plan your morning boat trip the same evening, as all the boats down the Mekong leave in the morning.

You have three different options for travelling from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang by boat:
1) join a luxurious river cruise
2) take a speedboat
3) hop onto a slowboat following the same route; it is the means of transport the locals use, and it can really enrich your experience with tons of local spice – from sitting on the wooden benches all day long to gazing around and watching misty mighty Mekong and endless rice fields.

The slowboat journey is definitely not the thing every traveller would appreciate: it takes two days to get to Luang Prabang with an overnight stop in Pak Beng. Tourist cruises take the same time, but provide you with a more upscale and relaxed experience. Speedboats bring you from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in sheer 6 hours and also call to Pak Beng en route for a quick stop. The downside of this speedboat trip is that it is terribly noisy (take earplugs!), bumpy and wet. It can be dangerous, too, though life wests and helmets are provided by the majority of the operators.

Getting your Lao visa on arrival

The majority of the nationalities can obtain a 30-day Lao visa on arrival (check in advance). You can get one at the airport if you fly to Luang Prabang; if you go by bus, VOA is available at the both land border crossings you are most likely to use: Chiang Khong–Huay Xai and Nong Khai–Vientiane. The visa fee varies depending on your passport but is USD30 for the majority of the countries – only cash is accepted. Take a visa application form from the officer, fill it in, have 2 small photos to attach to your application (or pay a couple of bucks if you do not have pics) and get your Lao visa.

Why go to Luang Prabang

Full of a very characteristic mix of traditional Lao architecture with elegant European insertions, which reminds of the times when the city was part of French Indochine, Luang Prabang has its zest. From elaborately carved wats and teak houses to white-washed elegant homes and clean streets with lush tropical verdure it possesses its undeniable charm almost no traveller can resist. Luang Prabang is often featured in the most worth-visiting cities in the South East Asia charts and is designated as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It does get increasingly commercialized these days, and if you do not want to miss that special atmosphere of a cosy small city with very unique personality, put Luang Prabang on your travel itinerary soon.

Getting around in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is quite compact and many sights within the city boundaries can be reached on foot.

Bicycles can be rented from many hotels and guesthouses. Per day rates start from LAK10,000/USD1.25 and go up to LAK50,000/USD6 for a good mountain bike. These are also ok for touring some attractions outside the city, i.e. the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfall (30 km).

If you do not feel fit enough to pedal two hours one-way, tuk-tuks are plentiful though not so cheap if compared to their counterparts in Thailand or Cambodia.

You can rent a motorbike, too, but be aware of scams. Park in paid parking wherever possible and lock your bike with an additional wheel lock, otherwise you risk to find it stolen (in many cases – by the same rental company you have rented it from!).

Onward travel from Luang Prabang

Buses and minibuses link Luang Prabang to many local destinations to the south of the city, including Vang Vieng (popular spot for tubing and caving) and Vientiane. You can easily get to Phonsavan (Plane of Jars), too. For the eastern destinations like Tha Kaek, Savannakhet or Pakse pass via in Vientiane.

The most popular international destinations you can be interested in, include Bangkok in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Siem Reap in Cambodia and Hanoi in Vietnam, all connected to Luang Prabang by direct flights; the latter can be also reached by bus (24 hours).

Transportation from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

  • Flights
    $ 165.92
  • Trains are not avaliable
  • Buses are not avaliable
  • Ferries are not avaliable
  • Taxis are not avaliable

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang Destination Reviews

Regular updates and reminder. Staff is nice and responsive
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Dec 3, 2019
The bus is comfy! But the road which is currently under construction makes the trip very unpleasant.
Bus Express, Naluang (Naluang), Oct 30, 2019
For a 20h bus ride it was as comfortable as it could have been. Made well-timed bathroom stops, we got a welcome gift of water and snacks, beds are relatively comfortable (a little short if you're tall). The co-driver really looked out for us.
Bus Sleeper, Naluang (Naluang), Jul 13, 2019
Beds were very small. We need to sleep in the beds with 2 people. There were no curtains. The drop off time is really strange (4:30) because you can not check in any where.
Bus Sleeper, Naluang (Naluang), Jul 12, 2019
Good trip, good service, beds quite small for 2 people but not much you can do about that! Actually a quite enjoyable 20 hour bus ride!!
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Apr 26, 2019
-do not state which bus terminal. Yes, they’re opposite and I was fortunate in having not much luggage as I went to the wrong one. Others had a lot to carry across the main road! -very hard to find the bus counter as one is inclined to look for Naga Travel when it’s actually something like ‘99’ -Company did not and still have not responded to my email sent 5 days before bus. If they had, I could have gone to the right terminal... -snacks were nice -sleeper bus never chanted at Laos border. Just reclining seats -toilet had no light or flush and smelt the whole bus within an hour of departure -driver was smoking and it filtered to the coach through the endless ‘no smoking’ signs... But, as all the other reviews are the same comments, Naga Travel clearly has no intention of doing anything!
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Apr 16, 2019
It was not a sleeper bus. The only quality that could hint to a sleeper bus is that the seat reclined a bit. Only problem was that if you actually did recline the (highly uncomfortable) seat back it hits the person behind you and takes away the already non excisting leg space. In the ticket it said that it could be an older bus but that once you crossed the boarder the bus would change into a sleeper class bus. It did not. The bus ride lasted abou 20-21 hours so you can imagine the joy. I was quite dissapointed as was the whole bus full of people. I am quite short (5'2/157cm) but I left the bus with sore legs, back, neck and arse. I dont want to imagine what it would have been like for someone taller. The thought that kept occurring to me during the journey was: my school bus at home is more comfirtable than this. At least there's wifi on that. On a positive note the staff was very nice, the snacks they gave were good as well and you meet a lot of nice, new people who also think the bus is horrible. That's at least something to bond over.
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Mar 30, 2019
We didn’t change into a sleeperbus. The bus was okay but not for 20 hours. Very late stop to get dinner.
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Mar 30, 2019
The staff were nice and very helpful and explained what was going on and sold us SIM cards. Luckily we were a couple so the seat/bed that you have to share was fine, but if you’re on your own may be slightly weird sharing with a stranger as they’re not large.
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Mar 13, 2019
Got my ticket very easy
Bus Express, Naga Travel (นากา ทราเวล), Feb 11, 2019
36 customer reviews