Taking the slow boat from Northern Thailand to Laos was the best decision I could have made. You meet so many people that you continue to see all over Laos.
Many people decide to skip Laos on their South East Asia trip but I for one am so happy I decided not to. Reminds me of what Thailand might have been like 20 years ago.
As I am writing this I have only been in Laos for about 5 days and it is already so breath-taking, and very different from Thailand. People say the landscape is similar to that of the beautiful northern Vietnam.
So, if you are in either Chiang Mai, Pai, or Chiang Rai, I would highly recommend taking the slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos.
The total cost of the slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos is 1,750 Thai Baht from Pai. Or 1,700 from Chiang Mai. If you are planning to go to Pai, which you absolutely should, check out my post about the best things to do in Pai.
I did a lot of research on how much cheaper it would be if I did it on my own. Meaning, you take a local bus to Chiang Khong then booking the slow boat yourself from there.
However, it works out to be around the same if not a little bit more. You aren’t given accommodation the first night. Or free dinner and free breakfast that same first night and morning.
The only thing that would be cheaper is if you were to take a minivan or bus to Chiang Khong. Then instead of booking the slow boat you did a bus to Laos. This takes one day quicker so it is an ideal option if, like me you were running out of your Thailand visa. However, I paid the extra 500 Baht to overstay my visa by one day just so I could take the slow boat. I must say it was definitely worth the extra $20 CAD.
When to Leave Thailand for Your Visa
Let’s say your tourist visa for Thailand ends on the 15th. You will have to start the slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos the day before. So on the 14th. This is because on day number one you are taken to the Thailand town of Chiang Khong for an overnight stay. Thus starting your Laos journey the day after.
Here is a break down of exactly what will happen each day of your slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos. Starting the morning you leave your northern Thailand destination.
Depending on if you are coming from Chiang Mai, Pai or Chiang Rai, it will be either a bit shorter or longer of a journey. Coming from Pai they take you all the way back down to Chiang Mai first and then you continue towards the border. If you are leaving from Chiang Mai you will continue straight from there. While Chiang Rai is only about an hour away from the night’s destination.
Coming from either Pai or Chiang Mai you will stop in Chiang Rai to quickly see the White Temple for 20 minutes, and then end the day about an hour more in a Thai town called Chiang Khong. This is where you will spend the night with free accommodation in a two person room guest house and get a free dinner (fried rice with chicken or tofu typically).
Wake up around 7 or 7:30 for breakfast. Free breakfast consists of fried eggs, toast, and coffee or tea. The minivan will continue on around 8:30am. You take the van across the friendly bridge that connects Thailand and Laos. The first stop is to get stamped out of Thailand and then you get taken to a different building to get your visa into Laos.
Laos Visa on Arrival
For your visa on arrival you will need your passport, a passport photo, some amount of USD cash, and to fill out the form once you arrive. Most countries are between $30 to $35 USD. Sadly, Canada was the most expensive at $42 USD.
Once your visa is completed in Laos, which is a very easy and smooth process, you will get on a Tuk Tuk with other boat-goers to head down to the pier. They give you enough time to buy some beers and eat some food at the restaurant by the pier before you head off. The slow boat will leave at 11:30am.
What to Bring
Make sure to bring enough food, water, and alcohol on the boat as all they sell is chips and cups of noodles. You can buy some water and BeerLao on the boat too but of course it’s going to be inflated for Laos’ favourite boat tourists.
It is then about a 6 hour boat ride until you reach your first night stay in Laos in a town called Pakbeng. Pakbeng is an adorable little town that clearly thrives off of these tourists that arrive every night and leave every morning.
Accommodation in Pakbeng
You have to arrange your own accommodation here. I would recommend waiting until you arrive to the town as it is a lot cheaper than pre-arranging. There is a lady at the pier before you leave offering you cheapest price at 100,000 KIP. Don’t be fooled. When you arrive rooms for two people are typically 50,000-70,000 KIP.
Congratulations you have made it to your third and final day. The boat leaves at 9am this morning. Make sure you grab some breakfast and snacks before you get on as today is a long 7 to 8 hours. Seats fill up quickly and some people are left without seats sitting down in the back. So although the boat leaves at 9, I’d recommend getting there early.
To be honest the back isn’t the worst place to be stuck. It was where anyone who was heavily drinking on my boat went to party. And who needs chairs to party?
We were told the boat ride today was 9 hours. As mentioned earlier, it is closer to 7 or 8. You will arrive in Luang Prabang around 4pm. They won’t drop you off directly at the main Luang Prabang pier but about 5km beforehand. Once you get off the boat there will be Tuk Tuk’s waiting for you at a price of 20K KIP per person. Or you can walk a short distance down the road and likely find them for 10K a person.
After a very long three days, you have finally arrived in Luang Prabang. Go check into your hostel, guest house or hotel and have an amazing time! I would personally recommend Sunrise hostel, it’s cheap enough, free breakfast has a beautiful river view, and a pool.
Hope you found this information about taking the slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos useful. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to comment them below!