There are several options how to get from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos quite cheaply and easily. As it’s a popular route for travelers in SE Asia, you have such options as direct flights, buses, and a boat. All you have to do is to choose the right mode of transportation for you.
I had heard that taking a slow boat from the border of Laos to Luang Prabang is the cheapest and best option of all. However, I discovered that traveling by bus from Northern Thailand, whether it’s Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, is actually more easy, quicker and cheaper.
TYPE OF TRANSPORT: Bus
PRICE: 950 THB ($30 US)
LENGTH OF THE TRIP: 18h
COMFORT LEVEL: Great
▪The cheapest option to get to Laos
▪Way quicker than taking the slow boat
▪Direct bus: no need to change buses
▪Comfortable seats and great leg space
▪Way slower than taking a flight
▪A bit slower than tour operator organized minivans
▪Doesn’t take you to your hotel in Luang Prabang, but stops at the bus station instead.
Overall we are so happy with the bus ride, as it was very smooth and comfortable and so cheap compared to the other options.
SO HERE ARE ALL THE DETAILS ON HOW TO GET FROM CHIANG RAI TO LUANG PRABANG BY BUS.?
See the Contents
HOW TO GET THE PUBLIC BUS TICKETS FROM CHIANG RAI TO LUANG PRABANG
Bus tickets from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang can be bought directly at the bus station. The bus company which covers this route doesn’t seem to have a working online booking system, but you can check the bus schedules (Click on the International route).
In order to buy the tickets, you should go to the New Bus Station Terminal 2 of Chiang Rai. There are actually two bus stations in the city. The one that’s called “Terminal 1” is in the city center right next to the night bazaar. The other one – Terminal 2 is about 7 km outside the center. The Luang Prabang bus is going from Terminal 2, the station outside the city center. So you need to go there for the tickets.
Once you arrive at the bus station, walk inside and you’ll see a counter with signs saying “Chiang Rai – Luang Prabang”. It’s hard to miss it. Just walk up the counter and ask them for the tickets.
We were there at the beginning of Augusts which is the low season in Thailand, so plenty of tickets were available. So the lady just told us not to worry about the reservation and arrive for the bus 1.5 hours in advance the next day and buy the tickets then. So that’s what we did.
Otherwise, when it’s a high season (from November to March) and busses tend to fill up, they do take reservations. The way how it works is you just arrive at the bus station the day before the bus and let them know you want a ticket. The people at the counter will write down your name and hotel info, but will not accept payment at that time. The next day once you arrive at the bus station for the bus, you’ll pay for your ticket. The price is 950 THB ($30 US).
If you’re still planning your trip to Luang Prabang, check out our most awesome Luang Prabang hotel finds in this article: Where to stay in Luang Prabang Laos: Best style hotels & hostels for any budget! We’re talking good prices, excellent WiFi and cool design!
OTHER OPTIONS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE A BUS TRIP TO LUANG PRABANG
Another option is to ask your hotel to get you these same tickets. As there are no online reservations, they’ll do the same and go to the bus station to buy them for you. The hotels usually ask around 1500 THB ($45 US) for this. But since it’s such an easy thing to do on your own, it’s best to get the tickets yourself once you arrive in Chiang Rai.
There are also plenty of travel agencies around Chiang Rai that offer minivan services that take you from your hotel in Chiang Rai to your hotel in Luang Prabang without any hassle. But obviously, the prices for that are much higher.
AS THE PUBLIC BUS OPTION IS WAY CHEAPER AND SUPER EASY TO DO, WE’D TOTALLY SUGGEST OPTING FOR THAT INSTEAD OF A MINIBUS TRIP THAT’S GOING TO BE A LOT MORE EXPENSIVE.?
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG RAI BUS STATION TERMINAL 2?
We were staying near the Night Bazaar in the center of Chiang Rai and it was around 7 pm in the evening when we decided to go to the far Bus Sation to check on the tickets, so we took Grab taxi. The trip cost us 140 THB ($4.5 US).
Once we were done with organizing bus tickets at the bus station we needed to get back to the center. As there was no Wi-Fi available at the bus station to be able to order Grab taxi back, we just took one of the regular taxis outside the Bus Sation.
Weirdly the taxi driver asked us for 100 THB ($3.1 US) for the same trip we took before. So apparently regular taxis in Chiang Rai are cheaper than Grab taxis. We didn’t bargain and went for the price offered. However I do believe, you’d be able to get an even cheaper price if you’d try to bargain.
If you’re doing during the daytime, the best option is to use the public bus to get from Chiang Rai Bus Station Terminal 1 in the city center. They have a public bus from there that goes through the Terminal 2 Bus station all the way to the White Temple. You’ll definitely notice a sign of that bus in the Terminal 1 station. So just get on that one and you’ll get to the Terminal 2 in no time for only around 10 THB ($0.30 US). These buses run from the early morning till around 5 pm quite often.
Once you’re done with your Luang Prabang tickets, just take the same bus back to the city center.
THE BUS SCHEDULE AND TICKET PRICES
The bus actually operates the route from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, making a stop in Chiang Rai. So if you’d want to take the trip right from Chiang Mai, you can use the same service. However, we chose to spend a day in Chiang Rai first just break up the long journey to be a bit shorter.
The bus leaves Chiang Mai at 9 AM and is scheduled to arrive in Chiang Rai at 12:30 PM. That’s when you’re getting on it. We were told to arrive at 11:00 AM to get our tickets that morning and after that, we just waited for the bus to arrive. It seemed like it’s no point to arrive that early and we’d been good if we arrived at 12:00 PM as well.
The bus will arrive anytime between 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM, based on the traffic. So don’t worry if it’s already past 12:30 PM and the bus is not there yet. After that, it makes another stop before crossing to Laos at Chiang Khong around 3:00 PM. So it’s possible to go from there as well.
The ticket prices to Luang Prabang are 1200 THB from Chiang Mai, 900 THB from Chiang Rai and 730 if you go from Chiang Khong.
The arrival at the Luang Prabang bus station is around 7 AM the next day.
NOTE THAT THIS BUS SERVICE RUNS EVERY SECOND DAY OF THE WEEK – ON MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, FRIDAYS, AND SUNDAYS.☝
So plan accordingly to that you match one of these days. We were not aware of this but were lucky to have planned to travel on Monday.
THE CHIANG RAI TO LUANG PRABANG BUS EXPERIENCE
Once we saw the bus arriving at the Chaing Mai Terminal 2 bus station platform 3, we got a bit worried as it’s a long journey and the bus looked quite old and seemingly not comfortable.
However, the experience ended up being great and the bus was actually way more comfortable than it looks at first. The leg space was HUGE and it leaned back almost like a bed. In terms of comfort, it felt like a first class seat on a plane, even though it didn’t look like that.
HERE’S THE TIME PLAN OF THE WHOLE BUS RIDE:
12:45 PM – the bus arrives at Chiang Rai bus station, platform 3.
12:53 PM – we depart from the bus station. They also give everyone a bag of snacks and a water. It contained different kinds of cookies, a chocolate bar, and some other sweets. The best snack bag I’ve ever received on a public bus.
3:00 PM – a toilet break at the Chiang Khong bus station. There’s a public WiFi available if you’re already missing your Instagram. 🙂 The password is available on one of the columns in the station.
3:05 PM – we continue on to the Thai-Laos border.
3:25 PM – we arrive at the Thai side of a border. Everyone get’s out of the bus and queues up at the border control desk to get stamped out of Thailand. Make sure to have your Departure card filled out to make the process quicker. At the exit of the border control, there’s an exchange point that will offer to exchange your Thai Bath or other currencies to Laos Kip. We didn’t do it, as people say that the exchange rates at the Laos side are better.
3:43 PM – everyone from the bus is stamped out of Thailand. People get back on the same bus that’s now waiting on the other side right after the Thai immigration exit. We continue on across the Friendship bridge to the immigration on Laos side.
3:50 PM – we arrive in LAOS immigration. Everyone gets out of the bus to either get their Visa On Arrival (VoA) or go straight through to get the entry stamp if they already have a visa. Either way, the bus is waiting for everyone to get through.
We had to get a VoA. As we got out of the bus, there were tables with blank forms that everyone had to fill out for the Visa as well as another entry form. Make sure to have your own pen with you, as those were not available.
We had our passport pictures and a fee of 35 USD prepared for our VoA, so everything went quick and smooth. We got our visas, then went to the ATM to withdraw KIP (Laos currency), then got the entrance stamp at the next desk and were off to the bus, which was again waiting for everyone just outside.
This is the point right before immigration stamp where you can again exchange money to KIP if you want to or withdraw it from the ATM. However, you’ll manage with Thai Bath or Dollars just as well, as the next food stop on the way accepts THB and USD.
Even the taxi drivers accepted THB in Luang Prabang bus station. Just if you’d have KIP, the price is a bit better than if you pay other currency.
4:30 PM – Welcome to Laos! We’re leaving the Laos immigration to head to Luang Prabang.
8:50 PM – We stop at the roadside bus stop for dinner for about 30 min. There are options to order hot food as well as buy some snacks.
9:30 PM – The trip continues.
1:00 AM – A toilet stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
1:10 AM – The trip continues.
5:35 AM – The last toilet stop.
5:40 AM– The trip continues.
7:20 AM – We’ve arrived at the Luang Prabang bus station.
HOW TO GET FROM LUANG PRABANG BUS STATION TO THE HOTEL?
The bus station is around 2 km outside the central point of the city. The taxi drivers will approach everyone to load people up in their shared taxis to get them to the city. This part felt a bit of a scam though, as the taxis charged every person 100 THB (or equivalent in KIP) to take to the city center. And that’s like 5 min by taxi away.
The taxis don’t actually take people to their hotels, but just drop in the center. The stop is the crossroads where the night market street starts right next to AVANI+ Luang Prabang hotel. From there you have to walk to your hotel or get another taxi that will take you. Our hotel was only 10 min walk away, so no problem for us. But for those who’d live somewhere further, this was a bit silly.
A good alternative could be to not go with the taxi drivers that approach the bus when it’s arriving and just walk outside the bus station area. There you can catch another taxi on the street and might be able to get a better price and they will take you to your actual hotel.
As for the prices, you really have to bargain the best you can. When we arrived, we were asked 100 THB from the bus station to the center. I’ve heard that others have been asked for 200 THB per person or even more.
So definitely don’t agree on more Than 100 THB. Just say NO and walk away and the taxi driver will most likely catch you after 30 seconds of walking away and will agree to the proper price. If not, the central part of Luang Prabang is very walkable and you can get to the most places in the city within 30 min max.