The one thing about long term travel is you always have to be thinking ahead to the next event or next country. In Thailand you may consider making the trek to Laos. The Thai visa for Americans is only valid for 30 days upon arrival but you always have the option of country hopping in order to get another 15 days when you head back into the country.
Slow Boat Through Laos
A fun way to head over to Laos from Thailand is to take the slow boat into Luang Prabang. If you rely on google search you will find that you can pay almost 1700 baht ($55 US each) through a booking agency which will take you from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (Bus), Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong(Bus) and then the showboat to Pak Bang, next day showboat to Luang Prabang. This “package” including all your food, transportation and accommodation in Chiang Khong.
Most people would jump all over this package because the travel agent will even explain to you how the slow boat ticket alone is 1200 baht ($39 US each). BUT, if you do a little research you will learn that this “package” can be done very simply yourself and for a much cheaper cost.
If you choose to be adventurous and try it yourself here is a step by step way and you can check out Chiang Rai in the process:
1.) Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai:
(they leave almost every hour)
The bus prices vary depending on what time of bus you book and what time you leave. We left around 9:30am and paid 120 baht ($4 US each). It wasn’t the cheapest but it wasn’t the most expensive. They range from 90-160 ($3-$5.25) US baht and I would imagine all buses are fairly similar.
2.) Chiang Rai Accommodation:
Spend a night in Chiang Rai. You can book a cheap accommodation in the center of town for 200 baht ($6.50 US total for 2pp). In Chiang Rai you can check out the night market, visit the White Temple and walk all around town. It’s much smaller than Chiang Mai so you don’t need a lot of time there.
3.) 6am Bus to Chiang Khong: (60 baht each: $2 US each)
Take the earliest bus to make sure you will make it to the boat in time for the 11am departure. You will get to the boat around 10am and it will leave between 11am-12pm. But better safe than sorry.
4.) TukTuk to Border Crossing:
Once you arrive in Chaing Khong you will have to take a tuk tuk to the border crossing. 100 baht total 2pp ($2.75)
Tuk Tuk to border crossing
5.) Cross the border at Chiang Khong:
This requires a quick line to check out of Thailand and a short boat ride ($1 US) over to the Laos side. If you are a US citizen you pay $35 and make sure you have a passport photo.
6.) Tuk Tuk to slow boat:
A few kilometers away is the pier where the showboat leaves from. Regardless of how many people you are traveling with you will pay around 10,000 kip. ($5.25) This is a standard tuk tuk price to get around Laos.
7.) Pay for the slow boat:
220,000 kip ($26 US per ticket)
Don’t worry about the boats filling up, if the boat is full they will fill another one right beside it.
*** Make sure you grab some sandwiches after the border crossing because there are only snacks and beers on the boat. You can bring on whatever you want.
Also, don’t get a room from the man who comes on the boat. His prices are outrageous and you won’t have any problem getting a room in Pak Bang despite what he might tell you.
8.) One night stay in Pak Bang:
The slow boat is two days, you will stay one night in Pak Bang. You will arrivee in Pak Bang around 5pm. Walk up the hill and you will be in guesthouse haven. The cheapest room will run you 50,000 kip guesthouse ($6.25 a night for 2pp). It will not be fancy, but it is just one night. There are plenty of cheap restaurants trying to earn your business and will even throw in a free drink or dessert pancake. There is not much to do in Pak Bang, so eat something yummy and chill out.
*** Buy your lunch in Pak Bang because the snack and drink situation will be limited on the boat.
Budget = – 1 Star!
9.) Boat to Luang Prabang:
The boat leaves at 9am so get up early, eat some breakfast and grab your lunch to go. You will arrive in Luang Prabang at 4pm. Don’t get duped into taking a tuk tuk into “town”. It’s less than 1km walk, easy flat walk. Don’t take the tuk tuk…just walk. The tuk tuk price will be 10,000 kip per person. ( $1.25 US each)
Beautiful views along the Mekong River
Doing the slow boat on your own verses a travel agent will save you around $25 bucks plus you get a night in Chiang Rai!
Total Cost per person doing it by yourself: $74.85 US
One night in Chiang Rai and Pak Bang
Food (lunch both days on boat)
Transport (bus, boats, tuk tuk)
Total Cost per person with “Package” from Chiang Mai: $90 US
Food (lunch both days on boat)
Visa (package does not include visa, but we added it to the total cost to show breakdown)
One night in Chiang Khong (with package deal you stay here rather than Chiang Rai)
Does NOT include:
one night in Pak Bang (you must pay this cost when you arrive to Pak Bang)
Remember, if you’re planning to travel overseas, you’ll need to make sure you have your U.S. Passport. If you need a passport and you don’t want to wait the 4-6 weeks that U.S. State Department takes, check out a trusted passport expediter like Fastport Passport. With over ten years of experience, they can get you your passport in as little as 24 hours.