Booking & Pickup
We booked our journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang by bus through Travel Hub Chiang Mai, their office is located near the Thapae gate, just up the road from Starbucks. When we booked we asked if they could reserve us seats in the first row of the minibus, and they did. Even though we were picked up last the seats were held for us and that extra leg room was a great bonus.
The pick-up on the day was late, our voucher said between 9 and 9.30 am but the bus did not get to our guest house until 10.10.
The Thai journey by Minivan
At 12:00 we stopped for Lunch at a nice roadside restaurant. The food is simple but ok compared to what we were expecting.
At 14:30pm we arrive in Chiang Rai and stop at the White temple for a quick 20-30 minute visit. The minivan parks around the corner from the temple so just follow the crowds and you’ll find it easily. It’s one of the most spectacular temples we have seen so well worth the stop.
At about 17:00 we arrived at the Thai border town of Chiang Khong and pull up at a small hotel.
People going on the slow boat stay here overnight to get boat next day. For the people going straight to Luang Prabang there is a counter in the hotel where a man checks you’ve got US$ for the visa, if you need any Laos Kip (exchange rate not great but get a little bit for the Tuk Tuk when you finally arrive). They also Check you’ve got photos and put a sticker on you so the pick up team on the other side of the border knows to get you and where you are being transferred to.
The minivan drive was fast, driver chatting on his phone and some crazy over-taking but that is to be expected anywhere in Asia, so don’t be alarmed. The roads are in good condition so just sit back and take in the beautiful scenery north Thailand has to offer.
The Border Crossing
At the Thai border, just show your passport and then cross the bridge on bus costing 25 Thai Baht each (given to you by the man at the hotel).
This is one of the easiest border crossings we have done. It is very straight forward.
Then you get to Laos…. And things can get a bit trickier.
Time was pressing on when we got to the Laos border at 17.30 . We were met by our driver taking us to the bus station who looked some what panicked and told us we had to hurry as our bus was due to leave at 18:00.
As we were obtaining visa on arrival we had to fill out the form pretty quickly and handover our passports and photo. We then had to wait… At 5.55pm we got our visa back and had to pay the 35 US$ fee. Finally we could now pass through passport control but on the other side our driver was nowhere to be seen.
As we waited out the front we started to panic a little bit thinking we were going to be stranded. We waited as the remaining tourists without onward travel gradually left. Finally our driver re-appeared at about 18:15, he had been to the bus station to delay the bus… great. We jump in his tuk tuk and are taking straight onto the bus which leaves as soon as we borded.
Laos VIP Sleeper Bus
The bus was a VIP sleeper which had fixed fully reclined chairs. We had a bit of a battle as people were already in our allocated seat numbers, pretending to be sleeping, so we just had to find some other seats at the back of the bus. Be aware this is not a comfortable journey and there are not many toilet breaks.
The seats are in a reclined sleeping position and you cannot change this so from 18.00 until you arrive at 05:00 the next day you will be lying down. Also the bus was plunged into darkness as soon as it left the station… very strange. If you are tall, the seats are not designed for you so good luck.
If you can sit nearer the font of the bus it is better… the road is very windy and bumpy and this seems amplified right at the back.
There was one toilet break at 21:00 and a very quick stop on the roadside at about midnight. Make sure you take some snacks and drinks on the bus with you.
Finally at 04:30, a bit earlier than scheduled, we arrived at the Luang Prabang bus station. Here a couple of Tuk Tuk drivers were waiting. Choose the guy offering the best price to get you to your hotel.
A note of warning it may not be possible to get into your hotel at this time, so check with them in advance. We had trouble finding ours in the dark and after walking around for 40 minutes gave up, found a bench on the roadside and waited for the sun to rise so we could watch the Monks Alms giving ceremony. After this all the cafes seem to open up so we went and grabbed some breakfast.