Advice please: travel to and around Northern Laos
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Jul 29, 2013 6:01 PM Last Post By: stang67
Jul 27, 2013 4:40 AM
Advice please: travel to and around Northern LaosCan anyone with more experience in the area help me out with advice on traveling to and around Northern Laos?
I'm planning to travel on my own to Thailand in mid-late November. From Chang Mai, I'll have around 1.5 weeks to see a little of Laos. My general plan at the moment is below, but I've heard that travel in Laos can be slow and I'm not sure if it will be possible/easy to see as much as I'd like in the time I've got available.
Chang Mai - Chang Rai/direct to Huay Xai
I assume this is one full day of travel? Unsure of transport options at this stage
Huay Xai - Luang Nam Tha
3 hour bus trip? 3 full days here; I'd love to go on a trek in the national park
Luang Nam Tha - Huay Xai/Luang Prabang
Either catch the bus back to Huay Xai and get the boat down to Luang Prabang, or get the bus 'direct' to Luang Prabang. I've heard the boats are touristy and packed but the river is pretty, although three days on the water seems enough for most! I imagine the bus is likely to be slow and tiresome, but more direct? I plan on 2-3 days in Luang Prabang; all I know is it's beautiful, has world heritage architecture and is highly recommended
Luang Prabang - Vientiane
Heading to Vientiane (bus? boat?), mostly to get the train back to Bangkok where I'm likely to be flying home from. An alternative is to catch a plane from Luang Prabang to Bangkok?
To give some context, I'd say I'm moderately well traveled, having explored Western Europe, Morocco and Canada on my own for two years. I've visited Thailand, China and Vietnam for short stays, but this will be my first time traveling in SE Asia on my own. I am a little nervous about tight time frames and my ability to navigate the transport systems on my own, but this seems like a relatively touristy area so I assume it's well within my abilities?
Thanks in advance for your help!
Jul 27, 2013 8:57 PM
1Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong; across from Huay Xai
A full day sounds right. I've heard it's a 3-hr bus trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
I did the Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong route in April. It's a 3+ trip of the local bus, un-air conditioned, that makes a lot of stops along the way. There are two bus terminals in Chiang Rai; I forget which one this bus departs from. Once in Chiang Kong there are several river shuttles to get you over to the Laos side of the river and Huay Xai.
I understand it's a
Huay Xai to Luang Prabang (LP) by boat
There are a lot of fast and slow boats on this stretch, they didn't look very crowded to me. I sprang for the upscale Luang Say boat trip to LP which was easily completed in 2-days. Their 3-day option involved an extra night's stay at a lodge - I didn't think that was necessary.
Almost any guest house can book you fast/slow boat tickets.
Jul 28, 2013 5:08 AM
2Thanks kamaaina, I really appreciate your response!
The Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai-Chiang Kong leg sounds pretty tiring if it's all bus, perhaps I'll see if I can break it over two days! Thanks also for the heads up re: the two bus terminals in CR.
It's also good to know there are two-day trip options from HX to LP; I wonder if your boat was less crowded because it was more upscale? Regardless, it looks lovely, and a nice change from multiple-hour long bus rides! I loved the other photos in your flikr album, the beer induced joy one was funny :)
I've been wondering if I need to be aware of any timetabling restrictions. Am I right to assume the cruise boats leave in the morning pretty much every day? Are you aware of any days or times that the Thai buses or Laos services do/don't leave? I figure sundays aren't as much of an issue in SE Asia as they are in Europe, but I may not be aware of other considerations!
Jul 28, 2013 10:28 AM
3You can go to any of the small travel agencies in Chiang Mai and arrange for a mini van to take you to Chiang Kong. They will pick you up at your guesthouse in the morning and they will drop you off at the border crossing in Chiang Kong before it closes at 6 pm. These vans carry about 10 passengers and leave every day, stopping for bathroom breaks, lunch and the white temple.
Jul 28, 2013 11:03 AM
4I know that independent travel is fun, with with a timetable that tight, you might consider using a hop-on, hop-off tour, which gives you some flexibility but security of a bus that turns up on time, more or less!
I went with Stray Travel - it worked well for me. http://www.straytravel.asia/
Jul 28, 2013 3:06 PM
5Thanks stang67, I hadn't considered private transport but you're right, it would be a better way to make that particular leg. Do you have any idea what ballpark costs I should be looking for? I imagine I should just visit a couple of agencies to get an idea; this is something to bargain on too? Oh I'm such a newbie!
Thanks for the link jomcarroll, you're right, it's a really tight itinerary! I'd like to challenge myself and try the local transport and I'm willing to adjust the itinerary to accordingly, but it's good to know there's a hop-on hop-off service as well, so I'll check out their routes and see if they'll work.
Jul 28, 2013 5:15 PM
6I don't remember what I paid, I would guess that it was around $12-$15. I didn't even try to bargain with the travel agency because I didn't think it would get me anything. Like you said, try a couple of agencies just to make sure you aren't getting ripped off, but they are probably all within a dollar of each other.
You should cross the border when you arrive in Chiang Kong because if you wait until the next morning, like I did, you might find yourself waiting in a long line. Also, ignore any touts that might offer passport services. You don't need any help, it's any easy process.
Jul 29, 2013 2:56 PM
7Oh wow, for $15 my time is worth more than that! I expected it to be more expensive and to need to find other travelers to go with me (although company could still be fun). Does it seriously cost only $15 for several hours driving between Chaing Mai and Chiang Kong?
Thanks also for the border crossing tip, I guess the lines make sense as I'd seen advice to boat trippers to get over as soon as possible to catch boats in the morning. I particularly appreciate the tip re: touts. No doubt I'll be tired from the travel by then, so it's good to know the process is simple.
Jul 29, 2013 6:01 PM
8I'm sure the price is right around there. You'll be sharing the van with about ten other people, some of them will probably be with you if you take the boat the next day. These vans are great way to meet other people when you're traveling alone. The only thing bad about them is they drive really fast!
Don't forget, you'll need $35 U.S. and a photo for your visa.
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