We travelled from Chang Mai to Luang Prabang 2 weeks ago and booked a 'package tour' from tour operator Easy Trip (http://www.discoverylaos.com/e-version/) - it was a farce.
First, they charged US$40 (or 1700 baht) for arranging a Laos visa at the border, when the visa really costs US$30. Most travellers have not got a Lao visa and they chanced on the fact that everyone was already on the Thai-Laos border and there was no way anyone could get a visa unless it's through them.
Secondly, upon arriving in Huay Xai village on the Lao side, the 'guide' was scare-mongering the group, cajoling us to book accommodation for the next night in Pak Bang village through them at 400 baht, because there are 'only 8 guesthouses in Pak Beng'. Of course, Pak Beng is teeming with guesthouses and we got a room for 150 baht. The 'guide' was also getting everyone to exchange their Thai baht with the company as 'there was no where else to do so and no one woud accept baht or USD'. There is a foreign exchange counter where customs office is which offers a much better rate. Also, various shopkeepers and restaurants will exchange USD and baht at a better rate than the tour operator.
And finally on the morning of the second day before we left Huay Xai village, the tour operator handed us 2 wads of kip and told us we had to pay for the boat ride for that day and the following day with the money. The package was sold to us as a 3-day trip to Luang Prabang, and instead we were faced with alot of hassle. On the morning of the 3rd day, the boat people wanted to cram 2 boats worth of travellers into one boat, and it was after a lot of hassle that we managed to convince them to get another boat going.
All in all, although the journey was pleasant, there was no need to pay a fee for the tour operator as we had to sort ourselves out anyway.
#1 chochosan has been a member since 22/1/2007. Posts: 1