Getting there and away
The small Luang Prabang airport (airport code LPQ) is located four kilometres from the city centre. A brand new airport terminal opened in 2013, a much needed upgrade from the charming but time-warped old LPQ, though you'll still find yourself walking across the tarmac to board the plane.
Lao Airlines flies domestically to Vientiane (four flights daily) and Pakse (daily). Internationally, Lao Airlines links Luang Prabang to Siem Reap (daily), Hanoi (daily), and two destinations in Thailand: Bangkok (daily) and Chiang Mai (daily).
Bangkok Airways flies to Bangkok twice a day. Fares to Bangkok are higher than Lao Airlines, but the company does international routes and codeshare, which can make international connections easier.
Vietnam Airlines also serves Siem Reap and Hanoi from Luuang Prabang.
THAI Smile flies four times a week from Luang Prabang to Bangkok during high season and suspends the route from March to November.
Lao Central Airlines flies domestically to Vientiane (one flight daily).
Airport office: (071) 253 334
Airport office: (071) 212 173
Airport office T: (071) 213 048
Lao Central Airlines
Airport office: (071) 410 212
To get to the airport, a tuk-tuk will cost 50,000 kip (45,000 kip if you're being stingy) and it takes about 10 minutes from the town centre. If you want a more comfortable ride, your hotel should be able to arrange a transfer by air-conditioned minivan for 50,000 kip.
The bus situation in Luang Prabang can get a little confusing. There are two main bus stations, one serving destinations to the north and the other for destinations to the south. Minivans, the transport generally preferred by tourists, leave from a separate station near the southern station, technically increasing the number of bus stations to three.
Bus departures are subject to random changes to time and point of departure, and this combined with the ever-rising fee to get to the bus station means that, unless you're a diehard do-it-yourselfer or in a group, arranging transport through your guesthouse or a tour agency and paying a small commission usually equals out.
If you book through a third party, the ticket price will include pick-up from your guesthouse and transportation to the correct bus station. Minivan prices quoted at the minivan station are inclusive of hotel pickup and a discount is not provided if you are making your own way to the station.
Transport, particularly minivans, is often filled to capacity and then some, so arrive early. Arriving early means you have a better choice of seats and won't end up squished in the front next to the driver. Leave a bag of non-valuable belongings on your seat to reserve it if you don't want to sit there until departure time.
For traffic to and from the north, use Kiew Lot Sai Nuan station:
Northern Bus Terminal T: (071) 252 729
Huay Xai (local) Departs 17:30, costs 120,000 kip, takes 13-15 hours
Huay Xai (VIP) Departs 19:00, costs 145,000 kip, takes 12-15 hours
Luang Nam Tha (local) Departs 09:00, 17:30, costs 90,000 kip, takes 9-10 hours
Nong Kiaow Departs 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, costs 40,000 kip, takes 3 hours
Phongsali Departs 17:30, costs 130,000 kip, takes 14-16 hours
Sam Neua Departs 17:30, costs 140,000 kip, takes 14-16 hours
Udomxai (local) Departs at 09:00, 12:00, 16:00, 17:30 costs 55,000 kip, takes 5-6 hours
For traffic to and from the South, use Naluang station
Southern Bus Terminal T: (071) 232 066
Vang Vieng (Express) Departs 09:30, costs 105,000 kip, takes 6-7 hours
Vang Vieng (VIP) Departs 12:30, costs 130,000 kip, takes 6-7 hours
Vientiane (Express) & Vang Vieng Departs 06:30, 07:30, 08:30, 11:00, 14:00, 16:30, 18:30, costs 110,000 kip, takes 8-10 hours
Vientiane (VIP) & Vang Vieng Departs 08:00 and 09:00, 19:30, costs 130,000 kip, takes 8 hours
Xieng Khuang/Phonsavan (express) Departs 08:30, costs 95,000 kip, takes 10 hours
*** Note you pay the same price for the VIP/Express whether you go to Vang Vieng or Vientiane
Naluang Mini Bus station: (071) 212 979
Some of those buses are minivans and some are regular tourists buses.
Chiang Mai 18:00, 265,000 kip, 18 hours
Hanoi 18:00, 350,000 kip, 24 hours
Kunming 07:00, 420,000 kip, 24 hours
Luang Nam Tha 08:30, 110,000 kip, 8 hours
Nong Khiaw 09:00, 55,000 kip, 3 hours
Phonsavan 09:00, 105,000 kip , 8 hours
Vang Vieng08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 14:00, 15:00, costs 100,000 kip, takes 6-7 hours
Vientiane 08:00, 155,000 kip, 9 hours
The above trip times are estimates, based on best case scenarios. Landslides and other hiccups frequently cause delays, particularly during the wet season.
Boats are a scenic way to travel around northern Laos and a refreshing alternative to long, bumpy bus rides. From Luang Prabang it is no longer possible to travel on the Nam Ou River to Nong Kiaow and Muang Ngoi due to dam construction, but boats still run up the Mekong to Huay Xai and the Thai border via Pakbeng.
The popular border crossing between Laos and northeast Thailand is also the most popular river trip in Southeast Asia: Luang Prabang to Pakbeng to Huay Xai. There are three options for this trip: speedboat, slowboat, and luxury cruise.
The speedboat is by far the fastest and does the whole trip in about six hours: approximately three hours for each leg with a brief stop in Pakbeng. The ride is rough and noisy, but an absolute thrill. Many people consider it to be dangerous, and passengers are given lifejackets and helmets. If you do decide to take it, earplugs and water-proofing your bags are a must. Speedboats depart at 08:00 from the pier at Ban Don outside town. It takes about 10 minutes to reach by a tuk tuk who will ask for at least 50,000 kip for two passengers. From a tour agency tickets cost 380,000 kip or, if you only want to go halfway to Pakbeng, it's 280,000 kip. Some agencies will include minivan transport to the pier.
The more popular and cheaper option is the daily "backpacker ferry" which does the trip over a leisurely two days. After overnighting in Pakbeng, the boat continues to Huay Xai at 08:30 the next morning.
Slowboat tickets can be bought near the pier or from any tour agency in town and cost 180,000 kip to Pakbeng, where onward tickets can be bought for Huay Xai. This price should include early morning pick-up and transfer from your hotel/guesthouse to the slow boat "pier", which is not so much a pier as a steep, sandy river bank inconveniently located 12 kilometres or a 25-minute tuk tuk ride north outside of town. It was relocated there late 2013 without much explanation. It just means an extra step in an already long journey.
There is no limit to the number of tickets that are sold and it can sometimes be packed to the rafters. The designated boat for each day varies and, as the boats are individually owned, the quality varies and there's no way to know which boat you'll get. A cushion is a solid investment.
The slowboat has been known not to run when river levels are particularly low. Check in advance of your journey in the dry season.
The decadent option is to go by luxury slow boat with Luangsay for a two- or three-day leisure cruise. The two-day cruise departs Luang Prabang on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays during the high season or Wednesdays and Saturdays from May through September.
The cruise includes all meals, coffee/tea/drinking water, accommodation in Pakbeng, an English-speaking guide, a tour of the Pak Ou Caves and a hilltribe village, plus assistance crossing the Lao/Thai border. On the overnight stop in Pakbeng, guests stay in teak bungalows at the luxurious Luangsay Lodge in the forest in the forest outside town. Prices are US$393 to $491 for twin-occupancy, depending on the season.
The three-day option departs every Monday, Tuesday and Friday during the high season, and on Tuesdays and Fridays during low season from May to September. It follows the same route with an extra overnight stop in a Khamu village and costs $545 to $681 at time of writing. Late booking specials are sometimes available. Enquire by visiting their website or contacting a travel agency in Luang Prabang.
Regular passenger ferries no longer run between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
T: (071) 252 389
Pakbeng Departs at 08:30, costs 180,000 kip including transfer to pier
Pak Ou Cave Departs at 08:00, costs 65,000 kip from the pier
T: (071) 212 237
Huay Xay Departs at 08:00, costs 380,000 kip
Pakbeng Departs at 08:00, costs 280,000 kip
/4 Sakkarine Rd, Ban Wat Sene, Luang Prabang
T: (071) 252 553
F: (071) 252 304
Luang Prabang is a small enough town that all the main sights and eateries are within walking distance of one another. A bicycle is also a convenient way to explore. Rentals start at 10,000 kip per day for a cheap touring bicycle, 50,000 kip per day for a quality mountain bike, usually requiring some identification as a deposit. If you want a bicycle with a basket, get one with a basket cover -- and use it. While Luang Prabang is safe, bag snatchings have been known to occur in broad daylight.
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