Use the quicklinks below to jump to the desired section regarding transport in and around Luang Prabang.
The small Luang Prabang International Airport (airport code LPQ) is located four kilometres from the city centre. The 2013-opened terminal was 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.
The Lao visa-on-arrival is available to most nationalities. There is an ATM located outside the terminal. The airport also has a taxi desk with set prices. Unless you prearrange an airport transfer, this is your only option to get into town as there is nothing immediately around the property and no tuk tuks wait outside. It's a flat 50,000 kip one-way to your hotel in town.
To get to the airport, from town a tuk tuk will cost 50,000 kip. If you want a more comfortable ride, your hotel should be able to arrange a transfer by air-conditioned minivan for the same price.
National carrier Lao Airlines flies domestically to Vientiane (four flights daily) and Pakse.
Lao Central Airlines also services domestic routes. This company has a tendency to suddenly suspend operations before resurfacing again after restructuring; it's not the most reliable service-wise. Both Lao Central Airlines and Lao Airlines have a tendency to cancel flights with low numbers leaving booked passengers stranded.
Luang Prabang is best connected to Bangkok, with multiple flights and carriers daily.
Lao Airlines services Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (daily) and Chiang Mai (daily). Vietnam Airlines has codeshare flights with Lao Airlines, Luang Prabang to Siem Reap (daily) and Hanoi (daily).
Bangkok Airways flies to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport twice a day. Their fares are usually pricier but the company has additional routes and partnerships, so depending on where you are headed, booking with them may get you a seamless connection.
In 2016, Thai AirAsia became the first low-cost carrier to fly into Luang Prabang. There is a daily flight from Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport (DMK).
Silk Air announced a circular Singapore-Vientiane-Luang Prabang-Singapore route, slated to commence late October 2016. Low-cost carrier Hong Kong Express has also announced plans to fly here for 2016.
Airlines may add routes and additional flights during high season (October to April).
Bangkok Airways booking office: 57/6 Sisavangvong Rd (main street), Ban Xiengmuang; T: (071) 253 334; open daily 09:00-12:00, 13:00-18:00.
Bangkok Airways airport office: T: (071) 253 253; open daily 07:30-19:00; www.bangkokair.com.
Lao Airlines head office: Manomai Rd, west of Kitsalat Rd; T: (071) 212 172.
Lao Airlines airport office: T: (071) 212 173; www.laoairlines.com.
Vietnam Airlines: Airport office T: (071) 213 048; open 08:00-17:00; www.vietnamairlines.com.
Lao Central Airlines: www.flylaocentral.com.
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 in the peninsula are within walking distance of one another. A bicycle is a convenient and popular way to explore. Rentals start at 10,000 kip per day for a cheap touring bicycle, or 50,000 kip per day for a mountain bike, usually requiring some identification as a deposit. If you want a bicycle with a basket, don't place any valuables in it and get one with a basket cover -- and use it. Bag snatchings from baskets have occurred in broad daylight.
Tuk tuks are plentiful, though you may have to rouse the driver from his nap in a hammock to get a lift. The colourful small ones, with the motorbike-style steering in front and seating for up to eight, are slower and cheaper. The two-seater "jumbos" aren't jumbo at all, puttering at a leisurely Lao pace and are barely able to carry two passengers up a steep hill. They are the cheapest but are usually only found outside the tourist centre, their drivers won't likely speak any English and they are a dying breed, being replaced by flashy new songthaews. Songthaews are the only tuk tuk-type vehicle that can make the journey to such tourist attractions as Kwang Si Waterfall, Tad Sae Waterfall and Pak Ou Caves. You'll see them lined up around the major intersection near the post office/Joma Cafe and this group works together to corral backpackers into shared rides to the sights. There's nothing untoward about them but if we need our own tuk tuk, we usually avoid this mob and go for a lone songthaew waiting elsewhere. You're more likely to be dealing with a relaxed straight shooter.
If you've come from elsewhere in Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Vietnam, the cost of tuk tuks may come as a shock. Like everything else in Luang Prabang, transport is more expensive. You'll be hard pressed to find a tuk tuk to take you within the peninsula for less than 10,000 kip. From the centre to Phosi Market, expect to pay 20,000 kip.
Not in a hurry? The E-Bus is the economic and eco-friendly way to get around town. You'll see (not hear) the tiny, bright yellow and green zero-emission vehicle gliding around town at a snail's pace. Supported by Japanese non-profit JICA, the E-Bus has three lines that run from 07:00-19:00. The green line (every 10 minutes) is the most useful for visitors. It makes a loop around the peninsula, travelling along the Nam Khan River Road, wrapping around the tip, along the Mekong, down Phou Vao Road before heading back to the peninsula via Ban Mano and Ban Aham village. The yellow line (every 10 minutes) goes from the post office to the Southern Bus station, which is also close to the Naluang bus station used for public minivans. The red line (every 60 minutes) travels from the Southern Bus station past Naviengkham Market, the Northern Bus station to Souphanouvong University.
There are official stands along the route but you can flag it down or disembark anywhere. Buy tickets in advance and it is slightly cheaper, at 3,000 kip a ticket. They are available at a few shops and hotels around town (try iPlanet Travel in Ban Aphai). Or just deposit the cash fare of 5,000 kip (7,000 kip for the red line) into the box when you get on. It's a great, cute, affordable way to get around, though definitely not to be used or relied upon if you are in a hurry or absolutely need to be somewhere. You are in Laos PDR - please don't rush - after all.
Motorbike rentals are available. We strongly discourage first-time motorbike riders from using Luang Prabang as their training ground. Don't be fooled by the seemingly lazy pace and uncrowded streets. Motorbike accidents involving tourists are frequent, especially on the road to Kwang Si. Remember you are a 1.5 hour flight from a proper hospital in Bangkok.
If you rent a motorbike from a hotel or shop in town, it is usually not their own and they are simply calling up an outside rental company. There are scams to beware of. One of the most common is parking at a tourist sight and having it stolen by the rental company who has spare keys; you're on the hook for a lot of money. Another scam is being blamed for dents or scratches. Examine and photograph a motorbike before taking it, noting any existing damage, and test the brakes.
General advice: Park the bike in a visible, busy area, lock the motorbike (the rental company usually provides an extra chain lock for the wheel) and at sights with paid parking (like Kwang Si or Tad Sae Waterfall), the small parking fee usually ensures the bike will be there when you return. Luang Prabang's wooden bridges are in terrible condition and are very slick when wet, even with dew. We've witnessed quite a few nasty wipeouts.
We recommend visitors rent from KPTD. Tim is reliable and honest, and the bikes are well-maintained. An automatic scooter is 150,000 kip a day. Off-road bikes are also available. Find the shop at or behind Chitanh Minimart on Kitsalat Road, across from Dara Market. T: (020) 2862 4998; open Mon-Sat 08:00-17:00, Sun 08:00-12:00.
By law drivers must wear a helmet and you should carry your license and at least a copy of your passport. There are regular police stings stopping anyone not wearing helmets or going the wrong way on Luang Prabang's many one-way streets. If you are unlucky, remember that "fines" are negotiable and it's not a bad idea to carry a decoy wallet with only a hundred thousand kip. Men riding around without a shirt, or women riding in a skimpy outfit is a cultural no-no.
A passenger ferry shuttles people, motorbikes, trucks and livestock from the boat landing behind the Royal Palace Museum, across the Mekong to Chomphet Ddistrict. In the daytime the boat runs back and forth regularly, so you shouldn't have to wait more than 10-15 minutes to get on. For foreigners it's 5,000 kip per person, 10,000 kip if you have a bicycle or motorbike. Otherwise, hire a boat to take you across for no more than 20,000 kip.