Vang Vieng is a little beautiful town in Laos that make many tourists fall in love. If you are in Thailand and choose Chiang Mai as your starting point to get into Laos and reach this town, don’t miss out some of the following ways we suggest here to have a good trip from Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng.
1st Options - Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng through Chiang Rai, Huay Xai, Pakbeng & Luang Prabang.
Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Chiang Khong – Huay Xai by bus
Huay Xai – Pakbeng – Luang Prabang: By Boat
You are recommended to wake up early and get a short transfer by saung-thaew to the Coach Station. Reaching the bus station, find the Green Bus
counter for booking A-Class bus departing at 8.30am to Chiang Rai. This coach is highly recommended because it includes air-conditioner and comfortable seats for your 3-4 hour bus route.
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai, just go to look for the local bus departing to Chiang Khong. In case you cannot find by yourself, you can ask a coach station official to help you. Please note that this is a local bus so don’t even wish about modern air-conditioner because opening windows are used instead. Moreover, there is not much room for yourself in this 2-3 hour bus ride. Anyway, this is a good way to get authentic local experience. Air-con VIP buses are available but local buses are recommended.
Finishing the bus ride, you will be dropped at a tuk-tuk rank where the tuk-tuk drivers will ask to take you to the immigration control at cheap price. Local buses also can take you there with double price and save more distance than tuk-tuk but tuk-tuk can help you save a long walk to reach the immigration control. From here, stumble down to the shore to buy a long boat ticket to Huay Xai.
Arriving in Huay Xai, head to the relevant desk if you have visa already, and to the Visa on Arrival (VOA) desk if you don’t to get a visa at a depending price. The price is based on your nationality. Few years before, they will charged you an extra fee if you arrive from 16.00 to 18.00 or at weekend and public holiday but now it is flexible. You may still have to pay that at some times but not much.
After that, you can find an accommodation for overnight. Hotels are not available but there are many options of guesthouses which are mainly pleasant family-run establishment. You should take around the town to find the best one at best price with air-conditioner before decision.
For boat transfer on the route Huay Xai – Pakbeng & Pakbeng – Luang Prabang, there are 3 options for you to choose based on your budget. Buy ticket on this day for leaving on the following day.
By local slow boat (cheapest way and highly recommended): You can ask your guesthouse to help you buy ticket with an extra fee for them. However, you can save a lot if you go to the ferry landing (by walk or tuk-tuk riding) and do it by yourself. The price is about 17$/person/route, so you need to pay 34$/person to get from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang (2 routes).
By join cruise (about 100$/person): Shompoo Cruise is recommended for this transfer but you must follow the cruise schedule: only departs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This is join cruise so you will have chance to meet up with other tourists.
By private local boat: about 550$/person. Only you on the boat and departs at anytime.
On the next day, say goodbye to the guesthouse and move to the ferry landing, embark the boat for journey to Pakbeng. The snacks and drinks are sold on boat but you had better buy in advance instead: a big bottle of water and a stock of foods enough for trip to Pakbeng. The boat trip from Huay Xai to Pakbeng lasts about 6 or 7 hours.
All boats will stop for overnight in Pakbeng, no boat driver goes straight to Luang Prabang because there are many stone reefs in the water, which make it difficult to transfer at night. Disembarking the boat, you will be convinced by many locals to stay at their guest houses. Take time considering thoroughly before making decision. You can follow the ideas of some other tourists to negotiate a good price.
Get up early to get on the boat. If you go by local slow boat, don’t forget to get on the boat before 8.30 and find yourself a seat if the boat was crowed during the journey to Pakbeng. On the way down to the slow boat, there are many stalls for you to buy snacks and drinks.
The way down to the boat
After about 6 or 7 hours, you will arrive in Luang Prabang. Buses from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng only depart at 10.00am, so you will have half day in Luang Prabang. Take time enjoying the city with many attractions and street foods. Many cheap hostels and hotels are available for one night stay. Don’t forget to spend some time to drop at a travel office in the city to buy bus ticket for the next day to Vang Vieng.
Take a good night and prepare for the journey to Vang Vieng that will take you about 4 – 5,5 hours. Please note that the buses from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng have no air-conditioner and will be a lifetime experience during your trip.
2nd options: Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng through Udon Thani, Nong Khai (if you don’t have visa), Vientiane with 1 flight
This route will require you a flight from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani first. Nok Air offers 1 flight/day departing at 4.20pm to Udon Thani. So you will arrive there at 5.30 to get a mini bus (called limousine service here) to head to the Nong Khai, the border of Laos and Thailand (about 1 hour).
Instead, if you feel like staying one night in Udon Thani, it’s ok. You will pay some money for transfer from the airport to any place in the city. You can book a hotel or hostel in advance or right there. Don’t forget to stay at a hotel located at the centre because it’s easier for you to get foods.
Udon Thani at night
On the following day, you can ask for direction to the bus station or go by tuk-tuk to the Central Bus Terminal 1. With a visa, you can get a direct bus ticket to Vientiane or Vang Vieng from Udon Thani but if you don’t, they will not let you buy a ticket. However, in some flexible cases, just negotiate to pay the bus driver and wait for them.
Another way for you is to walk around the side of bus terminals, looking for the mini bus section (possibly to ask someone) for an 1-hour minibus trip to Nong Khai where you can easily get a visa. Don’t forget to put your backpack on your knees if you don’t want to pay an extra seat for it. Minibus leave so often when they are full, you don’t need to wait so long. At the border, you could pay some money for passport photos if you don’t have in advance.
You will pass through the immigration from here and have your passport stamped out of Thailand. The border is marked by the Mekong River and the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge doesn’t allow you to walk across. The only way is to hop in a bus for crossing.
Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge
Reaching the other side of the bridge, you can get your Laos visa. The price is based on your nationality. You will have to fill out 2 forms and hand over with money, passport and photo. After having your visa, you don’t need to concern getting passport stamped. Since then, you are allowed to walk straight through. There you have it, you are in Laos.
From here, you have 2 options of what you will do next:
Get to Vientiane marketplace: Take a bus to get there, which is the best choice if you want to stay in Vientiane and visiting around.
Get to Vientiane City Centre and Vang Vieng: There is not direct bus from the border to Vang Vieng, so you need to find a tuk-tuk for transfer to Vientiane City. If you go alone, you will have to wait until the tuk-tuk has at least 3 others. Ask the tuk-tuk driver to drop you at the bus station in the city.
The buses from Vientiane to Vang Vieng run until 2pm, so be patient to wait for a good VIP bus. Minivan is not recommended because it take more time than normal. VIP bus costs the same price but much better.
Vang Vieng - Laos
3rd option: Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng through Udon Thani, Nong Khai (if you don’t have visa), Vientiane without flight.
This option is nearly similar to the 2nd option. The only difference is that you will transfer from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani by a 16-hour bus ride. Then take a mini bus through the immigration and get in Laos. Bus tickets could be bought at the bus terminal.
4th option: Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng through Luang Prabang
This is the most expensive option, so please consider thoroughly. From Chiang Mai, take a flight straight to Luang Prabang and from there, take a bus trip lasting in around 6-7 hours to Vang Vieng. The flight will cost much money but if you buy in advance, it can be cheaper.