The best way to get from Thailand to Laos

If you’re backpacking in Southeast Asia, naturally the next country to visit after Thailand is Laos. You might be wondering how to get from Thailand to Laos and be considering your options.

There are bus options and train options. And sure, you can fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang… but life is all about the journey right? Instead of a soulless budget flight, make it a memorable experience with an amazing slow boat cruise down the Mekong, epic scenery, an overnight homestay at a remote Laos village. Try homemade Lao Whiskey with the locals and enjoy some delicious Lao food. 

This is the full Southeast Asia experience! 

Chiang Mai to the Laos Border

Transport method: Bus/Minivan
Highlight: Stop in Chiang Rai to visit the unique, modern, White Temple, complete with hands from hell reaching for your ankles and golden toilets.
Bonus: Big Beer Lao and beautiful sunsets.

It’s a couple of hours drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, where you’ll find the famous White Temple. This temple is unlike the others in Thailand. It’s brilliant white and surrounded by curious statues like Freddie Kruger’s head hanging in the trees and a giant Predator emerging from the garden. You’ll spot Harry Potter on the wall inside as well as Hello Kitty and other symbols from modern society. Walk over the hands from hell reaching for you as you walk into heaven.

After this, it’s only a couple more hours to the Laos border where you can pay for your visa and enter Laos. On the other side of the border you’ll find Tuk Tuk Trucks, ready and waiting. Toss your bags on the roof and hop in the open air back for the short drive to the riverside town of Houay Xai.

Houay Xai is a chilled out little town, with not a lot going on, but it’s the perfect place to watch the sun set over the Mekong River with a cold Beer Lao.

The Laos Border to the Mekong River Homestay

Transport method: Slow Boat
Highlight: Staying overnight in a remote Laos village, meeting the locals and the food on the boat!
Bonus: A new perspective on life.

Slow Boat on the Mekong River

The 8 hour journey down the river on the slow boat will probably one of your favourite parts of your trip. “Eight hours? What will we do!” you might ask. However I assure you, as the boat gently lulls as it moves downstream, you’ll feel and sense of peace and relaxation, like all is right with the world. You’ll see water buffalo bathing, families of goats walking alongside the river. Read your book, play cards, nap, chat, drink beer, Oh and did I mention the delicious food cooked for you on the boat?

The tourist slow boats are often over filled and cramped. However, if you travel with Stray, we travel on a private slow boat with a local family. We are the only travellers who stop in at a remote little village on the banks of the Mekong River and stay overnight.

The village welcomes Stray groups twice a week and hosts a traditional Baci welcoming ceremony. It’s an unforgettable travel experience – read more here.

The Village Homestay to Luang Prabang

Transport method: Slow Boat
Highlight: Pak Ou Caves
Bonus: The incredibly beautiful scenery.

As you sadly wave goodbye to your new friends from the village and hop back on board the slow boat to travel towards Luang Prabang, you won’t be able to help but reflect on the last 24 hours. The lessons learnt from the villagers who have only the basics, but live happy lives, who understand the importance of helping each other and working together.  You’ll reflect on the way that travel can connect people, and make a difference to developing communities. The Stray slow boat makes a stop at the Pak Ou caves en route to Luang Prabang.

The Pak Ou caves are a popular day trip from Luang Prabang, but when you travel with Stray, they are included. Pak Ou is an important pilgrimage site for Lao people. Here you will see thousands of Buddhist images that have been placed throughout the caves over hundreds of years.

Jumping back on board our boat, a short trip takes us to the popular UNESCO World Heritage town, Luang Prabang. As you step off the slow boat, we’re sure you’ll agree that the journey was worth it!


Travel from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang with Stray – choose the Little Laos freestyle tour.


You can also include this journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang with many of our longer Stray Asia passes.



Emily is a native creative nerd. This creative crew member's favourite stop is Bay of Islands.

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