Well its been a while since my last post but since there isn’t much info out there about this route, maybe because its ‘off the path’ but that is not true in the low season i was on a boat with about 100 other white backpackers and we where not the only boat leaving. But i get ahead of my self this is a quick run down with some tips to help make things easier, note that 30k means 30,000 kip.
To good price on most things Lao is similar to Thai, just add phaan on the end to say thousand and many places will do cheaper long term.
Firstly you can get a bus directly from chiang mai to chiang khong in the morning for probably under 300 baht i missed that so spent the night in chang mai where there was a great hostel chokdee guest house, a 5 min walk to inner city bus station and the bus the next day was only 68 bath ( chang rai has 2 buss stations, so be sure to get off at the inner city one)
The border crossing is at the new bridge for non loas or thai but the bus stops in town, right next to a very organized tuck tuck mafia with set prices (note you can buy USD in chiang khong and an ok rate)
The border crossing its self is easy though slow and every person must pay a 20 baht fair on a bus to cross the bridge ( a nice monopoly but must pay for the new bridge), once on the Laos side there is also a money changer and atm for you to visit while they process your visa they are very slow and will only take new bills of the exact amount as they don’t like old ones and don’t normally give change.
money and cards can be used at the border, tok tok on other side will want want 100 baht or 25k to take you into houay xai
houay xai was nice enough though a bit frontier town like and i took a twin room for 30k each
at this time the boat was leaving at 11am so i walked slowly down at 9 got a ticket and some food and hoped on early to get the seat i wanted, i did hear stories about wooden seats but these where all car seats
hours of the Mekong drift by…..
pakbeng, the only collection of non bamboo buildings we saw all day, nice city we arrived around 5 and i found a single for 40k
food and water and back on the boat for 9am
more of megkong hours drift by and the valley getting more rugged and beautiful each hour, though sadly its the burning time so the sky was very full of smoke and seeing the beautiful forest cut, burnt and replaced with rubber trees is hart breaking
well at about 5pm we docked at our final stop and this was a big shock as they moved the ferry dock for the slow boat 8km out of town! for what seemed like another taxi mafia where they where demanding 20k per person, well in protest i and some other people hitched into town, i got a ride within moment from a wonderful friendly tout for a guesthouse whom gave me a free ride directly to a wonderful place where i got another room for 40k, some other people had to walk about 1km to a bigger road where they got a local bus for 10k
a summery of costs and guesses on times
buses and boats
- chiang mai, chang rai 160 baht 4 hours
- chang rai, chiang khong 68 baht, inner city terminal 2.5 hours
- chiang khong, pakbeng 220k 7 hours
- pakbeng, luang pra bang included in last trip 8 hours
- chiang khong 70 baht
- border 20 bhat
- houay xai 100 baht
- chang rai 100 baht
- houay xai 30k
- pakbeng 40k
- buses and boats – 1026 baht or 253,883 kip or 31 usd
- tuck tucks – 190 baht or 47,000 kip or 5.80 usd
- rooms 384 or 95,000 kip or 11.81 usd
total cost for trip with out 30 usd visa fee: 1600 baht or 395,900 kip 50 usd
All in all it was a bit pricey but the days spent on the Mekong where magical and i am thinking about heading down river after this.
Prices should work in reverse and may be slightly cheaper. But up river takes takes 3 days and costs around 300k. and you might be able to reduce the border transports in Houy sai.
Hope it is as enjoyable for you as it was for me!