Chiang Khong - Luang Prabang, Laos.
Slow Boat, Down the Mekong River
Laos' beauty and lower cost are good reasons to sail between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang. But this long descent of the Mekong River can be as exhausting as it is picturesque.
Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang, Laos, Through the Mekong Below
Chiang Khong - Luang Prabang, Laos.

Slow Boat, Down the Mekong River

Laos' beauty and lower cost are good reasons to sail between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang. But this long descent of the Mekong River can be as exhausting as it is picturesque.




The only airline in Laos is Lao Airlines and operates all domestic and international flights in the country based in the capital Vientiane. Lao Airlines prices are set in US Dollars. With the exception of transactions at the Vientiane and Luang Prabang airline offices, tickets must be paid in USD. They have very affordable prices. As an example, the most popular route between Vientiane and Luang Prabang has a cost of approximately €150 (one way) with the advantage of ensuring in just 40 minutes a journey that, by bus, takes 12 hours or more. At the time this text was created, flights to more remote destinations such as Phongsali, Sam Neua and Sainyabuli were guaranteed by Cessnas with 14 seats and landed on very basic runways, so flights are only guaranteed in ideal weather situations. At least, in recent years, the company has been operating safely.


Laos' roads have seen substantial improvements, yet more than 80% remains unpaved. This is not the case for the main ones, between Vientiane and Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet.

Some private companies have invested in regular routes on the main routes of the country and bought more modern and more comfortable buses which they now classify as VIP. The cost of travel on these buses is roughly €1,50 per 100km. Don't expect real luxury. Passengers are not to be reckoned with, but go prepared for air conditioning eventually regulated as an arctic climate, for music or videos playing at too high volumes.

Another private company by name Stray Travel ensures a route with several stops that can be resumed on successive days. 


Most visitors to the country choose to rent vehicles with drivers/guides for €30 to €80 depending on the distance and hardness of the route to be covered. A company based in Vientiane, with extensive experience in this type of rental but also in driverless vehicles is Asia Vehicle Rental.

If you want to drive on your own, expect to find small utilities in rent-a-cars multinationals from Vientiane airport for from €35 per day. These small SUVs are too vulnerable to the country's worst roads, especially during the rainy season or shortly after it ends.




The Mekong is the main river axis explored for most of the year (except peak dry season upstream from Luang Prabang) by numerous boats. One of Laos' classic journeys is precisely the two-day descent of the Mekong down from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, with a night spent in Pakbeng. This trip is made in wooden boats and possibly also in hard wooden seats that most passengers try to soften. On a typical day, passengers on board are a mix of backpackers and Lao peasants with their loads and even animals, on their way to villages further down the river or to Luang Prabang. 

Some Lao and even foreign travelers choose to reduce the two days of travel on these boats and make the same trip in speedboats (Hey there) that complete the same route Huay Xai – Luang Prabang in just 6 hours, for around €15 per hour of travel that can be shared with 8 other passengers. These infernal boats as a rule Made in thailand they are powered by deafening engines and force larger passengers to remain cramped for hours on end. There have been several accidents caused by logs on the bed, swell of other boats, etc. etc. The Lao government has already threatened to ban them, allegedly for environmental reasons. If it ever took place, this prohibition does not seem to have lasted very long.

For shorter trips, the equivalents to the longtail boat Thai (hah hang nyáo, in lao) are the easiest vessels to charter for around €3,50 per hour of navigation with a maximum capacity of 10 people. 


Other common vehicles in Laos are the sǎwngthǎew, pick-up vans with adapted covered cabins equipped with side seats that transport passengers face to face, but often not only. 

There are still the tuk-tuks and os jumbos both motorbikes with a lush open cabin at the rear. There is an organization in the Vientiane capital that coordinates the prices charged for these vehicles. Try to pay out of capital comparatively less than what the table of this organization indicates: Pricing tuk-tuks, that is about €0,25 for each km traveled that is supposed to be divided by up to 3 passengers, in the worst case, pay €1,50 for trips of up to 5km.

When to go

Visit Laos preferably between February and November, the time of year when, barring weather anomalies, it rains less and, in general, is less hot. December to February, but also August, are high season.

The hottest season coincides with the months of March and May when temperatures rise almost every day to 40ºC, mainly in the south of the country. 

Bear in mind that during the dry season, the atmosphere over Laos remains hazy with dust but, above all, with smoke produced by the many fires generated by peasants. In case you plan to explore only mountainous and cooler areas in the north, this fog will be the big disadvantage.  

The rainy season brings heavy and fulminating showers almost daily that clean the atmosphere and are most likely followed by periods of sunshine. On the downside, many of the unpaved roads are muddy and even impassable in more remote provinces like Salavan, Phongsali and Sainyabuli.




Money and costs

The national currency of Laos is the Kip (LAK). The Thai baht and the US dollar circulate on a large scale in the country and are accepted in cities for payments involving higher amounts. At the time this text was created, there were ATMs only in Vientiane. The existing ones allow withdrawals of only 700.000 kips (approximately €6,50). In addition, the Lao bank BCEL (Banque pour le Commerce Extérieur Lao) charged a fee of around $2USD which, added to the probable 7$ to 10$USD fees of the non-Lao banking entities involved in the electronic transaction, made this solution little. advisable.

Many travelers continue to carry dollars with them or turn to the BCEL to obtain cash advances – possible only in kips - with a 3% rate. After leaving Laos, the kips they have no value abroad.


The towns and villages on the Laos tourist route are the only ones with guest houses adapted to receive foreigners. You will find them in Vientiane (still low in abundance), Luang Prabang (very abundant), Vang Vieng, Champasak and elsewhere. Those with more dedicated owners offer comfort and even some elegance at negligible prices, in the order of €3 to €7 per night for a double room with fan and shared bathroom, probably cold water, €5 to €10 for air-conditioned double rooms , private bathroom, possibly TV and hot water which, anyway, will only be indispensable in mountainous regions where, unfortunately, it is more unlikely. In hot weather, in the lower parts of Laos, you will be grateful if you have cold water in the shower. 

Other types of hotels of a more commercial nature are appearing, but not for that reason they can be said to be sophisticated. They are most abundant in the Vientiane capital, in Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. Their prices are possibly even more affordable than those of the guest houses. 

At the top of the scale are the larger hotels, most of them state-run and targeting Asian business entourages and, increasingly, foreign tour groups visiting Laos. These hotels offer much higher rates, in the order of €30 to €60 per double room with air conditioning, hot water, TV and room service. 


Laos cuisine resembles that of the northeastern border region of Thailand. It is based on raw herbs and vegetables, rice (almost always sweet and glutinous) and on fish or poultry, pork or buffalo – also some wild animals and even endangered animals – cooked with bittersweet and very spicy final flavours. The national dish is the sleep a sort of salad with shredded meat, herbs, spices, lime juice and lots of chillies. 

Similar to the accommodation, meals are reasonably priced, slightly inflated in the center of villages visited by hordes of foreigners who small businessmen quickly realized to have a much higher purchasing power than Lao citizens. The city with gastronomy and prices best suited to outsiders is Luang Prabang. There, in the streets and alleys with French-speaking colonial architecture, the small bars serve crepes and pancakes, fruit salads with yogurt and muesli, omelets, baguettes and everything that backpackers appreciate. As you might expect, they charge substantially more than Lao places used to serving only Lao customers. Depending on where you sit, expect to pay between €2 and €6 for breakfast; €3 and €8 for lunch or dinner. 


Wi-fi is becoming popular. It is increasingly offered by guest houses, hotels, bars and restaurants. Even so, internet cafes are plentiful and some of the cheapest in all of Asia with prices in the order of €0,40 an hour. 

In the case of longer stays, it may pay to obtain a SIM card from one of the operators that compete for communications in the country: Lao Telecom, Beeline, ETL Mobile and Unitel. 

How to go


A six-month valid passport and a prior visa are required, only if you plan to enter the country at one of the border posts where it is not possible to obtain a visa on arrival. More information at Laos tourism.


Lao authorities require a certificate of yellow fever vaccine from visitors coming from a destination with a risk of transmission. There is a risk of contracting malaria throughout the country except the capital Vientiane. Also avoid mosquito bites to reduce the risk of contracting Dengue fever. 

For more information on traveling health, see the Health Portal of the Ministry of Health and Tropical and Traveler Medicine Clinic. In FitForTravel find country-specific health and disease prevention advice (in English).


Fly to Madrid. From Madrid, the Thai Airways flies directly to Vientiane, the capital of Laos with a single stopover in Bangkok. In total, the trip should take around 20 hours and have a minimum price of €1.000. 

Must Do's

  • Mekong boat trip down Huay Xay to Luang Prabang
  • Vang Vieng
  • phonsavan
  • Luang Nam Tha
  • vieng xai
  • Khammuan
  • Bolaven Plateau
  • Wat Phu Champasak Temple 
  • si pha don
  • attapeu